Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Festival by H. P. Lovecraft

H.P. Lovecraft once wrote a Christmas story, and if you are a fan you probably already know about it. If modern Christmas has got you down, or if it's just too beautiful, bright and sunny at your house to even think of Christmas (just a few clouds, please, so it doesn't look like the middle of summer), maybe this will help.
It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden; where also they had commanded their sons to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets might not be forgotten. Mine were an old people, and were old even when this land was settled three hundred years before. And they were strange, because they had come as dark furtive folk from opiate southern gardens of orchids, and spoken another tongue before they learnt the tongue of the blue-eyed fishers. And now they were scattered, and shared only the rituals of mysteries that none living could understand. I was the only one who came back that night to the old fishing town as legend bade, for only the poor and the lonely remember.
The Festival is available online, although it may violate copyright. (There is some dispute as to who owns the copyright, or even if it is still copyrightable--for example this story was first published 80 years ago). Anyhow, I'm not hosting it, I'm only showing the way.

And here is a poem inspired by the story.
Yule Fest

Gathered together for the centuried rite;
Across snow-covered ground we walk bleakly t'ward home,
Through archaic Kingsport and streets seldom trodden,
After sunset's last rays have sunk into the gloam.

Only the lonely and poor still remember
Why we have come to this place out of time;
In this strange haunted city where once lived our elders,
With its gambrels and gables all covered with rime.

In the last ancient house at the end of the alley
We are met by the priest in his waxen-faced mask;
From blasphemous books we relearn the rituals,
Through tunnels beneath we descend to our task.

In green-litten caverns we hold dark communion,
Near a subterrene river where ghouls fear to tread.
With wild harmonies and songs cacophonic,
We sing and we laugh as we feast with the dead.

Then beyond the blackness from over the river,
Where the green flame burns bright and the black waters fall,
Come our mounts that are neither a mole nor a buzzard,
But something a sane man could never recall.

Far back in the shades of these gangrenous caverns,
In the depths of this cosmic Tartarean hall;
Are shapes of vile things that somehow are moving:
Vile things that walk but ought only to crawl.

Maddened, we rush down that black, oily river,
Past chaotic cataracts that thunder and boom;
Through caverns infernal on wings gaunt and membranous,
Our steeds flop and fly as we rejoice in our doom.

Yes, only a few of us old ones remember,
Only the cursed and the sad demon-kissed;
And snow fills the footprints that wend through the alley,
And the last ancient house disappears in the mist.

© 1997 Alan Peschke