ON JUNE 16th, 1816, LORD BYRON OPENED A BOOK he’d picked up in Britain, Phantasmagoriana, (or as translated to English, Tales of the Dead), and he and his house guests took turns reading the short stories within. His house guests were Percy and Mary Shelley, her half sister Claire Clairmont, and Dr. John Polidori. It was an ill summer, Byron and Shelley were in exile, Byron staying at the Villa Diodati in Cologny, Switzerland – the year without a summer.
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This led famously to a writing competition to see who could write the best horror story. From that night came Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Polidori’s The Vampyre, considered the first English vampire novel, and the precursor to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Drawing from that idea, herein lies poems from Shakespeare, Yeats, Spenser, Kipling, Ben Johnson and others, set to music. Musical influences range from British folk and Irish traditional, to Black Sabbath, King Crimson and Jethro Tull.
If it seems a bit theatrical at times, we beg your forgiveness, especially as it might seem more like a high school musical production than Broadway. But much like Byron’s party, this party took place at home.
The imagination is a wonderful place, but at times frightening and mysterious. The quickening of the pulse, shallowness of breath, that wide eyed stare all tell you the fear is upon you, that enchantment is draping itself around you like a mantle of black cashmere.
From denizens of the underbrush, the fairies who ride wild in the moonlight, to the danse macabre – the dance of death unites us all – it’s a look back at a time when people weren’t so certain, weren’t so brave as to believe that what we see with our eyes is all there is.
The Poems: Click the poem below for the song, video and notes.
The Fairy Pedant by W.B. Yeats
Watcher In The Woods by Dora Sigerson
Queen of the Haunted Dell by M.V. Ingram, 1894
Poem 19 by Edmund Spenser, 1594
The Sands of Dee by Charles Kingsley, 1849
The Eggshell by Rudyard Kipling, 1904
The Listeners by Walter de la Mare, 1912
Midnight by James Russell Lowell, 1842
Excerpts from William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” 1595-96
The Witches’ Song, from Ben Johnson’s Masque of Queens, 1609
Act IV Scene I (The Witches Song) from the Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare, 1606
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