Death and Torment in the Lovecraft Universe of Fiction

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Lovecraft, Howard Phillips was far more a writer than a poet, and his poetry reflects his want to tell a story more then what would be considered poetry; regardless when he wants to express himself, he knows how to do it. Lovecraft, H.P.’s “Despair” could mean many things and, most of the time in the art of poetry, poems mean several things all at once. It’s easy to suggest from his story-teller nature that the poem should be taken literally, and it’s beast are lovecraftian horrors which their namesake loves so much. It’s just as reasonable to infer that “Despair” is a self description of Lovecraft’s deep-seated guilt and l'appel du vide personality. Just as likely is an idea that it is a story; but a story about a dying sailor in his despairing final moments.

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“The Cthulhu Mythos” is the expanded universe of most of Lovecraft, Howard Phillips’ works. Since it’s a literary universe it’s home to the same themes and characters, including Lovecraft’s most famous creation: Cthulhu. Mr. Lovecraft’s preference to keep works in the same style and in the same world doesn’t exclude his poetry. It is not at all unlikely for “Despair” to be yet one more horror story in his long liberty of short stories. A good argument for this theory are the charters detailed within the poem: “Hellish forms with streaming hair” is likely to be a literal lovecraftian monster or minor god; because they are described the way they are: vague so the reader invents his or her own nightmare, with just enough detail to give an unique look and horror to the monster. This method is consistent with all of his other creatures and gods. Language in the “Despair” is consistent with Lovecraft, Howard Phillips’ short stories and expanded universe. While this could be because it’s the same writer who wrote all of these items, that wouldn’t make sense. In his poem, “The Garden” language differs and “The Garden” is a self expression poem. Lovecraft says it himself in the final line: “For I know the flow'rs are shrivell'd hopes - the garden is my heart.”, (The Garden). If the Hellish Forms are a metaphor for despair then they’d be described in the same or similar manner as the garden in “The Garden”.

Lovecraft was not a normal pearson. He had many phobias and suffered from a few mental instabilities himself. In 1908 he had a seizure and lead a very stressful life. He lived in an unending financial crisis (as all good writer do). He suffered from several diesis and was under appreciated during his life. All this was the most probable candidate for the inspiration of the most recurring theme in his works: madness. Lovecraft, Howard Phillips was a depressed man who wrote depressing literature. He did write a poem about his sadness, “The Garden”. The imagery is symbolic of some of the feelings Lovecraft would hold in his life. “Once, I think I half remember, Ere the grey skies of November Quench'd my youth's aspiring ember, Liv'd there such a thing as bliss; Skies that now are dark were beaming, Bold and azure, splendid seeming Till I learn'd it all was dreaming -Deadly drowsiness of Dis.” This part of “Despair” seems to be symbolic for losing childlike innocence or maybe a guilty conscious. It could be argued that the writing style is too close to his stories then any heartfelt poem about his depression. Lovecraft was a reserved man and that wouldn’t be “his style”, and with the culture of the times,it would not be acceptable to be too overly emotional in his confessions of troubles.

“Despair” takes on both a epic vibe and a confession vibe. The sad, unique tone of the poem is compatible with a tragedy that isn’t like Lovecraft. “Despair” maybe the final sufferings of a dying sailor, washed up on a New England shore. “Evil wings in ether beating; Vultures at the spirit eating; Things unseen forever fleeting Black against the leering sky. Ghastly shades of bygone gladness, Clawing fiends of future sadness” (Despair). Sounds like a sailor looking up into the sky to see birds ready to pick him apart once he closes his eyes for good. “Thus the living, lone and sobbing, In the throes of anguish throbbing, With the loathsome Furies robbing Night and noon of peace and rest .But beyond the groans and grating Of abhorrent Life, is waiting Sweet Oblivion, culminating All the years of fruitless quest.” (Despair). The sailor had a regretful life full of sorrow and now welcomes the end. The terrible entities could not be birds but lovecraftian beasts, and if so then he would most certainly be insane. “O'er the midnight moorlands crying, Thro' the cypress forests sighing, In the night-wind madly flying, Hellish forms with streaming hair; In the barren branches creaking, By the stagnant swamp-pools speaking, Past the shore-cliffs ever shrieking, Damn'd demons of despair.” (Despair). This part of the poem gives hint to where the unnamed sailor might be: New England. That wouldn’t be surprising, since most of Lovecraft, Howard Phillips’ stories use his home region as their setting. A sailor washing up on shore in New England wouldn’t be surprising either. New England is filled of small fishing towns and when a story takes place in a fishing town in Lovecraftian literature, then the villians will have a abysmal themed. A fishy horror of the sea attacking the sailor and his ship would be expected of Lovecraft. Some might say that the poem doesn’t sufficiently support that interpretation. There are clues that this theory is correct. Such as the mention of a voyager seeing horrors: “But the stream of Time, swift flowing, Brings the torment of half-knowing -Dimly rushing, blindly going Past the never-trodden lea; And the voyager, repining, Sees the wicked death-fires shining, Hears the wicked petrel’s whining As he helpless drifts to sea.” (Despair). Lea is an airitable piece of land and petrel means seagull. Lovecraftian charters are known to die at the hands of eldritch monstrosities.

“Despair” is a relatively unknown poem that hasn’t really ever been studied; despite this, as any good poem should, it’s real meaning is even more unknown and up to interpretation, up to interpretation just as Lovecraft, Howard Phillips prefered. The poem could be like “The Messenger” by Lovecraft, Howard Phillips and is just a short story of eldritch, evil monsters. It could be like “The Garden” and is an emotional confession of pain and sorrow. It could be something original and may not even include otherworldly elements. The truth about”Despair”, is that it’s a little bit of all of them. Poetry is built upon having several meanings and saying much in so few words.

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