Finding Hecate

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
— John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale”

The paleness of starlight-white blossoms ceased
A life’s purpose for Gothic romances ―
Ghost-gloomed ruins bound by noble deceased
Whose murmurous breath haunts the moonlit expanses ―
And for darkling songs within nightingale trances
Leaving the lingering spirit released
From Hecate’s unquestioned affections:
Within Her woods I’ll suffer not Her lips
Nor the witchcraft of moon-maddened eclipse,
Wormroot-twisted in opium-sick complexions.

Tear-persuading sounds float about my ears
While listening to secrets from Her trees;
Wooded portraiture deprives me of my fears
As sylvan shadows whisper upon the breeze.
Only those unafraid of death possess the keys
Opening secret doors to witchcraft-spheres,
Leading to paths of woodland dells:
Untrodden paths of the forest verdant
Where pale-eyed elves dwell with music fervent
To those of unnamed Gods whose death-bell knells.

Softly walking among bloodroots galore
And poisonous roots of aconitum ―
Wolf’s bane delirium that opens the door
To grave-roots of dark-purpled lilium ―
With jade-opals of emerald beryllium
That glow under moonlight of ancient lore.
Carving a path to freedom in night-whispered voice,
Tracing the fevered anguish of delight
Sprinkled upon skin of unearthly white,
Staining the pallid moonlight-blooms with gruesome choice.

Surrounded now by witch-blooms as the warmth fades
Attending to the nightingale’s somber song,
Piercing the withering heart more than blades
Yet releasing it from all that is wrong.
Atop Her candy-sweet roots I belong,
But destined now for suicidal shades
And the harpies of hopeless hues,
Torturing souls twisted in oaken tombs ―
Oh take me back to moon-silvered blooms
And to the plaintive trills of my night-born muse.

Desperate pleas for a romantic life
With books and sounds of a melancholy ring;
How in life Hecate’s trees faced such strife,
But now in death how sweetly they seem to sing.
Warbling sirens of moon-mellowed offspring
Trill the witch-visions of an afterlife
Full of spectral-enchantment and Icelandic mares:
To my ruined flesh I must bid adieu,
So that I may be born anew
Into the quiet heart of pastoral affairs.

But as the music fades from listening ears
Pity-pleading for more time now held dear ―
Feeding the moonlight-blooms with poisoned tears ―
The sylvan shadows approach without fear.
Waiting out this unfortunate folly
I smile upon the pleasing melancholy;
And as Her voice calls me ever closer,
Livid lips press upon my moon-kissed head ―
My lovesick darkling, midnight composer,
Cry out, my love, for the soon-to-be dead.

[Clay F. Johnson is an amateur pianist, devoted animal lover, and incorrigible reader of Gothic literature and Romantic-era poetry.  Among other publications, one of his darker poems was selected among the Top 3 in the 2017 edition of the Horror Writers Association’s Poetry Showcase.  That same poem — along with another — was recently nominated for a Rhysling Award by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association.  Find out more on his blog at, on his website at, or follow him on Twitter @ClayFJohnson.]