6 Scary Poems To Read For Halloween

by Regina Kenney

What better way to celebrate Halloween than to curl up with a good, spooky poem? Here is a list of my top 6 scariest poems.

The first time I heard this poem was from the beginning of a chapter in a  Stephen King audiobook my Dad was listening to on the way up to Duluth, Minnesota. To use the cliche, it sent chills through my spine and I never forgot the first stanza (15 years later, this was the first scary poem to come to mind).

This piece was written in 1899 as a song in the play The Psycho-ed by William Hughes Mearns. The play was performed in 1910 and this poem was first published as ‘Antigonish’ in 1922.


stairs_at_du_loupYesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away
When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door
Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away


– by William Hughes Mearns, 1899


The next poem, near and dear to my heart, is from Zachary Schomberg’s Scary, No Scary book of poems. I had never been a huge fan of modern poetry, but reading Schomberg in my college years forced me to reconsider my taste.

I Found A Beating Heart Half-Buried in the Woods
“I found a beating heart half-buried in the woods. It was beating beneath some dead leaves. When I picked it up, it was warm and heavy in my cold hands. I worried I was going to drop it. Later, I found a woman half-buried not far from where I found the beating heart. ‘Is this your beating heart?’ I asked. She didn’t answer. She didn’t have a larynx. She didn’t even have a throat. She didn’t have anything. Not even arms or legs or a head. She really wasn’t a woman as much as she was the space between dead leaves. ‘No, it’s yours’ she said.”

— by Zachary Schomberg


The next poem is a childhood favorite of mine. It is from the Napoleonic wars where the English would tell their children horror stories about Napoleon Bonaparte (Full history here).  This poem also inspired my first short story, Boney.

Naughty Baby

Baby, baby, naughty baby,
Hush, you squalling thing, I say.
Peace this moment, peace, or maybe
Bonaparte will pass this way.

napoleon-threatening-british-childrenBaby, baby, he’s a giant,
Tall and black as Rouen steeple,
And he breakfasts, dines rely on’t,
Every day on naughty people.

Baby, baby, if he hears you
As he gallops past the house,
Limb from limb at once he’ll tear you,
Just as pussy tears a mouse.

And he’ll beat you, beat you, beat you,
And he’ll beat you into pap,
And he’ll eat you, eat you, eat you,
Every morsel snap, snap, snap.

– From the Annotated Mother Goose

Sylvia Plath borders that ‘too horrifying to be considered horror’ types. Our of all her disturbing poems, this is perhaps the most disturbing.

Lady Lazarus 

I have done it again.   
One year in every ten   
I manage it——
A sort of walking miracle, my skin   
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,   
My right foot
A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine   
Jew linen.
sylvia-plathPeel off the napkin   
O my enemy.   
Do I terrify?——
The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?   
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.
Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be   
At home on me
And I a smiling woman.   
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.
This is Number Three.   
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.
What a million filaments.   
The peanut-crunching crowd   
Shoves in to see
Them unwrap me hand and foot——
The big strip tease.   
Gentlemen, ladies
These are my hands   
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,
Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.   
The first time it happened I was ten.   
It was an accident.
The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.   
I rocked shut
As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.
Is an art, like everything else.   
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.   
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.
It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.   
It’s the theatrical
Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute   
Amused shout:
‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.   
There is a charge
For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge   
For the hearing of my heart——
It really goes.
And there is a charge, a very large charge   
For a word or a touch   
Or a bit of blood
Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.   
So, so, Herr Doktor.   
So, Herr Enemy.
I am your opus,
I am your valuable,   
The pure gold baby
That melts to a shriek.   
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.
Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——
A cake of soap,   
A wedding ring,   
A gold filling.
Herr God, Herr Lucifer   
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair   

And I eat men like air.

– Sylvia Plath

we-have-always-lived-in-the-castleShirley Jackson. How I adore thee. If you haven’t already, read We Have Always Lived in the Castle this Halloween season. Below is a taunting short poem from her short novel.

Merricat, said Constance, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh, no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.
Merricat, said Constance, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard, ten feet deep.

And, of course, no scary poem list would be complete without Tom Wait’s ‘What’s He Building In There?’ Turn the lights down, shut your eyes and just listen.




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