The Demons of the Night

All since she left me I have lived in fear
Of creatures dwelling in the shadows here,
And all around and pressing into me
With pallid faces I can scarcely see.

For they are hooded and a sickly grey
Who never any malice will betray,
Though dark as night are they, from head to foot,
Their eyes like coal, their clothes as black as soot.

And if I ask one of these goths to show
The way to go it seems he does not know.
They never answer me and should I shout
That I am lost they simply turn about,

And never do they make a single sound
But blocking me they always stand their ground.
Profoundly deaf they are and mute, I think.
They must be blind, it seems, they do not blink.

But there is never any need to skirt
Around these ghostly figures or avert
Them. I could step right through them to reveal
That nothing but the night did they conceal.

And sometimes I would be aboard a barque,
An old square-rigger like the Cutty Sark,
Along dark passages below I’d flee
And through the ports would be the angry sea.

And sometimes in the house I’d stand aghast
In some vast auditorium, harassed
By adolescents standing cloaked in black
In black upholstered tipping seats pushed back.

And in the dark I’d try to find a sign
Of something I might recognise, a line
That I could draw between reality
And what I thought I saw but couldn’t see.

The ceiling coved or open to the sky
And it was always cold and I would try
To find of my possessions some small sign,
To find something I recognised as mine.

And once I found myself upon a train
And bitter chill it was in freezing rain,
It traversed many miles in my own home
The tarmac of a disused aerodrome.

And trackless, here and there the train would go,
Pull into stations that I didn’t know,
And back and forth we’d go and never could
I see a soul and never thought I would.

And on we went, flat fields to either hand,
With mud and gravel, puddles, bleak the land.
So long ago the hawthorns’ leaves had shed.
Their twisted branches spiked the air ahead.

We stopped beside a platform dark and drear,
And here a group of people huddled near
The ticket office. None got on and none
Got off the train but I the only one.

And by the waiting room I saw a light
Switch on the wall. I turned it on, so bright
It was and in the light I saw the hall,
And there a pair of shoes against the wall.

And on the mat a letter with my own
Address on it and from the telephone
Upon the table by the door I’d see
That I was home and where I ought to be.

It rained all night: why were the carpets dry?
And why no trace of peat-black earth, and why
No stamp of tramping feet led from the door
In sodden clags of mud across the floor?

And sinister and strange it is to be
Incarcerated in the day yet free
To walk the night, to stalk the living dead
While I still breathe and with the living tread.

If I could only bring her home with me
The demons of the night would surely flee
This house, and no more would I ever dread
The night nor ever fear the living dead.



Peter Hartley is a retired painting restorer. He was born in Liverpool and lives in Manchester, UK.

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16 Responses

  1. Paul Freeman

    I am not being facetious, but this reads as darkly, and the goings on are as dark, as my son’s current favourite video game – which he has been playing to death in the living room until I got up to use the computer I’m using now.

    Thanks for the Poe-esque read, Peter.

    • Peter Hartley

      Paul – I can fairly confidently state that the above poem has not been influenced at all by video games, either deliberately or unconsciously, and I have never played such a game in my life (I find it hard enough using my iPad as a word processor without making life even more difficult for myself). You mention Poe, though, and Evan also said the poem is Poe-esque. I am very pleased with this label, although it never occurred to me during the writing of it. Many thanks indeed for placing me in such illustrious company.

  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Peter, this tour de force of a poem has swept me away in its atmospheric wonder into a world I am certain many have traversed. I relate to this journey through grief. The skill and beauty of the poetry sets the deliciously eerie mood, but it’s the questions you ask that dig deeper and engage the heart as well as the mind. Where is that line drawn between reality ‘And what I thought I saw but couldn’t see’? The night is a peaceful dream for those snuggled in bed with their loved one… but for those who are plagued by sorrow, it is a nightmare. You capture those feelings perfectly with enviable use of imagery. The fast-paced form of the poem adds to the edginess and angst of the piece. A spookily beautiful, magnificently melancholic poem that has me nodding in empathy as tears prick my eyes. If ever a poem deserved pudgy gluts of praise, this is it!

    • Peter Hartley

      Susan – many thanks, as always, for your perceptive and perspicacious remarks, and particularly for the comment on the very first line, that my poem is a “tour de force.” I could not hope for a more generous remark on what is after all only a bare description and, I think, accurate record of hallucinations I underwent over many months around the time of Dina’s death. These, by the way, still afflict me today if I do not keep a light on at night. The only thing I have left out from the narrative is the music which would nearly always accompany these hallucinations, and the only sounds I would hear apart from my own voice asking wan-faced anonyms if they could tell me where I was in my own home. What I would hear is the Dead March from Handel’s “Saul”, and always at the same unobtrusive volume. “A spookily beautiful, magnificently melancholic poem.” What a wonderful choice of adjectives to describe it! I could never have thought of putting those words together myself so I am very grateful to you for them.

    • Peter Hartley

      Alexander – thank you for your kind remark and I welcome being banded with literary thinkers and, as one such, to be assured that I am not alone.

  3. James A. Tweedie


    If, as I suspect, this poem is factual-actual-autobiographical (rather than fictional-abstract-imaginative) your vivid depiction of waking sleep, alive with shadowed, living dead and trackless peat-black moors viewed through windows of an empty train on an endless journey to nowhere ought to be reprinted in every book and article that attempts to deal with the subject of grief and the alternative-reality terrors that often accompany it.

    I am reminded of a woman patient I once visited in the radio-therapy unit of Western General Hospital in Edinburgh who confided in me that at night, men came through the walls of her room and said horrible things to her and how afraid she was of the night. “I’ve tried to explain it to the staff,” she said, “but they don’t believe me and won’t do anything about it. You believe me, don’t you? I’m not crazy, am I?”

    Peter, you are a brave man to share these words with us.

    I believe every painful word but find it reassuring that (in your waking moments, at least) you are still able to discern the difference between the “here” and the “there.”

    Your words offer new insight into what it means to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”

    • Peter Hartley

      James – you suspect rightly, that this poem IS factual, actual and autobiographical. My hallucinations were precipitated by the two medications successively administered to me in attempts to combat some of the worse symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. I have fortunately, at least so far at any rate, not been plagued with the shakes that typify the disease, although balance is markedly affected, and at times the hallucinations have felt to me to be a very heavy price to pay for the increased dopamine uptake to the brain which the medications afford. You give in your comment above an anecdote of a lady in the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh who was afraid of the figures that her hallucinations conjured up. In my own hallucinations the figures have never been threatening, and the worst that I have ever felt is the physical sensation of being very cold and wet in outdoor weather in the middle of a freezing winter’s night, although, as I make clear in the poem, these discomforts are illusory.

  4. David Whippman

    Well written indeed, with (for me) more than a hint of Edgar Allan Poe. Maybe Lovecraft too. Very effective anyway.

  5. Peter Hartley

    David – thank you for the comment that my narrative is well-written, and in particular for your likening it to the work of Poe and H P Lovecraft. I hope that my narrating dream-like sequences involving adolescents and possible shenanigans below hatches on the Cutty Sark doesn’t lay me open to any revealing Freudian interpretations and potentially incriminating psychological analyses.

  6. Margaret Coats

    Peter, I think you must have the demons under control, because the poem reads easily, beautifully, and logically. Keep the night light if it helps, and maybe add a bedtime prayer specific to the situation. As I was reading the poem, I was reminded of the notorious Novus Ordo revision of the Divine Office hymn for the hour of Compline. It prays that our hearts dream of God, sense Him throughout sleep, and always sing His glory in the light. Well and good–but the old hymn is perhaps more practical, praying that the dreams and phantasms of the night recede far away, and that God repress our Enemy. In other words, the traditional one is a nighttime protection prayer, while the modern one is a wish for sweet dreams. In general, modern texts tend to delete both devils and angels. The light of your psychological experiences can help both you and others to take better account of them.

    • Peter Hartley

      Margaret – thank you for your very kind remarks, particularly those contained in your first sentence. Using a night-light is certainly the answer, and it doesn’t have to be very bright to prevent the hallucinations. As you write regarding the text of the Novus Ordo compline hymn, it is all very well to sing God’s praises. Unfortunately we may well need to kick the demons out of our minds first before we can make room for Him, while protection in the hours of the night from demons AND burglars is necessarily of more practical concern than having happy dreams. You say that modern texts tend to delete angels and demons. Go back to late mediaeval times and the age of Bosch and Brueghel and the average painted panel contained more demons than you could shake a stick at. I wonder just how much longer the concepts of heaven and hell will last, and for how long our notions of good and evil will survive in face of the dictates of expedience.

  7. David Watt

    Peter, your highly atmospheric, and gripping poem sends shivers down the spine for all the right reasons. Stanza eight, with its quest to draw a line
    between nightmare and reality, is pivotal to the poem, and perfectly
    expressed. Well done!

    • Peter Hartley

      David – many thanks for your comment. I hope the hallucinations described don’t give you any of the sleepless nights they gave me, although Parkinson’s disease and a near-fatal brain haemorrhage might be essential to replicate the experience!

  8. Jeff Eardley

    Peter, I have been re-reading this over the last two days. It is a glorious bone-chilling spine-tingler and reminded me of the tv series of long ago, “Quatermass and the Pit” which reduced this once 8 year old to a shivering wreck of terror, and a fear of demons and goblins that endures to this day. I shall be checking under the bed tonight…and leaving the.light on.

    • Peter Hartley

      Jeff – thank you for your comment, and please don’t lose any sleep on my account. I ought to relate that on one or two occasions the hallucinations have almost descended into farce (although it didn’t feel like it at the time). One night, on becoming aware of a soundless kerfuffle in the dark downstairs, I descended to find four black Labrador retrievers, tails waving furiously, each of them scoffing the contents of a plastic packet of hundreds-and-thousands it had burst open and scattered all over the carpet. By the time I reached the bottom step the scene had resolved itself into nothing more than the vacuum cleaner and a shoe stand. I am tempted to say you couldn’t make it up.


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