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In the Graveyard

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For Readers, Teachers and Book Clubs - Wordplay: Some explanations that you might find useful

And oh, what fools you mortals be:  Here, I steal from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.  In Act III, Scene ii, line 121, the fairy trickster Puck exclaims about the behaviour of humans, "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" 

Aghast that all the guests are fled:  Did you know that ghost, aghast and guest all have the same root?   The Old English word ghast or gast means to scare. Aghast means frightened or shocked.  And ghost is the spirit of a dead person and is frequently scary.  Also, guest originally meant a stranger; sometimes strangers can be frightening.  Can you see the connection?  It is ghastly to have a guest in your house who turns out to be a ghost, leaving you and yours aghast!

All Souls' Night: In the tradition of the Druids, this was a celebration of Samhain, the Celtic Feast of the Dead, and is very much like All Hallow's Eve or Halloween.  Samhain marks the death of the year prior to its rebirth at Winter Solstice, and as such is a time of darkness and contact with the ancestors.  Traditionally, on All Souls' Eve, a door was opened between this world and the next, allowing contact between the living and the ghost or spirit world.  Witches and their familiars--owls, bats, and cats--and ghosts still survive as powerful symbols of the occasion.  If the spirits are satisfied, they bring luck and good will; if dissatisfied, they may visit humans with tricks or mischief. 

Perhaps you know about the Day of the Dead (Da de los Muertos or Da de los Difuntos) that is celebrated in Mexico and many other places in the world on November 1-2.  For two days people honour their deceased loved ones by visiting grave sites and bringing along flowers, food and music.  (Here is a painting depicting this festival:  http://nuvein.org/2011/08/29/day-of-the-dead-a-happy-day/).

Belie the saying "Rest in Peace":  R.I.P.  means rest in peace, a typical gravestone epitaph or tombstone engraving.  To belie means to contradict or lie about something.  So the crazy dancing and music of the graveyard party seems to contradict the saying "rest in peace."

bellow:  to yell or holler.

berserk:  Originally berserkers was the word for Viking-like warriors who were so battle-hungry that they attacked with a kind of madness; today this word implies going crazy (often with rage).

Bewitched beneath a lunatic moon:  Originally a lunatic was a periodically crazy person who was said to be affected by changes in the moon (luna).  Did you know that lunacy or craziness is still sometimes associated with the moon and its lunar phrases?  Perhaps you've heard that hospitals and psychiatric wards are very busy places on the night of a full moon?

black cats winking wily:  Cats are known for their slyness; they are also cunning or wily.

"By the pricking of my thumbs/ Something wicked this way comes":  Here again, I am quoting Shakespeare's Macbeth which you may have read or heard about.  (Trust me, you'll read it sometime, if your teachers and parents have any say.)  These are very famous lines spoken by the Second Witch, announcing the arrival of the wicked King Macbeth who seeks the aid of three witches to foretell his future life (Act IV. Scene i. lines 44-45).

crescendo:  In music, this is the point where the music swells to a climax.

dance macabre:  A macabre dance or danse macabre is French for dance of death.  In many cultures this idea is depicted in music and art.  In visual art, from medieval times onward, Death invites members from all walks of society to dance towards a grave.  For a famous example by Michael Wolgemut, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Holbein-death.png which dates from 1493.  Camille Saint-Sans' composition, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danse_macabre_%28Saint-Sa%C3%ABns%29) is a famous musical example.  

Dance the minuet 'Decease':  Minuets are very formal dances dating from the 17th century; often the music accompanying such dances was also called a minuet.  This particular dance (and its music) has an appropriate title, "Decease," which means dead or death.

even's portals:  Even is short for evening, and portals are doors, so put together you have: before this evening's doors close.

Flute of femur and drum of pate:  Here I am copying Shakespeare's style, particularly his three witches' incantation, once again from Macbeth:

"Eye of newt, toe of frog,/ Wool of bat, and tongue of dog"  (Act IV. Scene i. lines 14-15).  In my case, the ghoul and ghost musicians are playing flutes made out of skeleton femurs or thigh bones, and drums made out of pates which are heads or skulls. 

frat bats:  a fraternity or brotherhood of bats.

ghoul:  This word has Arabic origins and is a kind of evil, grave-robbing spirit or demon.

grim:  This Old English word originally mean cruel and terribly severe or merciless, perhaps fitting for the diabolical Dame Hildegarde?

harbinger:  someone or something that foreshadows an event or tells of something to come.

hob and nob:  This phrase is very old, and to habbe and nabbe meant to have or have not or give and take.  This evolved to alternately drink or toast to one's friend or fellow.  Hobnobbing came to mean mixing socially with people of a higher status or class.

Howling tunes inconsecrate:  The musicians are howling songs that are unconsecrated or unholy.  In days long ago, criminals and suicide victims were buried in unconsecrated ground, that is, land that was not blessed by a priest.  (I mimic a Latin sentence structure in this line of the story to make the scene creepier, but also to convey an ancient feeling.  A more modern sounding line would be "howling unconsecrated tunes," but it's not nearly as poetic or rhythmic.)

imps cavort:  Imps are mischievous elf-like spirits or demons who, in my poem, are cavorting or dancing excitedly.

It's only fitting, apropos:  Apropos is a French word that has the same root and meaning as appropriate.

make much ado:  Shakespeare helped with this line, too.  I am very fond of his play Much Ado About Nothing.  But the term much ado means to make much fuss or trouble.

malinger:  The French word, malingre, means sickly.  To malinger means to pretend you are ill, but I am playing on the French root, mal, which means bad, plus linger or to hang about.  Put together there's the sinister intent of sickliness, but also to linger about doing bad works or getting caught up in something malicious.

retort: to give a short or angry reply.

sally forth:  to set out with energy or vigour.

satiate:  With the same root as satisfied, this means to be full, free from hunger or thirst, and therefore satiated. (Again, I use a Latin sentence structure for the sake of the poetry and rhythm.)

sepulchre: a tomb, sometimes very large, housing many dead ancestors within a single family

sombre: originally a French word that means dark or gloomy.

sober:  serious or (no pun intended) grave.

Spooks frolicking fast until they swoon:  Spooks frolick or dance and play so hard that they swoon or faint.

sprite:  a spirit or elf, from the Middle English spreit.

There's much amiss to presuppose: There's much out of the ordinary or out of order or off the mark to suppose or assume beforehand - basically the ghoul is warning the children that something dangerous may await them!

'Tis now the witching time of night:  This time I'm borrowing from Shakespeare's Hamlet.  Prince Hamlet is about to visit his mother and commit his first act of murder:  "'Tis now the very witching time of night,/ When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out/ Contagion [disease] to this world" (Act III. Scene iii. lines 373-375).

To a fete most funerary/ dress required: mortuary:  A fete is a festival or party, and at a graveyard party, the acceptable dress would be morturary or appropriate for a mortician or a funeral.

Vladimir Pelf:  pelf means "ill-got riches" (New English Dictionary 1772), so who knows just how Vladimir made his fortunes.  Was it as principal dancer in the Russian Ballet before or after he turned vampire?

waxing:  The moon has four phases within a 28-day period:  new (or not visible), waxing (growing in size), full, and waning (decreasing in size).


For Readers, Teachers and Book Clubs - Some Wordplay Activities


1.  Maybe you recall a time in your life when you were very frightened.  Jot down what you remember about the place and time, the people who were with you, and what you saw, heard and felt.  Use these details to write a story or a story poem (and it doesn't even have to rhyme) about your scary adventure. 

2.  Choose one of the characters in In the Graveyard.  Create the true life story of the character before his/ her coming to reside in the cemetery.  (i.e.  Perhaps Dame Hildegard was a famous silent film star; perhaps Vladimir Pelf was a principal ballet danseur in the Russian Ballet, before or after he turned vampire; perhaps Madness, the black cat, is a shape-shifting goblin!

3.  Maybe your poetry is in your paintbrush or pastels.  Draw or paint another scene along the storyline of In the Graveyard or invent your own spooky vision.

4.  Maybe you prefer acting to writing or artwork.  Create a short drama sketch enacting one of the scenes from the storybook. You may wish to write down the dialogue and add stage directions.  Here's your opportunity to find out what was really said and done at the graveyard party!

5.  Listen to Loreena McKennitt's "All Souls Night" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKfbVAO6VGA) to hear how another Canadian artist interprets a similar theme.  Or visit her website:  http://www.quinlanroad.com/  Perhaps you might draw inspiration for your own writing or artwork from her music and lyrics.  (Loreena McKennitt. The Visit. WEA, CD75151, 1991.)

6. Research other cultures in the world that celebrate a Day of the Dead.  You might look to Mexico or India to begin your search.

7. The music that accompanies my In the Graveyard website is by Camille Saint-Sans and is called Danse Macabre.  It is a tone poem composed in 1874 and based on the poem by the French poet, Henri Cazalis, and based upon an old French superstition:


Zig, zig, zig, Death in a cadence,

Striking with his heel a tomb,

Death at midnight plays a dance-tune,

Zig, zig, zig, on his violin.


The winter wind blows and the night is dark;

Moans are heard in the linden trees.

Through the gloom, white skeletons pass,

Running and leaping in their shrouds.


Zig, zig, zig, each one is frisking,

The bones of the dancers are heard to crack—

But hist! of a sudden they quit the round,

They push forward, they fly; the cock has crowed.


You can view several animated versions of Danse Macabre here: 




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