20 Spooky Poems: Suggested Reading for the Halloween Season

Click here to skip to the list of poems.

I would say that most people probably don’t regularly read poetry, which is a shame. I certainly understand, though, that it just isn’t a priority for many people. For one thing, it seems romantic—and if you’re cynical, maybe even frivolous. Not to mention that it’s hard to know where to start. I do believe, though, that it has massive inherent value.

For the record, I always have at least one book of poems going. I usually carry a pocket-sized one in my purse. You know what’s more fun that playing the how-high-can-I-get-my-blood-pressure-in-the-checkout-line game? Discovering a fantastic new poem in the checkout line.

Recently I was at our local used bookstore with Hub-a-dub because he wanted to sell some of the DVDs we never watch. I tagged along because, as most of you know, I’m obsessed with physical books and just can’t pass up a trip to my motherland. Our bookstore has a single shelf by the counter when you first walk in where they display seasonal or recently popular titles. Immediately, a little orange-and-black beauty caught my eye.

It turns out that the book is called Poems Bewitched and Haunted (isn’t that just the best title?) and it’s a title in the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets line, of which I have the Robert Frost edition. Wait… a Halloween-decorated horror-themed anthology of poetry in a cover that matches my existing books? Could it possibly be any more predestined? Well, yes. It turns out it cost exactly the amount the bookstore gave my husband for his DVDs. And because Hub-a-dub is ever so sweet and dreamy, of course he bought it for me.

Not to over-romanticize the issue, but I have been enjoying the hell out of it.

All this to say… I love poetry. I wish more people read it, because I truly believe it enriches our lives. Poetry is great year round, but when autumn rolls around and the air hangs chilly and lovers head indoors while children head outside… there’s something magical that invokes poetry. It might help that I have a soft spot for both horror and poetry in general, but there is nothing better than cozying up next to a fire on a cold October night and reading aloud poems that give you chills.

Seriously: poetry is meant to be read out loud. And I, being the generous lady that I am, have compiled a list of 20 of my favorite spooky poems for you to try it on. Some of them are horrifying. Some are atmospheric. Some are a little melancholy. I’ve mixed free verse and rhyme, short and long, serious and playful. (I have, by the way, only included those poems I could find online to link to, as I know asking people to go buy books in search of poems is a bit unrealistic.) My hope is that among these varied beauties you’ll find at least one or two that delight you in some special way, whatever your poetic preferences.

So grab a loved one, bundle up, turn down the overheads, light a few candles, and allow yourself to experience the power of verse in all of its Halloween glory.


Where to start? With the classics, of course.

The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe
Lamia (Left to herself)” by John Keats
Macbeth, Act IV, Scene I by William Shakespeare
Two Ghosts Converse” by Emily Dickinson
The Haunted Chamber” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Loving it? Try these lesser-known works.

The Sleeper” by Edgar Allan Poe
The Snow-Fiend” by Ann Radcliffe
Will-O’-the-wisp” by Madison Cawein
The Hexli (Little Witch)” by Johann Peter Hebel, translated by James Gates Percival
Sonnet 100” by Lord Brooke Fulke Greville
The Listeners” by Walter De La Mare

If you’ll forgive a little bit of self-promotion…

Scarcely Caged
To Walk Again
The Centipede,” Underneath the Juniper Tree, September 2011 Issue (page 74)
Dragging the Waters,” Phantom Kangaroo, Issue no. 7
Shades of Blue,” Hello Horror, Issue 3
Still, It Pulls me,” New Myths, Issue 27

Need something playful to brighten the corners before you head to bed?

Theme in Yellow” by Carl Sandburg
Little Orphant Annie” by James Whitcomb Riley
Batty” by Shel Silverstein


Can’t get enough? Find even more Halloween poems in this list suggested by The Academy of American Poets. Or get your hands on a copy of Poems Bewitched and Haunted.

Still not sure where to start? Comment below with your poetic preferences and I’ll try to cherry-pick one just for you.

Do you have a favorite Halloween poem? A spooky go-to that I didn’t list? Share below!

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  • -j-

    My next 20 “poems-a-day.” Thank you!

  • Pegab

    I loved The Will-o-the-wisp – how creepy & gollumesque!!! I also liked the strange Theme in Yellow.
    Fun post! Batty has long been a personal favorite; delightful & childlike as only Shel Silverstein can be:)

    • Agreed! Gollumesque is a good word, too. I believe you’re the one who introduced me to “Batty.” =)

  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    This is WONDERFUL, Annie. And, yes, I think you were MEANT to find that book, and it you. What a great story in itself. 

    I actually have shied away from poetry due to an uncomfortable experience in college. I can’t even remember what I was reading — some romantic era poetry — and the prof asked me for my interpretation. When I gave it, she actually said — in front of the class — “Melissa — you are scaring me. That’s not it at ALL.” Gulp. Hence my FEAR of poetry to this day. Though recently I have begun to embrace it with more welcome arms. So what if I interpret it differently? I sometimes just like the way the words sound on my tongue. (Perhaps I am too literal to ‘get’ poetry?)

    • Thanks Melissa! It always breaks my heart to hear stories like yours. That professor was seriously misguided; she had the wrong priorities, IMO. In high school, I had an English teacher who got us all to write a poem. I’ll never forget that she took off 5 points in the grading because I addressed the reader (used “you”). She graded it grammatically like she would an essay, and I was pissed. Luckily, I was already confident and headstrong by then (many other wonderful writing and English teachers in the past), so it never threw me away from poetry. I guess I was lucky.

      I hate when people say poetry should be read a certain way. For one thing, there are many different types of poems. If you’re not a big fan of the abstract stuff, there are always super literal, down-to-earth poets like Billy Collins. But even the abstract stuff, like you mentioned, can be appreciated on many levels. The beauty of the words–absolutely. As T.S. Eliot once said, “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” So it seems to me, inherently, that there’s nothing wrong with not “understanding” a poem.

      • Melissa

        You’re inspiring me, Annie. Thanks for the kind words. I’m always amazed at the power teachers wield … and how often they don’t even REALIZE the impact of their words.

        • So true. Just makes me that much more grateful for the teachers who ARE aware of the impact of their words!!

  • I may have to look for that book. I keep telling myself to read more poetry, and I do for a little bit (usually online) but then I gradually stop. I’m more of a modern free verse person (even though I love 19th C novels), but I do love The Raven.

    This is probably my favorite Halloween poem: http://www.goblinfruit.net/2011/fall/poems/?poem=witchgirl

    Also, “Scarcely Caged” is creepy! Yikes, glad I’m not driving anywhere today.

    • Well most of that book is older, rhymed and formed poems, so it might not be for you. If you like free verse, Jane Hirshfield is one of my contemporary faves–although she’s not horror/Halloween-ish at all.

      I love Goblin Fruit! I’m going to go read that poem right now.
      And thanks! Very glad you found “Scarcely Caged” creepy. =)

  • Oh, this sounds amazing. There is a book fest over the weekend, gosh, I hope I could find this book — I also love the title!
    I’ll be getting back to your list and enjoy these by the end of the month 🙂

  • Richardsfive

    What a lovely bit of October fun.  I read them all!  Once I started, I couldn’t stop.

    I particularly loved The Lurking. I don’t write poetry, but I did feel my ankles tingle under my desk at the thought my own discarded prose might have found something sharp. Yikes!

    • Aw, thanks Regina!! This totally made me smile. You’re a sweetie. I’m glad you enjoyed digging into these. =)

  • Great list! I know what I’m doing for the next couple of days now…

  • itavianna

    it is a great pome. they were scary.

  • Yogurt

    Loved “Scarcely Caged”, I really enjoy the scarier poems.