Mrs. Jordan’s serious literary work is all poetical, and her poems may br roughly grouped in six classes: Lyrics of ideal beauty, including delightful Nature poems replete with local colour; delicate amatory lyrics; rural dialect lyrics and vigorous colloquial pieces; poems of sparkiling optimism; child verse; and poems of potent terror and dark suggestion.H. P. Lovecraft, “Winifred Virginia Jordan: Associate Editor” (1919) in Collected Essays 1.228
In 1919, Winifred Virginia Jackson was still married to Horace Jordan, and so it is under that name that Lovecraft knew her and her poetry. Lovecraft’s appreciation for her poetry appears genuine, and perhaps he had read enough of her verse to form a solid opinion. Although little-remembered and little-reprinted these days, during her life Winifred Virginia Jackson was a fairly prolific poet, both in amateur journals and in newspapers, publishing well over a hundred poems, some of which were collected in the collections Backroads: Maine Narratives, with Lyrics (1927) and Selected Poems (1944), now both quite rare.
Indeed, very little of Jackson’s poetry has been reprinted, and much of it is uncollected or largely inaccessible for those without access to newspaper archives and obscure and expensive amateur journals, although a selection of poems have been republished in the appendix to Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner and Others. What’s notable about the selection of Jackson’s poems that survive and are accessible is that very few are of that final category that Lovecraft delineated: “poems of potent terror and dark suggestion.” Lovecraft expanded on this in a subsequent essay:
It remains to speak of the singular power of Miss Jackson in the realm of the gruesome and the terrible. With that same sensitiveness to the unseen and the nreal which lends witchery to her gayer productions, she has achieved in darker fields of verse results inviting comparison with the best prost work of Ambrose Bierce or Maurice Level.H. P. Lovecraft, “Winifred Virginia Jackson: A ‘Different’ Poetess” (1921) in Collected Essays 2.50
One such poem Lovecraft thought to mention in his letters:
Cook’s Vagrant did not specialise in the weird, & was in general very variable. […] However, quite a few weird things appeared. In JUne 1918 my verses “Nemesis” (later in W.T.) & my old juvenile tale “The Beast in the Cave” (written in 1905) appeared. July 1918 contained a long piece of my weird blank verse which I presented in the guise of comedy, with a comic rhymed framework around it. […] Oct. 1919 contained our old friend “Psychopompos”, & also a shorter piece of weird verse, “The City”, which I contributed under the pseudonym of “Ward Phillips.” Furthermore—an exotic Chinese piece called “Tea Flowers” (based on Wilde & suggesting Lesbianism) by Roswell George Mills, & a rather powerful ghoul-poem, “The Mould-Shade Speaks” by Winifred V. Jackson. A rather bizarre issue on the whole.H. P. Lovecraft to Robert H. Barlow, 17 Dec 1933, O Fortunate Floridian! 91-92
“The Mould Shade Speaks” has never been reprinted since it first appeared in The Vagrant #10—which is a shame, because as Lovecraft says, it is a ghoul-poem, darker and more suggestive than most of Jackson’s verse:
The Mould Shade Speaks
by Winifred Virginia Jordan
I hide at early dawn, gray-clothed,
I rub my fingers cold
Against my face, dark-browned and loathed,
To better see the world
I loved and walked in some old dream,
That hangs about me still,
And wonder if ‘neath sunshine’s gleam,
I forged my silent will.
My voice you hear when storm-fiends sack
The sunbeams from the sky;
I shriek with joy when earth grows black
And jangling thunders cry.
I clutch with glee the raindrops white
For my will’s evil hap,
I hold them, shiv’ring in their fright,
Within my musty lap.
I hate the noon-high sun whose eyes
Seek out my spawn, my moss,
With smiles for ferns, where lizards rise
And crawl the leaves across.
I hate the murmurs that reel round
When sunbeams get within
My slimy gulches, without sound,
That I keep black as sin.
But when night strikes the sunbeam’s doom
I wrap myself in black,
And stalk, a hydra-headed gloom,
Red fears astride my back;
Then I set out my tumorous plague,
I seed my foul decay:
My touch has feel of menace vague
That gnaws at edge of day!
And I climb up the heights of air
To spray my poisoned breath,
I swish my skirts upon trees where
I leave the mark of death;
I never sleep, I never rest
I cherish but life’s tears,
And hug close to my sexless breast
The scourge of charnel fears!
Gravestones, particularly older ones which have been long exposed to the elements and uncared for, tend to become host to lichen, molds, fungi, moss, creeping vines like ivy or kudzu, even algae if the environment is wet enough. Even as the bones and flesh that moulder in the grave are slowly consumed, the names and inscriptions may be covered or effaced by the decay of the grave itself—and that is the “mould shade” of Winifred Virginia Jackson’s poem, the animate spirit of that decay made manifest, anthropomorphized with fingers and skirts, shrinking from the sun, leaving its mark on stone and wood, setting up baleful miasmas. There is an almost Poe-esque quality that recalls “The Conquerer Worm” which has a similar structure and may well have inspired it.
It is easy to see why Lovecraft may have liked this poem, ghoulish as it was.
Thanks and appreciation to David E. Schultz for his help and assistance.
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).
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2 thoughts on ““The Mould Shade Speaks” (1919) by Winifred Virginia Jackson”
This poem was actually one of the items in my most-wanted/Grail list of works by HPL associates. Really glad to be able to finally read it! I’ve got to say The Green Meadow and The Crawling Chaos are still my fav HPL-collaborations and having recently found out that the people at Hippocampus are preparing a W.V. Jackson volume, I’m pretty hyped. Taking a cue from HPL’ s writing on her work, a title like In Darker Fields would ring quite nicely (but then again maybe there aren’t enough dark verses by W.V.J. to justify it).
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