Douglas Clegg

Krampus Night

December 24th, 2019


Song of Krampus by Douglas Clegg, poem copyright 2019

Song of Krampus Night

by Douglas Clegg

Copyright 2019 Douglas Clegg. All rights reserved.

Winter oh Winter

What beast are you sending

Whose eyes shine like moonlight,

Whose hunger, unending?

In those dreadful dark hours of nights in December

When the last of the fireplace logs turned to ember,

When the world slept, innocent, each house full of snores,

With locks on the windows and bolts on the doors,

A dangerous creature, in those distant antique times,

Set his sight on bad children from various peaked climes.


His strange name was Krampus and goat-like was he,

With horns long and twisted and all brambly

His face so disturbing it could stop a fast train

(If trains there might be) but let me explain:

This occurred long before your birth, unaware,

In an age when dim candles lit up the dark stair.

Before the before, far beyond “long ago,”

When half the known world lay smothered in snow,

When night fell like a hanged-man to the arms of the Reaper

And the blanket of winter grew thicker and deeper,

When starlight might shiver, when moonlight would shatter,

When nothing that — now — really matters, did matter;

When your great-great-great-grandpa had never been spoke-of

When trains trailed dresses (which you dared not make joke-of).

In this wintry darkness, the Krampus went feral,

Hunting horrible children — and schnapps by the barrel.


(Yes, this creep called Krampus, who could be so malicious,

Loved peppermint schnapps, which — in truth — is delicious.

I myself might drink one — maybe two at the most —

Just to raise glass to Krampus and offer a toast.)


But the one thing that Krampus loved more than his drinkage

Was stuffing his baskets with brats full of finkage

Naughty and thievin’, these children were legion

You could find several hundred in the Frost Forest region.


In one such tiny village, ‘neath a mountain of ice,

Lived a bad little girl who was not very nice.

That’s what the town’s fathers and mothers opined,

And even her sisters said she was unkind.

Ask any wise cousin, they’d all sing the refrain

Of how Gerda was awful, a lost cause, a pain.

And pity her parents, poor souls, saints preserve us,

For Gerda made all of her neighbors quite nervous.


Yes, Gerda von Tremble was naughty, they said,

‘Cause she didn’t play girl games — she stood on her head.

She ignored all the rules, had no manners to speak of,

And perfume was the last thing our Gerda would reek-of.

She preferred to climb rooftops, race braggarts by sled,

Find homes for stray cats or read books — on her head.

(By the time this began, she’d read most books in town)

She wore rough lederhosen, but never a gown.


A thief among thieves — what, did I not mention?

But stealing itself was not the intention.

She wanted to read all the books that she’d heard-a;

When bookshelves went empty, folks all knew that Gerda

Had been sneaking around through window or attic

Or sometimes by front door (to be less dramatic)

Lifting latch, pushing window, or stealing the keys

To tiptoe ‘cross floorboards to find libraries.

She’d pick through each bookcase (a felonious act!)

And crack open bindings none before her had cracked.


She felt a book couldn’t breathe till someone had read it

And no one else read much in town (there, I said it.)

Though each would pretend they’d fondly perused ‘em,

And truly, truth was that these tales just confused ‘em.

But they loved placing books, like gems, behind glass

In locked-up old chambers where no one might pass.

And those in the village who should’ve been smarter

Would hoard all their books (sometimes in the larder)

And use them as doorstops or else for their kindling

When winter grew darkest and fuel was dwindling.


They loved blaming Gerda if she wasn’t around,

That awfully rude girl, famous all over town,

This subversive wild child who should go play in traffic —

Though her memory for books was quite photographic —

She could recite Beowulfand Wagner’s Götterdämmerung;

Why she could sing all the parts from Ring of the Nibelung.

Yet…there was one thing that Gerda could never remember:

That Krampus grabbed children on nights in December.


Townsfolk figured Gerda was that devil’s main choice,

She couldn’t sit still, wouldn’t lower her voice,

Plus she had the bad habit of speaking her heart

But beyond the pale, what set her apart,

Was she gave not a fig for others’ opinions,

They were sure she’d be captured by one of his minions.


Of course, Krampus had minions — how else could he creep in

The thousands of homes with bad children asleep in?

He had little goblins, quite disgusting and gnarly,

Some were called Smites, others just “Charlie,”

And they all had their baskets and maps and their orders

To steal awful offspring across several borders.


Off they’d fly after midnight, through a long winter’s eve,

Grabbing Slothbert, Grizzelda and Mean Little Steve,

And Chair-Kicking Hannah and that rude boy named Horace,

And Rupert who sang out of tune in the chorus,

And Gretel the foul-tongued while her weird brother Hap

Couldn’t find his way home ‘less you drew him a map,

And let’s not forget sloppy-dressed young Alouicious,

Who’d spent half of his life breaking fine china dishes,

Or Dreadful Diane who, no saint, liked to wheedle,

Or Gaspar the Cruel, killing bugs with a needle,

And what of Wild Matthew with soul disagreeable,

Or Devious Ginny with crimes unforeseeable,

And then there was Violet who looked sweet as pie,

But whose stink was enough to make angels cry,

And her brother, Mad Willy, who beheaded each doll,

Or their friend, Spitting Alice, whose name said it all.

But that’s only in one  town ‘neath tall cliffs of ice.

In the Frost Forest region, few children were nice.


There were thousands of baskets and sacks at the ready,

For Sally and Susie and Jerry and Freddy,

And Pierre and Marie, Rafael and Lavinia,

And several bad tots on a trip to Sardinia,

And those in Bavaria, or in Italy’s boot,

To the east, to the west, north and south, what a hoot!

As nasty old elves raced town, city, and campus

Representing their notorious chieftan called Krampus.


They’d hunt all those children lurking late on the stairs,

Or those up till all hours who liked to split hairs;

Those who drew things they shouldn’t across just-cleaned walls,

Or cheated at marbles, ran amok in the stalls,

Or lied to keep secrets — which could be just as bad

As making up stories to bring cheer to the sad,

When they should’ve been doing things good children do

Like nodding to grown-ups or tying a shoe,

Or repeating their lessons — it goes without saying —

Or going to bed when they wished to be playing,

Or hushing when hushed when all grown-ups were shouting,

Or believing in nonsense when they should’ve been doubting.


On coldest of nights, well you’d guess who’d go searchin’:

That infamous Krampus, to capture each urchin.

Yes, Krampus and minions flew, bats from a mine,

Their sleds drawn by beasts of horrific design,

And they’d park at the peak of each roof — or below —

Trailing nightmares in their wake, in the snow.

They’d jimmy the side doors or draw back the sashes,

Or creep down the chimneys past ember and ashes.


In the darkest of hours, they snatched children and fled

To the terrible snow-covered Mountains of Dread

Which rise high in the Alps where no birds even fly

No trees grow in snow there (they don’t even try),

Where the sun will not offer a warm glance of noon light

And even the moon regrets casting her moonlight.


Now I must interrupt, please excuse this digression,

There’s one little thing; I should make a confession

Although this is a secret that only the Good have,

I doubt that you’d know it — though, clearly, you should have.


There’s a method for keeping our Krampus at bay

Every good child’s aware that the only safe way

Is to whisper a strange rhyme and gaze in a mirror,

And then turn it around to the wall, out of fear,

And what was the rhyme you might ask? Well, I’ve said it

More than a few times, myself, though I dread it.


It goes: Winter oh Winter

What beast are you sending

Whose eyes shine like moonlight,

Whose hunger, unending?


Winter oh Winter

May this mirror imprison

All Krampus’s servants

From darkness arisen.


You say it three times, you repeat it precisely.

If you’ve behaved very badly or not-very-nicely,

You stare at your reflection while you keep repeating,

Until you see shadows — behind you — retreating,

You turn the wide mirror to wall, straight around,

Or by long icy fingers, in the night, you’ll be found;

While left in your bed, in your place, a strange doll

Made of twigs, but it won’t look like you, not at all.


Now most awful children never hear of this rhyme,

Or how to perform it at precisely what time,

Or they leave out the part about turning the mirror

And soon after, the goblins of Krampus creep nearer,

But I’m sure that you know it; of course, yes you do,

Because it’s only the naughty who haven’t a clue.

Those despicable brats were lulled into a trance

With a wink, and a nod, and that cold Krampus glance,

Into suitcases, baskets, sacks, and some trunkage,

The boys and the girls were tossed with a clunkage.

They woke up to darkness and shoved at each other,

Didn’t matter if friend, cousin, sister, or brother,

This one blamed that one and that one whined loudly,

And one or two brats wept profusely – and proudly.


With baskets all brimming, in one special sack

Lay Head-Standing Gerda way at the back,

While others shoved wildly and carried on weeping,

She felt her energy was best saved for sleeping.

When she awoke to the shouts and the rages

Of all of the children, beside her in cages,

Why, the tantrums they threw! The words that were flung!

Who would’ve thought they’d have known such language, so young?


But far from the entrance to Krampus’s lair

Were strung thousands of cages, hanging, mid-air

And each overstuffed with the children dispatched,

All of whom were surprised they’d been easily snatched…

Except Gerda, who had a good trick to beat this:

She’d read about Krampus in a scholarly treatise.

This strange, obscure theory had once caused quite a scandal

It proposed singing music written chiefly by Handel,

While other operas and arias likely would charm him,

One needed a choir to completely disarm him.

So, as Gerda listened to the howling conniptions

She distinguished an A sharp with glottal transitions,

Spitting Alice could carry a tune most unique

And Mad Little Willy hit notes like a freak.

Our Devious Ginny gave a three-octave range

While Wild Matthew, who wept, sounded notes very strange.

Dreadful Di shattered glass with the notes that she hit;

Cruel Gaspar proved basso profundo, a bit.

Gerda knew if she could get all to listen ‘fore long

They could put dreaded Krampus to sleep with a song.

A natural leader, Gerda grabbed the attention

Of those terrible children so used to detention

Who annoyed their elders but this time were wiser

They knew Head-Standing Gerda was a good organizer.

So she conducted their cries into notes soaring higher

From what she remembered of Handel’s Messiah

And from there onto Wagner, from him to Rossini,

On Mozart, on Bizet, on Verdi, Puccini,

They belted the notes Gerda’d assigned ‘em,

And soon Krampus, on ice throne, turned ‘round to find ‘em.

He said, “Such lovely voices! Haven’t heard this in years.

These whiny brats’ music brings peace to my ears.

It reminds me of centuries past with my mother

Who lullabied me and my annoying twin brother.”
(For yes, Krampus has a sibling, quite famous, it’s true.
He’s named Claus Von Der Sinter – or Santa, to you.)

And soon, this mellifluous off-key chorale

Lulled Krampus to dreamland (boosting Gerda’s morale).

Then the minions, they melted, all these Charlies and Smites,

Into little ice sculptures and sharp stalagtites.

With Krampus, asleep, on a soft pillow, a-snore,

While his captives sang Lucia de Lamermoor.


Then, Rafael and Lavinia, strong for their ages,

Managed to break all the locks on all of the cages.
Stealing toboggans and skis from the old creature’s hoard,

They raced to the slopes, overlooking a fjord.

Thousands of feet down, it seemed such a risk…

But they all reached their homes in time for some sweet lutefisk.


You’d think our smart Gerda would demand some reward

Or a key or maybe a ceremonial sword.

The grown ups tried to thank her for saving their kinder

Before Gerda’s hearth fire had burned down to a cinder.

They said, “What kind of gift would your heart most desire?”

Gerda thought for a second as she stood by the fire.

“Well, I’d like a good book that I haven’t yet read

With a quiet, warm place

To stand on my head.”


Now, you may wonder:

Did Krampus awaken?

Would some terrible vengeance on Gerda be taken?

But no, my friends, Krampus slept for nights right on through,

Perhaps for a year — or a century or two.

Only now, he’s awake, and there’s nothing left for us

But to learn that strange rhyme (or else Handel’s fine chorus).

So repeat after me if you’re bratty or rotten

Stare in a big mirror, this must not be forgotten:

“Winter oh Winter

What beast are you sending

Whose eyes shine like moonlight,

Whose hunger, unending?”

Copyright 2019 Douglas Clegg. All rights reserved.

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