Guest Blog Post, Lynn Levin: Beloved, open your door!

Lynn LevinAt one time or another, you may have had the unpleasant situation of being shut out of your sweetheart’s apartment or bedroom. You might even find your way blocked to a less intimate place, such as a business meeting, a maxed-out class, a bar after closing time. There’s a poem for that: the paraclausithyron.

A paraclausithyron is a motif in poetry that expresses a lover’s lament before the beloved’s closed door. I learned about this arcane delight from a couple of my students who had studied a good deal of Latin. One day in creative writing class, they started talking about this word, which is hard to pronounce at first, then rolls off the tongue in a couple of dactyls after you get the hang of it. Pára-claw-sí-thi-ron. The i’s are pronounced as short i’s as in the word “it.”  I’m not sure what triggered the discussion: a stuck or squeaky door, an image of one character trying to gain entry to a house? Those students knew of the motif because some of the best-known paraclausithyra come from the Latin poets.

In a paraclausithyron, the lover, often speaking at night, pleads entry. His tone may be seductive, cajoling, angry, comic, rowdy, drunken, desperate, or a combination of any of those things. Ovid, in The Art of Love (Book One: VI), has his speaker cry out to a gatekeeper in the dark of night and begs him to open the gate just enough to let him slip in to visit his lady. Horace, on the other hand, takes a rather threatening approach in his paraclausithyron “To Lycia” (Odes, Book Three: X). Instead of sweet-talking Lycia into opening her door, Horace first tells her that she could do a lot worse than to have him as a lover. Then he insults her virtue, calls her cold-hearted, and warns her—while standing in her garden on a freezing night—that there’s a limit to his patience.

Edgar Allen Poe offers a haunted paraclausithyron in “The Raven.” As the speaker sits in his study on a midnight dreary, he hears a tapping:

As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door –

Only this and nothing more.”


“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; –

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; –

This it is and nothing more.”

As with many paraclausithyra, the poem takes place at night, and the speaker is a bereft lover. But who is that knocking on the door? Not the lover but the raven appearing as the ghost of the speaker’s lost Lenore.

I find that the paraclausithyron makes an extremely effective poetry prompt. I include it in Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets (Texture Press, 2013) along with a selection of paraclausithyra written by my students, plus one by me and one by Emily Dickinson.

I encourage you to write you own lament before a shut door. Your paraclausithyron may be spooky, ardent, funny, apologetic, hopeless, or optimistic. Your speaker may even succeed in gaining entry.