Lord Byron

poems:

21

darkness

I had a dream, which was not all a dream. The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars did wander darkling in the eternal space, rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth swung blind and blackening in the moonless air; Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day, and men forgot their passions in the dread of this their desolation; and all hearts were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light: And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones, the palaces of crowned kings—the huts, the habitations of all things which dwell, were burnt for beacons; cities were consum’d, and men were gather’d round their blazing homes to look once more into each other’s face; Happy were those who dwelt within the eye of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch: A fearful hope was all the world contain’d; Forests were set on fire — but hour by hour they fell and faded—and the crackling trunks extinguish’d with a crash—and all was black. The brows of men by the despairing light wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits the flashes fell upon them; some lay down and hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil’d; And others hurried to and fro, and fed their funeral piles with fuel, and look’d up with mad disquietude on the dull sky, the pall of a past world; and then again with curses cast them down upon the dust, and gnash’d their teeth and howl’d: the wild birds shriek’d and, terrified, did flutter on the ground, and flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl’d and twin’d themselves among the multitude, hissing, but stingless—they were slain for food. And War, which for a moment was no more, did glut himself again: a meal was bought with blood, and each sate sullenly apart gorging himself in gloom: no love was left; All earth was but one thought — and that was death immediate and inglorious; and the pang of famine fed upon all entrails—men died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh; The meagre by the meagre were devour’d, even dogs assail’d their masters, all save one, and he was faithful to a corse, and kept the birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay, till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead lur’d their lank jaws; himself sought out no food, but with a piteous and perpetual moan, and a quick desolate cry, licking the hand which answer’d not with a caress—he died. The crowd was famish’d by degrees; but two of an enormous city did survive, and they were enemies: they met beside the dying embers of an altar-place where had been heap’d a mass of holy things for an unholy usage; they rak’d up, and shivering scrap’d with their cold skeleton hands the feeble ashes, and their feeble breath blew for a little life, and made a flame which was a mockery; then they lifted up their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld each other’s aspects — saw, and shriek’d, and died — even of their mutual hideousness they died, unknowing who he was upon whose brow famine had written Fiend. The world was void, the populous and the powerful was a lump, seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless — a lump of death — a chaos of hard clay. The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still, and nothing stirr’d within their silent depths; Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea, and their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d they slept on the abyss without a surge — the waves were dead; the tides were in their grave, the moon, their mistress, had expir’d before; The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air, and the clouds perish’d; Darkness had no need of aid from them — She was the Universe.

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