Darkness – Lord Byron

Darkness, first published in 1816

                    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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