—Memorials of George Heath, The Moorland Poet—
(SONGS OF THE SHADOWS.)
THE DOOM OF BABYLON.
The blaze had faded from the fecund sky;
The awful wonder of the scarlet beast
Upon whose seven-fold forehead’s brazen front
In glaring characters of sulphureous light,
Great blustering names of blasphemy were writ.
I bowed myself unto the earth and moaned;
The heaviness of death was on my soul;
The burden of the future’s unborn woe,
In all the harrowing blaze of prophesy,
Like scorching embers, glowed on Memory’s shrine.
. . . . I lifted up my eyes and peered around.
The desolated island placid lay;
The sky was silent, dark, and slumberous,
Serene and signless. Ghost-like, here and there,
Long dusky trees were limned against its night.
Great flexuous shapes of strange uncertain bulk,
But by their hideous blackness visible,
Inertly crowded in the midnight south.
The shapeless masses of the fissured hills
Rose breathlessly around me everywhere.
All things were frightful in their death-like rest,
Portentous, hideous, undefined, and foul!
And darkness! oh, a darkness horrible!
So horrible! lay like the hand of death
Upon the shuddering forehead of the earth,
So clammy cold! No sound disturbed its rest
But the tumultuous sobbings of the breeze,
And far away amid the night, somewhere,
The guttural mutterings of a cataract,
Like the dull murmur of approaching storms,
Or distant clamour of awaking winds.
I bent my palsied limbs—a weariness!
And felt amid the dark, and closed my book,
And turned my fevered eyes far heavenward,
And clasped my hands before my breast and prayed,
And sobbed and prayed, “Dear God, be merciful!
Be merciful, and leave me here in peace!
The awful presence of Thy might, Thy wrath,
Thy majesty—the horror of despair—
The awe of judgment, torment, wailing, woe—
The midnight of the future, like a pall—
’T is on my soul, with all the agony
And utter desolation of the lost.
Thy burden is too heavy for me, Lord,
Oh! I am crushed and weary unto death;
Oh! let me see Thy face no more, dear God,
Until my fainting soul, unearthed, has gained
A God-like power, a more than mortal strength.
Oh! take Thy hand from off me, lest I die!
Oh! I am broken, broken, broken, crushed!”
My head sank earthward, and I wept again—
Wept in my weakness, as a child might weep.
. . . I raised myself; the scene was all unchanged;
The damp, morbose sudations of the earth
Commingled with the dank miasma of the marsh,
Clung with a mucid chillness round my frame,
And drizzled from my moulting hair and beard
In drops of humid, fetid dew, upon
The saturated robe which clogged my frame;
A mortal dampness chilled me to the soul.
I shivered, shivered with an inward gasp,
And shrank into a heap from the cold damp,
That like a cloud of fog enwrapt me round. . . .
A restless aching, yearning for repose
Stole o’er me, and I groped and groped around,
If peradventure I might find a stone,
A tuft of weed, a little mound of earth,
Or block of wood, however small, whereon
My throbbing head might drop, and rest, and sleep
In dull forgetfulness, until the dawn,
The far-off dawn of day; or till the light
Broke round my spirit from the morn of heaven.
Oh, never to be forgotten
Is the rapture and glow of that night;
The stars seemed half dropped from the skies
In a torrent of mystical light.
The soul of the passionate night,
The heavens, the earth, and the air,
The ocean that stirred in its sleep
Was one palpitation of prayer,
Of wonder, worship, and prayer.
The crests of the desolate hills
Glowed still in a glamour of white
Like foreheads of prophets upraised
To the God of the glory of night.
The long lustred tops of the trees
Seemed grappled and twined in mid-air,
Like hands that are nervously clasped
In the agonized cravings of prayer.
Yet not one articulate sound,
No sighing or sobbing was there,
No breath of the passion suppressed
Gave voice to that trouble of prayer,
Ah! felt, deeply felt, but not heard
Was that midnight emotion of prayer.
I watched them in a wondering, gloried trance,
Those solemn shapes communing with their God;
I felt no terror, but a passive awe.
I knew that God was round me, and that soon
Those teeming skies would be withdrawn, e’en as
The curtain from the tented Holiest,
To unfold the infinite wonders of the night.
I felt that “He that liveth and was dead”
Had ministered unto and strengthened me;
For now the shuddering sense of nakedness,
Of cold and hunger, weariness and pain,
And all the shrinking weakness, and the dread
Had left me in a glow of happiness,
Serene, expectant, glorièd, and calm.
I watched the pulsing stars a little space,
And thought they seemed to fade and tremble, dim
And mutely, imperceptibly withdraw
And lose themselves amid the monstrous space.
. . . . . All suddenly they vanished in the depth,
And on the scene a pale-like glamour fell—
An awful blackness dropped on every thing,
But nothing stirred except amid the air.
And there a quivering, quivering seemed to be—
A something not defined, as if a shoal
Of denser, blacker night had formed itself
Into a mighty sea, where voiceless winds
Contended in a deadly tournament,
And lashed its breasts into a rage of waves—
Of quivering, billowy waves tempestuous,
But half discerned against the lesser dark.
. . . Just now an ominous change, not seen, but felt;
A sudden pause, fell on the darkling scene—
No pause of voice, for not a sound was there;
No pause of motion, for no object stirred
Except the tremulous motion of the air,
And that had vanished ere this speechlessness,
This breathless dumbness came, and yet a pause
Of griping hand was left upon the scene—
A ghostly, ghostly pause. . . . . All passively
Long misty shoots of stilly, paly light
Streamed with a lingering ’fulgence ’cross the sky,
And with an awing calmness lustred there,
And stood out palpable, but mingling so
With the still blue, that outline there was none,
Like dim moon-dawnings over crouchant waves,
They lay there silent, visible, but deep
And dusked with amethyst. ’Twas strange, so strange.
I clasped my hands across my darkened face,
And bowed my head upon my knees, and thought,
Or strove with vain essay to think; for sense
And faculty alike seemed numbed and tranced.
Anon, a fluttering rush of wings swept round.
Instinctively I raised my head, and felt
A pinion soft.—Ah! naught of earth, not e’en
The silkest flush of dawn that e’er lay ’neath
An owlet’s wing, could match its suppleness—
Swept cross my face, and brushed the daze away.
Yet not one shape appeared, no point of light,
And yet the dark was held in check; a glow,
A stilly pallor haunted earth and air,
And where along the heavens the niveous light
Glowed spectrally, the sky was vastly deep,
Withdrawn almost beyond all human ken;
But in the midst, half seen, and blackly grey,
A huge chaotic mass of umbrose shapes,
Globe-like, immense, upheaved, revolved, and surged
Like gourmand billows on a monster sea.
On earth the lustre lay intensely still.
It was not bright or glinting, but a dim
White crepuscle, in which the eye discerned
The shapes of things, without their minutiæ.
. . . . Anon, a rumbling roll fell on the ear,
A little murmur very distant, silent, faint
As the last wave of sound that crimps the air
From dying echo of a thunder-clap,
Or soughing croning of a wheezing wind
Amid a larch tuft on a distant hill,
And all grew silent—listening. . . . By degrees
It dawned upon my senses that a stream
Of stronger light fell on a mountain’s brow
That lay afar to south of me; and yet
Intensely as I gazed, when piercing straight
Upon it still, ’twas undiscernible;
But when I cast my restless, puzzled eyes
A little to the east or west of it,
A soft irradiance seemed to muster there,
Which formed a reflex in my passion orbs.
. . . I turned my eyes above, and there appeared,
Half down the southern sky, a wondrous thing,
A shapeless boss, a frosty nebula
Surrounded by a tiny atmosphere of haze,
A rayless nucleus of snowy light
With effervescent sparkles oozing forth,
The soulless eye of a dead universe!
A circumambient coronal of light;
A misty halo, dim and half-defined,
With intermediate space of blacker sky,
Went circling, circling round the mass of light,
Like to the diadem which crowns the moon
When ’neath the awnings of an autumn’s sky,
The hardy shepherd to his mate remarks,
“The morning will be stormy, for I see
A circle hovers round the moon to-night.”
And ’mid the vacant concave, where the stars
Should be, but were not, ever and anon,
In odd uncertain places, far and near,
Dull globules of pale vitrescent light
Bulged out—a moment stayed, and sank again;
And through the air a whispering, whispering went,
A voiceless breathing of an unknown fear,
A wordless talking of tremendous things,
A nameless horror paralysed the scene.
. . . . The wonder larger grew and brighter, while
I looked. . . . The lurid stars crept ghastly out,
Stood still, and gazed with awful eyes apace,
And hid themselves again. . . . On earth the light
Lay brighter, denser; and the stream that erst
Fell on the mountain’s brow, had travelled thence
A little to the right and nearer me.
But oh! the terror that was on the earth!
A creeping, creeping ran along the hills
With rising motion, as a sudden horror
Raises the prickling hair, and knits the skin
In wiry knots. The bulrush and the flag
Upon the marsh fell backward, as the corn
Before the fury of Euroclydon.
And yet no breath of wind was loose that night;
The bosky leaves with motion odd and strange,
Turned up their undersides, that glimmered white,
E’en as a seagull’s wing gleams white against
The black-browed background of a thunder-cloud,
Or hoar-frost spray upon an inky sea.
The veteran trees seemed blanching suddenly,
And great gnarled branches heaved with motion strange
As men upheave their arms to shield their eyes
From the fierce glory of a sudden glare.
The waves of ocean checked their course and turned,
As women turn from some tartarian sight,
And rolled their monstrous chariots back again.
. . . The wonder grew and grew; the circlet glowed,
And wider spread and deepened; and the light
Flushed every moment brighter. Still I gazed.
. . . . Adown the southern sky, below the light,
The flank was reft asunder, suddenly.
The sky rolled up and formed a circle round
With ragged, undulating selvages,
And through the orifice a lurid flash
Poured out—a moment played—then cleared away,
And far along the vista lay a moontide stretch of sea,
With a war of glistering white waves rolling up tumultuously,
Where, serenely rising, falling, dashing wide the yeasty cream,
Forward a far-seen-gormand harbour, floated many a rich trireme
With a thousand slaves and captives, bending to the galling oars,
With the gods of many nations, and the signs of many shores;
With the voices, shapes, and costumes of an hundred sea-strewn
Freighted with the offerings of an hundred tributary lands;
Gaily onward rode the galleys o’er the flushed and jewelled tide,
Proudly as their gods and heroes, all defiant in their pride.
A moment only danced the marvellous scene
Before my startled vision, ere a fume
Of sooty vapour, sifting from above,
Dropped like a curtain, fold by fold before,
And all the detail faded—then the shape,
Till nought remained beyond the red, red glare.
’Twas awful, that great, bald, blear blotch of eye
Staring so blankly, senselessly, from out
That ragged fringe of black and brooding sky!
. . . . A little space, and then ’twas raised again,
And arose a vasty region, flushing ’neath a summer sheen,
With a tower-embattled city in the haze-wrapt distance seen;
And along an ocean’s margin lay an emerald sweep of plain,
Where a thousand white pavilions stood like bubbles on the main;
And a richly-mounted army, glittering in a frost of gold,
Bore aloft the flashing ensign; tossed the banner wide the fold;
All unnumbered as the leaflets, as the matron trees unfurled,
Ere the form of autumn withers all the beauty of the world;
Or, with many a warlike movement, swept they at a chieftain’s nod
Proudly as Assyrian legions ere their overthrow of God.
Again the red dusk quivered down; again
The vision visibly dissolved away;
Again insensate horror, staring, white,
Threw out its mouldy sceptre o’er the night world;
Again the curtain quivered much, and rolled
In gorgon folds its volume up the front.
And a hugely bulwarked city, vast and mighty rose to view;
Came a din of boisterous music, from a river glancing through;
And a thousand gorgeous temples, domes, and turrets raked the air;
And a maze of streets, like serpents, struggled, twining everywhere;
Where, mid flashing wreaths of jewels, in a thousand gay costumes,
Strode the youth and swept the maiden, flushed with gross
And the minstrel, chief, and minion, demi-god, and devotee,
And the bondmen passed among them, cursing in his heart the free;
Nebo, Bell, and fiery Moloch, on their shrines, mid heaps of spoil,
Stood exacting rites as senseless as their priests, but not more vile,
Where, amid unholy incense, dropping down and grovelling flat,
Surged a host of fawning votaries,—not sincere in even that.
Came a change: a rush of twilight swept across their sapphire sky,
And the flashing lamps of Dian paled the stars that trembled nigh.
Came a change upon the city, when the misty spirit of night,
Spanned huge shadows ’neath the arches; kindled high the glaring
There the slave of prurient passion, gormand, vaunter, debauchee,
Sought their like amid the gatherings, in the haunts of revelry;
And the ghastly-visaged spoiler, lurking thief, and ravisher,
And the wizard, and the slayer, and the gross adulterer,
And the bestial fool, and strumpet, were revealed, unscreened to me,
Mid their haunts and assignations, where they dreamt no eye could
All the crime-besotted city wallowed in its demon-laven,
And the stink of its corruption, like a curse, went up to heaven.
Once more changed! above the city swept a huge and wrathful cloud,
And the dread avenger, Ayrael, from its bulging entrails bowed,
And upon the midnight revellers fell the creeping of a fear:
And the deathly waiting shadow of a horror crouching near—
Came a tumult, and a flashing, mingled with a wail of woe,
And the vision faded, vanished in one whelming overthrow.
* * * * * * *
Dark grew the fire-wreathed brow, and from the lips
Thus; “ Babylon the great is fallen! is fallen!”
Oh, mighty city! thou hast grown unto
The acme of thy splendour. Thou shalt be
A waste of desolation. Thou art as
A summer’s day grown to its glowing noon.
In calm unshaded splendour, which the mad,
Dark, terrible cyclone shall suddenly
Insepulchre in devastating night.
Thou art a river on a level stretch,
Unruffled in thy calm, complacent roll,
And gorged and flattered by the tribute tides
From all surrounding lands; but thou shalt meet
A fearful cataract: the earth shall ope
A wide, dark, brazen mouth, and swallow thee,
Even as a fierce volcano, issuing
From out the trailing bowels of the earth,
Heaps out its unlaved sides and builds on high
A dark ambitious summit, terrible fire
With its own vomit, blackening the pure
And virgin heavens with putrid blasts and fumes,
Standing in proud assumption vauntingly,
Till some convulsion dire with spasms huge
Rip up the iron rocks, and heaving its base
And hurl it back into the hungry gulf
Itself had made—entomb in its own ashes.
So hast thou risen from the o’er-gorged earth,
And swelled on high a mouth of blasphemy
Big with the fiery lava of thy own
Corruption-gendering heart; so shalt thou fall;
So shalt thou lie—thy name thy execration!
Great Babylon! exalted as the heart
Of Lucifer the proud, is fallen, is fallen—
Sunk in the abyss of utter filthiness—
Stained with the scorching brand of every crime—
Glutted with all the excess of every lust—
Blotched with an utter taint of leprosy—
The subtilest essences of every base
And vile, unnatural, execrable thing;
And every devil, every spirit of ill
That walks the fiery pit, or haunts the earth,
Hath found a home in thee. E’en as the heart,
The centre of the human system, pours,
In myriad streams, the vital fluid through
The wondrous frame instinct with life; e’en so,
O, wonder of the world! hast thou poured out
Through myriad fiery veins, the deadly spume
Of thy corruption. Every land has grown
Intoxicated with the heated draught.
The glutted denizen of every realm,
Is sated with her vapid luxuries.
The nations from afar, enamoured with
The vision of her pomp, have bowed themselves
To basest servitude; and kings have sunk
In utter prostitution at her feet.
But thou art fallen, art fallen!
How hast thou padded round thy ghastly frame,
With all the huge proportions of thy pride,
The grandeur of thy dawnings and thy deeds,
The triumph of thy genius, science, art—
Thy ships on sea; thy harnessed hosts on land;
Conquest, achievement ; wealth and luxury;
Pompous display and glorious ancestry;
Thy long illustrious line of mighty kings;
A great, grand past, strung o’er with proud exploits;
Thy host of heroes—names of wide renown,
Where mind o’er matter triumphed and achieved
Wide victories, that might raise the wondering blush
To future people who had deemed themselves
More wise as earth was older—in the van,
In the van of all the people—deeming intellect
Progressive as the stately march of time.
These are but feeders of her huge conceit—
But ministers unto her consequence—
But idols which she worships in her heart.
How hast thou decked thee in the gorgeous robes
Of commerce, learning, nationality
The pride of power, of pomp, and ancient fame,
And liftest up thy face to heaven, and wreathed
Thy sensual brow with stars, and proud hast said,
“I sit a queen; all the nations bow before
The glory of my presence, and all lands
Yield up their choicest unto me; I rule
A goddess o’er the petty realms of earth:
I stand a rock, firm as the ages strong,
To overawe the petty frets of time;
To hurl defiance at the ghouls that lurk
With rage malignant round the tattered skirts
Of old departing eras—Change—Decay,
Fate! Desolation! and Oblivion last! !”
(Next Page - Rudyard)