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THE DOOM
OF A CITY

PART II: THE CITY

BY JAMES THOMSON

A near the dying of that royal day
Those amber-vested hills began to swerve;
And soon a lofty Pharos, gleaming white
Upon its isle set darkly in the light,
Beckoned us onward to the spacious bay
Encompassed broadly by their noble curve.
And so at length we entered it; and faced
The thin dark lines of countless masts, all traced
Upon the saddest sunset ever seen --
 Spread out like an interminable waste
Of red and saffron sand, devoured by slow
Persistent fire; beneath whose desolate glow
A City lay, thick-zoned with solemn green
Of foliage massed upon the steeps around.
Between those mast-lines flamed the crystal fires
Of multitudinous windows; and on high
Grand marble palaces and temples, crowned
>With golden domes and radiant towers and spires,
Stood all entranced beneath that desert sky,
Based on an awful stillness. Dead or dumb,
That mighty City through the breathless air
Thrilled forth no pulse of sound, no faintest hum
Of congregated life in street and square:
Becalmed beyond all calm those galleons lay,
As still and lifeless as their shadows there,
Fixed in the magic mirror of the bay
As in a rose-flushed crystal weirdly fair.
A strange, sad dream: and like a fiery pall,
Blazoned with death, that sky hung over all.


II

Where, eastward from the town, the shore was low,
I drew at length my shallop up the sand,-
The quiet and gloomless twilight gathering slow;
And took my way across the lonely strand,
And onward to the City, lost in thought.
Who shall his own wild life-course understand?
From terror through great terrors I am brought
To front my fate in this mysterious land.
In my old common world, well fenced about
With myriad lives that fellowed well my own,
Terror and deadly anguish found me out
And drove me forth to seek the dread Unknown;
Through all whose terrors I have yet been brought,
Though hopeless, helpless, utterly alone.
May yet my long wild night be blessed with morn?
Some revelation from the awful Throne
Awaits me surely: if my life, torn free
From dire Egyptian bondage, has been led
In safety through the all-devouring sea;
If, lost in foodless deserts, it was fed
Though murmuring ever; hath it truly trod
Such paths for nothing? Shall it not be brought
To stand awe-stricken 'neath some Mount of God
Wrapt in thick clouds of thunder, fire and gloom,
And hear the Law of Heaven by which its doom
To good or evil must be henceforth wrought?


III

The moon hung golden, large and round,
Soothing its beauty up the quiet sky
In swanlike slow pulsations, while I wound
Through dewy meads and gardens of rich flowers,
Whose fragrance like a subtle harmony
Was fascination to the languid hours.
A tender mist of light was interfused
Upon the hills and waters, woods and leas,
Throughout the gloomless gloaming: and I mused
Dim thoughts deep-floating in delicious dream,
Until the long stern lines of cypress trees,
Amidst whose plumes funereal there did seem
To creep with quivering sobs a moaning breath,
Awed back my heart to life -- to life and death.
Far in the mystic moonlight lay outspread,
In trance of solemn beauty still and weird,
That Camp and City of the ancient dead;
And far around stood up in dense array
Those monumental marbles ever reared
By men still battling with the powers of Life
To those released before them from its sway:
Victors or vanquished in the fearful strife,
What matters? -- ah, within our Mother's breast,
From toil and tumult, sin and sorrow free,
Sphered beyond hope and dread, divinely calm,
They lie, all gathered into perfect rest;
And o'er the trance of their Eternity
The cypress waves more holy than the palm.


IV

A funeral train was gathered round a bier:
The reverend priest with lifted hands and face,
Appealing silently to Heaven's grace
For this young soul called early from our sphere;
And white-robed maidens pale, whose hands scarce held
What further symbol-flowers they had to shed
Upon their sweet lost sister, -- awe and dread
Numbing their noisier grief, they stood compelled
To meet Death's eyes which wither youth from Life;
And leaning sole against a tree apart,
As one might lean just stricken to the heart,
A youth, wrought calm by woe's self-slaying strife --
His head was sunken nerveless on his breast,
He stood a dumb blind statue of Despair.
While all yet moved not, I approached them there,
Murmuring: They bring this maiden to her rest
Beneath the pure sad moon, in thoughtful night,
Rather than in the garish day whose King
Rides through the heavens for ever triumphing
Throned above ruth in never-darkened light;
That ere the blank dawn chills them they may gaze,
And see her soul as some white cloud on high
Floating serenely up the star-strewn sky....
My steps were now close near them, when amaze
Convulsed me with a swooning suddenness --
What people dwell within this Silent Land,
Who thus have placed, through day and night to stand,
This Scene complete in all its images
Of Life in solemn conference with Death,
Amidst the wide and populous solitude
Of Death's own realm? -- a people of strange mood.
For all, -- the maidens meek with bated breath
And eyes weighed down by awe and fear and sorrow,
The priest appealing to the heavens above,
The youth whose mortal night could hope no morrow,
The sweet young girl new-riven from his love, --
All save the flowers, the withered flowers alone,
Were carven weirdly in unconscious stone.


 
 
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1857

To be continued. This is part two of four.

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