The City of Dreadful Night

Original Text: 
National Reformer (1874).
209As I came through the desert thus it was,
210As I came through the desert: All was black,
211In heaven no single star, on earth no track;
212A brooding hush without a stir or note,
213The air so thick it clotted in my throat;
214And thus for hours; then some enormous things
215Swooped past with savage cries and clanking wings:
216      But I strode on austere;
217      No hope could have no fear.
218As I came through the desert thus it was,
219As I came through the desert: Eyes of fire
220Glared at me throbbing with a starved desire;
221The hoarse and heavy and carnivorous breath
222Was hot upon me from deep jaws of death;
223Sharp claws, swift talons, fleshless fingers cold
224Plucked at me from the bushes, tried to hold:
225      But I strode on austere;
226      No hope could have no fear.
227As I came through the desert thus it was,
228As I came through the desert: Lo you, there,
229That hillock burning with a brazen glare;
230Those myriad dusky flames with points a-glow
231Which writhed and hissed and darted to and fro;
232A Sabbath of the Serpents, heaped pell-mell
233For Devil's roll-call and some fête of Hell:
234      Yet I strode on austere;
235      No hope could have no fear.
236As I came through the desert thus it was,
237As I came through the desert: Meteors ran
238And crossed their javelins on the black sky-span;
239The zenith opened to a gulf of flame,
240The dreadful thunderbolts jarred earth's fixed frame:
241The ground all heaved in waves of fire that surged
242And weltered round me sole there unsubmerged:
243      Yet I strode on austere;
244      No hope could have no fear.
245As I came through the desert thus it was,
246As I came through the desert: Air once more,
247And I was close upon a wild sea-shore;
248Enormous cliffs arose on either hand,
249The deep tide thundered up a league-broad strand;
250White foambelts seethed there, wan spray swept and flew;
251The sky broke, moon and stars and clouds and blue:
252      And I strode on austere;
253      No hope could have no fear.
254As I came through the desert thus it was,
255As I came through the desert: On the left
256The sun arose and crowned a broad crag-cleft;
257There stopped and burned out black, except a rim,
258A bleeding eyeless socket, red and dim;
259Whereon the moon fell suddenly south-west,
260And stood above the right-hand cliffs at rest:
261      Still I strode on austere;
262      No hope could have no fear.
263As I came through the desert thus it was,
264As I came through the desert: From the right
265A shape came slowly with a ruddy light;
266A woman with a red lamp in her hand,
267Bareheaded and barefooted on that strand;
268O desolation moving with such grace!
269O anguish with such beauty in thy face.
270      I fell as on my bier,
271      Hope travailed with such fear.
272As I came through the desert thus it was,
273As I came through the desert: I was twain,
274Two selves distinct that cannot join again;
275One stood apart and knew but could not stir,
276And watched the other stark in swoon and her;
277And she came on, and never turned aside,
278Between such sun and moon and roaring tide:
279      And as she came more near
280      My soul grew mad with fear.
281As I came through the desert thus it was,
282As I came through the desert: Hell is mild
283And piteous matched with that accursèd wild;
284A large black sign was on her breast that bowed,
285A broad black band ran down her snow-white shroud;
286That lamp she held was her own burning heart,
287Whose blood-drops trickled step by step apart;
288      The mystery was clear;
289      Mad rage had swallowed fear.
290As I came through the desert thus it was,
291As I came through the desert: By the sea
292She knelt and bent above that senseless me;
293Those lamp-drops fell upon my white brow there,
294She tried to cleanse them with her tears and hair;
295She murmured words of pity, love, and woe,
296She heeded not the level rushing flow:
297      And mad with rage and fear,
298      I stood stonebound so near.
299As I came through the desert thus it was,
300As I came through the desert: When the tide
301Swept up to her there kneeling by my side,
302She clasped that corpse-like me, and they were borne
303Away, and this vile me was left forlorn;
304I know the whole sea cannot quench that heart,
305Or cleanse that brow, or wash those two apart:
306      They love; their doom is drear,
307      Yet they nor hope nor fear;
308But I, what do I here?
Publication Start Year: 
1874
RPO poem Editors: 
J. D. Robins
RPO Edition: 
2RP.2.599; RPO 1996-2000.
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