The City at the End of Things

Original Text: 
The Poems of Archibald Lampman, ed. Duncan Campbell Scott (Toronto: George N. Morang, 1900): 179-82, as reprinted in The Poems of Archibald Lampman (including At the Long Sault) (Univ. of Toronto Press, 1974), and from Alcyone (Ottawa: Ogilvy, 1899).
1Beside the pounding cataracts
2Of midnight streams unknown to us
3'Tis builded in the leafless tracts
5Lurid and lofty and vast it seems;
6It hath no rounded name that rings,
7But I have heard it called in dreams
8The City of the End of Things.
9Its roofs and iron towers have grown
10None knoweth how high within the night,
11But in its murky streets far down
12A flaming terrible and bright
13Shakes all the stalking shadows there,
14Across the walls, across the floors,
15And shifts upon the upper air
16From out a thousand furnace doors;
17And all the while an awful sound
18Keeps roaring on continually,
19And crashes in the ceaseless round
20Of a gigantic harmony.
21Through its grim depths re-echoing
22And all its weary height of walls,
23With measured roar and iron ring,
24The inhuman music lifts and falls.
25Where no thing rests and no man is,
26And only fire and night hold sway;
27The beat, the thunder and the hiss
28Cease not, and change not, night nor day.
29And moving at unheard commands,
30The abysses and vast fires between,
31Flit figures that with clanking hands
32Obey a hideous routine;
33They are not flesh, they are not bone,
34They see not with the human eye,
35And from their iron lips is blown
36A dreadful and monotonous cry;
37And whoso of our mortal race
38Should find that city unaware,
39Lean Death would smite him face to face,
40And blanch him with its venomed air:
41Or caught by the terrific spell,
42Each thread of memory snapt and cut,
43His soul would shrivel and its shell
44Go rattling like an empty nut.
45It was not always so, but once,
46In days that no man thinks upon,
47Fair voices echoed from its stones,
48The light above it leaped and shone:
49Once there were multitudes of men,
50That built that city in their pride,
51Until its might was made, and then
52They withered age by age and died.
53But now of that prodigious race,
54Three only in an iron tower,
55Set like carved idols face to face,
56Remain the masters of its power;
57And at the city gate a fourth,
58Gigantic and with dreadful eyes,
59Sits looking toward the lightless north,
60Beyond the reach of memories;
61Fast rooted to the lurid floor,
62A bulk that never moves a jot,
63In his pale body dwells no more,
64Or mind or soul,-an idiot!
65But sometime in the end those three
66Shall perish and their hands be still,
67And with the master's touch shall flee
68Their incommunicable skill.
69A stillness absolute as death
70Along the slacking wheels shall lie,
71And, flagging at a single breath,
72The fires shall moulder out and die.
73The roar shall vanish at its height,
74And over that tremendous town
75The silence of eternal night
76Shall gather close and settle down.
77All its grim grandeur, tower and hall,
78Shall be abandoned utterly,
79And into rust and dust shall fall
80From century to century;
81Nor ever living thing shall grow,
82Nor trunk of tree, nor blade of grass;
83No drop shall fall, no wind shall blow,
84Nor sound of any foot shall pass:
85Alone of its accursèd state,
86One thing the hand of Time shall spare,
87For the grim Idiot at the gate
88Is deathless and eternal there.


4] Tartarus: hell. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
Atlantic Monthly
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1997.