Darkness – Lord Byron’s Apocalyptic Poem

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken…
– Matthew 24:29

Byron’s poem Darkness is an anomaly, completely different in form and subject matter than his other works, and it was inspired by a true event.

The year 1816 became known as the Year without a Summer. Record cold temperatures and inexplicable darkness at noon threw the general populace into a panic.

The summit caldera of the volcano.

The summit caldera of the volcano. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Speculation only fueled the hysteria seizing Europe. The underlying cause, unknown at the time, was a massive volcanic eruption in faraway Sumbawa Island, Indonesia. Mount Tambora, in the largest eruption in recorded history, spewed so much ash into the atmosphere that the average global temperature dropped by 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit!).

After giving Darkness a read, you might want to try the mash-up at the very end of the post. It succeeds – well, almost. Unfortunately, the instrumental track, though pleasantly minimal at first, becomes too distracting for my taste (if only the guitar solo could be snipped out). The lengthiness of the poem doesn’t help either.

The voice is that of “Tom O’Bedlam” of SpokenVerse, a man who dominates the YouTube poetry niche (he’s uploaded over a 1,000 videos). Ever since I started this blog, I’ve wondered who he is.

His voice is magnificent! If I had a voice like that, I would read poetry aloud all day myself. My only quibble is that his readings are so invariably melancholic. The word “lugubrious” comes to mind as well. Nevertheless, for a poem like this, that’s exactly what we’re looking for. Tom, if you’re reading this, please pardon my criticism. I do enjoy your work and your selections!  I should add that the mash-up remix was not done by him — I’ve included his original video:

Darkness

 I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguished, 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 chilled 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 consumed,
And men were gathered 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 contained;
Forests were set on fire — but hour by hour
They fell and faded — and the crackling trunks
Extinguished 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 smiled;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and looked 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 gnashed their teeth and howled: the wild birds shrieked
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawled
And twined 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 devoured,
Even dogs assailed their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famished men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lured their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answered not with a caress — he died.
The crowd was famished 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 heaped a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they raked up,
And shivering scraped 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 shrieked, 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 stirred within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropped
They slept on the abyss without a surge —
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expired before;
The winds were withered in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perished; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them — She was the Universe.
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