The Devil's Dream On Mount Aksbeck
Poem by Thomas Aird
Beyond the north where Ural hills from polar tempests run,
A glow went forth at midnight hour as of unwonted sun;
Upon the north at midnight hour a mighty noise was heard,
As if with all his trampling waves the Ocean were unbarred;
And high a grizzly Terror hung, upstarting from below,
Like fiery arrow shot aloft from some unmeasured bow.
'Twas not the obedient Seraph's form that burns before the Throne,
Whose feathers are the pointed flames that tremble to be gone:
With twists of faded glory mixed, grim shadows wove his wing;
An aspect like the hurrying storm proclaimed the Infernal King.
And up he went, from native might, or holy sufferance given,
As if to strike the starry boss of the high and vaulted heaven.
Aloft he turned in middle air like falcon for his prey,
And bowed to all the winds of heaven as if to flee away;
Till broke a cloud—a phantom host, like glimpses of a dream,
Sowing the Syrian wilderness with many a restless gleam:
He knew the flowing chivalry, the swart and turbaned train,
That far had pushed the Moslem faith, and peopled well his reign:
With stooping pinion that outflew the Prophet's wingèd steed,
In pride throughout the desert bounds he led the phantom speed;
But prouder yet he turned alone and stood on Tabor hill,
With scorn as if the Arab swords had little helped his will:
With scorn he looked to west away, and left their train to die,
Like a thing that had awaked to life from the gleaming of his eye.
What hill is like to Tabor hill in beauty and in fame?
There in the sad days of His flesh o'er Christ a glory came;
And light outflowed Him like a sea, and raised His shining brow;
And the Voice went forth that bade all worlds to God's Belovèd bow.
One thought of this came o'er the Fiend, and raised his startled form;
And up he drew his swelling skirts as if to meet the storm.
With wing that stripped the dews and birds from off the boughs of night,
Down over Tabor's trees he whirled his fierce distempered flight;
And westward o'er the shadowy earth he tracked his earnest way,
Till o'er him shone the utmost stars that hem the skirts of day;
Then higher 'neath the sun he flew above all mortal ken,
Yet looked what he might see on earth to raise his pride again.
He saw a form of Africa low sitting in the dust;
The feet were chained, and sorrow thrilled throughout the sable bust.
The idol, and the idol's priest he hailed upon the earth,
And every slavery that brings wild passions to the birth.
All forms of human wickedness were pillars of his fame,
All sounds of human misery his kingdom's loud acclaim.
Exulting o'er the rounded earth again he rode with Night,
Till, sailing o'er the untrodden top of Aksbeck high and white,
He closed at once his weary wings, and touched the shining hill;
For less his flight was easy strength than proud uncon-quered will:
For sin had dulled his native strength, and spoilt the holy law
Of impulse whence the Archangels their earnest being draw.
And sin had drunk his brightness, since his heavenly days went by:
Shadows of care and sorrow dwelt in his proud immortal eye;
Like little sparry pools that glimpse 'midst murk and haggard rocks,
Quick fitful gleams came o'er his cheek black with the thunder-strokes;
Like coast of lurid darkness were his forehead's shade and light,
Lit by some far volcanic fire, and strewed with wrecks of night.
Like hovering bird that fears the snare, or like the startled Sleep
That ne'er its couch on eyelids of blood-guilty men will keep,
His ruffled form that trembled much, his swarthy soles unblest,
As if impatient to be gone, still hovering could not rest;
Still looking up unto the moon clear set above his head,
Like mineral hill where gold grows ripe, sore gleams his forehead shed.
Winds rose: from 'neath his settling feet were driven great drifts of snow;
Like hoary hair from off his head did white clouds streaming go;
The gulfy pinewoods far beneath roared surging like a sea;
From out their lairs the striding wolves came howling awfully.
But now upon an ice-glazed rock, severely blue, he leant,
His spirit by the storm composed that round about him went.
In nature's Joy he felt fresh night blow on his fiery scars;
In proud Regret he fought anew his early hapless wars;
From human misery lately seen, his Malice yet would draw
A hope to blast one plan of God, and check sweet Mercy's law;
An endless line of future years was stern Despair's control:
And deep these master Passions wove the tempest of his soul.
Oh for the form in Heaven that bore the morn upon his brow!
Now, run to worse than mortal dross, that Lucifer must bow.
And o'er him rose, from Passion's strife, like spray-cloud from the deep,
A slumber; not the Cherub's soft and gauzy veil of sleep,
But like noon's breathless thunder-cloud, of sultry smothered gleam.
And God was still against his soul to plague him with a dream.
In vision he was borne away, where Lethe's slippery wave
Creeps like a black and shining snake into a silent cave,—
A place of still and pictured life: its roof was ebon air,
And blasted as with dim eclipse the sun and moon were there:
It seemed the grave of man's lost world—of Beauty caught by blight.
The Dreamer knew the work he marred, and felt a Fiend's delight.
The lofty cedar on the hills by viewless storms was swung,
And high the thunder-fires of Heaven among its branches hung;
In drowsy heaps of feathers sunk, all fowls that fly were there,
The head for ever 'neath the wing, no more to rise in air;
From woods the forms of lions glared, and hasty tigers broke;
The harnessed steed lay in his pains, the heifer 'neath the yoke.
All creatures once of earth are there, all sealed with Death's pale seal
On Lethe's shore: dull sliding by her sleepy waters steal.
O'er cities of imperial name, and styled of endless sway,
The silent river slowly creeps, and licks them all away.
This is the place of God's First Wrath—the mute creation's fall—
Earth marred—the woes of lower life—oblivion over all.
Small joy to him who marred our world! for he is hurried on,
Made, even in dreams, to dread that place where yet he boasts his throne:
Through portals driven, a horrid pile of grim and hollow bars,
Wherein clear spirits of tinctured life career in prisoned wars,
Down on the Second Lake he's bowed, where final fate is wrought,
In meshes of eternal fire, o'er beings of moral thought.
Vast rose abrupt (Hell's Throne) a rock dusk-red of mineral glow,
Its tortured summit hid in smoke, from out the gult below,
Whose fretted surf of gleaming waves still broke against its sides.
Serpents of Sorrow, spun from out the lashings of those tides,
Sprung disengaged, and darted up that damnèd cliff amain,
Their bellies skinned with glossy fire: But none came down again.
Far off, upon the fire-burnt coast, some naked beings stood;
And o'er them, like a stream of mist, the Wrath was seen to brood.
At half-way distance stood, with head beneath his trembling wing,
An Angel shape, intent to shield his special suffering.
And nearer, as if overhead, were voices heard to break;
Yet were they cries of souls that lived beneath the weltering Lake.
And ever, as with grizzly gleam the crested waves came on,
Up rose a melancholy form with short impatient moan,
Whose eyes like living jewels shone, clear-purgèd by the flame;
And sore the salted fires had washed the thin immortal frame;
And backward, in sore agony, the Being stripped its locks,
As a maiden in her beauty's pride her claspèd tresses strokes.
High tumbling hills of glossy ore reeled in the yellow smoke,
As shaded round the uneasy land their sultry summits broke.
Above them lightnings to and fro ran crossing evermore,
Till, like a red bewildered map, the skies were scribbled o'er.
High in the unseen cupola o'er all were ever heard
The mustering stores of Wrath that fast their coming forms prepared.
Wo, wo to him whose wickedness first dug this glaring pit!
For this new terrors in his soul by God shall yet be lit.
In vision still to plague his heart, the Fiend is stormed away,
In dreadful emblem to behold what waits his future day;
Away beyond the thundering bounds of that tremendous Lake,
Through dim bewildered shadows which no living semblance take.
O'er soft and unsubstantial shades which towering visions seem,
Through kingdoms of forlorn repose, went on the hurrying dream;
Till down where feet of hills might be, he by a Lake was stayed
Of still red fire—a molten plate of terror unallayed—
A mirror where Jehovah's Wrath, in majesty alone,
Comes in the night of worlds to see its armour girded on.
The awful walls of shadows round might dusky mountains seem,
But never holy light hath touched an outline with its gleam;
'Tis but the eye's bewildered sense that fain would rest on form,
And make night's thick blind presence to created shapes conform.
No stone is moved on mountain here by creeping creature crossed;
No lonely harper comes to harp upon this fiery coast.
Here all is solemn idleness: no music here, no jars,
Where Silence guards the coast, e'er thrill her everlasting bars.
No sun here shines on wanton isles; but o'er the burning sheet
A rim of restless halo shakes, which marks the internal heat;
As, in the days of beauteous earth, we see with dazzled sight
The red and setting sun o'erflow with rings of welling light.
Oh! here in dread abeyance lurks of uncreated things
The Last Lake of God's Wrath, where He his first great Enemy brings.
Deep in the bosom of the gulf the Fiend was made to stay,
Till, as it seemed, ten thousand years had o'er him rolled away:
In dreams he had extended life to bear the fiery space;
But all was passive, dull, and stern within his dwelling-place.
Oh for a blast of tenfold ire to rouse the giant surge,
Him from that flat fixed lethargy impetuously to urge!
Let him but rise, but ride upon the tempest-crested wave
Of fire enridged tumultuously, each angry thing he'd brave!
The strokes of Wrath—thick let them fall! a speed so glorious dread
Would bear him through; the clinging pains would strip from off his head.
At last, from out the barren womb of many thousand years,
A sound as of the green-leaved earth his thirsty spirit cheers;
And, oh, a presence soft and cool came o'er his burning dream,
A form of beauty clad about with fair creation's beam;
A low sweet voice was in his ear, thrilled through his inmost soul,
And these the words that bowed his heart with softly sad control:—
“No sister e'er hath been to thee with pearly eyes of love;
No mother e'er hath wept for thee, an outcast from above;
No hand hath come from out the cloud to wash thy scarrèd face;
No voice to bid thee lie in peace, the noblest of thy race:
But bow thee to the God of Love, and all shall yet be well,
And yet in days of holy peace and love thy soul shall dwell.
“And thou shalt dwell 'mid leaves and rills far from this torrid heat,
And I with streams of cooling milk will bathe thy blistered feet;
And when the troubled tears shall start to think of all the past,
My mouth shall haste to kiss them off, and chase thy sorrows fast;
And thou shalt walk in soft white light with kings and priests abroad,
And thou shalt summer high in bliss upon the hills of God.”
So spake the unknown Cherub's voice, of sweet affection full,
And dewy lips the dreamer kissed till his lava breast was cool.
In dread revulsion woke the Fiend, as from a mighty blow,
And sprung a moment on his wing his wonted strength to know;
Like ghosts that bend and glare on dark and scattered shores of night,
So turned he to each point of heaven to know his dream aright.
The vision of this Last Stern Lake, oh how it plagued his soul,
Type of that dull eternity which on him soon must roll,
When plans and issues all must cease which earlier care beguiled,
And never era more shall be a landmark on the wild:
Nor failure nor success is there, nor busy hope nor fame,
But passive fixed endurance, all eternal and the same.
So knew the Fiend, and fain would he down to oblivion go;
But back from fear his spirit proud, recoiling like a bow,
Sprung. O'er his head he saw the heavens upstayèd bright and high;
The planets, undisturbed by him, were shining in the sky;
The silent magnanimity of Nature and her God
With anguish smote his haughty soul, and sent his Hell abroad.
His pride would have the works of God to show the signs of fear,
And flying Angels to and fro to watch his dread career;
But all was calm: He felt night's dew upon his sultry wing,
And gnashed at the impartial laws of Nature's mighty King;
Above control, or show of hate, they no exception made,
But gave him dew, like aged thorn, or little grassy blade.
Terrible, like the mustering manes of the cold and curly sea,
So grew his eye's enridged gleams; and doubt and danger flee:
Like veteran band's grim valour slow, that moves to avenge its chief,
Up slowly drew the Fiend his form, that shook with proud relief:
And he will upward go, and pluck the windows of high Heaven,
And stir their calm insulting peace, though tenfold Hell be given.
Quick as the levin, whose blue forks lick up the life of man,
Aloft he sprung, and through his wings the piercing north-wind ran;
Till, like a glimmering lamp that's lit in lazar-house by night,
To see what mean the sick man's cries, and set his bed aright,
Which in the damp and sickly air the sputtering shadows mar,
So gathered darkness high the Fiend, till swallowed like a star.
What judgment from the tempted Heavens shall on his head go forth?
Down headlong through the firmament he fell upon the north.
The stars are up untroubled all in the lofty fields of air:
The will of God's enough, without His red right arm made bare.
'Twas He that gave the Fiend a space, to prove him still the same;
Then bade wild Hell, with hideous laugh, be stirred her prey to claim.
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