The Last Days Of Herculaneum. Poem by Edwin Atherstone

The Last Days Of Herculaneum.

It was a day of gloom, and strange suspense,
And feverish, and inexplicable dread,
In Herculaneum's walls. The heavy, thick,
And torrid atmosphere; the solid, vast,
And strong--edg'd clouds, that through the firmament
In various and opposing courses moved:--
The wild scream of the solitary bird
That, at long intervals, flew terror--driven
On high:--the howling of the red--ey'd dog
As he gaz'd trembling on the angry heavens:--
The hollow moans that swept along the air,
Though every wind was lock'd,--portended all
That nature with some dire event was big,
And labour'd in its birth. The artist's shop
Was closed:--the hammer of the brawny smith
Lay on the anvil:--in the silent streets
The hoof of steed was heard not:--'neath its shed
The whirling car slept on its noiseless wheels.
'Twas silence all, and apprehension dark
And terrible. Who walk'd abroad might hear
From the closed house at times the infant's scream:--
The voice suppress'd of boding fear, like his
Who struggles in an agonizing dream:--
Anon the deep and solemn tones of prayer:--
And then the mingled hum of many tongues
In earnest talk, yet soften'd down as though
They told of murders. From a slow ope'd door
A pale and shrinking figure came at times,
With wild and gleaming eye a moment turn'd
Up to the pitchy firmament:--then back
In haste withdrew, and, with such gentle hand
As his who fears to wake an enemy,
The portal clos'd again. As day advanced
Sulphureous fumes pervaded all the air:
Far distant sounds, scarce audible, came on
As of the bursting of a mighty flame;--
And deep beneath the ground some said they heard
A noise like that of many pond'rous cars
In fierce career;--or like the boom and rush
Of floods contending.-- Here and there a group
With fear--mark'd faces stood,--who all aghast
Gazed on the awful sky, and whispering told
Their terrors;--for 'twas said a pine--tree huge
Had been beheld on high Vesuvius' top
That branch'd into the heavens:--and some had seen
Grim spectres giant--sized, that to and fro
Glided upon the mountain's summit dim,
Or walk'd unsinking on the obscure air.
Some on the dusky ocean had descried
Strange shadowy shapes; and some had heard the waves
Loud dashing in mid--sea,--though not a breeze
Fann'd their hot brows.--Some in the terrible sky
Had imaged forth appalling forms;--a god
They saw, huge as an Alpine hill, who rode
Half hidden on a throne of clouds, and breathed
Red vapours from his nostrils:--and his eyes
Glared like two suns of blood through mist. One saw,
Down bending from the sky distinct, a face
Horrific;--black as tenfold night;--severe,
But calm it look'd with steadfast gaze to earth,
And eyes that never closed, though all around
A thousand fires unintermitting play'd.

Terror was over all men:--what to fear
They scarcely knew:--yet to the stoutest heart
The panic shudderings crept; and in the brain
Of wisest man work'd dire imaginings
And shapeless horrors. Night was closing in
With heavy shades ere yet the sun went down;--
When, lo! the earth was shaken to its base;
And the loud roaring, smother'd and profound,
Of subterranean thunders fill'd the air.
Down from the roofs the rattling ruins fell:--
The strong foundations shook:--the mighty domes
Heav'd to and fro:--the lofty columns rock'd.
Then swell'd the shrieks of terror:--in the streets
Rush'd suddenly, as though the graves had given
Their ghastly tenants forth, thick multitudes
Of yelling wretches, pale and horror struck:--
A livid light seem'd streaming from their eyes:
Some cower'd, and shrunk, and fell upon the earth:
Some shouted as in rage;--and some with tears
Big rolling down their marble cheeks, stood stiff
And paralyzed. All shapes that horror stamps
On man in face or gesture might be seen.
Here one, to madness work'd, his hard clench'd hands
Threw out tow'rds heaven,--with flashing, rolling eyes
Brow harshly furrow'd;--bared and gnashing teeth,
And nostril spread, as though in maniac rage
To threat the Thunderer. Upon their knees,
With upward pointed hands, these pray'd aloud;
And those, as if intoxicated, reel'd
And stumbled on. Some struck their dearest friends,
But grasp'd their enemy close:--some wail'd aloud;
Beat on their breasts--and tore their hair away,--
And wrung their hands; then wept and wail'd again.
Convulsed with ceaseless laughter, others fell
Backward upon the ground;--and some there were,
By terror as by lightning kill'd, stretch'd out
Upon the earth: while by the tottering walls
Supported, others sat, stiffen'd and dead,
With jaw depress'd, and ghastly open eye,
Upon the startled gazer glaring grim.

The earth again was still:--the thunders died:--
The sounds of lamentation and of fear
Subsided slowly to a gloomy hush.
Each where he stood remain'd:--the mother hugg'd
Her infant to her breast:--the father grasp'd
The trembling hand of his beloved child:--
Fast in the lover's arm the shrinking maid
Was folded. Dreadful expectation hung,
And silence over all. A thousand eyes
Were anxious fix'd upon the lowering sky,
Whose massive, rocky, and red margin'd clouds,
Rank piled o'er rank, had ceased their wandering course,
And over that devoted city now,
Like armies concentrating for attack,
Were settling slow. Within a spacious square
A little group there was, who on their knees
And with declined heads sent prayers to heaven.--
To those at distance placed,--even through the dense,
Dim atmosphere, distinctly visible
Were they;--for round them shone a pallid flame;
And from their heads it pointed to the sky:--
Right over them from a dark cloud there came
A point of misty light; as when the sun
Shoots through the watery clouds a slanting ray
Obscure: they who look'd on it heard, they said,
Or thought they heard, a hissing as of snakes,
Or like the sound that through the withering leaves
Autumnal, wake the breezes as they pass.
Not long they look'd,--for thro' the thick, dark air
Glanced the red thunder--bolt with light intense
That smote who saw with blindness. Earth and heaven
Rock'd with the bursting thunders:--to their base
Shook the strong temples, and the lofty towers.

On that devoted group the bolt had fallen:--
And when, recovering sense, the people turn'd
To look again upon them, they beheld
No sign of man,--but on the earth there lay
A heap of whiten'd ashes. Sunk again
The thunder's roar:--and gloomy silence came
Once more upon them. Trembling, to their homes
The citizens return'd. Darkness intense
Soon cover'd all things;--and the close, hot air,
Felt suffocating. Some who linger'd still,
Or ere retiring to their sleepless beds,
Look'd out into the night, saw on the sky,
Tow'rds where Vesuvius rear'd his giant head,
A crimson tinge:--and in the stilly air
The deep and soften'd thunder--mutterings heard.

A night of gloom and horrors!--Not a breath
Of air was felt:--the thick hot atmosphere
Came on their parching lips, as from the mouth
Of opening furnace. Darkness like a pall
Of deepest shade hung o'er:--no heaven, no earth,
No faintest outline of the temple's form
Against the sky: the uplifted hand was viewless:--
Scarce could the clogg'd and heavy air transmit
The labouring sound: scarce could the torch's flare
Pierce through the gloom; and he who by its red
And dusky light then wander'd through the streets,
Lonely and sad, saw not the earth he press'd.
Oh! for the tempest now! the clattering hail!
Whirlwinds! tornadoes! deluge--bringing rain!
Aught but this heavy--pressing firmament--
This thick and torrid air--this tomblike night!

Who sleeps within the city?--He, the sire,
Who, labouring hard for breath,--with burning brow,
And tense and blood--shot eye,--yet fans the cheek
Of his convulsed and gasping child? Sleeps she,
The wretched mother, who the fiery skin
Of her delirious infant laves;--the lips
That can no longer drain the dried--up breast,
Wets with the water from the once cool well,
Itself now scarce less burning? Sleeps the youth,
The new--made bridegroom, by the virgin bride
Outstretch'd,--who prays, though with unmoving lips,
For aid in their last hour of agony?

Reposes she, the lovely youthful maid
Before whom lies, in his last pangs convulsed,
The aged sickly parent? His pale cheek
Has ta'en a purple flush--his eye is wild--
His wither'd hands he tosses to and fro--
Wheezes and snorts for breath--and seems to catch
At shadows. ``Water,'' then he feebly cries;--
She puts it to his lips--she bathes his brow--
She sprinkles o'er his venerable face:--
``Hot--hot--'' he murmurs--``no, 'tis burning hot--''
``Oh! water--cold--cold water.'' Muttering thus,
His eye--balls fix--he stiffens--gasps--and dies.

Who sleeps within the city? Soundly they
Sleep who shall wake no more. He on whom fell
The crushing ruin:--who by the red bolt
Perish'd:--the fear--slain wretch who where he died
Still sits erect--and cold--and stiff: with eye
Staring and fix'd--looking upon the night--
The dead sleep in the city. Heavily
Drag on the hours: a year of common life
Less slow than such a night.--What is it waves
At intervals along the inky sky
Like a dark blood--red flag? It casts no light
By which to see;--yet 'tis not for the time
That depth intense of blackness,--but a dim
And dusky red obscurity:--such tinge
As sometimes on the low and heavy clouds
Of midnight by th' horizon trembling hangs
Scarce seen--from some far distant watch--fire thrown.

'Tis the vast flame that through the sea of smoke
From high Vesuvius' black and sulphurous mouth
Bursts for an instant forth,--then sinks again,
In that dense vapour quench'd.--They who behold,
Marvel and fear--yet know not whence it is.

Whence come those distant thunder--breathings deep,
That fall with gentlest touch upon the ear,
Yet seem to fill the heavens--and reach earth's centre?

'Tis from that mountain's vast and hollow womb,
Now first conceiving subterranean fire,
And belching earthly thunders.--Thousands hear
That warning voice--yet none its meaning know.--

What is it moves with gentle heave the ground;
Like softest swell of ocean in a calm--
Now rests--then comes again with tremblings soft,
As from the rumbling of a loaded wain--
Felt, tho' not heard?--All know the earthquake's tread,
And would, but cannot, flee.-- How drear the night!
Oh! when will morning come?--the tapers all
That measure out the hours are long since spent
But yet there is no day.--Is the great sun
Consumed too,--or darken'd?--this the time,
So oft foretold, when nature shall expire,--
The heavens be blotted out--and earth in flames
Shall pass away? Such thoughts o'er many came
As, slowly yielding now, the pall of night
Changed to a dingy red:--like a vast arch
Of iron look'd the heavens when first the heat,
Deep penetrating, to a lurid tinge
Begins to turn its blackness:--redder now--
And redder still the awful concave glows--
Till in its bloody, but uncertain glare,
The bolder may walk forth.--Man meets with man,
And starts as at a fiend:--for from the hot
And fiery sky all things have caught their hue:--
No sweet varieties of colour here
As in the blessed sunshine:--no soft tints
Like those of sweet May--morn,--when day's bright god
Looks smiling from behind delicious mists;
Throwing his slant rays on the glistening grass,
Where, 'gainst the rich deep green, the cowslip hangs
His elegant bells of purest gold:--the pale,
Sweet perfumed primrose lifts its face to heaven
Like the full, artless gaze of infancy:--
The little ray--crown'd daisy peeps beneath
When the tall neighbour grass, heavy with dew,
Bows down its head beneath the fresh'ning breeze;--
Where oft in long dark lines the waving trees
Throw their soft shadows on the sunny fields:--
Where in the music--breathing hedge, the thorn
And pearly white May blossom full of sweets,
Hang out the virgin flag of spring, entwined
With dripping honeysuckles whose sweet breath
Sinks to the heart--recalling with a sigh
Dim recollected feelings of the days
Of youth and early love.--Oh! none of these,
Nature's too oft unprized treasures, bless'd
That scene of woe. The pure white marble shaft
That bears aloft the princely portico
Of the proud palace:--the black dungeon gate:--
The pallid statue o'er some honour'd tomb
That ever drooping hangs;--and the bronze Mars
That bares his blood--stain'd sword:--the solemn tree
That o'er the sepulchre his dark green boughs
Hangs melancholy;--and the vivid flower
That in its course still looks upon the sun:--
The deep brown earth, and the fresh garden tints
Of emerald, with flowers of every stain
The rainbow's dye can give;--the beggar's rags,
And the cerulean blue of beauty's robe;--
All in one undistinguishable hue
Are clad, of lurid redness. In the streets
Thousands of fire--tinged figures roam amazed
And fearful. ``Is this morn?'' they ask,
``Oh! what a night we've pass'd!--but is this morn?
``And what is that, high in the gory clouds,
``That orb of brighter crimson?'' On it gaze
Unnumber'd wide and wistful eyes.--By heavens!
It is the sun in his meridian fields!

Where hath his morning splendour slept unseen?
--In that dense sea above of vapour, fire,
Darkness, and storms--his morning splendour slept,
And soon again he'll sink. Devoted race!
Your last bright sun has set:--gaze while ye may
Even on that dark red orb:--fast close around
Th' impenetrable clouds:--sulphureous fogs
Roll on:--light feathery ashes mix, and fill
Th' unwholesome air: the firmament grows dark,
The sun's red disk seems melting in the clouds.
Look--miserable mortals!--look your last:
A faint dim outline only can ye trace:
What see ye now?--rests he behind a cloud?--
No! no!--ye gaze in vain!--his beam is quench'd!--
To you for ever quench'd! High in the heavens
He rides sublime in his immortal course,
And shall for ever roll; but to your eyes
His beams return no more. Far different lights
Must gild your few remaining hours:--the flash
Of the death--dealing lightning--the red glare
Of populous streets in flames--the sparkles dread
Of moony meteors--and an atmosphere
With burning cinders fill'd--and rocks of fire.

Fast came again the shades of utter dark:
So suddenly they came, that those abroad
Scarce found their doors. Dismay sunk deep in all--
Direful forebodings--shapeless horrors rack
Their frenzied souls. Shrieks--curses--prayers and groans--
Deep whispering talk--and maniac mutterings--
Are heard along the air.-- 'Twas noon--yet night:
In thicker showers the flaky ashes fell:
Louder and deeper swell'd the thunder's voice:
With stronger throes the labouring earthquake heaved;
Hotter and hotter grew the breathless air.

``Is there no help?'' the panting wretches cried:--
``Oh God! is there no help?--in mercy end
``Our sufferings, or our lives:--bid the floods drown--
``The lightnings strike--the tumbling ruins crush--
``The earthquake swallow, and at once destroy us:--
``Bid any sudden plague, if such thy will,
``O'erwhelm us--any thing but this slow death--
``These lingering and invisible fires--that glow
``On earth--in air--above--beneath--around--
``That parch us to the bones,--yet leave us life,
``And sense of pain, and apprehension strong
``Of ills to come. Is there no help? Oh! God!''

Such prayers from thousands came, though power of speech
Perchance denied, yet in the burning brain
Conceived--and in the glaring anguish'd eye,
And by the trembling of the shrivell'd lip,
To Heaven interpreted. What thought can reach,
What language can express, the agonies--
The horrors of that hour! An earth beneath
That threaten'd to devour--an atmosphere
That burn'd and choked--ashes that fell for rain--
Thunders that roar'd above--thunders that groan'd
And heaved below--and solid darkness round,
That like an ocean of black waters whelm'd
And press'd upon the earth!-- Lives there a man,
Who, in some death--like trance, to the dark tomb
Consign'd, has there awoke; smelt the foul stench
Of the dank vault; felt on his straiten'd limbs
The grave's habiliments; then, in despair
And terror strong, has burst his narrow house,
And known the shadows of the seal'd--up tomb?
Such man alone may image well this deep,
Unutterable darkness.--Lives there one.
Who, in some prison cell chain'd down, has heard
The flames loud crackling, roaring underneath;
Felt to his shrinking foot the floor grow hot;
Breathed the thick, stifling air, while thro' each chink
The quenchless fire has rush'd, till his heart seem'd
To burst, his brain to burn? such wretch alone
May faintly know the oppressive misery
Of that dire atmosphere. So pass'd the time;--
Still fell the ashy showers;--still rock'd the earth:--
Still with increasing rage Vesuvius spoke
In thunders;--still a pitchy darkness hung
Impenetrable o'er them. Hundreds then
Had perish'd; thousands gasp'd 'twixt life and death;
All wanted aid,--but there was none to help.

'Twas now the middle hour 'tween noon and eve:--
What is it meets the wistful, open'd ear,
At the short thunder--pauses,--heavily
Dropping, wide scatter'd on the ashy bed
That strews the streets?--thicker and faster now
It falls;--it trickles from the eaves;--it pours--
It rolls in torrents now:--``Oh God!'' they cry,
``'Tis rain!--'tis blessed rain!'' Wide fly the doors--
The windows open fly:--crowds fill the streets
Though dark as chaos:--faces, hands are raised
Greedy to catch the treasure ere it falls.
But what a rain is this!--Oh! not like showers
Of spring delicious;--when the gladsome earth
Breathes fragrance all around;--when the flowers droop
Their freshen'd, glistening heads;--the bright green grass
Waves twinkling to the breeze;--the birds strike up
Their joyous symphonies;--the heifer lows;--
The lambkin gambols blithe;--the trout upsprings
From the clear brook;--and man forgets his cares,
And walks abroad to breathe the perfumed air,
And warm him in the sun:--Oh! not like showers
Of glorious spring is this!--'tis a hot flood--
A gush of steaming rain!--but yet 'tis moist,
And fresh'ning to their parch'd and cracking skin;--
And there they stand, and drink at every pore
The softening fluid. Every age, and rank,
And sex, is there,--in darkness and in storm,
From which, in happier hour, the hardiest frame
Would have shrunk back; yet feel they for the time
A pause from misery. But through the streets
The deep'ning torrent flows--like o'ercharg'd brook
Hoarse--murmuring--rushing. Heavier falls the rain--
In floods it falls:--already to the knees
The children stand immersed:--their cries of fear
Are heard:--the clouds still burst above:--no more
In drops, but solid sheets, the rain descends:
The deluge roars and rushes on:--terror
O'er--masters all:--fain would they seek their homes,
But who shall guide their steps?--the blinding gloom
Mocks their attempts; the dashing of the flood,
The thunder's roll, the shrieks of those who call
For aid that none can give; confusion strange
'Tis all--dismay unspeakable. Even now
Some in the blacken'd torrent are borne down,
And their shrill drowning cries are heard: that fate
Had been the doom of multitudes--but lo!
On the Tartarean darkness,--suddenly
Burst the wide sheeted lightning;--on the face
Of the black, troubled waters glanced and heaved--
Gleam'd on the shining roofs--the temple domes
Wash'd o'er with silvery light--and on the high
And marble columns show'd the clear, calm brows
Of sculptured heroes, who like Gods serene
Look'd--on amid convulsions, storms, and death.--
Flash follow'd flash;--unceasing thunders roll'd
And shouted through the arch of Heaven:--at once
O'er all the sky unnumber'd lightnings play'd;--
Unnumber'd thunders bellow'd and career'd:--
The lofty pillars were shiver'd--and fell to earth--
The temples fired--houses were split in twain--
And in the turbid rain--streams, thick upmix'd
With ashes hot, the bright blue thunderbolts
Fell hissing.-- Where are now the hapless crowds
That lately fill'd the streets?--Look on the earth;--
There blacken'd corses lie by lightning singed:--
There, tumbling down the stream, a hideous head
Nods in its course:--there, underneath yon pile
Of levell'd walls, some mangled limb alone
Looks out in gore bedrench'd from the crush'd trunk
Hot welling:--and see there a head forth peeps:--
Thoughtful and calm it seems, though somewhat pale,
And lightly dash'd with blood:--you'd say it lived,
And matters deep was pondering,--so the eye,
Open and earnest, seems emitting thought;--
The knitted forehead to the working brain
So correspondent seems; but that, flat press'd
Beneath yon mountain load,--what once was limbs,--
Heart--lungs--flesh--nerves and bone--to form a man,
Now lies a crimson jelly--oozing slow,
And bubbling from beneath.-- Their houses, most,
Though to the lowest stone the buildings rock,
And groan and creak the beams,--yet safer hold
Than those dire lightnings--and that burning shower
Unshelter'd to oppose.--In cellars dark,--
Far underground and gloomy, others sit
And list the deaden'd uproar of the storm
High over them, and underneath they hear
Thunders deep buried. But along the shore
Stand some and look aghast upon the deep:--
There is no wind in heaven--and yet the waves
Seem striving with a tempest: pond'rously
They swell aloft--and shake their foamy heads:--
Now sink in hollows;--now together dash,
And spit the whizzing spray on high:--this way,
One instant roll--then backward;--not like seas
Still bowing to the impulse of the wind
With onward rise and fall,--but to and fro
Tossing and reeling,--as the Almighty hand
Had smitten underneath their rocky bed
And made the abysses tremble and leap up.--
Heavily rock the anchor'd barks:--their masts
Dash on alternate sides the brine:--the prow
Now seems to bore into the gulph,--now mounts,
And the broad stern descends:--and over all
Ten thousand lightnings shake their blazing brands;
Making the waves seem flame;--and with the clash
And hiss of charging billows joins the roar
Of never dying thunders.-- It was now
The hour of midnight:--with unyielding force
The storm continued, though long time the rain
Had ceased to plough the earth:--but now came on
A hot and sulphurous wind:--and on it borne
Thick--black--revolving--mountain heaps of smoke,
With heavier fall of ashes mix'd, that brought
A momentary darkness: and anon
Came coals of fire, wide scatter'd through the air,
And on the moist ground steaming as they fell.

The wind blows strong:--swiftly the black smoke rolls
And tumbles onward:--in its depths is night;--
But all around incessant lightnings glance,
Tinging its heavy masses with bright skirts
Of vivid red,--and through its pitchy clouds
Breaking in forked lines of fire, as though
Darkness with light held strife for mastery.--
The firmament might seem another earth
With mountains huge of brass--and darting streams
Between, of liquid silver;--such a bulk
And hue the piled up clouds,--and shone so bright
Their margins with the lightning's ceaseless flow,--
Did they not roll, as earth does not,--and take
Each instant new and uncouth forms, scouring
With furious haste along, like demon shapes
On hell's unholy errands bound. But see!
The tempest thickens:--louder howls the blast:--
The burning cinders fall like hailstones down;
Darker and faster rolls the flood of smoke:--
And sailing 'thwart the sky huge meteors trail
Their scintillating globes of varied hues:--
Now in the dense clouds dip, eclips'd and lost;--
Now they emerge, and, like the ravenous bird
Hovering above his prey, coast slowly on
In track erratic,--or with sudden rage
Dart through the vast of air, or down to earth
Bursting and sparkling:--while from the deep pit
Of dire Vesuvius hurl'd, fly burning rocks
High arching through the air, with glow intense
Kindling the heavens, and through the boisterous wind
Roaring. Up to the clouds fly some, a bow
Of crimson radiance painting on the sky,--
Then harmless in the ocean plunge and die.
But many on that hapless city fall;--at once
Through roof--through strong--beam'd floors, resistless sinks
The heated rock;--down to the earth it goes:--
Tremble and crack the walls,--or overthrown
By that tremendous stroke, in ruins lie:--
A shriek perchance is heard;--but instant starts
The hollow--sounding flame, in the rough wind
Wafting and moaning.-- What a night is this!
Ye miserable remnants of a race,
Not three days since in wealth--in ease--in joy
O'ersated;--blaming if the sun too bright
Shone on your path,--or if too rude the breeze
Came to your pamper'd cheeks;--if your nice meats,
Not truly temper'd to fastidious taste,
Gave cause enough for wrath;--or if your wines
Their crystal clearness had not,--Oh! what change!
What awful change ye know!--But yet awhile
Endure your ills!--to--morrow ye shall know
Nor pain--nor grief--nor fear;--mean time all these
And woes on woes unspeakable must ye feel
While yet ye breathe and live.--Oh! give me words--
Spirit of horrors--from the tongues of hell;--
Such as the damn'd, to paint their agonies
And terrors, can alone invent--this scene
Of dread unutterable to pourtray,
Though colours for such picture all too faint!--

A city from whose roofs a thousand fires
Shook their red flags;--on which the furious wind
Drove ashes and hot coals in crimson showers,
Thick as against some mountain's lofty side
The wintry blast flings the slant cloud of hail,
And rain and cutting sleet;--beneath which roll'd
The earth as 'twere an ocean;--on which fell,
Like comets from their orbits loosed, huge rocks
Red hot, and with a sound tearing the air,
Such as amid the branches of the oak
The rushing tempest makes; and over which
Thick smoke and vivid lightnings, like a strife
Between the shadows and the fires of hell,
Darken'd and vollied.--Such the hideous fate
Those miserables proved.--The cries of pain,
Of terror were not heard,--with such a voice
The thunders call'd,--so rumbled over head,
As though the vault of heaven had been a drum
Smote on by angry gods with thunderbolts.--

Here yelling lay, though even himself heard not,
A wretch, with eyes distorted and pursed brow,
Grinning and foaming blood:--beneath the weight
Of a vast beam on fire, his lower parts
Were crush'd and burning:--on the red hot wood
The veins still spouted out the crimson tide.--
He begg'd for death--and heaven in mercy heard;--
With sudden heave the earthquake lifted up
The ponderous timber, that upon his head
Fell down again--and instant press'd out life.--

There one on whom the flash had glanced, and left
Alive, though with all power of motion gone,
Or speech:--helpless he lay;--now by the stream
That still, though with diminish'd current, flowed,
A little way wash'd on,--now left, like weed
By the sea side, that sometimes on the wave
Is tost,--sometimes upon the beach left dry.--
And powerless as that weed was he;--yet sense
Of pain perchance he had, for his white face,
Tranquil, though ghastly, strange distortion shew'd
As on his belly fell a glowing coal
That in his bowels gnaw'd and hiss'd:--yet strength
To turn or cast the burning plague away
He had not;--so he lay till, sudden swell'd,
The flood came on and roll'd him slowly down,
With face now tow'rds the sky,--now bent on earth,
And arms all helpless turning as he turn'd,
And thus at length he died.-- Howling and mad
With swell'd and lolling tongues, and eyes of blood,
And jaded, staggering step, here dogs in troops
Roam'd through the streets:--o'er many a dying man,
And many a mangled carcase, heedless past,
In their unceasing course:--or only paused
A moment in the steaming blood to slake
Their burning thirst,--then lifted up again
Their madden'd howl;--and with their low--hung heads
Swell'd hideously, and swaying to their tread,
Toil'd heavy--gaited on. There on the roofs
Of burning buildings, of a hue as red
As the red flames around them, might be seen
Figures of men--and females with their robes
Streaming before the wind;--in agony
Of terror running to and fro, with hands
And faces lifted up to heaven for help.--
Faster they hurry on;--the flames are nigh;
In the bright light you may their features see,
Their squared and glaring eyes--their brows deep plough'd--
Their wide and hideous grin.--Ah! see! some rush
With spreading arms into the flame:--some pause
A moment on the tottering brink to look
Before them at the precipice,--behind
At the advancing flame,--then howling leap
Head downwards, and upon the marble flags
Lie shatter'd:--some whom courage nor despair
Could urge to hasten death, stay yet awhile
In flame and smoke enveloped, till at once
Burst in the roofs, and, shrieking, down they fall
With arms and legs outstretch'd and stiff, to glut
The ravenous element. At times there come,
Rushing like tempest, horses from their stalls
Broke loose:--cream'd o'er with foam:--fire from their eyes
Flashing:--their nostrils wide and bloody red:--
They fly--they stop--they glare around--start back--
Shrink trembling to the earth, dropping thick sweat:--
Their manes are bristled high;--quick heave their flanks,
Their mouths are wide and ghastly.--Then again
They leap erect--start--stare around--and fly
Frantic and shrieking--headlong--blind with fear--
In clouds of smoke and flame and burning coals
Mingling and glancing back again. And here
Were men, by fear to raving madness driven,
Yelling like wolves at midnight, when the scent
Of blood regales their nostrils.--Others sate
On carcases upheap'd, and stupidly
Gaped round like ideots.--But one there was,
A man of noble bearing, with a look
That might become a god;--an eye that seem'd
Fitted to govern empires, and to pierce
The darkness of the future, and behold
Events yet growing there:--on this dread scene
Thoughtful he gazed, yet calm:--beside him walk'd,
Supported on his arm, his trembling wife
Covering her eyes; and by the hand he led
A lovely shrinking boy. Round them fell thick
The ashy shower:--before them frequent roll'd
The glowing rocks:--with direful crash came down
The burning walls:--the lightnings at their feet
Struck up the earth;--the father's face grew pale;--
He saw resistless fate at hand, and fear'd
The dreadful deaths that thousands felt might fall
On those he loved:--then struck he on his breast,
And, pausing, drew a glittering dagger forth,
And dealt them both a sudden blow of mercy:--
Kiss'd them in death, then turn'd tow'rds heaven a look
Of supplication; and, with steady hand,
Gazing the while on those his loved ones slain,
As though his fate deserved no thought, he drove
The steel deep in his heart--and instant died.--

An old grey--headed man was tottering on
He knew not whither:--often he look'd up
At that strange sky with wild and troubled face,
Still muttering as he went.--His fate was blest;
For, as he hurried on, a vivid bolt
Struck his bare head; and, ere he reach'd the earth,
To a black, brittle cinder burnt him up.

But miserable above all were they
The dungeon captives, by their ponderous chains
Chain'd to the ground:--helpless--and hopeless:--far
From aid of man, or kindly sympathy,
Cheering though vain:--their subterranean cells
No safeguard--for the thunders roll'd above,
And through the earth below:--the lightnings pierced
Their dens profound, now first illumined bright
Only to show the swaying walls,--the earth
Cracking and closing back:--the arched roofs
Heaving and grinding, stone 'gainst splintering stone;
Each moment threating hideous ruin down,
Yet still delaying:--while the wretches shrunk,
As they look'd up with agonized face,
And call'd on God to help:--or loud exclaim'd
On wives or children whom they never more
Might clasp within their arms. Oh! then they tugg'd
In frenzy at their fetters:--gnash'd their teeth--
And howl'd in misery and despair:--fiercely
They stamp'd upon the earth:--clench'd their hard hands,
And smote themselves,--and, cursing bitterly,
Vehement at their irons dragg'd again.--
A long and dreadful struggle.--Vain!--they sink
Exhausted--breathless--calm:--the calm of death
To some:--to others but a fearful pause,
While life, and strength, and energy return
To torture them anew.--They cannot 'scape:--
As well with their weak hands they might hold up
The reeling walls, or prop the pile above,
When the strong arch has burst beneath the shock
Of the raging ground, as from their rocky bed
The deep driven, massy staples tear away,
Or break their iron links. There was a man,
A Roman soldier, for some daring deed
That trespass'd on the laws (as spirits bold
And young will oft from mere impulse of blood,
And from no taint of viciousness, o'erleap
The boundaries of right), in dungeon low
Chain'd down. His was a noble spirit, rough,
But generous, and brave, and kind. While yet
The beard was new and tender on his chin,
A stolen embrace had given a young one claim
To call him father:--'twas a rosy boy,
A little faithful copy of his sire
In face and gesture. In her pangs she died
That gave him birth; and ever since the imp
Had been his father's solace and his care.
By day his play--fellow and guard,
He made him mimic shields and helms of straw,
And taught him how to use his falchion dire
Of lath: to leap; to run; to lie in ambush close;
To couch his little spear;--his wooden steed
With fiery eyes, and arching neck, and ears
For ever, as they caught the sounds of war, erect,
Fearless to mount and tame in all his pride:
By night the boy was pillow'd on his arm.
At morn they rose together; in the woods
At spring time to hunt out the squirrel's nest;
Or of their spotted eggs--or chirping young
To spoil the timid birds:--or through the fields,
Spangled with dewy diamonds, would they roam
To pluck the gaudy flowers:--or in the brook
Would snare the glittering fry:--or banks of mud
With mighty toil thrown up, throw down again,
For childhood's weighty reasons. Every sport
The father shared and heighten'd. But at length
The rigorous law had grasp'd him, and condemn'd
To fetters and to darkness. He had borne
His sentence without shrinking, like a son
Of that imperial city at whose frown
Earth's nations shook;--and would have bid adieu
To the bright heavens awhile, and the green earth,
And the sweet air, and sweeter liberty,--
Nor would have utter'd plaint, nor dress'd his face
That loved to smile in sorrow's livery;--
But when he took that boy within his arms,
And kiss'd his pale and frighten'd face; and felt
The little heart within his sobbing breast
Beating with quick, hard strokes,--and knew he tried,
Child as he was, to keep his sorrows hid
From his fond father's eye;--Oh! then the tears
Fast trickled down his cheeks;--his mighty heart
Seem'd bursting:--strong, convulsive sobbings choked
His parting blessing. With averted head,
(For when he look'd upon that innocent face
He felt a burning in his brain that warn'd
Of madness if he gazed, such torturing thoughts
Came crowding with each look) he blest, embraced,
And bade his boy farewell.-- The captive's lot
He felt in all its bitterness:--the walls
Of his deep dungeon answer'd many a sigh
And heart--heaved groan. His tale was known, and touch'd
His jailor with compassion;--and the boy,
Thenceforth a frequent visitor, beguiled
His father's lingering hours, and brought a balm
With his loved presence that in every wound
Dropt healing. But in this terrific hour
He was a poison'd arrow in the breast
Where he had been a cure.-- With earliest morn
Of that first day of darkness and amaze
He came. The iron door was closed,--for them
Never to open more! The day, the night
Dragg'd slowly by; nor did they know the fate
Impending o'er the city. Well they heard
The pent--up thunders in the earth beneath,
And felt its giddy rocking; and the air
Grew hot at length, and thick; but in his straw
The boy was sleeping; and the father hoped
The earthquake might pass by; nor would he wake
From his sound rest th' unfearing child, nor tell
The dangers of their state. On his low couch
The fetter'd soldier sunk--and with deep awe
Listen'd the fearful sounds:--with upturn'd eye
To the great gods he breath'd a prayer;--then strove
To calm himself, and lose in sleep awhile
His useless terrors. But he could not sleep:--
His body bnrn'd with feverish heat;--his chains
Clank'd loud although he moved not: deep in earth
Groan'd unimaginable thunders:--sounds,
Fearful and ominous, arose and died
Like the sad moanings of November's wind
In the blank midnight. Deepest horror chill'd
His blood that burn'd before:--cold clammy sweats
Came o'er him:--then anon a fiery thrill
Shot through his veins. Now on his couch he shrunk
And shiver'd as in fear:--now upright leap'd,
As though he heard the battle trumpet sound,
And long'd to cope with death. He slept at last,
A troubled dreamy sleep. Well,--had he slept
Never to waken more! His hours are few,
But terrible his agony. The night
Dragg'd slowly by:--the hours of morning pass'd:--
The gory sun had shown his mocking light
In the red heavens a moment, and gone back
To his deep shrine of darkness:--night had come
At noon upon the earth:--the heavy floods
Of black and steaming rain had fallen:--but they,
That miserable sire and son knew not,
And sleep was heavy on them. Soon the storm
Burst forth: the lightnings glanced:--the air
Shook with the thunders. They awoke;--they sprung
Amazed upon their feet. The dungeon glow'd
A moment as in sunshine,--and was dark:--
Again a flood of white flame fills the cell;
Dying away upon the dazzled eye
In darkening, quivering tints, as stunning sound
Dies throbbing, ringing in the ear. Silence,
And blackest darkness.--With intensest awe
The soldier's frame was fill'd; and many a thought
Of strange foreboding hurried through his mind,
As underneath he felt the fever'd earth
Jarring and lifting--and the massive walls
Heard harshly grate and strain:--yet knew he not,
While evils undefined and yet to come
Glanced through his thoughts, what deep and cureless wound
Fate had already given.--Where, man of woe!
Where wretched father! is thy boy? Thou call'st
His name in vain:--he cannot answer thee.--

Loudly the father call'd upon his child:--
No voice replied. Trembling and anxiously
He search'd their couch of straw:--with hèadlong haste
Trod round his stinted limits, and, low bent,
Groped darkling on the earth:--no child was there.
Again he call'd:--again at farthest stretch
Of his accursed fetters,--till the blood
Seem'd bursting from his ears, and from his eyes
Fire flash'd,--he strain'd with arm extended far
And fingers widely spread, greedy to touch
Though but his idol's garment. Useless toil!
Yet still renew'd:--still round and round he goes,
And strains and snatches,--and with dreadful cries
Calls on his boy. Mad frenzy fires him now:--
He plants against the wall his feet;--his chain
Grasps;--tugs with giant strength to force away
The deep--driven staple;--yells and shrieks with rage,
And like a desert lion in the snare
Raging to break his toils,--to and fro bounds.
But see! the ground is opening:--a blue light
Mounts, gently waving,--noiseless:--thin and cold
It seems, and like a rain--bow tint, not flame;
But by its lustre, on the earth outstretch'd,
Behold the lifeless child!--his dress is singed,
And over his serene face a dark line
Points out the lightning's track. The father saw,--
And all his fury fled:--a dead calm fell
That instant on him:--speechless, fix'd he stood,
And with a look that never wander'd, gazed
Intensely on the corse. Those laughing eyes
Were not yet closed,--and round those pouting lips
The wonted smile return'd. Silent and pale
The father stands:--no tear is in his eye:--
The thunders bellow--but he hears them not:--
The ground lifts like a sea:--he knows it not:--
The strong walls grind and gape:--the vaulted roof
Takes shapes like bubble tossing in the wind:--
See! he looks up and smiles;--for death to him
Is happiness. Yet could one last embrace
Be given, 'twere still a sweeter thing to die.

It will be given. Look! how the rolling ground,
At every swell, nearer and still more near
Moves tow'rds the father's outstretch'd arm his boy:--
Once he has touch'd his garment;--how his eye
Lightens with love--and hope--and anxious fears!
Ha! see! he has him now!--he clasps him round--
Kisses his face;--puts back the curling locks
That shaded his fine brow:--looks in his eyes--
Grasps in his own those little dimpled hands--
Then folds him to his breast, as he was wont
To lie when sleeping--and resign'd awaits
Undreaded death. And death came soon, and swift,
And pangless. The huge pile sunk down at once
Into the opening earth. Walls--arches--roof--
And deep foundation stones--all mingling fell!--

Few in this time of peril and dismay
The sole, and desperate chance for safety tried,
For reason was bewilder'd:--could they leave
The fated city walls, a feeble hope
Might yet remain:--that, till the storm burst out,
The intensity of darkness had forbid;--
They now had light enough,--though like the waves
Of the enraged Atlantic, when the winds
Have bared its frightful depths, where darkling sleep
For ages the huge monsters of the abyss
Obscene,--and higher than the eagle's flight
Have lifted up the surge,--roll'd on the clouds
Of pitchy and sulphureous smoke, whose shade
Would seem a tenfold night,--but through them broke
A thousand lightnings, and around them glanced,
And roll'd, and hiss'd, upon the glistening earth.
But useless now that light:--no trace remain'd
Of roads frequented:--far as eye could reach,
In the short moments when the shifting wind
Bore off the ashy showers and clear'd the view
A bed of black and smoking ashes, quench'd
With rain, alone was visible:--the trunks
Of trees, leafless and branchless, peer'd above
Their burning mantle,--warning him whose feet
Would seek for safety there, that death could reach
Alike the fields or city. Yet were some
Who tried the desperate venture:--every where
Rivers new form'd swept on with ashes gorged:--
Who 'scaped the stream, was by the lightning slain;--
Who 'scaped the lightning--by the burning rocks,
That fell like hail--stones round, met death. One man
Alone survived to tell the tale and die
A maniac. Now too came a hasty glance,
As for a happy moment the fierce blast
Blew off the darkening smoke and fiery shower,
Of the dire fury, whose remorseless rage,
Till then unknown, had all these cureless woes
Heap'd on them. Clear as if the noon day sun
Shot down his brightest rays, the giant bulk
Stood out of grim Vesuvius, late the soil
Where the ripe vineyards groan'd beneath the loads
Of richest fruits, scattering sweet perfume round
That even to breathe the air was luxury:--
On whose soft swelling side, unnumber'd stood
The marble villas, glittering 'gainst the green
Of nature's simple vest,--the boast of wealth;
Where pleasure sought its most fantastic joys,
And grief seem'd never known:--but now its banks
Are red and burning with the glowing coals
And masses vast of blazing rock that roll
Impetuous down.--Right upward to the sky,
In circuit large as some deep bay where rides
A navy from the winds and roaring waves
Secure,--a pillar of bright fire intense
Shoots its vast shaft, as though to prop the heavens
Lest thunders rock it down;--and o'er its top,
Waving and shaking in the furious wind,
Billows on billows roll of thickest smoke,
Cut through and sprinkled by the sun--like blaze
Of myriad ponderous rocks,--in the deep pit
Of unimaginable heat below
To its own fervour raised,--then, with the speed
And dazzle of the lightning launch'd in air
Right upward, far beyond the ken of man,--
Till in the stilly regions of the sky,
Past even the din of this strange uproar,--where
The stars are softly twinkling, and the air,
Cold, pure, and thin, glides gently on, or rests
In deep repose as in another world,
Where even the wreck of this had not been known;--
The fiery globes, their lustre and their heat
Deaden'd and spent, with lagging speed awhile
Climb up--and stop:--a moment in the air
Balanced and motionless;--then down--down--sink--
Faster and faster every instant--down
They hurry on with speed that mocks the eye,
Till on the earth, or chance in the wide gulf
Whence first hurl'd forth, they sink. With course aslant
Are others thrown, like rainbows spanning o'er
The vaulted sky,--but with the vivid beam
Of flying suns:--and on the fierce wind rush
Dense showers of red--hot cinders: while adown
The mountain's side, from a vast chasm spew'd forth,
A torrent wide and deep of liquid fire--
The bowels of the earth, by heat intense
Melted,--rolls down its thick and heavy waves
In slow but irresistible course. The earth
Is furrow'd for a channel where it goes:--
The sturdiest trees--the strongest buildings sink
Before its might, as falls beneath the scythe
The tender grass in June:--and on the ground--
And round the mountain's side--and o'er its mouth--
And through the sea of jetty vapour,--glance
Unintermitting lightnings.-- Such appear'd
Vesuvius for a moment to the eye
That in the city yet could look on aught;
But only for a moment. As they gazed,
With crash as though earth's deep foundations sunk
In hideous ruin--lo! the mountain's top
And half its burning sides into the gulf
Of fire sink down; loud roaring,--flashing high
A firmament of star--like sparkles, mix'd
With seas of belching smoke:--and rocks, so vast
That on their roomy summits warlike towers
Or temples their foundations might have cast,--
Rise burning red into the kindling clouds
Roaring like angry ocean.-- Sweeping back
On the strong tempest's wing, the direful cone
Of mingled fire and darkness, from the mouth
Of the red mountain upward to the sky
And down to earth flung out; upon them came
With doubling force and fury. Thicker fell
The showers of ashes and of burning coals;--
Louder the tempest howl'd along the air;--
The thunders roar'd with height'ning madness out;--
And the earth shook as though in pangs of death
Rack'd and convulsed. Despair or madness now
Seized every mind. Of those who yesterday
Had lived, not half remain'd. These--torpid--lost,
Alike indifferent seem'd to life or death:--
Seated on earth, or on the heaps of dead,
The lightning's flash they reck'd not, though it roll'd
Even at their feet:--the glowing rock fell nigh,
But they regarded not:--on him who sunk
Beside them dead, they cast no look,--they felt
No pity:--though the rudely tossing walls
Seem'd toppling o'er their heads, they shrunk not back,
They ask'd nor death nor life. There others, wild,
Drunken and rioting in misery,
Ran furious through the streets,--laughing aloud,
Shouting and leaping--covetous of death,
And sporting in its horrors. With drawn sword
Bright flashing at he shook it o'er his head,
His wild eyes glowing in his blood--stain'd face,
One bounded with huge strides and maniac grin,
And struck at all he met;--and, as the blood
Spun out, would pause, and with ferocious look
Like madman's half, half like the murderer's smile
Who sees his victim dying,--dip his hand
In the hot stream,--then shout and haste away
With frantic gesture, flourishing his blade,
To seek another banquet. Soon he saw
A fury like himself,--and they shook hands
As friends long parted, unexpected met
In some far land;--then, at each other's breast
Pointing their swords, together rush'd and fell:--
Each at the other's death--wound smiled--and died.--

There stood within a square a bloody man
Who with bared arm was brandishing an axe:--
His fellows round laugh'd merrily to see
How at a blow he had beat out the brains
Of one who begg'd him slay him. One by one
They lay upon the earth, and he struck out
Their brains;--and still the standers by laugh'd loud
And came to die in turn, till all were slain
Save the blood--spatter'd slayer. Then he threw
His axe upon the ground, and wiped his brow,
And staring stupidly at heaven,--laugh'd out
To see the war of fire and darkness there:--
The big black clouds, like rocks of blackest jet
Rolling impetuous, tumbling in the blast,--
Pond'rous as iron--shadowy as the grave,--
Seeming to threat the world with endless night;
And then thick--coming lightnings, through and through
Piercing their deep abysses;--wrapping round
Their strong mark'd--edges with broad lines of fire
Like skirtings from the solid sun cut out:--
Now darkness for an instant,--and now light;--
A cloud of ashes here like wintry storm
At midnight;--there bright showers of coals red--hot
Pelting aslant and running on the earth
With glow as of a furnace.--At this strife
He laugh'd incessant, but nigh to him fell
A mass of burning stone:--harsh jarr'd the ground
Like ship that strikes a rock, and high up flew
Thick clouds of ashes and of shiver'd earth
Driven by the dreadful blow:--quick rising then
The whirling fragment on the axe--man struck,
And scatter'd far and wide his flesh and limbs
Still quivering:--then onward held its course,
Roaring and sparkling,--ploughing up the ground,
And bounding through the air,--till in a bed
Of ashes choked, it stopp'd, and growl'd, and smoked.--

But there a youthful female, of a form
Perfect as beauty's goddess,--with her locks
Of amber streaming on the wind, and vest
Loose floating, saunter'd on and rock'd
A headless infant in her arms:--she sung
The mother's song who soothes her restless babe
To slumber:--sometimes look'd she on the heavens
With pale and wistful face,--yet still she sung,
Nor seem'd to know what horrors girt her round;--
Sometimes upon the mutilated corse
She bent a wild and strangely troubled look,
But still her hush--song kept:--poor wretch! she sunk
Exhausted on the warm and ashy bed,
And a death swoon came o'er her:--there she lay
Pale as a snow drop, with soft, open eye,
And lips apart, on which with her last breath
The mother's love--strain trembled,--and the babe
Was folded to her bosom. There was none
To help--and so she died.-- A wretched man,
His wife,--two blooming daughters,--and a son,--
A youth of tender years and spirit soft,--
Had left their rocking home, and left behind--
For terror stiffen'd every aged limb,
That he seem'd stone,--the father's reverend sire.
They did not much implore him to be gone,
For horrors such as these can dull the soul
Of finest sensibility, and fix
All thought on self alone;--can load the brain
With heavy apathy, that death, or life,
Pleasure, or pain, seem but indifferent things,
Not worthy choice or shunning;--or sometimes,
As different natures different feelings prompt,--
With unimaginable rage they fire
The wretch,--fierce,--roaring madness; that would rend
Himself--the world--the heavens,--and gloat on blood,
And laugh at torments. They had left their door,
And stagger'd to the street,--and turn'd again
To look on their grey sire, where, like a form
By cunning chisel from the marble wrought,
He sat amazed and motionless,--when lo!--
Red glowing like a ruby, from the sky
A ponderous rock descends:--they see it sink
Through the strong roof:--the mighty oaken beams
Snap like burnt twigs:--they see a light within;--
They hear a crash--a jar:--the walls go down
In blaze and smoke:--they hear the buried rock
Burning below:--their home is fallen:--their sire
Lies in the wreck. Their senses were wreck'd too;
And down they sat in silence on the earth,
And watch'd the rising flame. That tender boy
Had ta'en his mother's hand, and griped it hard
Unconsciously:--she, as unconscious sat
And stared upon the sky. One daughter lay
Outstretch'd as if in sleep,--but she was dead;--
And over her the sister lean'd, and told
In whispers of a horrid dream she dreamt;
And begg'd her not to sleep lest she should dream:
Anon she started upright on her feet:
Look'd wildly round--and tip--toe walking, stole,
With finger on her lip and head turn'd back,
As though she fear'd that in the direful roar
And ruin round her foot--tread might betray
And thwart the end she ponder'd,--till she reach'd
The burning building:--lightly then she sprung
With a short laugh of triumph in the flames,
And soon was still. Did then the parents shriek,
And tear their hair,--and call on death to end
Their miseries? No--they sat in quietness,
As though the deed concern'd not them, nor call'd
For pity or amazement. Screaming shrill,
That tender boy next backward fell to earth,
With every limb outstretch'd and stiff;--his eyes
Wide glaring--and his face distorted strange.
Awhile he shriek'd--then quiver'd--and expired.

A momentary pang his mother seem'd
To feel;--for she turn'd round, and look'd intent
On his black face, like one who dreads some ill
Impending, or perhaps already fallen, but where,
Or how--or whence--unknown. His slacken'd hand
She took again at length,--and, as before,
Sunk in a stupid silence. By her side,
With elbows propp'd upon his knees,--and cheeks
Pillow'd upon his hands,--the father sat
Like one in some sequester'd spot deep wrapt
In day dreams,--whom no sound of voice, or step
Of human thing intrusive, may disturb
In his lone musings:--but he did not muse:--
His mind was dark and vacant:--he beheld
Things as he saw them not:--his very soul
Was blank and feelingless. His only boy--
His daughters, dearer than his life belov'd,
Unmov'd he saw expire:--and now, alas!
Their mother he beholds in frenzied mood
Stand over him, with threats and curses deep
Vow'd on his head: but he regarded not:--
Fiercely she struck him in her rage, and dragg'd
The hairs from his bow'd head:--but he was mute.
Then, yelling, from the earth she snatch'd her boy
And bore him off:--her eyes seem'd burning coals:--
Her hair dishevell'd stream'd around:--she foam'd
And grinn'd--a raging maniac.--Striding wide,
She hurried on her way;--now to her breast
The corpse hard hugging:--now along the ground
She dragg'd him by his flaxen hair, and struck
His tender head against the stony way:--
Then stopp'd a moment,--silent;--snatch'd again
The batter'd body to her arms:--imprest
Fast, burning kisses on his lips and brow:--
Look'd for an instant on the horrid sky;--
Yell'd--shriek'd--and strode along.-- Her miseries
Now found a pause:--beneath her weary feet
The earth rock'd giddily:--she stagger'd--ran;--
Beneath the load she bore with force driven on,
Head foremost to the ground fell:--the spinal bone
Snapp'd short--and she was dead.-- But there sat he,
The wretched husband of this wretched wife--
The woful father of that family
Of woe;--there quietly he sat, and look'd
Or seem'd to look, on what befell,--nor spake--
Nor wept--nor aught appear'd to know:--and there
He might have staid till, slowly sinking down,
Nature oppress'd had yielded up the strife;--
But,--drifting furiously before the wind,--
An ashy shower came like a mighty wave,
And whelm'd him in its suffocating depths.
High o'er his head it piled,--round and around
Tost in a whirlwind,--that another course
Soon shaped,--and left exposed the grinning corse--
Shrivell'd--and shrunk--and black.-- One man there was,
A noble of the city, and approved
For wisdom, who in frenzy of his brain
Had back'd his swiftest horse;--saddle nor rein
He had,--and useless had they been to guide
A courser frantic as his madman lord:--
His head was bare;--behind his shoulders stream'd
A mantle of deep black,--and with one hand
He held against his mouth a hunting horn,
On which he blew incessant.--Not a tone
Could reach his ear amid the uproar round,
Yet still, with cheek distended and red eye,
He wound the blast. Swift as the tempest flew,
With mane erect, and rolling eyes of fire,
And crimson nostril spread,--the ebon steed:--
O'er dead and living bounded he along:--
O'er burning ruins and o'er blacken'd streams
Vaulted;--and still the rider blew his horn
And kept his dangerous seat.--The lightning fell
At the horse's feet,--but, snorting, he sped on;--
The blazing building thunder'd on the earth;--
The burning rock flew roaring o'er his head;--
But still right on he went.--Another flash
Quivers upon the brazen hunting horn;--
The rider sprawls on earth;--the steed is blind--
Yet wildly rushes forward;--till, dash'd full
Against a fallen column, high in air
Spouts the red blood--the brains fly scattering round;
And down he sinks dead,--heavy as a clod.--

All seem'd to covet death. With arms wide spread
As to a friend's embrace, crowds headlong rush'd
Into the boiling sea:--and as the waves
Threw them again upon the sands, they rose,
And, looking back upon the fiery plague,
And the red heavens, and reeling city, ran
Shrieking and wildly laughing back again,
Plunging and struggling to be gone. See! see!
From yon high cliff they leap:--man hurries man:--
One pushes down a loiterer on the brink,
Then casts himself head--foremost, as he fear'd
To fall too late. None stays to bid farewell
To brother, parent, husband, sister, wife;--
They rush like furious dogs upon the chace,--
And death their game. Look where yon mother drags
Along the beach her little son:--a babe
Lies at her breast convulsed. Her bright, wild eye
Tells of despair,--insanity:--she seeks
Death, her sole refuge:--yet a mother's love
Lives after reason's wreck. She stops, and looks
Now on the heavy--rolling deep,--and now
Upon her helpless little ones. She hears
The roaring mountain now--and rending earth--
Sky--bursting thunders--and the fearful rush
Of fiery rocks;--and, cowering, hastens on
For shelter to the waves:--but then she hears,
As on its marge she sudden stops, the voice
Of the perturb'd unfathomable deep;--
Th' expiring cry of some who struggling sink
Into the dark abyss:--and mid the foam
Sees rocking carcases,--and ugly shapes
Of ocean monsters, from their beds obscene
Torn by th' upheaving billows to the day:--
And gleaming, anguish'd eyes she marks at times
Peering among the watery hills, of men
Who sought death there--yet were afraid to die:
And she too fear'd,--and hugg'd her little--ones
Hard in her arms, and look'd with anxious face
At that terrific firmament--that hill
Of flame--that rack'd and groaning ground--that sea
With its appalling sights and sounds;--nor knew
Or how to live--or which way she should die:--
But fate decides the struggle;--and the waves,
Rising at once like a huge wall, come on
And wash her back, with hundreds who were nigh,
To the dark deep.-- One in the city brought
His chariot forth,--and madly deem'd the steeds
Would know their master's hand, and bear him far
From this accursed region;--so he leap'd
Swiftly into the seat, while, shrinking back,
Trembling and dropping sweat from every pore,
The horses paused an instant. Then he laugh'd
As though the feat were done, and all secure:--
But when he wish'd to whirl the thong, and seize
The ruling reins,--unhappy wretch!--he found
No reins, no scourge had he;--and down to earth
He would have sprung;--but o'er the courser's heads
A bulky red rock flew, roaring along
Like cataract, when its tumbled waters boil,
And heave, and foam in their deep bed below:--
So close it pass'd above--their bristling manes
Crackled and smoked. As follows on the flash
The thunder--peal, so sudden sprung the steeds
On their delirious course. The wheels plough deep;--
The ashes whirl around as though the car
Drove on through waters:--heavy is the road,
But mighty are the horses--and terror
Has made their nerves like steel. On--on--they urge;
The rider shrieks--and throws his arms aloft--
His hair streams in the wind.--No pause, no check,
The madden'd coursers know:--bounds up and down,
From side to side, the car:--now on two wheels
Balanced--it runs;--the others whirl on high:--
Now they descend--and now again a shock
Tosses aloft the chariot from the ground;--
Swift through the air it spins, like Juno's car
Smooth gliding, noiseless, through the sky,--then lights
On earth again, rebounding as it falls;--
But ever on it flies.--The town is left
Behind their rustling wheels:--the hill is long,
And steep th' ascent;--but as the rein--deer skims
The light sledge on the flat and glassy ice,
So the strong horses through the ashy bed
And 'gainst the hill whirl on the ponderous car.--
They reach the level top:--along the ridge
Straight tow'rds the sea they rush:--Oh! turn aside,
Ye fury steeds, from your insensate course!--
The cliffs are high--the ocean foams below:--
Will not the wide black torrent make you pause?--
Will not the driving fire shower on your flanks?
Will not the hailing rocks--the hissing bolts--
Divert your headlong track?--No!--on--still on--
Right tow'rds the sea they urge.--A meteor huge
As the full rounded moon, before their eyes
Bowls on--and round the beetling cliff shakes out
Thick corruscations:--yet they turn not back--
Nor swerve aside.--Oh! will no merciful flash
Strike the mad horses dead--or ere they plunge
Down that dire gulf!--As if along the edge
Of some big cloud the chariot rode through air,
So high on the black mountain's lofty rim
It look'd;--thick clouds of deepest dye behind
Threw out the splendid chariot to the view,
As though on the black sky it painted were
In gold and burning sunshine:--the bright brass
Of the rich harness glittered:--flash'd along
The viewless spokes:--The carvings rare gleam'd out:--
The white steeds stood like whitest marble forth
From out a bed of jet:--their manes stream'd up
From their strong circling necks;--their mouths were foam;--
Their very eyes were seen to roll, and throw
Red flames,--such brightness on them shone
From the unceasing lightnings. Yet some space
Between them and the awful steep there lies;--
Perchance they yet may turn:--the rider sits
Stiffen'd with terror:--with both hands he grasps
The car:--his face is deathy pale:--he shrieks:--
On--on--the horses fly. But see! a flash
Plays round the chariot wheels:--the rider sinks
Backward upon the seat;--loose rolls his head;--
His hanging arm swings helpless o'er the side:--
Thank Heaven! he dies!--but, all unharm'd, the steeds
Rush on:--that flash has fired the car:--the flames
Stream in the blast:--it seems day's chariot bright,
As poets feign, hot blazing through the sky,
Drawn by the steeds of fire.--On--on--they press;--
Fast tow'rds the brink they come:--so deep below
The ocean lies, that on a stilly day
Its murmurings scarce can climb the dizzy height:--
They reach the edge--they look not at th' abyss--
Right o'er they leap:--they sink--and paw the air:--
Down--down they fall:--the chariot flames behind:--
The wheels upon the axles glittering spin:--
The lifeless driver headlong tumbles out,--
Round and around with swinging limbs rolling:--
Still down they sink--scarce midway in their course;--
The horses still, as though they spurn'd the earth,
Throw out their sinewy legs:--another bolt,
Far streaming through the sky,--flashing blue flames,
Strikes on them falling;--and the milk--white steeds
A moment after in the waters dash
Lifeless and scorch'd.--Thè chariot, hissing, sinks;--
With sullen plash the dead man strikes the sea:--
The waves roll over them;--their course is done.

Meanwhile, still gathering fury, raged the storm;
The winds rush'd through the city with the force
Of mountain billows in a hurricane:--
Down smote the crimson showers of burning coals;--
Then up again on the resistless blast
High as the clouds they flew--and round and round
Wheel'd--fell--and rose--and dash'd on earth again,
Swift as the stroke of lightning:--with them mix'd
Huge rolling waves of smoke intensely black
And clouds of ashes.--Carcases of men--
Masses of blazing timber--trees entire
Torn from their roots, were tossing in the air
Like chaff.--It seem'd as though the globe itself
With one terrific whirlwind were convulsed,--
And this the centre of the horrid wheel.

The closing hour is nigh:--like dying man
More fiercely struggling at his latest gasp,--
The earthquake--and the storm--and fiery hill,
With fury tenfold raged:--the thunders roll'd
As though the very vault of heaven would burst:--
The earth groan'd to its centre:--direful chasms,
Night--black and fathomless, open'd and shut--
And gaped again--and swallow'd in their jaws
Houses and living men--and heaps of dead--
And palaces and streets entire. Deep down
In the black gulf they sunk:--the crashing earth
Knit to again and crumbled them to dust.--
The city like a forest in a storm
Waved to and fro:--opposing houses struck--
And shiver'd--and fell down.--The temple huge
Of Jupiter the Thunderer, whose walls
Of strength immense and deep foundations stood
Unharm'd till now,--fix'd as some Alpine hill
That from eternity has been--and seems
Destined to all eternity to be--
See! to and fro it heaves:--the mighty dome,
Like cedar's top beneath a raging wind,
Swings heavy through the air:--the thick walls crack--
Open--and close--and open wide again:--
Down--down it thunders:--headlong down to earth
The ponderous fabric, crashing--grinding falls--
Making itself an earthquake--and a din
That mates the thunder.-- But o'er all distinct,--
The groans of earth--the bellowings of the sky--
The whirlwind's howl--the rush of burning rocks--
The whirring of the fiery shower--the crash
Of thousand ruins near--o'er every sound
Raising its hideous and undying voice,
Vesuvius from its hollow crater roar'd;--
A noise of thunders mix'd, and rushing floods--
Tempests--and worlds on fire--and oceans vast
Boiling like cauldrons!--Never ceased its din;--
Seem'd as the eternal fires that live within
The hollow womb of earth,--huge as appears
To mortal eye the cavity of heaven,--
Had from its mouth as from a trumpet breathed
Their aggregated roarings.--All the air
Seem'd only sound--dense--solid sound, that like
The depth of Egypt's darkness might be felt:--
With stunning force, as of a mighty blow,
It struck upon the ear that men fell down
And died, who heard it.--Trees, and streams, and hills,
Ev'n when the earthquake paused, were quivering still
Beneath its dire concussions, and the dome
Of heaven itself seem'd lifted up and down
By that terrific uproar.--Distant lands
Heard it and shudder'd--and gave thanks to God
That they themselves were safe. On Afric's coast
Far distant over lands and ocean wide
The Moorish mother started from her sleep,
And hush'd her frighted babe, and blest the name
Of Allah as she listen'd to the sound.

Now like a mighty river when with rains
Surcharged it swells above its banks, and makes
New channels for its fury,--rolling on
Its heavy waves of liquid fire, came down
The all--destroying lava. Like the hiss
Of million angry serpents was the sound
That went before it as the reeking earth,--
The rain--streams, and whate'er of moist was near,
Dried sudden up. The clear red torrent look'd
Like molten iron from the furnace mouth
Pouring;--but such in bulk as if all earth
Her mines had emptied--and in the vast fires
Of hell their mingled metals had been cast,--
And thence from its wide jaws, in such hot flood
Spew'd forth again.--The tumbling of its waves
Was like the rush of ocean, with deep moans
Of thunder mix'd,--and the loud jar and shake
Of countless armies,--and ten thousand cars
Of iron fiercely rolling.--Not like stream
From o'ergorged river, shallow at the first
And gently deep'ning as the floods descend,
But high in air its horrid ridge came on,
Abrupt--like billow rushing to the shore
In a strong tempest;--or as when the deeps
Roll'd back, and stood like walls for Israel's host
To pass the Red Sea's bed. At its approach
The earth shook:--rocks split open and fell in,
Melting like snow that sinks into the brook:--
Green trees were turn'd to cinder at its touch:--
Houses and streets to liquid fire were changed
And swell'd the dreadful tide:--the air above
Seem'd melting too, and glow'd with fervent heat
Like the terrific atmosphere of hell.--
Onward it moves;--o'er half the city sweeps;--
O'er mighty towers--and battled walls--and holds
Of strength, flows easy as the swelling wave
Above the sea shore pebbles. Shriek nor groan
Arose at its approach,--for there was none
That saw--or heard--or felt it;--all were dead;--
With such destructive fury late the storm
Of lightning and of wind had raged;--so thick
The labouring earth had shook the ruins down;--
So suffocating blew the scorching air.
Close as along some heath that peasants fire
At night, the curling flames ascend,--so fell
The streaming flashes, as if heaven had sent
A shower of fire for rain:--ten thousand bolts
Fell every instant, battling through the air
Like sun--rays divers glinting from the facel
Of restless waters. Through the city now
The fire--flood goes, and in a cataract huge
From the steep rocks pours down into the sea.--
Right o'er, with sweep tremendous, the red stream
Launches into the deep:--the deep shrinks back
Hissing and roaring--steaming to the skies--
Seething like hottest cauldron:--flashing up
Torrents of boiling brine, and darkening all
With clouds of densest mist. Again the waves
Return;--again the fiery cataract meets
And drives it bellowing back.-- But look! the earth
In its last pang seems quaking:--back recoils
The burning lava--rolling on itself:--
The ground is lifted up:--the city rides
On the huge swell like bark upon the waves:--
The sea, loud thundering, from the shore retires
Far as the eye can reach.--Then sinks again
The earth;--the city sinks:--the sea comes back,
Piled in a ridge that seems to touch the sky:--
Swift as the wind it comes;--it roars--it foams--
It shakes the inmost earth:--above the cliffs--
Above the loftiest hills it towers;--it bursts:--
The fires are instant quench'd:--the lava stream
Stops--solid.--But again
The ground with last convulsive struggle heaves;
The sea hastes back:--the dark and drench'd remains,
Of that ill--fated city are lift up
High, trembling, in the air:--the giant rocks
That gird the shores fall shivering to th' abyss:--
The earth like a tempestuous ocean rolls,
Sinking in hollows--rising into steeps.--
Here in a trough the tallest pines sink down:--
There, rivers lifted up on high, their floods
Pour forth in vast cascades:--a forest here
With its innumerous trees loud howling rides
Aloft through air to seek another bed;--
There, tumbled o'er, its branches root in earth,
Its roots shoot out like branches. From the sea,
Shouldering aside the waves, new islands peer,
That look abroad awhile, then dive again,
Making huge whirlpools as the waters rush
To fill the mighty void:--and from the deeps
Flames issue, shaking high their bloody flags,
As for destruction's triumph.--Hill 'gainst hill
Clashes;--mountain to mountain nods.-- Yawns then
The ground--a dark terrific gulf:--at once
The city sinks as in a sepulchre;--
Deep down it sinks in that tremendous pit,
Like ship that goes into the bottomless deep,--
And the huge earth--waves close above, and seal
Its everlasting tomb.-- 'Tis gone! where late
The mighty city stood no trace is left;--
Its costly palaces--its splendid streets--
Its awful temples--all are gone. Remains
A dark--hued plain alone, whose rugged face
The lessening lightnings plough;--o'er which the flood
Of lava slowly settles in a lake.--
Years--ages--centuries--shall pass away--
And none shall tell where once that city stood.

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