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Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 4.djvu/73

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43
DARKNESS.

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,10
The palaces of crownéd 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 trunks20
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

    mountains, rocks, and caverns,—Nature wept, and a doleful voice was heard exclaiming in the air, 'The human race is no more!'" (ii. 197). It is difficult to believe that Byron had not read, and more or less consciously turned to account, the imagery of this novel; but it is needless to add that any charge of plagiarism falls to the ground. Thanks to a sensitive and appreciative ear and a retentive memory, Byron's verse is interfused with manifold strains, but, so far as Darkness is concerned, his debt to Coleridge or the author of Omegarus and Syderia is neither more nor less legitimate than the debt to Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Joel, which a writer in the Imperial Magazine (1828, x. 699), with solemn upbraidings, lays to his charge. The duty of acknowledging such debts is, indeed, "a duty of imperfect obligation." The well-known lines in Tennyson's Locksley Hall

    "Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rained a ghastly dew
    From the nations' airy navies grappling in the central blue!"

    is surely an echo of an earlier prophecy from the pen of the author of Omegarus and Syderia: "In the center the heavens were seen darkened by legions of armed vessels, making war on each other! ... The soldiers fell in frightful numbers.... Their blood stained the soft verdure of the trees, and their scattered bleeding limbs covered the fields and the roofs of the labourers' cottages" (i. 68). But such "conveyings" are honourable to the purloiner. See, too, the story of the battle between the Vulture-cavalry and the Sky-gnats, in Lucian's Vera Historæ, i. 16.]