The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 4/A Fragment
Could I remount the river of my years
To the first fountain of our smiles and tears,
I would not trace again the stream of hours
Between their outworn banks of withered flowers,
But bid it flow as now—until it glides
Into the number of the nameless tides.
What is this Death?—a quiet of the heart?
The whole of that of which we are a part?
For Life is but a vision—what I see
Of all which lives alone is Life to me,10
And being so—the absent are the dead,
Who haunt us from tranquillity, and spread
A dreary shroud around us, and invest
With sad remembrancers our hours of rest.
The absent are the dead—for they are cold,
And ne'er can be what once we did behold;
And they are changed, and cheerless,—or if yet
The unforgotten do not all forget,
Since thus divided—equal must it be
If the deep barrier be of earth, or sea;20
It may be both—but one day end it must
In the dark union of insensate dust.
The under-earth inhabitants—are they
But mingled millions decomposed to clay?
The ashes of a thousand ages spread
Wherever Man has trodden or shall tread?
Or do they in their silent cities dwell
Each in his incommunicative cell?
Or have they their own language? and a sense
Of breathless being?—darkened and intense30
As Midnight in her solitude?—Oh Earth!
Where are the past?—and wherefore had they birth?
The dead are thy inheritors—and we
But bubbles on thy surface; and the key
Of thy profundity is in the Grave,
The ebon portal of thy peopled cave,
Where I would walk in spirit, and behold
Our elements resolved to things untold,
And fathom hidden wonders, and explore
The essence of great bosoms now no more.40
Diodati, July, 1816.
[First published, Letters and Journals, 1830, ii. 36.]
- [A Fragment, which remained unpublished till 1830, was written at the same time as Churchill's Grave (July, 1816), and is closely allied to it in purport and in sentiment. It is a questioning of Death! O Death, what is thy sting? There is an analogy between exile and death. As Churchill lay in his forgotten grave at Dover, one of "many millions decomposed to clay," so he the absent is dead to the absent, and the absent are dead to him. And what are the dead? the aggregate of nothingness? or are they a multitude of atoms having neither part nor lot one with the other? There is no solution but in the grave. Death alone can unriddle death. The poet's questioning spirit would plunge into the abyss to bring back the answer.]
"'Tis said thou holdest converse with the things
Which are forbidden to the search of man;
That with the dwellers of the dark abodes,
The many evil and unheavenly spirits
Which walk the valley of the Shade of Death,
Manfred, act iii. sc. 1, lines 34, seq., vide post, p. 121.]