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Alethia Phrikodes


Omnia risus et omnis pulris et omna nihil.

DEMONIAC clouds, up-piled in chasmy reach
Of soundless heaven, smothered the brooding night;
Nor came the wonted whisperings of the swamp,
Nor voice of autumn wind along the moor,
Nor muttered noises of the insomnious grove
Whose black recesses never saw the sun.
Within that grove a hideous hollow lies,
Half bare of trees; a pool in centre lurks
That none dares sound; a tarn of murky face,
(Though naught can prove its hue, since light of day,
Affrighted, shuns the forest-shadowed banks.)
Hard by, a yawning hillside grotto breathes
From deeps unvisited, a dull, dank air
That sears the leaves on certain stunted trees
Which stand about, clawing the spectral gloom
With evil boughs. To this accursed dell
Come woodland creatures, seldom to depart:
Once I beheld, upon a crumbling stone
Set altar-like before the cave, a thing
I saw not clearly, yet from glimpsing, fled.
In this half-dusk I meditate alone
At many a weary noontide, when without
A world forgets me in its sun-blest mirth.
Here howl by night the werewolves, and the souls
Of those that knew me well in other days.
Yet on this night the grove spake not to me;
Nor spake the swamp, nor wind along the moor,
Nor moaned the wind about the lonely eaves
Of the bleak, haunted pile wherein I lay.
I was afraid to sleep, or quench the spark
Of the low-burning taper by my couch.
I was afraid when through the vaulted space.
Of the old tower, the clock-ticks died away
Into a silence so profound and chill
That my teeth chattered—giving yet no sound.
Then flickered low the light, and all dissolved
Leaving me floating in the hellish grasp
Of bodied blackness, from whose beating wings
Came ghoulish blasts of charnel-scented mist.
Things vague, unseen, unfashioned, and unnamed
Jostled each other in the seething void
That gaped, chaotic, downward to a sea
Of speediless horror, foul with writhing thoughts.
All this I felt, and felt the mocking eyes
Of the cursed universe upon my soul;
Yet naught I saw nor heard, till flashed a beam
Of lurid lustre through the rotting heavens,
Playing on scenes I laboured not to see.
Methought the nameless tarn, alight at last,
Reflected shapes, and more revealed within
Those shocking depths that ne'er were seen before;
Methought from out the cave a demon train;
Grinning and smirking, reeled in fiendish rout;
Bearing within their reeking paws a load
Of carrion viands for an impious feast.
Methought the stunted trees with hungry arms
Groped greedily for things I dare not name;
The while a stifling, wraith-like noisomenesr
Filled all the dale, and spoke a larger life
Of uncorporeal hideousness awake
In the half-sentient wholeness of the spot.
Now glowed the ground, and tarn, and cave, and trees,
And moving forms, and things not spoken of,
With such a phosphorescence as men glimpse
In the putrescent thickets of the swamp
Where logs decaying lie, and rankness reigns.
Methought a fire-mist draped with lucent fold
The well-remembered features of the grove,
Whilst whirling ether bore in eddying streams
The hot, unfinished stuff of nascent worlds
Hither and thither through infinity
Of light and darkness, strangely intermised;
Wherein all eternity had consciousness,
Without the accustomed outward shape of life.
Of these swift circling currents was my soul,
Free from the flesh, a true constituent part;
Nor felt I less myself, for want of form.
Then cleared the mist, and o'er a star-strown scene
Divine and measureless, I gazed in awe.
Alone in space, I viewed a feeble fleck
Of silvern light, marking the narrow ken
Which mortals call the boundless universe.
On every side, each as a tiny star,
Shone more creations, vaster than our own,
And teeming with unnumbered forms of life;
Though we as life would recognize it not,
Being bound to earthy thoughts of human mouls.
As on a moonless night the Milky Way
In solid sheen displays its countless orbs
To weak terrestrial eyes, each orb a sun;
So beamed the prospect on my wondering soul;
A spangled universe, rich with twinkling gems,
Yet each a mighty universe of suns.
But as I gazed, I sensed a spirit voice
In speech didactic, though no voice it was,
Save as it carried thought. It bade me mark
That all the universes in my view
Formed but an atom in infinity;
Whose reaches pass the ether-laden realms
Of heat and light, extending to far fields
Where flourish worlds invisible and vague,
Filled with strange wisdom and uncanny life,
And yet beyond; to myriad spheres of light,
To spheres of darkness, to abysmal voids
That know the pulses of disordered force.
Big with these musings, I surveyed the surge
Of boundless being, yet I used not eyes,
For spirit leans not on the props of sense.
The docent presence swelled my strength of soul;
All things I knew, but knew with mind alone.
Time's endless vista spread before my thought
With its vast pageant of unceasing change
And sempiternal strife of force and will;
I saw the ages flow in stately stream
Past rise and fall of universe and life;
I saw the birth of suns and worlds, their death,
Their transmutation into limpid flame,
Their second birth and second death, their course
Perpetual through the aeons' termless flight,
Never the same, yet born again to serve
The varying purpose of omnipotence.
And whilst I watched, I knew each second's space
Was greater than the lifetime of our world.
Then turned my musings to that speck of dust
Whereon my form corporeal took its rise;
That speck, born but a second, which must die
In one brief second more; that fragile earth;
That crude experiment; that cosmic sport
Which holds our proud, aspiring race of mites
Whom ignorance in empty pomp adorns,
And misinstructs in specious dignity;
Those mites who, reasoning outwarn, vaunt themselves
As the chief work of Nature, and enjoy
In fatuous fancy the particular care
Of all her mystic, super-regnant power.
And as I strove to vision the sad sphere
Which lurked, lost in ethereal vortices;
Methought my soul, tuned to the infinite,
Refused to glimpse that poor atomic blight;
That misbegotten accident of space;
That globe of insignificance, whereupon
(My guide celestial told me) dwells no part
Of empyreal virtue, but where breed
The coarse corruptions of divine disease;
The festering ailments of infinity;
The morbid matter by itself called man:
Such matter (said my guide) as oft breaks forth
On broad Creation's fabric, to annoy
or a brief instant, ere assuaging death
Heal up the malady its birth provoked.
Sickened, I turned my heavy thoughts away.
Then spake the eternal guide with mocking mien,
Upbraiding me for searching after Truth;
Visiting on my mind the searing scorn
Of mind superior; laughing at the woe
Which rent the vital essence of my soul.
Methought he brought remembrance of the time
When my fellows to the grove I strayed,
In solitude and dusk to meditate
On things forbidden, and to pierce the veil
Of seeming good and seeming beauteousness
That covers o'er the tragedy of Truth,
Helping mankind forget his sorry lot,
And-raising hope where Truth would crush k down
He spake, and he ceased, methought the flames
Of fuming Heaven revolved in torments dire;
Whirling in maelstroms of rebellious might,
Yet ever bound by laws I fathomed not.
Cycles and epicycles of such girth
That each a cosmos seemed, dazzled my gaze
Till all a wild phantasmal glow became.
Now burst athwart the fulgent formlessness
A rift of purer sheen, a sight supernal,
Broader than all the void conceived by man,
Yet narrow here. A glimpse of heavens beyond;
Of weird creations so remote and great
That even my guide assumed a tone of awe.
Borne on the wings of stark immensity,
A touch of rhythm celestial reached my soul;
Thrilling me more with horror than with joy.
Again the spirit mocked my human pangs,
And deep reviling me for presumptuous thoughts;
Yet changing now his mien, he bade me scan
The widening rift that clave the walls of space;
He bade me search it for the ultimate;
He bade me find the Truth I sought so long;
He bade me brave the unutterable Thing,
The final Truth of moving entity.
All this he bade—but my soul,
Clinging to live, fled without aim or knowledge,
Shrieking in silence through the gibbering deeps.