The Dream

A poem by John Clare

Thou scarest me with dreams.

When Night's last hours, like haunting spirits, creep
With listening terrors round the couch of sleep,
And Midnight, brooding in its deepest dye,
Seizes on Fear with dismal sympathy,
"I dreamed a dream" something akin to fate,
Which Superstition's blackest thoughts create--
Something half natural to the grave that seems,
Which Death's long trance of slumber haply dreams;
A dream of staggering horrors and of dread,
Whose shadows fled not when the vision fled,
But clung to Memory with their gloomy view,
Till Doubt and Fancy half believed it true.

That time was come, or seem'd as it was come,
When Death no longer makes the grave his home;
When waking spirits leave their earthly rest
To mix for ever with the damn'd or blest;
When years, in drowsy thousands counted by,
Are hung on minutes with their destiny:
When Time in terror drops his draining glass,
And all things mortal, like to shadows, pass,
As 'neath approaching tempests sinks the sun--
When Time shall leave Eternity begun.
Life swoon'd in terror at that hour's dread birth;
As in an ague, shook the fearful Earth;
And shuddering Nature seemed herself to shun,
Whilst trembling Conscience felt the deed was done.

A gloomy sadness round the sky was cast,
Where clouds seem'd hurrying with unusual haste;
Winds urged them onward, like to restless ships;
And light dim faded in its last eclipse;
And Agitation turn'd a straining eye;
And Hope stood watching like a bird to fly,
While suppliant Nature, like a child in dread,
Clung to her fading garments till she fled.

Then awful sights began to be reveal'd,
Which Death's dark dungeons had so long conceal'd,
Each grave its doomsday prisoner resign'd,
Bursting in noises like a hollow wind;
And spirits, mingling with the living then,
Thrill'd fearful voices with the cries of men.
All flying furious, grinning deep despair,
Shaped dismal shadows on the troubled air:
Red lightning shot its flashes as they came,
And passing clouds seem'd kindling into flame;
And strong and stronger came the sulphury smell,
With demons following in the breath of hell,
Laughing in mockery as the doom'd complain'd,
Losing their pains in seeing others pain'd.

Fierce raged Destruction, sweeping o'er the land,
And the last counted moment seem'd at hand:
As scales near equal hang in earnest eyes
In doubtful balance, which shall fall or rise,
So, in the moment of that crushing blast,
Eyes, hearts, and hopes paused trembling for the last.
Loud burst the thunder's clap and yawning rents
Gash'd the frail garments of the elements;
Then sudden whirlwinds, wing'd with purple flame
And lightning's flash, in stronger terrors came,
Burning all life and Nature where they fell,
And leaving earth as desolate as hell.
The pleasant hues of woods and fields were past,
And Nature's beauties had enjoyed their last:
The colour'd flower, the green of field and tree,
What they had been for ever ceased to be:
Clouds, raining fire, scorched up the hissing dews;
Grass shrivell'd brown in miserable hues;
Leaves fell to ashes in the air's hot breath,
And all awaited universal Death.
The sleepy birds, scared from their mossy nest,
Beat through the evil air in vain for rest;
And many a one, the withering shades among,
Wakened to perish o'er its brooded young.
The cattle, startled with the sudden fright,
Sicken'd from food, and madden'd into flight;
And steed and beast in plunging speed pursued
The desperate struggle of the multitude,
The faithful dogs yet knew their owners' face.
And cringing follow'd with a fearful pace,
Joining the piteous yell with panting breath,
While blasting lightnings follow'd fast with death;
Then, as Destruction stopt the vain retreat,
They dropp'd, and dying lick'd their masters' feet.

When sudden thunders paus'd, loud went the shriek,
And groaning agonies, too much to speak,
From hurrying mortals, who with ceaseless fears
Recall'd the errors of their vanish'd years;
Flying in all directions, hope bereft,
Followed by dangers that would not be left;
Offering wild vows, and begging loud for aid,
Where none was nigh to help them when they pray'd.
None stood to listen, or to soothe a friend,
But all complained, and sorrow had no end.
Sons from their fathers, fathers sons did fly,
The strongest fled, and left the weak to die;
Pity was dead: none heeded for another;
Brother left brother, and the frantic mother
For fruitless safety hurried east and west,
And dropp'd the babe to perish from her breast;
All howling prayers that would be noticed never,
And craving mercy that was fled for ever;
While earth, in motion like a troubled sea,
Open'd in gulfs of dread immensity
Amid the wild confusions of despair,
And buried deep the howling and the prayer
Of countless multitudes, and closed--and then
Open'd and swallow'd multitudes again.

Stars, drunk with dread, roll'd giddy from the heaven,
And staggering worlds like wrecks in storms were driven;
The pallid moon hung fluttering on the sight,
As startled bird whose wings are stretch'd for flight;
And o'er the East a fearful light begun
To show the sun rise-not the morning sun,
But one in wild confusion, doom'd to rise
And drop again in horror from the skies.
To heaven's midway it reel'd, and changed to blood,
Then dropp'd, and light rushed after like a flood,
The heaven's blue curtains rent and shrank away,
And heaven itself seem'd threaten'd with decay;
While hopeless distance, with a boundless stretch,
Flash'd on Despair the joy it could not reach,
A moment's mockery-ere the last dim light
Vanish'd, and left an everlasting Night;
And with that light Hope fled and shriek'd farewell,
And Hell in yawning echoes mock'd that yell.

Now Night resumed her uncreated vest,
And Chaos came again, but not its rest;
The melting glooms that spread perpetual stains,
Kept whirling on in endless hurricanes;
And tearing noises, like a troubled sea,
Broke up that silence which no more would be.

The reeling earth sank loosen'd from its stay,
And Nature's wrecks all felt their last decay.
The yielding, burning soil, that fled my feet,
I seem'd to feel and struggled to retreat;
And 'midst the dread of horror's mad extreme
I lost all notion that it was a dream:
Sinking I fell through depths that seem'd to be
As far from fathom as Eternity;
While dismal faces on the darkness came
With wings of dragons and with fangs of flame,
Writhing in agonies of wild despairs,
And giving tidings of a doom like theirs.
I felt all terrors of the damn'd, and fell
With conscious horror that my doom was hell:
And Memory mock'd me, like a haunting ghost,
With light and life and pleasures that were lost;
As dreams turn night to day, and day to night,
So Memory flash'd her shadows of that light
That once bade morning suns in glory rise,
To bless green fields and trees, and purple skies,
And waken'd life its pleasures to behold;--
That light flash'd on me like a story told;
And days mis-spent with friends and fellow-men,
And sins committed,-all were with me then.
The boundless hell, whose demons never tire,
Glimmer'd beneath me like a world on fire:
That soul of fire, like to its souls entomb'd,
Consuming on, and ne'er to be consum'd,
Seem'd nigh at hand, where oft the sulphury damps
O'er-aw'd its light, as glimmer dying lamps,
Spreading a horrid gloom from side to side,
A twilight scene of terrors half descried.
Sad boil'd the billows of that burning sea,
And Fate's sad yellings dismal seem'd to be;
Blue roll'd its waves with horrors uncontrolled,
And its live wrecks of souls dash'd howlings as they roll'd.

Again I struggled, and the spell was broke,
And 'midst the laugh of mocking ghosts I woke;
My eyes were open'd on an unhoped sight--
The early morning and its welcome light,
And, as I ponder'd o'er the past profound,
I heard the cock crow, and I blest the sound.

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