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Souls that from this mere footing of the earth
If Thou hast known anywhere amid a storm Of thunder, when the Heavens and Earth were moved, A gleam of quiet sunshine that hath saved Thine heart; or where the earthquake hath made wreck, Knowest a stream, that wandereth fair and sweet As brooks go singing thro' the fields of home; Or on a sudden when the sea, distent With windy pride, upriseth thro' the clouds To set his great head equal with the stars, Hast sunk Hell-deep, thy noble ship a straw Betwixt two billows ; or in any wild Barbaric, hast, with half-drawn breath, passed by The sleeping savage, dreadful still in sleep, Scarred by a thousand combats, by his side His rugged spouse-in aught but sex a chiefTheir babe between; or where the stark roof-tree Of a burnt home blackened and sear lies dark, Betwixt the gaunt-ribbed ruin, hast thou seen The rose of peace ; or in some donjon deep, Rent by a giant in the blasted rock And proof against his peers,-hast thou beheld Prone in the gloom, naked and shining sad In her own light of loveliness, a fair Daughter of Eve : Then as thou seest God In some material likeness, less and more, Thou hast seen Chamouni, 'mid sternest Alps The gentlest valley ; bright meandering track Of summer when she winds among the snows From Land to Land.
(JAMES THOMSON, whose father was a seafaring man, was born at Port Glasgow on the 23rd November, 1834. His early career had many vicissitu des. Educated at the Royal Caledonian Asylum, he subsequently entered the Training School, Chelsea, for the purpose of eventually becoming an army schoolmaster. We next find him in a solicitor's office in London ; then in America as secretary to a silver mine company; then in Spain as correspondent of the New York World. His first volume, The City of Dreadful Night, and other Poems, some parts of which had previously appeared in The National Reformer, was published in 1880. This was succeeded, in 1881, by Vane's Story, and other Poems. In the same year a volume of prose essays proceeded from his pen; and beside, these he has left behind him many posthumous poems and translations. He died June 3rd, 1882.]
James Thomson, though his works were few and his death comparatively early, was still one of the remarkable poets of this century. Most of the poets of our time have flirted with pessimism, but through their beautifully expressed sorrow we cannot help seeing that on the whole they are less sad than they seem, or that, like Mr. Matthew Arnold, they have laid hold of a stern kind of philosophic consolation. It was reserved for Thomson to write the real poem of despair ; it was for him to say the ultimate word about melancholia : for, of course, it is the result of that disorder which is depicted in The City of Dreadful Night. It was for him to gauge its horrible shapes, to understand its revelations of darkness, as Shelley and others have understood revelations of light. As soon as we have read the opening pages of The City of Dreadful Night, we feel transported to a land of infinite tragedy. It has been contended that because life itself is so tragic, such poems as Thomson's are worse than needless; but the true reason for the existence of this particular poem is given by its author in the following lines :
“Yes, here and there some weary wanderer
In that same city of tremendous night,
Of fellowship in all-disastrous fight;
“I suffer mute and lonely, yet another
Travels the same wild paths though out of sight."' Happily all men have not walked in Thomson's City of Despair, but too many have done so, and they must feel a bitter kind of comfort, such comfort as comes of tears, in having all its horrors so faithfully and sympathetically recorded.
In the gloomy delineation of life Thomson has had of course many predecessors, but perhaps none of them have equalled him in the intense spirit of desolation revealed in The City of Dreadful Night, not only in direct utterance, but in imagery large and terribly majestic, and in the thorough keeping of the illustrations of the poem with its general sentiment. The colossal imagination of both idea and symbol show the influence of no other writer. Equally graphic and equally earnest, though in a distinctly different vein, are two poems in the same volume called Sunday at Hampstead, and Sunday up the River. They are genuine idyls of the people, yet without any trace of vulgarity. They are charged with brightness and healthy joy in living, as fully as the leading poem of the book is fraught with darkness and despair.
In these days of poetic schools, to some one of which a man must generally be relegated, if his work is to be considered at all, there is something remarkable in the solitariness of this poet, who can be classed in no poetic fraternity. It is not likely that The City of Dreadful Night, through the awful blackness of which no ray of light penetrates, will ever be a popular poem, but amid the uncertainties of modern speculation, the hesitating lights which still too often discover no sure track, the poem will stand out as a monument of solemn and uncompromising gloom. Intense sincerity, joined to a vivid imagination, constitute Thomson's claims to be remembered. Whether he speaks to us fron the fastnesses of his Dreadful City, or in a happier mood breaks into enatches of song as he drifts down stream in his boat, one feels brought in contact with a strong personal individuality. This strong individuality, whether expressing itself in life or poetry, is not welcome to all persons, but those on whom it seizes find in it a fascination which it is difficult for any other quality to substitute.
PHILIP BOURKE MARSTON.
THE CITY OF DREADFUL NIGHT.
The City is of Night ; perchance of Death,
But certainly of Night ; for never there
After the dewy dawning's cold grey air ;
For it dissolveth in the daylight sair.
Dissolveth like a dream of night away ;
Though present in distempered gloom of thought And deadly weariness of heart all day.
But when a dream night after night is brought Throughout a week, and such weeks few or many Recur each year for several years, can any
Discern that dream from real life in aught?
For life is but a dream whose shapes return,
Some frequently, some seldom, some by night And some by day, some night and day: we learn,
The while all change and many vanish quite,
We count things real ; such is memory's might.
A river girds the city west and south,
The main north channel of a broad lagoon, Regurging with the salt tides from the mouth ;
Waste marshes shine and glister to the moon For leagues, then moorland black, then stony ridges ? Great piers and causeways, many noble bridges,
Connect the town and islet suburbs strewn.
Upon an easy slope it lies at large,
And scarcely overlaps the long curved crest Which swells out two leagues from the river marge.
A trackless wilderness rolls north and west, Savannahs, savage
enormous mou Bleak uplands, black ravines with torrent fountains ;
And eastward rolls the shipless sea's unrest.
The city is not ruinous, although
Great ruins of an unremembered past, With others of a few short years ago
More sad, are found within its precincts vast. The street-lamps always burn; but scarce a casement In house or palace front from roof to basement
Doth glow or gleam athwart the mirk air cast.
The street-lamps burn amidst the baleful glooms,
Amidst the soundless solitudes immense
The silence which benumbs or strains the sense
Or dead, or fled from nameless pestilence !
Yet as in some necropolis you find
Perchance one mourner to a thousand dead, So there ; worn faces that look deaf and blind
Like tragic masks of stone. With weary tread, Each wrapt in his own doom, they wander, wander, Or sit foredone and desolately ponder
Through sleepless hours with heavy drooping head.
Mature men chiefly, few in age or youth,
A woman rarely, now and then a child :
To see a little one from birth defiled,
To meet one erring in that homeless wild.