by Hervey Allen
His hard-horn eyes
Glitter with pictures
Of the cloud-piled skies;
Wide eyes that little limn
Heaven, unseen by him;
Beside the river road to hell
The dream slave lies.
Here where the swart demons go,
Pass and repass to and fro,
Tread very soft — speak low.
Shrill are the dog-voiced winds
Straining through cedars
At the mouth of hell,
An eyeless socket in the hill;
And the dark river slips,
Sucked through red granite lips,
Into low moonless halls
Down to a cavern land it falls;
Spills with black, lightless thunder,
Where darkness crouches on the dragon hills
An earth-mile under.
Backward, flung back upon the humid winds
Stumbles the mile-deep thunder;
Out of the earth is born
As haggard as a shout from solitude,
The dampened copper-clamor of a horn.
Near here no farmer plants the kindly corn!
Only the sodden dreamer hears the sound
Of the infernal horns' bray underground,
While fitfully comes,
Rumbled like trundled drums,
The river's voice,
The mile-deep thunder —
Speak very soft, speak low;
This is a place of wonder!
Tread very soft — tread slow —
For here black roses grow
In ground unholy,
Flowers of darkness
That have sought the light,
One blue-leafed seedling
From the world below
Of night and shapeless trees and voiceless birds,
Of vast, dim meadows and of monstrous herds —
Petals of midnight which are come
To prophecy against the sun,
With seed pods dangerous to all things bright,
Dull blossoms from the tree of melancholy.
Lean very low — lean low
To hear from dreamer's lips
How fiendishly appears
A webb-foot being at the mouth of hell
To prune the ebon rose with leaden shears;
And how that demon strews
Jet petals round the dreamer once, and twice
Cupped like the sloughed scales of an asp,
And bears the dreamer's soul down cavern roads,
Cold, in a damp-smooth clasp.
He bears the dreamer's soul asleep;
He bears the swarthy roses deep —
Deep down the pounding cataracts,
Along the river hurled
Through leafless tracts
Within a starless world,
Into a city drowned
With shadows drooping down
From balconies of blindness
In the murky town.
Signals of flapping blackness float
In folds of darkness from the walls,
And a gigantic watchman rests
His bony hands upon a drum,
Waiting for sunrise that will never come;
The eyeless serpents rustle in the moat;
And silence calls.
Then where the dead waters flow
Down to the last pit below
There is a noise of boulder stones,
Cast up by blurting fountains;
Washed down the cataracts with grumbling tones,
That rumble dismally among the subterranean mountains.
And down the crags
Along whose face
The grey clouds hang
Like rags in space —
The cowled dreams sit
And listen to the thunder, thunder, thunder
Of the black river and the stones.
Tread very soft — speak low
This is a place of wonder.
Last updated September 05, 2017