I had a dream, which was not all a dream. The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars Did wander darkling in the eternal space, Rayless, and pathless, and the icy Earth Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air; Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day, And men forgot their passions in the dread Of this their desolation; and all hearts Were chilled into a selfish prayer for light: And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones, The palaces of crownéd kings—the huts, The habitations of all things which dwell, Were burnt for beacons; cities were consumed, And men were gathered round their blazing homes To look once more into each other's face; Happy were those who dwelt within the eye Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch: A fearful hope was all the World contained; Forests were set on fire—but hour by hour They fell and faded—and the crackling trunks Extinguished with a crash—and all was black. The brows of men by the despairing light Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits The flashes fell upon them; some lay down And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest Their chins upon their clenchéd hands, and smiled; And others hurried to and fro, and fed Their funeral piles with fuel, and looked up With mad disquietude on the dull sky, The pall of a past World; and then again With curses cast them down upon the dust, And gnashed their teeth and howled: the wild birds shrieked, And, terrified, did flutter on the ground, And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawled And twined themselves among the multitude, Hissing, but stingless—they were slain for food: And War, which for a moment was no more, Did glut himself again:—a meal was bought With blood, and each sate sullenly apart Gorging himself in gloom: no Love was left; All earth was but one thought—and that was Death, Immediate and inglorious; and the pang Of famine fed upon all entrails—men Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh; The meagre by the meagre were devoured, Even dogs assailed their masters, all save one, And he was faithful to a corse, and kept The birds and beasts and famished men at bay, Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead Lured their lank jaws; himself sought out no food, But with a piteous and perpetual moan, And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand Which answered not with a caress—he died. The crowd was famished by degrees; but two Of an enormous city did survive, And they were enemies: they met beside The dying embers of an altar-place Where had been heaped a mass of holy things For an unholy usage; they raked up, And shivering scraped with their cold skeleton hands The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath Blew for a little life, and made a flame Which was a mockery; then they lifted up Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld Each other's aspects—saw, and shrieked, and died— Even of their mutual hideousness they died, Unknowing who he was upon whose brow Famine had written Fiend. The World was void, The populous and the powerful was a lump, Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless— A lump of death—a chaos of hard clay. The rivers, lakes, and ocean all stood still, And nothing stirred within their silent depths; Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea, And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropped They slept on the abyss without a surge— The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave, The Moon, their mistress, had expired before; The winds were withered in the stagnant air, And the clouds perished; Darkness had no need Of aid from them—She was the Universe.
The year that the poem was written was known as the Year Without a Summer - this is because Mount Tambora had erupted in the Dutch East Indies the previous year, casting enough ash in to the atmosphere to block out the sun and cause abnormal weather across much of northeast America and northern Europe. This pall of darkness inspired Byron to write his poem.
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