"The Last Man" by Thomas Lovell Beddoes

Thomas Lovell Beddoes, The Last Man

[Ed. 1890 from holograph MSS. fragments]

DIANEME and female attendants.


SING on, sing ever, and let sobs arise
Beneath the current of your harmony,
Breaking its silvery stillness into gushes
Of stealing sadness: let tears fall upon it,
And burst with such a sound, as when a lute-string,
Torn by the passion of its melody,
Gasps its whole soul of music in one sound,
And dies beneath the waves of its own voice!
Be pale thou mooned midnight, and ye stars
Shed fluttering tremours of inconstant light
Upon the moaning billows; timid leaves
O'erwhelm yourselves with shadow, and give out
Your dewy titterings to the air no more!
Clouds, clouds, dark, deadly clouds, let not the moon
Look on his grave!--It is too light: the day
Will rise before I die: how old is evening?

Attend. The tide of darkness now is at its height.
Yon lily-woven cradle of the hours
Hath floated half her shming voyage, nor yet
Is by the current of the mom opposed.

Dianeme. The hour is coming: I must give my soul
To the same moment on whose precious air
My Casimir soared heavenward, for I know
There are a million chambers of the dead,
And every other minute but the same
Would bear me to the one where he is not,
And that were madness. Bring me yon sick lily,--
Yon fevered one.

Attend. Choose any other, lady,
For this is broken, odourless, and scorched,--
Where Death has graved his curse.

Dianeme.      Give it to me;
I'll weep it full. I have a love for flowers:
Guess you not why ? Their roots are in the earth,
And, when the dead awake, or talk in sleep,
These hear their thoughts and write them on their leaves
For heaven to look on: and their dews come down
From the deep bosom of the blue, whereon
The spirits linger, sent by them perchance
With blessings to their friends. Besides all night
They are wide-waking, and the ghosts will pause,
And breathe their thoughts upon them. There,
    poor blossom,
My soul bedews thee, and my breast shall be
Thy death-bed, and our deaths shall intertwine.
Now, maids, farewell; this is the very echo
Of his expiring time; one snowy cloud
Hangs, like an avalanche of frozen light,
Upon the peak of night's cerulean Alp,
And yon still pine, a bleak anatomy,
Flows, like a river, on the planet's disk.
With its black, wandering arms. Farewell to all:
There is my hand to weep on.
        Now my soul
Developes its great beams, and, like a cloud
Racked by the mighty winds, at once expands
Into a measureless, immortal growth.
Crescented night, and amethystine stars,
And day, thou god and glory of the heavens,
Flow on for ever! Play, ye living spheres,
Through the infinity of azure wafted
On billowy music! Airs immortal, strew
Your tressed beauty on the clouds and seas!
And thou the sum of these, nature of all,
Thou providence pervading the whole space
Of measureless creation; thou vast mind,
Whose thoughts these pageantries and seasons are,
Who claspest all in one imagination,
All hail! I too am an eternity;
I am an universe. My soul is bent
Into a girdling circle full of days;
And my fears rise through the deep sky of it,
Blossoming into palpitating stars;
And suns are launched, and planets wake within me;
The words upon my breath are showery clouds,
Sailing along a summer; Casimir
Is the clear truth of ocean, to look back
The beams of my soft love, the world to turn
Within my blue embrace. I am an heaven,
And he my hreezes, rays, and harmony;
'Round and around the curvous atmosphere
Of my own real existence I revolve
Serene and starry with undying love.
I am, I have been, I shall be, O glory!
An universe, a god, a living Ever.

        [She dies.


SOFT! Stand away! those features--Do not stir!
Be breathless if thou canst! . . The trembling ray
Of some approaching thought, I know not what,
Gleams on my darkened mind. It will be here
Directly: now I feel it growing, growing,
Like a man's shadow, when the sun floats slowly
Through the white border of a baffled cloud:
And now the pale conception furls and thickens.
'Tis settled,--Yes--Beroe!--How dare thy cheek
Be wan and withered as a wrinkling moon
Upon the tumbled waves? Why cam'st thou here?
I dreamt of thee last night, as thou wert once,
But I shall never dream of thee again.


WHAT'S this? Did you not see a white convulsion
Run through his cheek and fling his eye-lids up?
There's mischief in the paper.
       Mark again
How, with that open palm, he shades his brain
From its broad, sudden meaning. Once I saw
One who had dug for treasure in a corner
Where he, by torchlight, saw a trembling man
Burying a chest at night. Just so he stood
With open striving lips and shaking hair;
Alive but in his eyes, and they were fixed
On a smeared, earthly, bleeding corpse--his sister,
There by her murderer crushed into the earth.


THERE'S a fellow
With twisting root-like hair up to his eyes,
And they are streaked with red and starting out
Under their bristling brows; his crooked tusks
Part, like a hungry wolf's, his cursing mouth;
His head is frontless, and a swinish mane
Grows o'er his shoulders:--brown and warty hands,
Like roots, with pointed nails.--He is the man.


LEAF after leaf, like a magician's book
Turned in a dragon-guarded hermitage
By tress-disheveling spirits of the air,
My life unfolds.


HARD by the lilied Nile I saw
A duskish river-dragon stretched along,
The brown habergeon of his limbs enamelled
With sanguine almandines and rainy pearl:
And on his back there lay a young one sleeping,
No bigger than a mouse; with eyes like beads,
And a small fragment of its speckled egg
Remaining on its harmless, pulpy snout;
A thing to laugh at, as it gaped to catch
The baulking, merry flies. In the iron jaws--
Of the great devil-beast, like a pale soul
Fluttering in rocky hell, lightsomely flew
A snowy troculus, with roseate beak
Tearing the hairy leeches from his throat.


AY, ay: good man, kind father, best of friends--
These are the words that grow, like grass and nettles,
Out of dead men, and speckled hatreds hide,
Like toads, among them.


I'LL take that fainting rose
Out of his breast; perhaps some sigh of his
Lives in the gyre of its kiss-coloured leaves.
O pretty rose, hast thou thy flowery passions?
Then put thyself into a scented rage,
And breathe on me some poisonous revenge.
For it was I, thou languid, silken blush,
Who orphaned thy green family of thee,
In their closed infancy: therefore receive
My life, and spread it on thy shrunken petals,
And give to me thy pink, reclining death.


I KNOW not whether
I see your meaning: if I do, it lies
Upon the wordy wavelets of your voice,
Dim as an evening shadow in a brook,
When the least moon has silver on't no larger,
Than the pure white of Hebe's pinkish nail.


I FEAR there is some maddening secret
Hid in your words, (and at each turn of thought
Comes up a skull,) like an anatomy
Found in a weedy hole, 'mongst stones and roots
And straggling reptiles, with his tongueless mouth
Telling of murder.


AND many voices marshalled in one hymn
Wound through the night, whose still translucent moments
Lay on each side their breath; and the hymn passed
Its long, harmonious populace of words
Between the silvery silences, as when
The slaves of Egypt, like a wind between
The head and trunk of a dismembered king
On a strewn plank, with blood and footsteps sealed,
Vallied the unaccustomed sea.


JUST now a beam of joy hung on his eye-lash;
But, as I looked, it sunk into his eye,
Like a bruised worm writhing its form of rings
Into a darkening hole.


LET him lean
Against his life, that glassy interval
'Twixt us and nothing; and, upon the ground
Of his own slippery breath, draw hueless dreams,
And gaze on frost-work hopes. Uncourteous Death
Knuckles the pane, and * * *


LAST night I looked into a dream; 'twas drawn
On the black midnight of a velvet sleep,
And set in woeful thoughts; and there I saw
A thin, pale Cupid, with bare, ragged wings
Like skeletons of leaves, in autumn left,
That sift the frosty air. One hand was shut,
And in its little hold of ivory
Fastened a May-morn zephyr, frozen straight,
Made deadly with a hornet's rugged sting,
Gilt with the influence of an adverse star.
Such was his weapon, and he traced with it,
Upon the waters of my thoughts, these words:
"I am the death of flowers, and nightingales,
And small-lipped babes, that give their souls to summer
To make a perfumed day with: I shall come,
A death no larger than a sigh to thee,
Upon a sunset hour." --And so he passed
Into the place where faded rainbows are,
Dying along the distance of my mind;
As down the sea Europa's hair-pearls fell
When, through the Cretan waves, the curly bull
Dashed, tugging at a stormy plough, whose share
Was of the northern hurricane--


A N amorous cloud
Lets down her rustling hair over the sun.


THE bitter past
And the untasted future I mix up,
Making the present a dream-figured bowl
For the black poison, which is caked and moulded,
By the inside of the enchasing thoughts,
Even as I taste it.


IS it not sweet to die? for, what is death,
But sighing that we ne'er may sigh again,
Getting at length beyond our tedious selves;
But trampling the last tear from poisonous sorrow,
Spilling our woes, crushing our frozen hopes,
And passing like an incense out of man?
Then, if the body felt, what were its sense,
Turning to daisies gently in the grave,
If not the soul's most delicate delight
When it does filtrate, through the pores of thought
In love and the enamelled flowers of song?


ITS impossible ascent was steep,
As are the million pillars of a shower
Torn, shivered, and dashed hard against the earth,
When Day no longer breathes, but through the hours
The ghost of chaos haunts the ruined sky.


THE blue, between yon star-nailed cloud
The double-mountain and this narrow valley
Is strung with rain, like a fantastic lyre.


A. THE king looks well, red in its proper place
The middle of the cheek, and his eye's round
Black as a bit of night.

B.     Yet men die suddenly:
One sits upon a strong and rocky life,
Watching a street of many opulent years,
And Hope's his mason. Well I to-day do this
And so to-morrow; twenty hollow years
Are stuffed with action:--lo! upon his head
Drops a pin's point of time; tick! quoth the clock,
And the grave snaps him.

A.     Such things may have been;
The crevice 'twixt two after-dinner minutes,
The crack between a pair of syllables,
May sometimes be a grave as deep as 'tis
From noon to midnight in the hoop of time.
But for this man, his life wears ever steel
From which disease drops blunted. If indeed
Death lay in the market-place, or were--but hush!
See you the tremble of that myrtle bough?
Does no one listen?

B.      Nothing with a tongue:
The grass is dumb since Midas, and no AEsop
Translates the crow or hog. Within the myrtle
Sits a hen-robin, trembling like a star,
over her brittle eggs.

A.        Is it no more?

B. Nought: let her hatch.


HER kisses are
Soft as a snow-tuft in the dewless cup
Of a redoubled rose, noiselessly falling
When heaven is brimful of starry night.


CAN it then be, that the earth loved some city,
Another planet's child, so long, so truly,
That here we find its image next her heart,
Like an abandoned, melancholy thought
Yet legible?


SHIVERING in fever, weak, and parched to sand,
My ears, those entrances of word-dressed thoughts,
My pictured eyes, and my assuring touch,
Fell from me, and my body turned me forth
From its beloved abode: then I was dead;
And in my grave beside my corpse I sat,
In vain attempting to return: meantime
There came the untimely spectres of two babes,
And played in my abandoned body's ruins;
They went away; and, one by one, by snakes
My limbs were swallowed; and, at last. I sat
With only one, blue-eyed, curled round my ribs,
Eating the last remainder of my heart,
And hissing to himself O sleep, thou fiend!
Thou blackness of the night! how sad and frightful
Are these thy dreams!


WHY what's the world and time? a fleeting thought
In the great meditating universe
A brief parenthesis in chaos.