Nero

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Nero  (1912) 
by Clark Ashton Smith
1912.

This Rome, that was the toil of many men,
The consummation of laborious years—
Fulfilment's crown to visions of the dead
And image of the wide desire of kings—
Is made my darkling dream's effulgency,
Fuel of vision, brief embodiment
Of wandering will and wastage of the strong
Fierce ecstasy of one tremendous hour,
When ages piled on ages like a pyre
Flamed to the years behind and years to be.

Yet any sunset were as much as this,
Save for the music forced from tongueless things,
The rape of Matter's huge, unchorded harp
By the many-fingered fire—a music pierced
With the tense voice of Life, more quick to cry
Its agony—and save that I believed
The radiance redder for the blood of men.
Destruction hastens and intensifies
The process that is beauty, manifests
Ranges of form unknown before, and gives
Motion, and voice, and hue, where otherwise
Bleak inexpressiveness had levelled all.

If one create, there is the lengthy toil;
The labored years and days league toward an end
Less than the measure of desire, mayhap,
After the sure consuming of all strength
And strain of faculties that otherwhere
Were loosed upon enjoyment; and at last
Remains to one capacity nor power
For pleasure in the thing that he hath made.
But on destruction hangs but little use
Of time or faculty, but all is turned
To the one purpose, unobstructed, pure,
Of sensuous rapture and observant joy;
And from the intensities of death and ruin
One draws a heightened and completer life,
And both extends and vindicates himself.

I would I were a god, with all the scope
Of attributes that are the essential core
Of godhead, and its visibility.
I am but emperor, and hold awhile
The power to hasten death upon its way,
And cry a halt to worn and lagging Life
For others, but for mine own self may not
Delay the one nor bid the other speed.
There have been many kings, and they are dead,
And have no power in death save what the wind
Confers upon their blown and brainless dust
To vex the eyeballs of posterity.
But were I God, I would be overlord
Of many kings, and were as breath to guide
Their dust of destiny. And were I God,
Exempt from this mortality which clogs
Perception and clear exercise of will,
What rapture it would be, if but to watch
Destruction crouching at the back of Time,
The tongueless dooms which dog the travelling suns;
The vampire, Silence, at the breast of worlds,
Fire without light that gnaws the base of things,
And Lethe's mounting tide that rots the stone
Of fundamental spheres. This were enough
Till such time as the dazzled wings of will
Came up with power's accession, scarcely felt
For very suddenness. Then I would urge
The strong contention and conflicting might
Of Chaos and Creation—matching them,
Those immemorial powers inimical,
And all their stars and gulfs subservient,
Dynasts of time, and anarchs of the dark—
In closer war reverseless, and would set
New discord at the universal core—
A Samson-principle to bring it down
In one magnificence of ruin. Yea,
The monster, Chaos, were mine unleashed hound,
And all my power Destruction's own right arm!

I would exult to mark the smouldering stars
Renew beneath my breath their elder fire
And feed upon themselves to nothingness.
The might of suns—slow-paced with swinging weight
Of myriad worlds—were made at my desire
One orb of roaring and torrential light,
Through which the voice of Life were audible,
And singing of the immemorial dead,
Whose dust is loosened into vaporous wings
With soaring wrack of systems ruinous.
And were I weary of the glare of these,
I would tear out the eyes of light, and stand
Above a chaos of extinguished suns,
That crowd and grind and shiver thunderously,
Lending vast voice and motion but no ray
To the stretched silence of the blinded gulfs.
Thus would I give my godhead space and speech
For its assertion, and thus pleasure it,
Hastening the feet of Time with cast of worlds
Like careless pebbles, or, with shattered suns,
Brightening the aspect of Eternity.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1930, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.