Littell's Living Age/Volume 151/Issue 1953/Despair
A man and his wife having lost faith in a God, and hope of a life to come, and being utterly miserable in this, resolve to end themselves by drowning. The woman is drowned, but the man is rescued by a minister of the sect he had abandoned.
Is it you, that preach'd in the chapel there looking over the sand?
Follow'd us too that night, and dogg'd us, and drew me to land?
What did I feel that night? You are curious. How should I tell?
Does it matter so much what I felt? You rescued me — yet — was it well
That you came unwish'd for, uncall'd, between me and the deep and my doom
Three days since, three more dark days of the Godless gloom
Of a life without sun, without health, without hope, without any delight
In anything here upon earth? hut ah God, that night, that night
When the rolling eyes of the light-house there on the fatal neck
Of land running out into rock — they had saved many hundreds from wreck —
Glared on our way toward death, I remember I thought as we past
Does it matter how many they saved? we are all of us wreck'd at last —
"Do you fear," and there came thro' the roar of the breaker a whisper, a breath,
"Fear? am I not with you? I am frighted at life, not death."
And the suns of the limitless Universe sparkled and shone in the sky,
Flashing with fires as of God, but we knew that their light was a lie —
Bright as with deathless hope — but, however they sparkled and shone,
The dark little worlds running round them were worlds of woe like our own —
No soul in the heaven above, no soul on the earth below,
A fiery scroll written over with lamentation and woe.
See, we were nursed in the dark night-fold of your fatalist creed,
And we turned to the growing dawn, we had hoped for a dawn indeed,
When the light of a Sun that was coming would scatter the ghosts of the Past,
And the cramping creeds that had madden'd the peoples would vanish at last,
And we broke away from the Christ, our human brother and friend,
For he spoke, or it seem'd that he spoke, of a Hell without help, without end.
Hoped for a dawn and it came, but the promise had faded away'
We had past from a cheerless night to the glare of a drearier day;
He is only a cloud and a smoke who was once a pillar of fire,
The guess of a worm in the dust and the shadow of its desire —
Of a worm as it writhes in a world of the weak trodden down by the strong,
Of a dying worm in a world, all massacre, murder, and wrong.
O we poor orphans of nothing — alone on that lonely shore —
Born of the brainless Nature who knew not that which she bore
Trusting no longer that earthly flower would he heavenly fruit —
Come from the brute, poor souls — no souls — and to die with the brute —
Nay, but I am not claiming your pity: I know you of old —
Small pity for those that have ranged from the narrow warmth of your fold
Where you bawl'd the dark side of your faith and a God of eternal rage,
Till you flung us back on ourselves, and the human heart, and the Age.
But pity — the Pagan held it a vice — was in her and in me,
Helpless, taking the place of the pitying God that should be!
Pity for all that aches in the grasp of an idiot power,
And pity for our own selves on an earth that bore not a flower;
Pity for all that suffers on land or in air or the deep,
And pity for our own selves till we long'd for eternal sleep.
"Lightly step over the sands! the waters — you hear them call!
Life with its anguish, and horrors, and errors — away with it all!"
And she laid her hand in my own — she was always loyal and sweet —
Till the points of the foam in the dusk came playing about our feet.
There was a strong sea-current would sweep us out to the main.
"Ah God," tho' I felt as I spoke I was taking the name in vain —
"Ah God," and we turn'd to each other, we kiss'd, we embraced, she and I,
Knowing the Love we were used to believe everlasting would die:
We had read their know-nothing books and we lean'd to the darker side —
Ah God, should we find him, perhaps, perhaps, if we died, if we died;
We never had found Him on earth, this earth is a fatherless Hell —
"Dear Love, forever and ever, forever and ever farewell,"
Never a cry so desolate, not since the world began!
Never a kiss so sad, no, not since the coming of man.
But the blind wave cast me ashore, and you saved me, a valueless life.
Not a grain of gratitude mine! You have parted the man from the wife.
I am left alone on the land, she is all alone in the sea,
If a curse meant ought, I would curse you for not having let me be.
Visions of youth — for my brain was drunk with the water, it seems;
I had past into perfect quiet at length out of pleasant dreams,
And the transient trouble of drowning — what was it when match'd with the pains
Of the hellish heat of a wretched life rushing back thro' the veins?
Why should I live? one son had forged on his father and fled,
And if I believed in a God, I would thank him, the other is dead,
And there was a baby girl, that had never look'd on the light:
Happiest she of us all, for she past from the night to the night.
But the crime, if a crime, of her eldest-born, her glory, her boast,
Struck hard at the tender heart of the mother, and broke it almost;
Tho', name and fame dying out forever in endless time,
Does it matter so much whether crown'd for a virtue, or hang'd for a crime?
And ruin'd by him, by him, I stood there, naked, amazed
In a world of arrogant opulence, fear'd myself turning crazed,
And I would not be mock'd in a madhouse! and she, the delicate wife,
With a grief that could only be cured, if cured, by the surgeon's knife, —
Why should we bear with an hour of torture, a moment of pain
If every man die forever, if all his griefs are in vain,
And the homeless planet at length will be wheel'd thro' the silence of space,
Motherless evermore of an ever-vanishing race,
When the worm shall have writhed its last, and its last brother worm will have fled
From the dead fossil skull that is left in the rocks of an earth that is dead?
Have I crazed myself over their horrible infidel writings? O yes,
For these are the new dark ages, you see, of the popular press,
When the bat comes out of his cave, and the owls are whooping at noon,
And Doubt is the lord of this dunghill and crows to the sun and the moon,
Till the Sun and the Moon of our science are both of them turn'd into blood,
And Hope will have broken her heart, running after a shadow of good;
For their knowing and know-nothing books are scatter'd from hand to hand —
We have knelt in your know-all chapel too looking over the sand.
What! I should call on that Infinite Love that has served us so well?
Infinite wickedness rather that made everlasting Hell,
Made us, foreknew us, foredoom'd us, and does what he will with his own;
Better our dead brute mother who has never heard us groan!
Hell? if the souls of men were immortal, as men have been told,
The lecher would cleave to his lusts, and the miser would yearn for his gold,
And so there were Hell forever! but were there a God as you say,
His Love would have power over Hell till it utterly vanish'd away.
Ah yet — I have had some glimmer, at times, in my gloomiest woe,
Of a God behind all — after all — the great God for aught that I know;
But the God of Love and of Hell together — they cannot he thought,
If there be such a God, may the Great God curse him and bring him to nought!
Blasphemy! whose is the fault? is it mine? for why would you save
A madman to vex you with wretched words, who is best in his grave?
Blasphemy! ay, why not, being damn'd beyond hope of grace?
O would I were yonder with her, and away from your faith and your face!
Blasphemy! true! I have scared you pale with my scandalous talk,
But the blasphemy to my mind lies all in the way that you walk.
Hence! she is gone! can I stay? can I breathe divorced from the Past?
You needs must have good lynx-eyes if I do not escape you at last.
Our orthodox coroner doubtless will find it a felo-de-se,
And the stake and the cross-road, fool, if you will, does it matter to me?