In Divers Tones

by Charles G.D. Roberts

Edited by Tracy Ware


 

OUT OF POMPEII


 

Save what the night-wind woke of sweet
   And solemn sound, I heard alone
The sleepless ocean’s ceaseless beat,
   The surge’s monotone.

Low down the south a dreary gleam

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   Of white light smote the sullen swells,
Evasive as a blissful dream,
   Or wind-borne notes of bells.

The water’s lapping whispers stole
   Into my brain, and there effaced

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All human memories from my soul,—
   An atom in a shifting waste.

Weird fingers, groping, strove to raise
   Some numbing horror from my mind;
And ever, as it met my gaze,

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   The sharp truth struck me blind.

The keen-edged breath of the salt sea
   Stung; but a faint, swift, sulphurous smell
Blew past, and I reeled dizzily
   As from the brink of hell,

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One moment; then the swan-necked prow
   Sustained me, and once more I scanned
The unfenced flood, against my brow
   Arching my lifted hand.

O’er all the unstable vague expanse

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   I towered the lord supreme, and smiled;
And marked the hard, white sparkles glance,
   The dark vault wide and wild.

Again that faint wind swept my face—
   With hideous menace swept my eyes.

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I cowered back in my straitened place
   And groped with dim surmise,

Not knowing yet. Not knowing why,
   I turned, as one asleep might turn,
And noted with half curious eye

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   The figure crouched astern.

On heaped-up leopard skins she crouched,
   Asleep, and soft skins covered her,
And scarlet stuffs where she was couched,
   Sodden with sea-water,

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Burned lurid with black stains, and smote
   My thought with waking pangs; I saw
The white arm drooping from the boat,
   Round-moulded, pure from flaw;

The yellow sandals even-thonged;

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   The fair face, wan with haunting pain;—
Then sudden, crowding memories thronged
   Like unpent sudden rain.

Clear-stamped, as by white lightning when
   The swift flame rends the night, wide-eyed

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I saw dim streets, and fleeing men,
   And walls from side to side

Reeling, and great rocks fallen; a pall
   Above us, an encumbering shroud
About our feet, and over all

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   The awful Form that bowed

Our hearts, the fiery scourge that smote
   The city,—the red Mount. Clear, clear
I saw it,—and this lonely boat,
   And us two drifting here!

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With one sharp cry I sprang and hid
   My face among the skins beside
Her feet, and held her safe, and chid
   The tumult till it died.

And crouched thus at her rescued feet,

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   Save her low breath, I heard alone
The sleepless ocean’s ceaseless beat,
   The surge’s monotone.