The present essay will compare the two poems – “When Coldness Wraps This Suffering Clay” (1815) and “Darkness” (1815) – against their constructive methods to denote the apocalyptic vision of one of the greatest British Romanticists, Lord George Byron. Both verses have contributed to “the cultural construction of Lastness in the Romantic period” (Paley 196). This critical analysis will attempt to lead the reader to an understanding of the emphatically apocalyptic and millennium features of Byron’s selected writings. The essay consists of three parts: two of them will be dedicated to the textual analysis of each of the verses, and the concluding section will compare the two poetic works against the category of narrator within the general poetical context, the narrative structure, the motives, narrative figures and imagery of the poems, the temporal relations between past, present and future, and aspects of apocalypse / millennium / New Jerusalem in Byron’s verses.
“When Coldness Wraps This Suffering Clay”
The poem “When Coldness Wraps This Suffering Clay” (May, 1815) entered the second volume of the Hebrew Melodies poetic cycle (published by John Murray in 1815 and 1816) that consisted of twenty-four poems.
Marchand (134) described the thematic framework of the collection as following:
Two themes that were congenial to Byron’s spirit dominate the lyrics derived from Old Testament sources: one is the deep pathos of the loss of Eden, the wail of a wandering and homeless people, and the other the battle cry of Jewish nationalism. The lost Eden was easily identified in Byron’s feelings with the general romantic lament for lost innocence and beauty. (Qtd. in Ashton 669)
The latter theme is not so essential for the current research, whereas the concepts of Eden, loss, and apocalyptic vision are in the focus of analysis. The poem consists of four stanzas in eight lines each. In the very starting line of the first stanza, the poet denotes the critical moment, where his narration starts from: “When coldness wraps this suffering clay” (Byron “When Coldness…” 1). In other words, he informs the reader that his reflections will tackle upon the afterlife journey of human soul. Then, the narrator (who is evidently associated with the poet himself) asks a question: “whither strays the immortal mind?” (Byron “When Coldness…” 2). The rest part of the stanza preserves the same interrogative intonation. The narrator seems to suggest two possible paths for soul to soar upon its flesh-and-blood container ceases to exist: either it leaves the earthly realm and “trace / By steps each planet’s heavenly way” (Byron “When Coldness…” 5-6), or stays within terrestrial limits and acquires “eyes, that all survey” (Byron “When Coldness…” 8). In the second stanza, it is apparent that the narrator has assured himself in the correctness of the second version. He declares that the afterlife vision that soul has acquired is timeless and independent of time and space constraints:
All, all in earth or skies display’d,
Shall it survey, shall it recall:
Each fainter trace that memory holds
So darkly of departed years,
In one broad glance the soul beholds,
And all, that was, at once appears. (Byron “When Coldness…” 11-16)
In the third stanza, the reader is introduced to the goal of the afterlife journey. The narrator states that soul is likely to travel back to the mythological point “Before Creation peopled earth,” or “where the farthest heaven had birth” (Byron “When Coldness…” 17, 19). He argues that the whole period of human history afterwards was nothing more that “chaos” (Byron “When Coldness…” 18). The eyes of soul are doomed to “dilate o’er all to be” (Byron “When Coldness…” 22) up to the catastrophic point when universe will be destroyed. Human soul, nevertheless, will be still “Fix’d in its own eternity” (Byron “When Coldness…” 24) even “While sun is quench’d or system breaks” (Byron “When Coldness…” 23). The final stanza provides a conceptual framework to describe the afterlife existence of soul that is (Byron “When Coldness…” 31-32) “A nameless and eternal thing, / Forgetting what it was to die.”
The poem is marked by its rich imaginary system. The dichotomous motives of temporality-immortality (or, putting it in other ways, flesh-soul, and birth-death) and Eden-Apocalypses are insistently repeated throughout the text. The motive of temporality is introduced by a polysemic word “clay” (Byron “When Coldness…” 1). For a brief moment, upon reading the first line and getting ready to go through the next one, a person may feel abashed at the exact meaning of the term “clay.” The metaphor sends us to the Old Testament that describes the divine act of a human’s creation out of clay. This is a cold, senseless, inert, rough, and scorned material costing nothing without the spirit that Creator has blown into it. The noun is placed to the negative pole of the poem’s emotional scale due to an epithet “suffering.” Writhing in the throes of childbirth is human flesh in the beginning of the life path, and writhing in the death-throes is it in the end of corporeal existence. Contrastingly, soul is “passionless and pure” (26); these epithets are used to prove the supremacy of soul over body in terms of perfection.
As Stabler describes Byron’s constructive method in regard to conceptualizing the dichotomy of life and death, “The process of coming and going is rendered in physical terms, and aligned with the quotidian nouns of travel” (155). In this case, the concept of corporeal existence is static since is it “wrap[ped]” by “coldness” (Byron “When Coldness…” 1). Human’s body is depicted as a kind of prison for “the immortal mind” (Byron “When Coldness…” 2) that “cannot die [and] cannot stay” (Byron “When Coldness…” 2). Through the act of corporeal death, the aforesaid mind is disenthralled from painful slavery, and acquires dynamics that is conceptualised as a positive quality. The narrator deliberately contraposes the “darken’d dust” (4) of the dead flesh and the incorporeal mind that is “[e]ternal, boundless, undecay’d” (9). However, it would be an oversimplification of Byron’s imagery to conceptualize the afterlife qualities of soul/mind as purely dynamic and incorporeal. It is true that the act of the afterlife metamorphosis is revealed through the verbs of motion such as “to leave” (4), “to trace” (5), “to fill” (7), “to survey” (8), “to roll back” (18), and “to dilate” (22). On the other hand, while being dynamic in its journey across time and space, soul remains “[f]ix’d in its own eternity” (24). The balance of static and dynamics for the immortal soul is genuinely complex: “An age shall fleet like earthly year; / Its years as moments shall endure” (27-28). Once being assured that flesh is a negative image because it is physical and corporeal, a reader receives later a contradictory message being forced to conceptualise soul as “[a] thing of eyes” (8). Eyes are the part of an outward man who is denied the right to approach “the farthest heaven” (19) in its bodily incarnation.
It is suggested here that the poet used a metaphor of “eyes” to describe the temporal organisation of the imagery system within the present poem. It has already been noted that the narration starts at this very moment when a human body ceases to exist. Its cold and useless prison of clay opens the gate for the soul to start an endless journey. Soul exists outside the earthly framework of standard time relations and boundaries. The first act of the immortal mind is surveying “all in earth or skies display’d” (11) to recall something that the reader is yet unaware of. Then, in a desperate effort the soul travels to the point “Before Creation peopled earth” (17). The contrast between the idealised past and the perilous future is denoted by the antithesis of “the heaven” that “had birth” (19) and the earthly system that “breaks” (23). The relationship between the chronological categories is blurred. An ordinary mind conceptualises the past as something regressive, lived-out, negative, whereas the future symbolises progress, ideals-to-be-fulfilled, and dreams-to-come-true. In Byron’s perception, the past becomes a symbol of the lost Eden, the dream that was lost and is attained only in the afterlife quest of the unseen travelling mind. Contrastingly, the future promises the Apocalypses when “sun is quench’d” (23). The only possible achievement of the future is “to mar” (21) the absoluteness of the Eden past.
The poem is written in an impersonal tone, that is, there are no personal pronouns denoting the narrator. Therefore, one can suggest that the role of the narrator coincides with the one of the author. Leigh Hunt (341) once stated that Byron “does not so much go out of himself to describe others, as furnish others out of himself” (qtd. in Ashton 680). This seems to be the case of the present poem, where the author directly shares his ideas of immortality and existence with a reader without employing the mediating voice of the speaker.
To summarise, the poem “When Coldness Wraps This Suffering Clay” is written in an impersonal reflective tone of a moralist brooding over the afterlife journey of human soul towards the ideal timeless category of Eden. The poem contains the themes of quest, supremacy of mind/soul over flesh, the lost Eden, and immortality. The narrator is continuously displaying the dichotomies of “soul-body,” “life-death,” “motion-immobility,” “time-timelessness,” and “beginning-end.” Immortality is argued to be possible only for the incorporeal soul/mind that pierces through time and space in order to return to its natural and desired state of Eden-like detachment and immortality.
Unlike “When Coldness…,” the poem “Darkness” is emphatically personal. As Mcgann has acknowledged, it starts “with a perfunctory gesture from the dreamer” (275) expressed in the following words: “I had a dream, which was not all a dream” (Byron “Darkness” 1). The poetic goal of this verse is often defined as “to envisage the last man on earth” (Paley 197). As Paley goes on, “The dreamer is in the position of the Last Man; what he sees … may be predictive of future reality” (198). The prophetic vision is emphatically personal and, therefore, involving.
“Darkness” represents a solid mass of text structured within several thematic groups. First, a picture of a natural disaster (2-6) was displayed before the reader’s bewildered eyes. The narrator achieves his constructive goal by employing contrasting colours: at the beginning, the sun is “bright” (2); the next moment, there appear the stars that become “rayless” (4); the earth is “blackening” (5); the air – once shining – is losing its normal transparency and is growing “moonless” (5). The dynamics of Apocalypses is shown through the verbs of motion: “The bright sun was extinguish’d” (2); “the stars / Did wander darkling” (2-3); and “the icy earth / Swung blind and blackening” (4-5). The climax of the catastrophe takes place when “Morn came and went – and came, and brought no day” (6). Emotions are intensified by conceptual antitheses: shine is contrasted to darkness; warmth is contraposed with iciness’ the concept of motion acquires contradictory meanings – its prophesises a disaster and, therefore, is negative, but the absence of motion is even more dangerous.
The second part of the verse (7-17) describes the first reaction of humankind about the Apocalypse: “And men forgot their passions in the dread / Of this their desolation; and all hearts / Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light” (7-9). Against the backstage lighted by “watchfires” (10), the narrator observes how the disaster has been erasing the artificially established social difference between the “palaces of crowned kings” and “the huts” (11). In this section, the humans are claw holding the remnants of their social solidarity: “And men were gather’d round their blazing homes / To look once more into each other’s face” (14-15). In the next passage, however, the situation has changed. Lines 18-37 depict how men are accommodating themselves to the changing surroundings. The only human trait that is left in the souls is a “fearful hope” (18). Fear places people on the same position as wild beasts. Describing a sort of the medieval bestiary, the narrator observes how untamed creatures are losing their dangerous skills and habits: “the wildest brutes / Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl’d / And twin’d themselves among the multitude, / Hissing, but stingless” (34-7). In contrast, men have been turning into merciless killers: in the last attempt to survive at any cost even repulsive snakes “were slain for food” (37). The narrator is especially attentive to a wide range of human reactions towards the new conditions: some have left things to chance and “hid their eyes and wept” (25); others “did rest / Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil’d” (25-6); some “hurried to and fro, and fed / Their funeral piles with fuel, and look’d 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 gnash’d their teeth and howl’d” (27-32). The former group seems to be the one of the weakest who will extinct by the law of the natural selection. The latter group is the most human in its reactions: a mixture of hysteria, mental collapse, the scatters of hope, and the tides of despair is easily traced in their behaviours. The group of those who “smiled” is the least predictable. They are rebels and outcasts who despise the natural flow of things. Such people possess enough will and character not to be terrified by a chance of death. At the same time, they are not heroes since they are not likely to rescue anyone at the cost of their own lives. These fatalists are looking forward to say farewell to the sins and evils of civilization despite the fact that their own lives will be finalised altogether with this imperfect world.
Lines 38-72 form the climax of the verse where the picture of Armageddon, the last battle, is shown in its panoramic gorgeousness. Once again the narrator utilises a constructive method of a human-beast dichotomy. A dog demonstrates the praiseworthy qualities of tenacity, self-sacrifice, courage, and devotion (“he was faithful to a corse, and kept / The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay, / Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead / Lur’d their lank jaws; himself sought out no food, / But with a piteous and perpetual moan, / And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand / Which answer’d not with a caress – he died.” [48-54]), whereas a human is depicted as repulsive, dehumanised, aggressive, wormlike, and bearing “a Cain-like mark” (Paley 199) (“they were enemies: they met beside / The dying embers of an altar-place / Where had been heap’d a mass of holy things / For an unholy usage; they rak’d up, / And shivering scrap’d with their cold skeleton hands / The feeble ashes” [57-62]). The passage begins with an overview of the last battle over survival: “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” (40-3). The catastrophic theme is orchestrated by the physiological terms, such as “blood” (40), “entrails” (44), the “bones [that] were tombless as their flesh” (45). Lines 69-82 add a few final strokes to the panoramic canvas of the Apocalypse: “The world was void” – stated the narrator (69). Byron uses his favourite metaphor of “clay” (72) to denote the state of humankind under the given circumstances. The past used to be the life itself in its richness and magnitude of living forms. The reader is informed about the catastrophic loss through a sequence of negations: once “populous” and “powerful” (70), the world became “[s]easonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless” (71). The concepts of “death” and “fixity” are closely linked together: being devoid of motion, the earth turned into a “lump of death – a chaos of hard clay” (72). The world is depicted as a once living organism that has died. The power of anthropomorphism is shaking: “The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still, / And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths; / Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea, / And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d / They slept on the abyss without a surge – The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave” (73-8). And “in the stagnant air” (80), “Darkness … was the Universe” (81-2).
To summarise, the poem “Darkness” is an emphatically prophetic vision of Apocalypses awaiting the humankind for their sins. The catastrophe is observed on all levels, including the human and the natural world. There are the dichotomies of “human-beast,” “light-darkness,” “pulse of life-solitude,” “peace-war,” and “life-death.” The central theme orchestrating the narration is the inevitability of Apocalypses that people are doomed to for their cardinal sins.
The Angles of Byron’s Apocalyptic Vision
Although the two poems under study were written almost simultaneously, in 1815, and, thus, shared common themes and motives, they differed from each other in the intensity of poetic mood and an array of constructive methods. The poem “When Coldness Wraps This Suffering Clay” is a part of the Hebrew Melodies poetic collection that was created at the request of Isaak Nathan, a young composer of Polish descent, who was “about to publish [the songs], all of them upwards of 1000 years old and some of them performed by the Antient Hebrews before the destruction of the temple” (qtd. in Ben-Merre 12). In 1814, Byron wrote in the letter to his fiancée Annabella Milbanke about “… the real old undisputed Hebrew Melodies which are beautiful & to which David & the prophets actually sang the ‘songs of Zion’ – & I have done nine or ten – on the sacred model – partly from Job & c. & partly my own imagination” (qtd. in Ben-Meere 13). As Byron himself recalled, the poem “Darkness” was created “in 1815 at Geneva, when there was a celebrated dark day, on which the fowls went to roost at noon, and the candles were lighted as at midnight” (qtd. in Paley 198). It was originally published in the Prisoner of Chillon volume of 1816, and received notoriety after Byron’s death as manifesting the Romanticist concept of “Lastness.”
The theme of the Last Man has been explored by the European literature before Byron. In 1806, the British public got access to the English translation of the book titled “The Last Man, or Omegarus and Syderia, a Romance in Futurity” that appeared to be a version of the prose epic “Le Dernier Homme” by a French writer Jean François Xavier Cousin de Grainville. The central theme of literary pieces prophesising Lastness is the extinction of human community under the violent disastrous circumstances. In Hebrew Melodies, the apocalyptic tunes were blanketed by the overall pseudo-archaic arrangement of a poetic-musical collection reviving the taste of the Old Testament period. Ben-Marre referred to the Orientalism of Edward Said (1994 ) to explain the conceptual controversy of Hebrew Melodies.
While acting as an Eastern surrogate for the West, Byron’s verse cannot but enact a Western tradition that seems an understudy for its Eastern heritage. … Byron can be seen, in Said’s critique, as one who ‘restructure the Orient by [his] art …, mak[ing] its colors, lights, and people visible through [his] images, rhythms, and motifs,’ by recasting Judah’s hills and environs as a place of seemingly mysterious divinity. Such spirituality, though, is not ensconced in theology. … A contemporary critic of for The Eclectic Review wrote, ‘… [It is] no surprise that the hand of Genius itself should become withered by an unhallowed attempt to touch the arc’.” (referenced from Ben-Marre 17)
The poem “When Coldness…” is rather interested in the beginning of human history “before the destruction of the temple,” whereas “Darkness” concentrates on the last days of the mankind. It is argued here that the former verse is less apocalyptic in its general mood than the latter one. When Paley (1999) examined the reaction of Byron’s contemporaries about the verse “Darkness,” he observed the tendency of treating the poem as “a quasi-Gothic tale” (Paley 200) due to its knack for “invoking sublimity” (Paley 199) and demonstrating “hobgoblins” (qtd. in Paley 200). Walter Scott argued that “Darkness” was not a harmless tale:
To speak plainly, the framing of such phantasms is a dangerous employment for the exalted and teeming imagination of such a poet as Lord Byron, whose Pegasus has ever required rather a bridle than a spur. The waste of boundless space into which they lead the poet, the neglect of precision which such themes may render habitual, make them, in respect to poetry, what mysticism is to religion. (qtd. in Paley 200)
Byron’s contemporaries also observed “some striking resemblances between parts of Byron’s poem and certain passages in Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel” (Paley 201). A reference to the Old Testament imagery puts the two poems under analysis – “When Coldness…” and “Darkness” – within the same category of apocalyptic and prophetical literature.
The concepts of Apocalypses and millennium that are closely interrelated – as Paley (1999) has noted, “… the invocation of apocalypse leads to the expectation of a millennium” (202) – are usually thought to be of the Biblical origin. It would be, though, an oversimplification of Byron’s poetic ideology to trace the sources of the poet’s apocalyptic vision exclusively to the Old Testament. To say more, as the same Paley (1999) observes, in “Darkness” “[m]illennial associations are consistently invoked in order to be bitterly frustrated” (202). The experts in Exegesis eagerly find certain parallels between this poem and Isaiah’s messianic forecast: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (2:4 qtd. in Paley 202). Byron, contrastingly, prophesises time when “War, which for a moment was no more, / Did glut himself again” (“Darkness” 38-9). To continue, Isaiah describes a remote moment in the future when “’the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp” (11: 8 qtd. in Paley 202). Byron ruins the prophetic expectation by showing how “[t]he meagre by the meagre were devour’d” (46).
The Biblical motives in “When Coldness…” are less easily traced. As Byron wrote to Annabella, “I do not believe that there be 50 lines of mine in all touching upon religion” (qtd. in Ashton 666). Ashton proceeds analysing the religious position occupied by Byron in the following words:
The Old Testament strain of Byron’s Hebrew Melodies is bound up with his Calvinistic fatalism. Byron could never accept the full import of his Calvinism. But he does not spare us the plangent sorrow of the Old Testament wailing complaints. … If Byron rejected the faiths of Calvinists and Jews as a theme, he did not reject the Bible per se. “Of the Scriptures themselves I have ever been a reader & admirer as compositions, particularly the Arab-Job–and parts of Isaiah–and the song of Deborah,” he wrote to Annabella in 1814. … These were just the strains to be interwoven in the Hebrew Melodies, where the sacred would be sacrificed to the political and the political to the romantic. (Ashton 666-667)
Judging by its emphasis on incorporeal spirit being acknowledged as superior over a mortal flesh, Byron borrowed some ideas from William Beckford Vathek, who hypothesised the existence of the superior incorporeal life forms:
[There were] the fleshless forms of the pre-Adamite kings, who had been monarchs of the whole earth. They still possessed enough of life to be conscious of their deplorable condition. Their eyes retained a melancholy motion; they regarded one another with looks of the deepest dejection, each holding his right hand, motionless, on his heart. (qtd. in Paley 214)
It has become clearer by this very moment of the current discussion that, when analysing the Old Testament messianic motifs of the Doomsday and Apocalypses in Byron’s lyrics, we easily link the narrator in “When Coldness…” and “Darkness” to the author of these verses, and this is not accidental. In case of Lord Byron, narrator’s voice is often interwoven with the author’s one. McGann has researched the method of anonymous voice in regard to Byron’s lyrics and described it in the following words:
Byron turns all his subjects into lyrical forms. … Because these figurae [the characters] are consciously manipulated masks, one has to read them … in terms of a “sameness with difference.” The poetry lies exactly in the relation, in the dialectical play between corresponding apparitional forms: on one side, the spectacular poet – … the person translated into what the Byronic texts call “a name”; on the other, the various fictional and historical selvings. In Byronic masquerade we have difficulty distinguishing figure from ground because the presumptive ground, “the real Lord Byron,” becomes a figural form in the poetry. (106)
Going back to the discussion of apocalyptic and millennium themes in the two verses, we should conceptualise the very notion of Apocalypses and Millennium in British poesy of Romanticism in relating to the relationships established by Romantic poets between the text and the reader. Stabler once stated:
Byron is associated with a violent collision of presence and absence. … Byron’s unsettling uses of the fragment, satire, mixed or medley forms, obtrusive allusion and Romantic irony are all moments when the reading process is disturbed by his art of digression. (2-3)
McGann also emphasised the importance of digression as a key constructive method that was easily utilised by Byron. By digression, the researchers of Byron’s ancestry do not mean a somewhat “conversational deviation from the plot” (Stabler 3). This is rather a poet’s “choice of a rhetorical rather than a lyrical procedure” (130) manifested through rhythmic contrasts and a complexity of themes.
The decision has pitched the work outside the bounds of its subjectivity and forced it to take up many matters which it may have imagined but which it could not comprehend. As a result, the writing will not – indeed, cannot – achieve anything but provisory and limited control over its own materials. It continually enters into contradictions, but the contradictions do not typically emerge out of a structure of their own internal logic. Rather, contradictions come to the work at odd angles – for instance, through structures of the unforeseen and the haphazard. (McGann 130)
Stabler (2002) echoes McGann (2002) in his acknowledgement of the Byronic digression as the key to understanding the poems of the great British Romanticist: “Byron’s relationship with his public was marked by abrupt transitions and discontinuities” (Stabler 3). The idea is proved by a close textual analysis of the two poems under study.
What is shared by both verses? Evidently, it is the same grievance over instability of life. What is understood by Apocalypses? This concept may be treated in either historical or mystical way. Apocalypses in its historical conceptualisation deal with the models of nations coming to their rise and fall as it is described in the Book of Daniel and the Revelation of John. Mystical apocalypses rather follow the framework provided in the Books of Enoch that concentrates on the destiny of the individual and the afterlife quest of the soul. It seems that in his poem “When Coldness…” Byron explores the potential of a visionary or mystical apocalypse, whereas “Darkness” envisages the picture of the historical one. What is the difference? It is hidden on the deeper layers of the texts since the motifs found on the surface are similar. In both verses, the narration depicts a natural disaster. But this is an intensity of depiction that differentiates the poems from each other. “Darkness” is generous in showing the natural catastrophe at its full vigour: “The bright sun was extinguish’d, 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” (“Darkness” 2-6). Humans’ reaction to the Revelation day is a mixture of terror, fatalism, despair, panic, and, yet, a mad hope for survival. This hope is heartlessly mocked at: “… all hearts / Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light: / And they did live by watchfires” (“Darkness” 8-10). The poet picked the brightest and the most contrasting colours for painting this battle canvas. He is specific in depicting the chronology of the disaster: first, all natural laws of gravitation and astronomic calendar are being infringed; second, all human agreements about natural law and social community are being collapsed; the world is sliding down the ladder of evolution into a barbarous and bestial state; civilisation is quivering in the last agony; and, finally, darkness rules over the whole universe. Time is structured in a direct chronological sequence – from the start of the narration in the present onto the final spasm of life. The soul is forgotten for the sake of the suffering flesh. Time matters. Its absence denotes the ultimate end. Human values – Love, Friendship, Devotion, Courage, and Empathy – are cried for, but in vane: Famine has eaten them all away. Contrastingly, “When Coldness…” is less preoccupied with the flesh. It shows a timeless and emotionless world where: “Above or Love, Hope, Hate, or Fear, / [The soul] lives all passionless and pure” (“When Coldness 25-6). Here we observe eternity instead of agonising death, timelessness instead of the rush, the pure spirit fleeting in the thin atmosphere of the afterlife quest instead of the flesh crumbled in its painful efforts.
To summarise, both Byron’s poems – “When Coldness Wraps This Suffering Clay” (1815) and “Darkness” (1815) – may be regarded as slightly differentiating tunes within the same melody of apocalyptic vision. The former is an example of mystical apocalypses, whereas the latter stands closer to the historical ones. The theme of millennium and apocalypses is assembled from the consistent utilisation of dichotomous motifs: life-death, flesh-soul, mortal existence-immortality, light-darkness, community-solitude, noise-silence, warmth-coldness, and so on. In “When Coldness” the narrator sounds more detached and not knowing about the details of the afterlife quest, whereas the narrator of “Darkness” describes a picture that is taking place in front of his own eyes. “Darkness” sounds more frightening, yet more humanlike. The codas of both poems restate a difference between the historical and mystical visions of apocalypses. “Darkness” ends with a depiction of a universal gloom. However, its chronologically structured narration implicitly promising that light may come after darkness. And “When Coldness” finishes on the less scary picture of an incorporeal mind travelling to and fro in the space where earthly forms have ceased to exist. At first glance, this is not so catastrophic as the end of civilisation in “Darkness.” But the existence of an anonymous, nameless, and “forgetting” (“When Coldness…” 32) thing is hardly a destiny to be envied.
Ashton, Thomas L. “Byronic Lyrics for David’s Harp: The Hebrew Melodies.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 12.4 Nineteenth Century (Autumn, 1972): 665-681.
Ben-Merre, David. “Reading Hebrew Melodies.” Shofar 24.2 (2006): 11-32.
McGann, Jerome. Byron and Romanticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Paley, Morton D. Apocalypse and Millenium in English Romantic Poetry. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999.
Stabler, Jane. Byron, Poetics and History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
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