Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE DREAM OF EUGENE ARAM.*

'Twas in the prime of summer time,

An evening calm and cool,
When four-and-twenty happy boys

Came bounding out of school ;
There were some that ran, and some that leapt,

Like troutlets in a pool.

Away they sped, with gamesome minds

And souls untouch'd by sin ;
To a level mead they came, and there

They drave the wickets in:
Pleasantly shone the setting sun

Over the town of Lynn.

Like sportive deer they coursed about,

And shouted as they ran-
Turning to mirth all things of earth,

As only boyhood can:
But the usher sat remote from all,

A melancholy man!

* The late Admiral Burney went to school at an establishment where the unhappy Eugene Aram was usher, subsequent to his crime. The Admiral stated that Aram was generally liked by the boys; and that he used to discourse to them about murder, in somewhat of the spirit which is attributed to him in this poem.

His hat was off, his vest apart,

To catch Heaven's blessed breeze; For a burning thought was on his brow,

And his bosom ill at ease : So he leaned his head on his hands, and read

The book between his knees.

Leaf after leaf he turn'd it o'er,

Nor ever glanced aside ;
For the peace of his soul he read that book,

In the golden eventide :
Much study had made him very

lean
And pale and leaden-eyed.

At last he shut the ponderous tome;
With a fast and fervid

grasp
He strained the dusky covers close,

And fixed the brazen hasp; • O God! could I so close my mind,

And clasp it with a clasp."

Then leaping on his feet upright,

Some moody turns he took-
Now up the mead, then down the mead,

And past a shady nook-
And, lo! he saw a little boy

That pored upon a book.

“My gentle lad, what is 't you read

Romance, or fairy fable !
Or is it some historic page,

Of kings and crowns unstable ?”
The young boy gave an upward glance-

“ It is the Death of Abel.”

The usher took six hasty strides,

As smit with sudden pain-
Six hasty strides beyond the place,

Then slowly back again; And down he sat beside the lad,

And talked with him of Cain.

And long since then, of bloody men,

Whose deeds tradition saves ;
Of lonely folk, cut off unseen,

And hid in sudden graves ;
Of horrid stabs in groves forlorn,

And murders done in caves !

And how the sprites of injured men

Shriek upward from the sod-
And how the ghostly hand will point

To show the burial clod;
And unknown facts of guilty acts

Are seen in dreams from God!

fle told how murderers walked the earth

Beneath the curse of Cain
With crimson clouds before their eyes,

And flames about their brain ;
For blood had left upon their souls

Its everlasting stain!

“And well," quoth he, “I know, for truth,

Their pangs must be extremeWo, wo, unutterable wo—

Who spill life's sacred stream! For why ? Methought, last night, I wrought

A murder in a dream!

« One that had never done me wrong

A feeble man and old; I led him to a lonely field,

The moon shone clear and cold; Now here, said I, this man shall die,

And I will have his gold !

Two sudden blows with a ragged stick,

And one with a heavy stone,
One horrid gash with a hasty knife

And then the deed was done;
There was nothing lying at my feet,

But lifeless flesh and bone !

“Nothing but lifeless flesh and bone,

That could not do me ill;
And yet I feared him all the more,

For lying there so still ;
There was a manhood in his look,

That murder could not kill!

“ And lo! the universal air

Seemed lit with ghastly flame-
Ten thousand thousand dreadful eyes

Were looking down in blame ;
I took the dead man by the hand,

And called upon his name!

“ Oh God! it made me quake to see

Such sense within the slain !
But when I touched the lifeless clay,

The blood gushed out amain!
For every clot, a burning spot

Was scorching in my brain !

My head was like an ardent coal,

My heart was solid ice;
My wretched, wretched soul, I knew,

Was at the Devil's price;
A dozen times I groan'd; the dead

Had never groan’d but twice!

“ And now from forth the frowning sky,

From the heaven's topmost heighi I heard a voice—the awful voice

Of the blood-avenging sprite ; • Thou guilty man! take up thy dead,

And hide it from my sight!

“ I took the dreary body up,

And cast in a tream
A sluggish water, black as ink,

The death was so extreme
(My gentle boy, remember this

Was nothing but a dream).

“ Down went the corse with a hollow plunge

And vanish'd in a pool ;
Anon I cleaned my bloody hands,

And wash'd my forehead cool,
And sat among the urchins young

That evening in the school.

“ Oh heaven! to think of their white souls,

And mine so black and grim !
I could not share in childish prayer,

Nor join in evening hymn;
Like a devil of the pit I seem'd

'Mid holy cherubim.

And peace went with them one and all,

And each calm pillow spread;
But Guilt was my grim chamberlain

That lighted me to bed,
And drew my midnight curtains round,

With fingers bloody red !

“All night I lay in agony,

From weary chime to chime,
With one besetting horrid hint,

That racked me all the time,
A mighty yearning, like the first,

Fierce impulse unto crime!

« PreviousContinue »