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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Dying Archangel

By Edgar Fawcett (1847–1904)

[From Romance and Revery. 1886.]

BEYOND the sense or dream we know as man’s,

In heights or deeps where time and space are one

And either as the mote that specks a ray;

At fountain-head of mystery, force and rule

Whose funds of calm are causes of all worlds,

Ended, begun or yet to roll and shine,—

A being, a child of light and majesty,

Did evil, sinned a terrible sin, and felt

His immortality tremble, while a Voice

Whose mandate was creation and whose wrath

Extinction, spake the doom he feared must fall.

“So near wert thou to natal roots of good

That almost thou wert I, as I was thou;

And hence the incomparable deed devised

Of thee, sin’s primal enemy, hath sent

A shudder among the voids where systems wheel

And made the soul of order rock with threat.

Great is thy sin, as thou, bright subaltern,

Art great; and therefore great must be thy shame.

Death is that shame; and yet a loftier death

Should take thee, as befits thy place and power.

So shall thy passing into emptiness

Be archangelic for its dignity,

As thou, archangel, shouldst in grandeur die.”

Then he that heard with anguish raised his eyes,

Dark as two seas in storm, yet dared not speak.

And while he stood, with glory and ruin each

Blent in his mien, like some wild shattered cloud

That lightning rends and leaves, once more the Voice:

“Thou knowest of how among my million stars

One beautifully beamed for centuries, yet

Hath aged at last, and nears its fated close.

That star I love as I loved thee; for both

Served me in radiance as my vassals, both

Shone the exemplars of obedience, both

With memories of proud loyalty shall haunt

Eternity through all its domes and zones.

Go, therefore, thou, imperial in thy pain

Of exile and of punishment, to lay

The shadowed splendor of thy limbs and brows

Dying upon that dying star! A world

Of melancholy as mighty as thine own

Shall compass thee, and while it fades and dims,

Thy spirit in unison shall wane. Farewell!”

Then sought the Archangel, plaintless and alone,

This ancient star whose orb should be his tomb.

Once its wide continents had swarmed with man,

But now the torpid life of toad or worm

Reigned sole among nude fields and spectral woods.

No beast was left, no hint of leaf on bough,

No delicate wraith of flower, no glimpse of vine,

Or yet, through many a year, no trill of bird;

But all was dreariness and desuetude,

Fatigue, affliction, languor and decay!

The star had been a planet, allegiant

To a vast sun that glimmered at this hour

Wan as a wasted ember from its heaven.

In bends of rivers that had shrunk to streams,

On coasts of seas that flashed a glassy gray,

Phantoms of cities reared their roofs and towers,

With streets that swept by mouldering palaces,

With monstrous parks, where crumbling statues loomed,

With temples, mausoleums and monuments

In pathos of debasement; with long wharves

Where sick, monotonous ripples ever lapped

On towering hulls of rotted ships that once

Had scorned the ire of tempests,—nay, with all

To attest a race of such magnificence,

Dominion, empire and supremacy

As knowledge wed to wisdom nobly breeds.

Then, drooping low, the accursed Archangel spake:

“O star, I knew thee in thy luminous prime,

And loved thee not alone that thou wert fair,

But for the attainments and the victories

Wrought of thy peoples till they rose like gods!

For slowly did they climb, while æons passed,

From brutish aims to deeds of golden worth.

I watched and loved their leaders of high thought,

Their stealthy change of laws from vile to pure,

Their conquests over tyrannies and wrongs,

Their agonies, hopes, rebellious, and at last

The white dawn of their peace! But most of all

I loved, O star, the poets upon thy sphere,

And found in these melodious prophecy

Of dreams thy future waited to fulfil….

But now thy future and thy past are one,

And I, who am fallen from immortality,

Shall rob thy dissolution, to my joy,

Of death’s worst pang, being come to lay myself

In thee as in a sepulchre sublime!”

So, while the dimness gathered gloom, and night

That had no morning shrouded these lone lands,

The Archangel bowed his head and screened his face,

And died in silence with the dying star!