Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895.  1895.
 
The Dream of Eugene Aram
 
Thomas Hood (1799–1845)
 
 
’T WAS in the prime of summer time,
  An evening calm and cool,
And four-and-twenty happy boys
  Came bounding out of school:
There were some that ran and some that leap’d,        5
  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:        10
Pleasantly shone the setting sun
  Over the town of Lynn.
 
Like sportive deer they cours’d about,
  And shouted as they ran,
Turning to mirth all things or earth,        15
  As only boyhood can;
But the Usher sat remote from all,
  A melancholy man!
 
His hat was off, his vest apart,
  To catch heaven’s blessed breeze;        20
For a burning thought was in his brow,
  And his bosom ill at ease:
So he lean’d his head on his hands, and read
  The book between his knees.
 
Leaf after leaf, he turn’d it o’er,        25
  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.        30
 
At last he shut the ponderous tome,
  With a fast and fervent grasp
He strain’d the dusky covers close,
  And fix’d the brazen hasp:
“Oh, God! could I so close my mind,        35
  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,—        40
And, lo! he saw a little boy
  That por’d upon a book.
 
“My gentle lad, what is ’t you read—
  Romance or fairy fable?
Or is it some historic page,        45
  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,        50
Six hasty strides beyond the place,
  Then slowly back again;
And down he sat beside the lad,
  And talk’d with him of Cain;
 
And, long since then, of bloody men,        55
  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;        60
 
And how the sprites of injur’d men
  Shriek upward from the sod;
Aye, how the ghostly hand will point
  To show the burial clod;
And unknown facts of guilty acts        65
  Are seen in dreams from God!
 
He told how murderers walk the earth
  Beneath the curse of Cain,
With crimson clouds before their eyes,
  And flames about their brain:        70
For blood has left upon their souls
  Its everlasting stain.
 
“And well,” quoth he, “I know, for truth,
  Their pangs must be extreme,—
Woe, woe, unutterable woe,—        75
  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:        80
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,        85
  And one with a heavy stone,
One hurried gash with a hasty knife,—
  And then the deed was done;
There was nothing lying at my foot
  But lifeless flesh and bone!        90
 
“Nothing but lifeless flesh and bone,
  That could not do me ill;
And yet I fear’d him all the more,
  For lying there so still:
There was a manhood in his look,        95
  That murder could not kill.
 
“And, lo! the universal air
  Seem’d lit with ghastly flame;
Ten thousand dreadful eyes
  Were looking down in blame:        100
I took the dead man by his hand,
  And call’d upon his name!
 
“Oh, God! it made me quake to see
  Such sense within the slain!
But when I touch’d the lifeless clay,        105
  The blood gush’d out amain!
For ever clot, a burning spot
  Was scorching in my brain!
 
“My head was like an ardent coal,
  My heart as solid ice;        110
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,        115
  From the Heaven’s topmost height,
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!’        120
 
“I took the dreary body up,
  And cast it in a stream,
A sluggish water, black as ink,
  The depth was so extreme:—
My gentle Boy, remember this        125
  Is nothing but a dream!
 
“Down went the corse with hollow plunge
  And vanish’d in the pool;
Anon I cleans’d my bloody hands,
  And wash’d my forehead cool,        130
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        135
  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;        140
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,        145
  In anguish dark and deep,
My fever’d eyes I dar’d not close,
  But star’d aghast at Sleep:
For Sin had render’d unto her
  The keys of hell to keep.        150
 
“All night I lay in agony,
  From weary chime to chime,
With one besetting horrid hint,
  That rack’d me all the time;
A mighty yearning like the first        155
  Fierce impulse unto crime;
 
“One stern tyrannic thought, that made
  All other thoughts its slave:
Stronger and stronger every pulse
  Did that temptation crave,        160
Still urging me to go and see
  The Dead Man in his grave!
 
“Heavily I rose up, as soon
  As light was in the sky,
And sought the black accursed pool        165
  With a wild misgiving eye:
And I saw the Dead in the river bed,
  For the faithless stream was dry.
 
“Merrily rose the lark, and shook
  The dew-drop from its wing;        170
But I never mark’d its morning flight,
  I never heard it sing,
For I was stooping once again
  Under the horrid thing.
 
“With breathless speed, like a soul in chase,        175
  I took him up and ran;
There was no time to dig a grave
  Before the day began:
In a lonesome wood, with heaps of leaves,
  I hid the murder’d man.        180
 
“And all that day I read in school,
  But my thought was other where;
As soon as the mid-day task was done,
  In secret I was there;
And a mighty wind had swept the leaves,        185
  And still the corse was bare!
 
“Then down I cast me on my face,
  And first began to weep,
For I knew my secret then was one
  That earth refus’d to keep:        190
Or land or sea, though he should be
  Ten thousand fathoms deep.
 
“So wills the fierce avenging Sprite,
  Till blood for blood atones!
Aye, though he ’s buried in a cave,        195
  And trodden down with stones,
And years have rotted off his flesh,—
  The world shall see his bones.
 
“Oh, God! that horrid, horrid dream
  Besets me now awake!        200
Again—again, with dizzy brain,
  The human life I take;
And my red right hand grows raging hot,
  Like Cranmer’s at the stake.
 
“And still no peace for the restless clay        205
  Will have or mould allow;
The horrid thing pursues my soul,—
  It stands before me now!”
The fearful Boy look’d up, and saw
  Huge drops upon his brow.        210
 
That very night, while gentle sleep
  The urchin eyelids kiss’d,
Two stern-faced men set out from Lynn,
  Through the cold and heavy mist;
And Eugene Aram walk’d between,        215
  With gyves upon his wrist.
 

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