The City of Dreadful Night

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The City of Dreadful Night is a long poem by the Scottish poet James "B.V." Thomson, written between 1870 and 1873, and published in the National Reformer in 1874,[1] then in 1880 in a book entitled The City of Dreadful Night and Other Poems.

Thomson, who sometimes used the pseudonym "Bysshe Vanolis" — in honour of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Novalis — was a thorough pessimist, suffering from lifelong melancholia and clinical depression, as well as a wanderlust that took him to Colorado and to Spain, among other places.

The City of Dreadful Night that gave its title to this poem, however, was made in the image of London. The poem, despite its insistently bleak tone, won the praise of George Meredith, and also of George Saintsbury, who in A History of Nineteenth Century Literature wrote that "what saves Thomson is the perfection with which he expresses the negative and hopeless side of the sense of mystery ..."

The title was re-used as the title of short stories by Rudyard Kipling and O. Henry. The poem was the inspiration for the title of John Rechy's novel City of Night, and the first stanza of the poem was quoted in the book.


O melancholy Brothers, dark, dark, dark!
O battling in black floods without an ark!
     O spectral wanderers of unholy Night!
My soul hath bled for you these sunless years,
With bitter blood-drops running down like tears:
     Oh dark, dark, dark, withdrawn from joy and light!
My heart is sick with anguish for your bale;
Your woe hath been my anguish; yea, I quail
     And perish in your perishing unblest.
And I have searched the highths and depths, the scope
Of all our universe, with desperate hope
     To find some solace for your wild unrest.
And now at last authentic word I bring,
Witnessed by every dead and living thing;
     Good tidings of great joy for you, for all:
There is no God; no Fiend with names divine
Made us and tortures us; if we must pine,
     It is to satiate no Being's gall.
It was the dark delusion of a dream,
That living Person conscious and supreme,
      Whom we must curse for cursing us with life;
Whom we must curse because the life he gave
Could not be buried in the quiet grave,
     Could not be killed by poison or the knife.
This little life is all we must endure,
The grave's most holy peace is ever sure,
     We fall asleep and never wake again;
Nothing is of us but the mouldering flesh,
Whose elements dissolve and merge afresh
     In earth, air, water, plants, and other men.


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