P O M P E I I.

He had a brown caped cloak, in which he seemed to have been born : and the strange antique dismaying hat aforesaid, fixed over his yellow silken dishevelled hair, is set down, to our great satisfaction (in the preface to O’Daly’s Poets of Munster), as broad-leafed, steeple-shaped, and presumably built on the Hudibras model ! Stooped, but not short ; wan, thin, and bright ; powdery with dust from the upper shelf ; equipped with the scant toga precariously buttoned, the great goggles, and the king-umbrella of Great Britain and Ireland,— such was Mangan, so ludicrous and so endearing a figure that one wishes him but a thought in Fielding’s brain, lovingly handled in two volumes octavo, and abstracted from the hard vicissitudes of mortality.

    – Louise Imogen Guiney, “James Clarence Mangan : A Study” (1897, revised ed.)

Of POMPEII, Clarence Mangan’s convulsively Apocalyptical poem addressed to that entombed city, it is perhaps enough to relate that the author completed the final version in the year 1847, in his native Ireland where he always lived : the country was then in the throes of the Great Famine which, ultimately, was to leave more than a million dead and two million fled abroad. Below is included the Editor’s foot-note in Meehan’s edition of 1884.

                                P O M P E I I.

A.D. 63, an earthquake destroyed many of its houses
and public buildings ; and on 24th August, 79, occurred
the tremendous catastrophe so faithfully depicted by Mangan.

                                              ________

The heralds of thy ruin and despair
Thickened and quickened as thy time grew nigh.
What prodigies of sound convulsed the air !
How many a death-flag was unfurled on high !
The sullen sun went down—a globe of blood,
Rayless, and colouring every heart with gloom,
Till even the dullest felt and understood
The coming of an overwhelming doom—
The presage of a destiny and fall,
A shock, a thunder-shock, for thee, for them—for all.

The sullen sun went down—a globe of blood,
Rayless, and colouring every soul with gloom ;
And men’s imagination, prone to brood
Over the worst, and summon from the womb
Of unborn Time, the Evil and the Dark,
Launched forth in fear upon that shoreless ocean,
Whose whirlpool billows but engulf the bark—
Conjectured Dread, and each fresh-felt emotion,
Like spectral figures on a magic mirror,
Seemed wilder than the last, and stronglier strung with terror.

We shrink within ourselves when Night and Storm
Are darkly mustering ; for, to every soul
Heaven here foreshadows character and form
Of Nature’s death-hour. Doth the thunder roll,
The wild wave boil, the lightning stream or strike,
Flood, fire, and earthquake devastate, in vain ?
Or is there not a voice which peals alike
To all from these, conjuring up that train
Of scenes and images that shall be born
In living, naked might upon the Judgment Morn ?

If thus we cower to tempest and to night,
How feltest thou when first the red bolt broke,
That seventeen suffocating centuries might
Enshroud thine ashes in Time’s midnight cloak ?
Where wert thou in that moment ? Was thy power
All a funeral phantom ? Thy renown
An echo ? Thine the triumph of an hour ?
Enough !—I rave : when empires, worlds, go down
Time’s wave to dissolution—when they bow
To Fate, let none ask where, but simply—what wert thou ?

The desolated cities which of yore
Perished by flooding fire and sulphury rain,
Where sleeps the Dead Sea’s immemorial shore,
Lie, blasted wrecks, below that mortar plain.*
They fell—thou fellest—but, renounced of Earth,
Blotted from being to eternal years,
Their image chills the life-blood—thine gives birth,
Even while we shudder, to some human tears.
Hadst thou less guilt ? Who knows ? The book of Time
Bears on each leaf alike the broad red stamp of crime.

                                             _______

* “The soil of this accursed locality is a species of soft clay,
which the rain literally converts into mortar.” — Wilson’s
Travels in the Holy Land.

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