City of Dreadful Night

There are many kinds of milestone in one’s life. Each is a marker for a chapter closed (or not) in which a tangible outcome was the result: profit, loss, or just raw experience. To re-visit these places and things of our own past is to perform a ritual in which we invoke those phantom places and persons that populated our biography, and helped to forge our identities, our ‘selves’. This is not always a pleasant pilgrimage, as one is tempted to take the trajectory of events to their logical conclusion, and instead of a ‘pot of gold at the end of the rainbow’, one might perhaps find instead an empty void which beguiles us to self-annihilation…



The City of Dreadful Night, 1882.                         






Because he seemed to walk with an intent

I followed him; who, shadowlike and frail,

Unswervingly though slowly onward went,

Regardless, wrapt in thought as in a veil:

Thus step for step with lonely sounding feet

We travelled many a long dim silent street.


At length he paused: a black mass in the gloom,

A tower that merged into the heavy sky;

Around, the huddled stones of grave and tomb:

Some old God’s-acre now corruption’s sty:

He murmured to himself with dull despair,

Here Faith died, poisoned by this charnel air.


Then turning to the right went on once more

And travelled weary roads without suspense;

And reached at last a low wall’s open door,

Whose villa gleamed beyond the foliage dense:

He gazed, and muttered with a hard despair,

Here Love died, stabbed by its own worshipped pair.


Then turning to the right resumed his march,

And travelled street and lanes with wondrous strength,

Until on stooping through a narrow arch

We stood before a squalid house at length:

He gazed, and whispered with a cold despair,

Here Hope died, starved out in its utmost lair.


When he had spoken thus, before he stirred,

I spoke, perplexed by something in the signs

Of desolation I had seen and heard

In this drear pilgrimage to ruined shrines:

Where Faith and Love and Hope are dead indeed,

Can Life still live? By what doth it proceed?


As whom his one intense thought overpowers,

He answered coldly, Take a watch, erase

The signs and figures of the circling hours,

Detach the hands, remove the dial-face;

The works proceed until run down; although

Bereft of purpose, void of use, still go.




James Thomson (B.V.), The City of Dreadful Night (extract), 1882.