“Down, down, down, ten thousand fathoms deep.”
Who does not know that dreadful gulf, where Niagara falls,
Where eagle unto eagle screams, to vulture vulture calls;
Where down beneath, Despair and Death in liquid darkness grope,
And upward, on the foam there shines a rainbow without Hope;
While, hung with clouds of Fear and Doubt, the unreturning wave
Suddenly gives an awful plunge, like life into the grave;
And many a hapless mortal there hath dived to bale or bliss;
One — only one — hath ever lived to rise from that abyss!
Oh, Heav’n! it turns me now to ice with chill of fear extreme,
To think of my frail bark adrift on that tumultuous stream!
In vain with desperate sinews, strung by love of life and light,
I urged that coffin, my canoe, against the current’s might:
On — on — still on — direct for doom, the river rush’d in force,
And fearfully the stream of Time raced with it in its course.
My eyes I closed — I dared not look the way towards the goal;
But still I viewed the horrid close, and dreamt it in my soul.
Plainly, as through transparent lids, I saw the fleeting shore!
And lofty trees, like wingèd things, flit by for evermore;
Plainly — but with no prophet sense — I heard the sullen sound,
The torrent’s voice — and felt the mist, like death-sweat gathering round.
Oh agony! Oh life! My home! and those that made it sweet:
Ere I could pray, the torrent lay beneath my very feet.
With frightful whirl, more swift than thought, I passed the dizzy edge,
Bound after bound, with hideous bruise, I dashed from ledge to ledge,
From crag to crag — in speechless pain — from midnight deep to deep;
I did not die, but anguish stunn’d my senses into sleep.
How long entranced, or whither dived, no clue I have to find:
At last the gradual light of life came dawning o’er my mind;
And through my brain there thrill’d a cry — a cry as shrill as birds
Of vulture or of eagle kind, but this was set to words:
“It’s Edgar Huntley† in his cap and nightgown, I declares!
He’s been a-walking in his sleep, and pitch’d all down the stairs!”
† “Edgar Huntley, the Somnambulist,” was the title of a popular novel of the time.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09