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With my deepest apologies to Lord Byron

 

LORD BYRON

LORD BYRON

I

 

My hair is grey, but not with years,

Nor grew it white

In a single night,

As men’s have grown from sudden fears:

My limbs are bow’d, though not with toil,

But rusted with a vile repose,

For they have been a tavern’s spoil

And mine has been the fate of those

To whom the goodly earth and air

Are bann’d, and barr’d — forbidden fare;

But this repeats my father’s fate

He suffer’d those chains and courted death;

That father perish’d from the slake

For habits he would not forsake;

And for the same his lineal race

In darkness found a dwelling-place;

We were seven — who now are one,

Six, in youth, and one in age,

Finish’d as they had begun,

Proud of intoxication’s rage;

One in bed, and two in jail,

Their souls do not demand fair bail,

Dying as their father died,

For the God their minds denied;

Three in inebriate house were cast,

Of whom this wreck is left the last.

II

 

There are seven pillars of nihilistic mould,

In potation’s taverns odiferous and old,

There are seven pillars, false I pray,

Allowing for my imprison’d way,

I am a sunbeam which hath lost its ray

And through the crevice and the cleft

Of the thick wall is fallen and left;

Creeping o’er tavern floor so damp,

Like the local sheriff’s lamp:

And in each pillar there is a ring,

And in each ring there is a chain;

The lying mind is a troubling thing,

For in this mind its teeth remain,

With memories that will not wear away,

Till I have done with this new day,

Which now is painful to those eyes,

Which have not seen my sun so rise.

For years — I cannot count them o’er,

I lost their long and heavy score

When my last brother droop’d and died,

And I ignor’d him by bed side.

III

Potations chain’d us to a column stone,

And we were there — yet, each alone;

We could not move a single pace,

Nor look upon each other’s face,

But with’n that pale tavern light

That made us strangers in our sight;

And thus together — yet apart,

Fetter’d in mind, but joined in heart,

‘Twas some solace for Neanderthal

Of the pure elements of alcohol,

To hearken to slurring speech,

As brothers turned comforters to each

With some new lie, or legend old,

Or song heroically bold;

But even these at length grew cold.

Our voices took a dreary tone,

An echo of the tavern groan,

A mumbl’d sound, not full and free,

As we of yore were wont to be;

It might be fancy, but to me

They never sounded like our own.

IV

 

I was the eldest of the three,

And then I partook to cheer the rest

I ought to do — and did my best —

And each did well in his degree.

The youngest, whom my father loved,

Because our mother’s iris was given

To him, with eyes as blue as heaven —

For him my soul was sorely moved:

And truly might it be distress’d

To see such bird in such a nest;

For he was beautiful as day —

(When day was beautiful to me

As to young eagles, being free) —

A bitter day, which will not see

A sunset till his potent tis gone,

His sleepless summer of long night,

The foam-clad off’ring of the sun:

However his eyes were red, yet bright,

And in his natural spirit gay,

With tears for naught but others’ ills,

And then they flowed like mountain rills,

Unless he could assuage the woe

Which he abhorr’d to view below.

V

The other sibling was as pure of mind,

But form’d to combat with his kind;

Strong in his frame, and of a mood

Which ‘gainst the sober world he stood.

And perish’d in the sheriff’s tank

With joy; — but not in chains to pine;

His spirit wither’d with door-lock clank,

I saw it silently decline —

And so perchance in like did mine:

But yet I forced it on to cheer

Those taverns like a home so dear.

He was an imbiber with the swills,

Had follow’d there the dim and lonely

To him this tavern was only,

A fraternity of the best of ills.

VI

 

Dipsomania Lake has a million walls:

A thousand feet in depth below

Its muddy waters meet and flow;

Thus much the fathom-line was sense

From million quite false battlements,

Which round about the wave enthrals;

A tavern wall were reality waivers

Alcohol has made — many living slavers.

Below the surface of the lake

The dark vault lies wherein we lay:

We had to tipple night and day;

In the dawn our heads it knock’d;

And I have felt the vomit’s spray

Wash through the air when winds were high

And wanton in the unhappy sky;

And when the very reality hath rock’d,

And I have felt earth shake, unshock’d,

Because I could have smiled to see

The death that would have set me free.

VII

 

My nearer brother no longer opined,

I said his lonely heart declined,

He loathed his self and drank his food;

It was not that ’twas coarse and rude,

For we were used to hunter’s fare,

And for the following had little care:

The milk drawn from the mountain goat

Made our whisky laden bellies bloat,

Our bread was such as captives’ tears

We stuffed, not to listen, in our ears,

Man first toasted his fellow men

Like brutes within an imbiber’s den;

But what were these to us or him?

These wasted not his heart or limb;

My brother’s soul was of that fool’s gold

Which all taverns had soon grown cold,

Had his free drinking been denied

The range of his death bed’s side;

But why delay the truth? — he died!

I saw, and could not hold his head,

Nor reach his dying hand — nor dead, —

Though hard I strove, but strove in vain,

To rend my bonds of amber liquid grain.

He died, and this unlock’d his chain,

Poor house scoop’d for him a shallow grave

Even from the cold earth of his cave.

I begg’d them, as a boon, to lay

His corpse in tavern dust that day

However, mine — it was a foolish thought,

But then within my brain it wrought,

That even in death his freeborn breast

In such a tavern could not rest.

I might have spared my idle prayer —

They coldly laugh’d — and laid him there:

The flat and barren earth above

The being we so much did love;

His empty mind above it leant,

Such a drinker’s fitting monument!

VIII

Youngest brother, the favorite and the flower

Most cherish’d since his natal hour,

His mother’s image in fair face,

The infant love of all his race,

His imbibing father’s dearest thought,

My latest care, for whom I sought

To hoard my life, that his might be

Less wretched now, and one day free;

He, too, who yet had held untired

A spirit drink, natural or inspired —

He, too, was a sot, and day by day

Was wither’d on the walk away.

Oh, God !    it is a fearful thing

To see the human soul take wing

In any odoriferous tavern, in any mud:

I’ve seen it rushing forth in blood,

I’ve seen sailors on the breaking ocean

Strive with a swol’n convulsive motion,

I’ve seen the sick and ghastly bed

Of sin delirious with its dread:

But those were horrors — this was woe

Unmix’d was Gin —  pure and sloe:

He faded, and so calm and meek,

So softly worn, so sweetly weak,

So tearless, yet so tender, kind,

And grieved for imbibers he left behind;

All the while his nose with rosacea bloom

Was as a mockery of the tomb,

Whose tints as gently sunk away

As a departing rainbow’s ray;

An eye of most transparent light,

That almost made the tavern bright;

And not a word of murmur, not

A groan o’er his untimely lot, —

A little talk of better days,

A little hope my own to raise,

For I was drunk  — in silence — lost

In this last loss, of such a cost;

And then the sighs he would suppress

Of fainting Nature’s feebleness,

More   slowly   drawn,   grew   less   and    less:

I listen’d, but I could not hear;

I call’d, for I was wild with fear;

I knew ‘t was hopeless, but my dread

Would not be thus admonished;

I call’d, and thought I heard a sound —

I burst from bar stool with one strong bound,

And rushed to him: — I found him not,

I only stirr’d in this black spot,

I only lived, I only drew

The accursed breath of tavern-dew;

The last, the sole, the dearest link

Between me and the eternal brink,

Which bound me to my failing race,

Was broken in this tavern place.

One on the earth, and one beneath —

My drinking brothers — had ceased to breathe !

My hand shook, would not stay still,

Alas !    my throat was full of swill;

I had not strength to stir, or strive,

But felt that I was still alive —

A frantic feeling, when we know

That what we love shall ne’er be so.

I know not why

I could not die,

I had no earthly hope, only breath,

And that forbade a selfish death.

IX

What next befell me then and there

I know not well — I never knew —

First came the lost of light, and air,

And then of darkness too:

I had no thought, no feeling — alone —

Among the imbibers I stood a stone,

And was, scarce conscious what I wish’d,

As mindless bogs within tavern mist;

For all was blank, and bleak, and grey;

It was not night,  it was not day;

It was not even the neon-light,

So hateful to my heavy sight,

But vacancy absorbing space,

And fixedness without a place;

There were no stars, no earth, no time,

No check, no change, no good, no crime,

But silence, and emotionless breath

Which neither was of life nor death;

A sea of stagnant idleness,

Blind, boundless, mute, and motionless !

X

A light broke in upon my brain, —

It was the warble of a bird;

It ceased, and then it came again,

The sweetest song ear ever heard,

And mind was thankful till my eyes

Ran over with the glad surprise,

And they that moment could not see

I was the mate of misery;

But then by dull degrees came back

My senses to their wonted track;

I saw the tavern walls and floor

Open slowly round me as before,

I saw the glimmer of the sun

Creeping as it before had done,

But through the crevice where warble came

That bird was sober, as fond and tame,

And tamer than upon the tree;

A lovely bird, with azure wings,

And song that said a thousand things,

And seem’d to say them all for me !

I never saw its like before,

I ne’er shall see its likeness more:

It seem’d like me to want a mate,

But was not half so desolate,

And it was come to love me when

None lived to love me so again,

And cheering from my tavern’s brink,

Had brought me back to feel and think.

I know not if it late were free,

Or broke its care to perch on mine,

But knowing well captivity,

Sweet bird !    I could not wish for thine !

Or if it were, in winged guise,

A visitant from Borinquen paradise;

For — Heaven forgive that thought !    the while

Which made me both to weep and smile —

I sometimes deem’d that it might be

My mother’s soul come down to me;

But then ‘twern’t mortal well I knew,

For she would never thus have flown,

And left me twice so doubly lone,

Lone as the corpse within its shroud,

Lone as a solitary cloud, —

A single cloud on a sunny day,

While all the rest of heaven is clear,

A frown upon the atmosphere,

That hath no business to appear

When skies are blue, and earth is gay.

XI

A kind of change came in my fate,

My keepers grew compassionate;

I know not what had made them so,

They were inured to tales of woe,

But so it was; — my broken chain

With links unfastened did remain,

And it was liberty to stride

Along tavern room from side to side,

Back and forth, and then athwart,

And tread it over every part;

And round the pillars one by one,

Returning where my walk begun,

Avoiding only, as I trod,

My brothers’ graves nary any sod;

For if I thought with heedless tread

My step profaned their lowly bed,

My breath came gaspingly and thick,

And my crush’d heart felt blind and sick.

XII

I made footing in reality’s mount so tall,

It was not therefrom to escape,

For I had buried one and all,

Who loved me in a human shape:

And the tavern would henceforth be

No longer a prison unto me:

No child, no sire, no kin had I,

No partner in my misery;

I thought of this, and I was glad,

For tavern life had made me mad;

But I was curious to ascend

Oer my barr’d windows and to bend

Once more, upon the mountains high,

The quiet of a loving eye.

XIII

I saw them, and they were the same,

They were not changed like me in frame;

I saw their white hair like snow

On high — their long purview from below,

And the deepest hope in fullest flow;

I felt my thoughts leap and gush

O’er wasted time in broken rush;

I saw the brilliant lights of distant town,

And fuller sails go skimming down;

And then there was a little isle,

Which in my very face did smile,

The only one in view;

A small green isle, it seem’d no more,

Much broader than a tavern floor,

But on it there were seven palm trees,

And o’er it blew a Caribbean breeze,

And by it there were waters flowing,

And on it there were young flowers growing,

Of gentle breath and hue.

The fish swam quickly by El Morro’s wall,

And they seem’d joyous each and all;

Reina Mora sang in the rising breeze,

Methought she never flew with such ease

As then to me she seem’d to fly;

And then new tears came in my eye,

And I felt troubled — and would fain

I had not left my recent chain,

And when I did descend again,

The darkness of my dim abode

Fell on me as a heavy load;

It was as is a new-dug grave,

Closing o’er one we sought to save, —

And yet my glance, too much oppres’d,

Had almost need of such a rest.

XIV

It might be months, or years, or days,

I kept no count, I took no note

I had no hope my eyes to raise,

And clear them of their dreary mote;

At she came to set me free;

I ask’d not why, and reck’d not where;

It was at length the same to me,

Fetter’d or fetterless to be,

I learn’d to love despair.

And thus when she appear’d at last,

And all my bonds aside were cast,

These heavy walls to me had grown

A hermitage — and all my own !

And half I felt as she had come

To tear me from a second home:

With falseness I had friendship made,

And watch’d it in its sullen trade,

Had seen the imbibers by moonlight play,

And why should I feel less than they?

We were all inmates of one place,

And I, the monarch of each race,

Had power to love — yet strange to tell !

In quiet I had learn’d to dwell;

My very chains and I grew friends,

So much a long communion tends

To make us what we are; — even I

Regain’d my freedom with a sigh.

 

 

 There was a very intelligent man who had a very inferior habit; he was an inebriate. He wrote his story in the Atlantic Monthly of 1869. This story (other than the introduction) is all in his own words.

Click on his temporary home below in order to start the story. You will have to use the

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The Inebriate Asylum

The Inebriate Asylum

© wtomosky

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