Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  From “Mano: a Poetical History.” II. Of a Vision of Hell, Which a Monk Had

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Richard Watson Dixon b. 1833

From “Mano: a Poetical History.” II. Of a Vision of Hell, Which a Monk Had

OUT of this town there riseth a high hill,

About whose sides live many anchorites

In cells cut in the rock with curious skill,

And laid in terraces along the heights;

This holy hill with that where stands the town

The ancient Roman aqueduct unites;

And passing o’er the vale her chain of stone

Cuts it in two with line indelible;

A work right marvellous to gaze upon.

To one o those grave hermits there befell

A curious thing, whereof the fame was new

In our sojourn; the which I here will tell.

He found himself when night had shed her dew,

In a long valley, narrow, deep, and straight,

Like that which lay all day beneath his view.

On each hand mountains rose precipitate,

Whose tops for darkness he could nowise see,

Though wistful that high gloom to penetrate;

And through this hollow, one, who seem’d to be

Of calm and quiet mien, was leading him

In friendly converse and society:

But whom he wist not: neither could he trim

Memory’s spent torch to know what things were said,

No about what, in that long way and dim.

But as the valley still before him spread,

He saw a line, that did the same divide

Across in halves: which made him feel great dread.

For he beheld fore burning on one side

Unto the mountains from the midmost vale;

On the other, ice the empire did discide,

Fed from the opposing hill with snow and hail.

So dreary was that haunt of fire and cold,

That nought on earth to equal might avail.

Fire ended where began the frozen mould;

Both in extreme at their conjunction:

So close were they, no severance might to told:

No thinnest line of separation,

Like that which is by painter drawn to part

One color in his piece from other one,

So fine as that which held these realms apart.

And through the vale the souls of men in pain

From one to the other side did leap and dart,

From heat to cold, from, cold to heat again:

And not an instant through their anguish great

In either element might they remain.

So great the multitude thus toss’d by fate,

That as a mist they seem’d in the dark air.

No shrimper, who at half-tide takes his freight,

When high his pole-net seaward he doth bear,

Ever beheld so thick a swarm to leap

out of the brine on evening still and fair,

Waking a mist mile-long ’twixt shore and deep.

Now while his mind was fill’d with ruth and fear,

And with great horror stood his eyeballs steep,

Deeming that hell before him did appear,

And souls in torment toss’d from brink to brink:

Upon him look’d the one who set him there,

And said: “This is not hell, as thou dost think,

Neither those torments of the cold and heat

Are those wherewith the damned wail and shrink.”

And therewith from that place he turn’d his feet;

And sometime on they walk’d, the while this man

In anguish shuddering did the effect repeat:

Such spasms of horror through his body ran,

Walking with stumbling, and with glazed eyes

Whither he knew not led, ghastly and wan.

Then said the other: “In those agonies

No more than hell’s beginning know: behold,

The doom o hell itself is otherwise.”

Therewith he drew aside his vesture’s fold,

And show’d his heart: than fire more hot it burn’d

One half: the rest was ice than ice more cold.

A moment show’d he this: and then he turn’d,

And in his going all the vision went:

And he, who in his mind these things discern’d,

Came to himself with long astonishment.