Personal Response to Lord Byron’s poem “Darkness”
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum’d,
And men were gather’d round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other’s face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain’d;
Forests were set on fire—but hour by hour
They fell and faded—and the crackling trunks
Extinguish’d with a crash—and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil’d;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look’d up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash’d their teeth and howl’d: the wild birds shriek’d
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl’d
And twin’d themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless—they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom:
no love was left;
All earth was but one thought—and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails—men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour’d,
Even dogs assail’d their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lur’d their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer’d not with a caress—he died.
The crowd was famish’d by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap’d a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they rak’d up,
And shivering scrap’d with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other’s aspects—saw, and shriek’d, and died—
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend.
The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless—
A lump of death—a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir’d before;
The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish’d; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them—She was the Universe.
Discuss the idea(s) developed by the text creator in your chosen text about the role adversity plays in shaping an individual’s identity. (June 2011)
There has always been a natural human tendency to distinguish individuals by separating them based upon what makes them distinct. It can be said that an individual’s identity is composed of the many desires that they hold. Everything else that an individual does outside of pursuing their desires would be considered a necessity, which commonly remains consistent with all individuals. An individual’s desires may differ from others which is what provides them with a sense of individuality, thus, defining who they are. However, when under adverse circumstances these desires are lost as individuals begin to shift their focus only to what is necessary. Through Lord Byron’s poem “Darkness” and my own life, it is exemplified that when faced with adversity, individuals lose the desires that they previously had, thus, losing their sense of individuality as no distinction remains between themselves and others. Such individuals are left with an identity that is characterized by its simplicity and lack of depth.
In the face of adversity, an individual pushes away their desires which takes away from what distinguishes them from others. Darkness is simply the absence of desire; it is what deprives an individual from an identity. This loss of desire transforms individuals into looking more at necessities which is centered around logic and reason. Byron’s vivid imagery shown through how “the bright sun was extinguished” can be symbolic of this loss of desire, and then the forests being “set on fire”, acts as a desperate attempt to bring these desires and passions back. With the “palaces of crowned kings” being “burnt for beacons”, the distinction of these higher classes is lost, serving to reinforce the idea that adversity makes it increasingly harder to hold on to a sense of individuality. Towards the later part of the poem, two men were finally able to see “each other’s aspects”and died from their “mutual hideousness”; it can be interpreted that these men held identical identities because the absence of desire in their lives made them indistinguishable from one another. Without desire, an individual’s identity will crumble and they will become a “chaos of hard clay” – gray and colorless. These individual’s permanently lost the identity that distinguished them, being consumed by the infinite darkness.
Within my own life, although maybe not to the same extent as shown in the poem, I had grown up with a mindset that made me lose my willingness to pursue my desires. During my earlier years, I had always been an idealist who never accepted anything short of perfection; I would say that this unrealistic search for perfection is what made me criticize myself every time I couldn’t accomplish a goal. This constant self-criticism made me more insecure, which was an internal adversity that I had to deal with, and eventually lowered my self-esteem, making me follow the behaviors of others in order to mask my own true self. By following others, I wasn’t required to pursue my desires and only did what was necessary. However, I didn’t realize that this gradually made me lose my own desires, making me a shadow of the people in my life. Lord Byron illuminated the consequences of remaining on this path of darkness and made me aware of how desire is essential in the formation of one’s identity. Without it, an individual’s identity is composed only from the influences of others.
Ultimately, an individual will lose their sense of distinction from others when faced with an adversity which takes away the desires that they previously held. Therefore, adversity makes it increasingly difficult for individuals to hold on to a sense of individuality. This loss of desire leaves individuals looking only at what is necessary, which remains consistent for many. An individual’s identity is composed of the many desires that they hold, and the absence of said desires is what shatters the distinction between one person and the next. Within my own life and Lord Byron’s poem, the consequences of losing these desires when faced with adversity can strip an individual of their identity – leaving them in absolute darkness.