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Lines Composed in Sleep

Dreamed before 1887 by Owen Meredith (Robert, Earl of Lytton)

This is the place. Here flourish'd Wicked Deeds
And wither'd, in a world without a name,
Buried ere ours was born. Fierce troops of crimes
Weapon'd and crown'd, athwart a desert land,
A wasted loveliness, to reach this place
Travell'd in pomp: here settled, and here died,
Grown old and weak: and, dying left behind
No chronicle upon the bare rock graven
Of what they were or what they did. The lives
They cramm'd with evil, all their wicked loves,

Their wicked hates, Death and slow Time have turn'd
Into a sly grey silent ghastliness,
A stealthy-footed Fear, that prowls for prey,
Creeps on the wretch who wanders here unwarn'd,
Catches him, with long fingers, by the head,
Nor lets him go till all his mind is gone.
This was their city's tower'd acropolis,

This sprawling troop of roofless ruin huge
Whose heart is hollowness. These broken ribs
Of crumbled stone and mounds of rippling grass
Were walls whose builders, when those walls were built,
Kings put to death, that none the plan might tell
Of secret chambers cruelly contrived
For lust and murder: and therein were born
Abominable pleasures. Round them now
Rank ivy rustles with the revelry
Of spangled reptiles. Down in a dry well
There hath been dwelling for three thousand years
An old white newt, whiter than leprosy.
He only knows the long-forgotten names
Of those strong scarlet blossoms on the brink
That once were Sins.


These lines are the result of a slumber, not induced by any narcotic, for when the writer awoke under an extraordinarily vivid impression that he had composed in his sleep a poem of considerable length of the purport of this poem, he retained only a vague and shadowy notion; but more than a hundred lines of it were lingering (as it seemed to him) so distinctly in his recollection that he hastened to write them down. His memory, however (or the illusion which had usurped the function of memory) suddenly and completely failed him at the point where this fragment breaks off. He has never been able to complete it, and it is printed here, without alteration, as a psychological curiosity.


Coleridge it's not, but it's gloriously lurid, isn't it? I love those "spangled reptiles" partying away... and of course our Newt Methuselah.

SOURCE: Owen Meredith's After Paradise, or Legends in Exile (1887) p. 156, as quoted in The Dream World (Ed. R.L. Megroz, 1939)

--Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: ruins and archeology - royalty and aristocracy - population booms and busts - ethics and morality - a happier newt, in Emily Joy's Newt Wedding - more dream-poems - the primal dream-poem-fragment: Coleridge's Kubla Khan

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