The Nightmare Tarn

Clark Ashton Smith

I sat beside the moonless tarn alone,
In darkness where a mumbling air was blown—
A moulded air, insufferably fraught
With dust of plundered charnels: there was naught
In this my dream but darkness and the wind,
The blowing dust, the stagnant waters blind,
And sombre boughs of pine or cypress old
Wherefrom a rain of ashes dark and cold
At 'whiles fell on me, or was driven by
To feed the tongueless tarn; within the sky
The stars were like a failing phosphor wan
In gutted tombs from which the worms have gone.
But though the dust and ashes in one cloud
Blinded and stifled me as might a shroud,
And though the foul putrescent waters gave
Upon my face the fetors of the grave,
Though all was black corruption and despair,
I could not stir, like mandrake rooted there,
And with mine every breath I seemed to raise
The burden of some charnel of old days,
Where, tier on tier, the leaden coffins lie.

While sluggish black eternities went by
I waited; on the darkness of my dream
There fell nor lantern-flame nor lightning-gleam,
Nor gleam of moon or meteor; the wind
Withdrawn as in some sighing tomb, declined,
And all the dust was fallen; the waters drear
Lay still as blood of corpses. Loud and near
The cry of one who drowned in her despair
Came to me from the filthy tarn; the air
Shuddered thereat, and all my heart was grown
A place of fears the nether hell might own,
And prey to monstrous wings and beaks malign:
For, lo! the voice, O dearest love, was thine!
And I—I could not stir: the dreadful weight
Of tomb on ancient tomb accumulate
Lay on my limbs and stifled all my breath,
And when I strove to cry, the dust of death
Had filled my mouth, nor any whisper came
To answer thee, who called upon my name!

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