The Dream Of Eugene Aram by Thomas Hood


‘Twas in the prime of summer time,
An evening calm and cool,
And four-and-twenty happy boys
Came bounding out of school:
There were some that ran and some that leapt,
Like troutlets in a pool.


Away they sped with gamesome minds,
And souls untouch’d by sin;
To a level mead they came, and there
They drave the wickets in:
Pleasantly shone the setting sun
Over the town of Lynn.


Like sportive deer they coursed about,
And shouted as they ran,–
Turning to mirth all things of earth,
As only boyhood can;
But the Usher sat remote from all,
A melancholy man!


His hat was off, his vest apart,
To catch heaven’s blessed breeze;
For a burning thought was in his brow,
And his bosom ill at ease:
So he lean’d his head on his hands, and read
The book between his knees!


Leaf after leaf he turn’d it o’er,
Nor ever glanced aside,
For the peace of his soul he read that book
In the golden eventide:
Much study had made him very lean,
And pale, and leaden-eyed.


At last he shut the ponderous tome,
With a fast and fervent grasp
He strain’d the dusky covers close,
And fix’d the brazen hasp:
“Oh, God! could I so close my mind,
And clasp it with a clasp!”


Then leaping on his feet upright,
Some moody turns he took,–
Now up the mead, then down the mead,
And past a shady nook,–
And, lo! he saw a little boy
That pored upon a book!


“My gentle lad, what is’t you read–
Romance or fairy fable?
Of is it some historic page,
Or kings and crowns unstable?”
The young boy gave an upward glance,–
“It is ‘The Death of Abel.’”


The Usher took six hasty strides,
As smit with sudden pain,–
Six hasty strides beyond the place,
Then slowly back again;
And down he sat beside the lad,
And talk’d with him of Cain;


And, long since then, of bloody men,
Whose deeds tradition saves;
Of lonely folk cut off unseen,
And hid in sudden graves;
Of horrid stabs, in groves forlorn,
And murders done in caves;

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And how the sprites of injured men
Shriek upward from the sod,–
Ay, how the ghostly hand will point
To show the burial clod;
And unknown facts of guilty acts
Are seen in dreams from God!


He told how murderers walk the earth
Beneath the curse of Cain,–
With crimson clouds before their eyes,
And flames about their brain:
For blood has left upon their souls
Its everlasting stain!


“And well,” quoth he, “I know, for truth,
Their pangs must be extreme,–
Woe, woe, unutterable woe,–
Who spill life’s sacred stream!
For why? Methought, last night, I wrought
A murder, in a dream!”


“One that had never done me wrong–
A feeble man, and old;
I led him to a lonely field,–
The moon shone clear and cold:
Now here, said I, this man shall die,
And I will have his gold!”


“Two sudden blows with a ragged stick,
And one with a heavy stone,
One hurried gash with a hasty knife,–
And then the deed was done:
There was nothing lying at my foot
But lifeless flesh and bone!”


“Nothing but lifeless flesh and bone,
That could not do me ill;
And yet I feared him all the more,
For lying there so still:
There was a manhood in his look,
That murder could not kill!”


“And, lo! the universal air
Seemed lit with ghastly flame;–
Ten thousand thousand dreadful eyes
Were looking down in blame:
I took the dead man by his hand,
And called upon his name!”


“Oh, God! it made me quake to see
Such sense within the slain!
But when I touched the lifeless clay,
The blood gush’d out amain!
For every clot, a burning spot
Was scorching in my brain!”


“My head was like an ardent coal,
My heart as solid ice:
My wretched, wretched soul, I knew,
Was at the Devil’s price:
A dozen times I groan’d the dead
Had never groan’d but twice!”

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And now, from forth the frowning sky,
From the Heaven’s topmost height,
I heard a voice–the awful voice
Of the blood-avenging Sprite:–
“Thou guilty man! take up thy dead
And hide it from my sight!”


“I took the dreary body up,
And cast it in a stream,–
A sluggish water, black as ink,
The depth was so extreme:–
My gentle Boy, remember this
Is nothing but a dream!”


“Down went the corse with a hollow plunge,
And vanish’d in the pool;
Anon I cleansed my bloody hands,
And wash’d my forehead cool,
And sat among the urchins young,
That evening in the school.”


“Oh, Heaven! to think of their white souls,
And mine so black and grim!
I could not share in childish prayer,
Nor join in Evening Hymn:
Like a Devil of the Pit I seem’d,
‘Mid holy Cherubim!”


“And peace went with them, one and all,
And each calm pillow spread:
But Guilt was my grim Chamberlain
That lighted me to bed;
And drew my midnight curtains round,
With fingers bloody red!”


“All night I lay in agony,
In anguish dark and deep;
My fever’d eyes I dared not close,
But stared aghast at Sleep:
For Sin had render’d unto her
The keys of Hell to keep!”


“All night I lay in agony,
From weary chime to chime,
With one besetting horrid hint,
That rack’d me all the time;
A mighty yearning, like the first
Fierce impulse unto crime!”


“One stern tyrannic thought, that made
All other thoughts its slave;
Stronger and stronger every pulse
Did that temptation crave,–
Still urging me to go and see
The Dead Man in his grave!”


“Heavily I rose up, as soon
As light was in the sky,
And sought the black accursed pool
With a wild misgiving eye;
And I saw the Dead in the river bed,
For the faithless stream was dry.”

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“Merrily rose the lark, and shook
The dew-drop from its wing;
But I never mark’d its morning flight,
I never heard it sing:
For I was stooping once again
Under the horrid thing.”


“With breathless speed, like a soul in chase,
I took him up and ran;–
There was no time to dig a grave
Before the day began:
In a lonesome wood, with heaps of leaves,
I hid the murder’d man!”


“And all that day I read in school,
But my thought was other where;
As soon as the mid-day task was done,
In secret I was there:
And a mighty wind had swept the leaves,
And still the corse was bare!”


“Then down I cast me on my face,
And first began to weep,
For I knew my secret then was one
That earth refused to keep:
Or land or sea, though he should be
Ten thousand fathoms deep.”


“So wills the fierce avenging Sprite,
Till blood for blood atones!
Ay, though he’s buried in a cave,
And trodden down with stones,
And years have rotted off his flesh,–
The world shall see his bones!”


“Oh, God! that horrid, horrid dream
Besets me now awake!
Again again, with dizzy brain,
The human life I take;
And my red right hand grows raging hot,
Like Cranmer’s at the stake.”


“And still no peace for the restless clay
Will wave or mould allow;
The horrid thing pursues my soul,–
It stands before me now!”
The fearful Boy look’d up, and saw
Huge drops upon his brow.


That very night, while gentle sleep
The urchin eyelids kiss’d,
Two stern-faced men set out from Lynn,
Through the cold and heavy mist;
And Eugene Aram walk’d between.
With gyves upon his wrist.

[Note: Hood edited The Gem, one of the many annuals of that day, for the year 1829. The volume is memorable for having contained his fine poem.

“The remarkable name of Eugene Aram, belonging to a man of unusual talents and acquirements, is unhappily associated with a deed of blood as extraordinary in its details as any recorded in our calendar of crime. In the year 1745, being then an usher and deeply engaged in the study of Chaldee, Hebrew, Arabic, and the Celtic dialects, for the formation of a lexicon, he abruptly turned over a still darker page in human knowledge, and the brow that learning might have made illustrious was stamped ignominious forever with the brand of Cain. To obtain a trifling property he concerted with an accomplice, and with his own hand effected the violent death of one Daniel Clarke, a shoe-maker, of Knaresborough, in Yorkshire. For fourteen years nearly the secret slept with the victim in the earth of St. Robert’s Cave, and the manner of its discovery would appear a striking example of the divine justice even amongst those marvels narrated in that curious old volume alluded to in the
Fortunes of Nigel, under its quaint title of ‘God’s Revenge against Murther.’

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“The accidental digging up of a skeleton, and the unwary and emphatic declaration of Aram’s accomplice that it could not be that of Clarke, betraying a guilty knowledge of the true bones, he was wrought to a confession of their deposit. The learned homicide was seized and arraigned, and a trial of uncommon interest was wound up by a defence as memorable as the tragedy itself for eloquence and ingenuity–too ingenious for innocence, and eloquent enough to do credit even to that long premeditation which the interval between the deed and its discovery had afforded. That this dreary period had not passed without paroxysms of remorse may be inferred from a fact of affecting interest. The late Admiral Burney was a scholar at the school at Lynn in Norfolk when Aram was an usher, subsequent to his crime. The Admiral stated that Aram was beloved by the boys, and that he used to discourse to them of murder, not occasionally, as I have written elsewhere, but constantly, and in somewhat of the spirit ascribed to him in the poem.

“For the more imaginative part of the version I must refer back to one of those unaccountable visions which come upon us like frightful monsters thrown up by storms from the great black deeps of slumber. A lifeless body, in love and relationship the nearest and dearest, was imposed upon my back, with an overwhelming sense of obligation–not of filial piety merely, but some awful responsibility, equally vague and intense, and involving, as it seemed, inexpiable sin, horrors unutterable, torments intolerable–to bury my dead, like Abraham, out of my sight. In vain I attempted, again and again, to obey the mysterious mandate–by some dreadful process the burthen was replaced with a more stupendous weight of injunction, and an apalling conviction of the impossibility of its fulfilment. My mental anguish was indescribable;–the mighty agonies of souls tortured on the supernatural racks of sleep are not to be penned–and if in sketching those that belong to blood-guiltiness I have been at all successful, I owe it mainly to the uninvoked inspiration of that terrible dream.”

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The introduction of Admiral Burney’s name makes it likely that Hood may have owed his first interest in the story to Charles Lamb. The circumstance that the book over which the gentle boy was poring when questioned by the usher was called the Death of Abel, is by no means forced or unnatural. Salomon Gessner’s prose poem, Der Tod Abels, published in 1758, attained an astonishing popularity throughout Europe, and appeared in an English version somewhere about the time of the discovery of Aram’s crime.]

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