The conversation of Eiros and Charmion by Edgar Allan Poe


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THE CONVERSATION OF EIROS AND CHARMION
by Edgar Allan Poe

I will bring fire to thee.
EURIPIDES Andiom.

EIROS. Why do you call me Eiros?
CHARMION. So henceforth will you always be called. You must
forget, too, my earthly name, and speak to me as Charmion.
EIROS. This is indeed no dream!
CHARMION. Dreams are with us no more; but of these mysteries anon. I
rejoice to see you looking like-life and rational. The film of the
shadow has already passed from off your eyes. Be of heart and fear
nothing. Your allotted days of stupor have expired; and, to-morrow,
I will myself induct you into the full joys and wonders of your
novel existence.
EIROS. True, I feel no stupor, none at all. The wild sickness and
the terrible darkness have left me, and I hear no longer that mad,
rushing, horrible sound, like the “voice of many waters.” Yet my
senses are bewildered, Charmion, with the keenness of their perception
of the new.
CHARMION. A few days will remove all this;- but I fully understand
you, and feel for you. It is now ten earthly years since I underwent
what you undergo, yet the remembrance of it hangs by me still. You
have now suffered all of pain, however, which you will suffer in
Aidenn.
EIROS. In Aidenn?
CHARMION. In Aidenn.
EIROS. Oh, God!- pity me, Charmion!- I am overburthened with the
majesty of all things- of the unknown now known- of the speculative
Future merged in the august and certain Present.
CHARMION. Grapple not now with such thoughts. Tomorrow we will speak
of this. Your mind wavers, and its agitation will find relief in the
exercise of simple memories. Look not around, nor forward- but back. I
am burning with anxiety to hear the details of that stupendous event
which threw you among us. Tell me of it. Let us converse of familiar
things, in the old familiar language of the world which has so
fearfully perished.
EIROS. Most fearfully, fearfully!- this is indeed no dream.
CHARMION. Dreams are no more. Was I much mourned, my Eiros?
EIROS. Mourned, Charmion?- oh deeply. To that last hour of all,
there hung a cloud of intense gloom and devout sorrow over your
household.
CHARMION. And that last hour- speak of it. Remember that, beyond the
naked fact of the catastrophe itself, I know nothing. When, coming out
from among mankind, I passed into Night through the Grave- at that
period, if I remember aright, the calamity which overwhelmed you was
utterly unanticipated. But, indeed, I knew little of the speculative
philosophy of the day.
EIROS. The individual calamity was, as you say, entirely
unanticipated; but analogous misfortunes had been long a subject of
discussion with astronomers. I need scarce tell you, my friend,
that, even when you left us, men had agreed to understand those
passages in the most holy writings which speak of the final
destruction of all things by fire, as having reference to the orb of
the earth alone. But in regard to the immediate agency of the ruin,
speculation had been at fault from that epoch in astronomical
knowledge in which the comets were divested of the terrors of flame.
The very moderate density of these bodies had been well established.
They had been observed to pass among the satellites of Jupiter,
without bringing about any sensible alteration either in the masses or
in the orbits of these secondary planets. We had long regarded the
wanderers as vapory creations of inconceivable tenuity, and as
altogether incapable of doing injury to our substantial globe, even in
the event of contact. But contact was not in any degree dreaded; for
the elements of all the comets were accurately known. That among
them we should look for the agency of the threatened fiery destruction
had been for many years considered an inadmissible idea. But wonders
and wild fancies had been, of late days, strangely rife among mankind;
and although it was only with a few of the ignorant that actual
apprehension prevailed, upon the announcement by astronomers of a
new comet, yet this announcement was generally received with I know
not what of agitation and mistrust.
The elements of the strange orb were immediately calculated, and
it was at once conceded by all observers, that its path, at
perihelion, would bring it into very close proximity with the earth.
There were two or three astronomers, of secondary note, who resolutely
maintained that a contact was inevitable. I cannot very well express
to you the effect of this intelligence upon the people. For a few
short days they would not believe an assertion which their
intellect, so long employed among worldly considerations, could not in
any manner grasp. But the truth of a vitally important fact soon makes
its way into the understanding of even the most stolid. Finally, all
men saw that astronomical knowledge lied not, and they awaited the
comet. Its approach was not, at first, seemingly rapid; nor was its
appearance of very unusual character. It was of a dull red, and had
little perceptible train. For seven or eight days we saw no material
increase in its apparent diameter, and but a partial alteration in its
color. Meantime the ordinary affairs of men were discarded, and all
interests absorbed in a growing discussion, instituted by the
philosophic, in respect to the cometary nature. Even the grossly
ignorant aroused their sluggish capacities to such considerations. The
learned now gave their intellect- their soul- to no such points as the
allaying of fear, or to the sustenance of loved theory. They sought-
they panted for right views. They groaned for perfected knowledge.
Truth arose in the purity of her strength and exceeding majesty, and
the wise bowed down and adored.
That material injury to our globe or to its inhabitants would result
from the apprehended contact, was an opinion which hourly lost
ground among the wise; and the wise were now freely permitted to
rule the reason and the fancy of the crowd. It was demonstrated,
that the density of the comet’s nucleus was far less than that of
our rarest gas; and the harmless passage of a similar visitor among
the satellites of Jupiter was a point strongly insisted upon, and
which served greatly to allay terror. Theologists, with an earnestness
fear-enkindled, dwelt upon the biblical prophecies, and expounded them
to the people with a directness and simplicity of which no previous
instance had been known. That the final destruction of the earth
must be brought about by the agency of fire, was urged with a spirit
that enforced everywhere conviction; and that the comets were of no
fiery nature (as all men now knew) was a truth which relieved all,
in a great measure, from the apprehension of the great calamity
foretold. It is noticeable that the popular prejudices and vulgar
errors in regard to pestilences and wars- errors which were wont to
prevail upon every appearance of a comet- were now altogether unknown.
As if by some sudden convulsive exertion, reason had at once hurled
superstition from her throne. The feeblest intellect had derived vigor
from excessive interest.
What minor evils might arise from the contact were points of
elaborate question. The learned spoke of slight geological
disturbances, of probable alterations in climate, and consequently
in vegetation; of possible magnetic and electric influences. Many held
that no visible or perceptible effect would in any manner be produced.
While such discussions were going on, their subject gradually
approached, growing larger in apparent diameter, and of a more
brilliant lustre. Mankind grew paler as it came. All human
operations were suspended. There was an epoch in the course of the
general sentiment when the comet had attained, at length, a size
surpassing that of any previously recorded visitation. The people now,
dismissing any lingering hope that the astronomers were wrong,
experienced all the certainty of evil. The chimerical aspect of
their terror was gone. The hearts of the stoutest of our race beat
violently within their bosoms. A very few days sufficed, however, to
merge even such feelings in sentiments more unendurable. We could no
longer apply to the strange orb any accustomed thoughts. Its
historical attributes had disappeared. It oppressed us with a
hideous novelty of emotion. We saw it not as an astronomical
phenomenon in the heavens, but as an incubus upon our hearts, and a
shadow upon our brains. It had taken, with inconceivable rapidity, the
character of a gigantic mantle of rare flame, extending from horizon
to horizon.
Yet a day, and men breathed with greater freedom. It was clear
that we were already within the influence of the comet; yet we
lived. We even felt an unusual elasticity of frame and vivacity of
mind. The exceeding tenuity of the object of our dread was apparent;
for all heavenly objects were plainly visible through it. Meantime,
our vegetation had perceptibly altered; and we gained faith, from this
predicted circumstance, in the foresight of the wise. A wild
luxuriance of foliage, utterly unknown before, burst out upon every
vegetable thing.
Yet another day- and the evil was not altogether upon us. It was now
evident that its nucleus would first reach us. A wild change had
come over all men; and the first sense of pain was the wild signal for
general lamentation and horror. This first sense of pain lay in a
rigorous constriction of the breast and lungs, and an insufferable
dryness of the skin. It could not be denied that our atmosphere was
radically affected; the conformation of this atmosphere and the
possible modifications to which it might be subjected, were now the
topics of discussion. The result of investigation sent an electric
thrill of the intensest terror through the universal heart of man.
It had been long known that the air which encircled us was a
compound of oxygen and nitrogen gases, in the proportion of twenty-one
measures of oxygen, and seventy-nine of nitrogen, in every one hundred
of the atmosphere. Oxygen, which was the principle of combustion,
and the vehicle of heat, was absolutely necessary to the support of
animal life, and was the most powerful and energetic agent in
nature. Nitrogen, on the contrary, was incapable of supporting
either animal life or flame. An unnatural excess of oxygen would
result, it had been ascertained, in just such an elevation of the
animal spirits as we had latterly experienced. It was the pursuit, the
extension of the idea, which had engendered awe. What would be the
result of a total extraction of the nitrogen? A combustion
irresistible, all-devouring, omni-prevalent, immediate; the entire
fulfillment, in all their minute and terrible details, of the fiery
and horror-inspiring denunciations of the prophecies of the Holy Book.
Why need I paint, Charmion, the now disenchained frenzy of
mankind? That tenuity in the comet which had previously inspired us
with hope, was now the source of the bitterness of despair. In its
impalpable gaseous character we clearly perceived the consummation
of Fate. Meantime a day again passed, bearing away with it the last
shadow of Hope. We gasped in the rapid modification of the air. The
red blood bounded tumultuously through its strict channels. A
furious delirium possessed all men; and, with arms rigidly
outstretched toward the threatening heavens, they trembled and
shrieked aloud. But the nucleus of the destroyer was now upon us; even
here in Aidenn, I shudder while I speak. Let me be brief- brief as the
ruin that overwhelmed. For a moment there was a wild lurid light
alone, visiting and penetrating all things. Then- let us bow down,
Charmion, before the excessive majesty of the great God!- then,
there came a shouting and pervading sound, as if from the mouth itself
of HIM; while the whole incumbent mass of ether in which we existed,
burst at once into a species of intense flame, for whose surpassing
brilliancy and all-fervid heat even the angels in the high Heaven of
pure knowledge have no name. Thus ended all.
THE END

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