The City of Dreadful Night by James Thomson

Read this on Gutenberg

A dark and trippy epic poem filled with descriptions of architecture.  Near the end, a Sphinx shows up.  Interesting how Thomson surrounds this Egyptian symbol with archetypes of Catholicism.  Especially with the duel (if you can call it that) between the Sphinx and an Angel.  Lastly, Thomson depicts Sphinx as peaceful and stoic while the Angel seems represents this sense of violence.

I sat me weary on a pillar’s base,
And leaned against the shaft; for broad moonlight
O’erflowed the peacefulness of cloistered space,
A shore of shadow slanting from the right:
The great cathedral’s western front stood there,            5
A wave-worn rock in that calm sea of air.

Before it, opposite my place of rest,
Two figures faced each other, large, austere;
A couchant sphinx in shadow to the breast,
An angel standing in the moonlight clear;                 10
So mighty by magnificence of form,
They were not dwarfed beneath that mass enorm.

Upon the cross-hilt of the naked sword
The angel’s hands, as prompt to smite, were held;
His vigilant intense regard was poured                      15
Upon the creature placidly unquelled,
Whose front was set at level gaze which took
No heed of aught, a solemn trance-like look.

And as I pondered these opposed shapes
My eyelids sank in stupor, that dull swoon                20
Which drugs and with a leaden mantle drapes
The outworn to worse weariness. But soon
A sharp and clashing noise the stillness broke,
And from the evil lethargy I woke.

The angel’s wings had fallen, stone on stone,               25
And lay there shattered; hence the sudden sound:
A warrior leaning on his sword alone
Now watched the sphinx with that regard profound;
The sphinx unchanged looked forthright, as aware
Of nothing in the vast abyss of air.                       30

Again I sank in that repose unsweet,
Again a clashing noise my slumber rent;
The warrior’s sword lay broken at his feet:
An unarmed man with raised hands impotent
Now stood before the sphinx, which ever kept                35
Such mien as if open eyes it slept.

My eyelids sank in spite of wonder grown;
A louder crash upstartled me in dread:
The man had fallen forward, stone on stone,
And lay there shattered, with his trunkless head          40
Between the monster’s large quiescent paws,
Beneath its grand front changeless as life’s laws.

The moon had circled westward full and bright,
And made the temple-front a mystic dream,
And bathed the whole enclosure with its light,              45
The sworded angel’s wrecks, the sphinx supreme:
I pondered long that cold majestic face
Whose vision seemed of infinite void space.


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