The Encounter with Time and his Brother

(Excerpts, condensed from ‘The Apocalypse of Gwair’)

A vast and withered heath I saw, and on the dull periphery thereof
thunder rumbled over-long, as might morose and ponderous thoughts of gods.
And away off I descried Time, tilling and reaping in his fields, a still, salt waste
inundulate, sheer-white with laden dust; yet did he till and reap,
and till and reap without surcease.
From him and his hostile hand did I turn to gaze into another, safer distance;
but then did a ghost of a wind arise to moan across the dun-drab grass,
and I bit my lip, for a little dog I saw, running with that wind;
my own little dead dog, whose grave was in my garden.
Then, where he had been, and where the sere grass shifted last
stood now four walls low and crumbled,
hearth open to the wind and rain, all canopied with moss
and rank with weeds, and woodlouse and snail with dominion over them.
And I knew it at once for the dear farmhouse wherein I had lived
and been loved in time forepast,
and tears flowed hot down my cheeks to see it so,
and how that it was set down unmercifully in this unhallowed place.
And I told myself that sly Time would not delude me with his trickery
and turned to curse him to his face –
but he and his fields were no more there,
and naught but that sullen outer edge of things.

And it seemed to me, then, that I walked a long white road in moonlight,
and at whiles the way would glimmer, now here, now there, with cold shinings,
and its surface shift and softly crack beneath my tread.
And I slowed my gait, and cast about, and saw that my road was a road of fragments,
and that the fragments were of bone, broken and triturated
with here and there the glint of tooth and of thin and polished flakes,
and the interstices filled with white and finely powdered dust –
and I knew then, that he it was again, and that I walked upon the road of Time,
and that his road was fashioned as were his far-off winnowed fields.
And I sobbed a breath and stayed my steps,
and would, were mine own will master, go no further on that road.
And after a weary while, as I yet stood distressful and perplexed,
it seemed that Time mocked me from within the very dust whereon I stood, saying:
“Wherefore do you tarry so, you Man? I know you, who you are.
There is naught for you, even unto the end.
You came without portent; you made no name; you departed without epitaph.”
And, I fancied it, the dust itself did laugh unpleasantly beneath my feet;
but after a time the voice to say, now in a strangely tired tone and sad:
“Yet a portent will I give unto you;
and even as worse things await than did ever populate the direst of your dreams,
it shall speak louder than those petty things shown you heretofore.
And therein shall you see what is your calling – and who shall see
no carven grammar will there be to mark your passing.”

Then it was that I heard a low murmur gathering, low and afar,
as of some distant tide,
which swelled mightily in the gloom ahead, swelled with ever increasing turbulence
until, in a single moment, as a deafening and unimaginable immensity of resonance
it came rushing and crashing upon me in that place where I had stayed my steps,
rushing and crashing upon me as a great inundation,
and I knew – great God! – I knew that I hearkened unto the discourses of all time
and in all places as a flood!

Heard and understood their subtleties and their obscurities –
discerned even the lost and frantic voices of the dead.
And teeming from the myriad, myriad voices of the present and the past,
the living and the dead,
there issued great words and little words, distinct and clear each one 
– righteous and evil side by side, wiseards’ words and those of fools,
the ravings of demented souls with the entreaties of the oppressed –
convoluted though they were in one single, vast discordant strain.
And as soon as I heard these things
I became fully and completely aware of every wrong, and every loss, and every failure
that had ever visited the world in its entirety
as though they were being suffered at that very moment –
and I cried out in terror and in wrath,
cursing the callous god that had let me be party to these things
and held my hands to my ears
and tried to shut tight my eyes.
But there was naught that could blot out that sound,
and my eyes seemed held open as though forced wide by a quillon’s blade;
and so it was that I suffered
every silent and secret cruelty committed
in the closed, secluded places, in the dens of the offscourings of the earth,
and those, too, committed in the respectable places,
in the lands of, and at the hands of, those who were looked upon
as the decent and the godly –
saw fear heaped up in mountains, and anguish as an ocean;
grief swelling as does the sea.
And blood. Blood written in the stars,
and starred on sand, and on snow, on the good earth,
and on the hands of the people.
And in a world that fell inward upon itself
I looked upon a vision of Man’s suzerainty at its end,
upon the dying, spiteful groans of the weary, warring giants of his making,
and for them was left no door, and no key,
and the only justice lay in the triumph of oblivion.

And lastly came one horsed out of a grey world,
and that upon which he rode was paler than the greyness round about.
In silence he came, and upon that field of bones there was no clop of hoof
nor ring of iron shoe.
He spake not, but left he coursed and right, as if surveying that all was
as it should be.
No word he spake, but reining, seemed to hold me from beneath the shadow of his cowl.
He uttered naught, but in my quaking thoughts did say:
“Yea, I am he.
I am he who cometh unto men in the quiet of the night,
and he who cometh unto them in the brightness of the day;
he that visiteth the peasant in his hovel,, and entereth unimpeded
into the chamber of the king;
upon the infant in the cradle do I steal, and the infant babe unborn,
as much upon the eldern forward-treading in the vale.
He who forgetteth no-one.
And whenas I pass, no thing shall be as it was before.
Yet, from the blood-red tide which is his mark, doth Man rush forth to greet me.”
And meseemed that this was none but Death himself whom I faced
across the way,
but scarce could I tell, so addled in the head was I and close to swooning …
and for that he stood there in the guise and in the very garb as erstwhile
I saw Time.
“Yea,” said he, “for he and I are brethren insomuch as we are one,
and unto eternity will we till and reap and ride the world;
but the race of Man shall we pass by no more  – for it is at an end.
And the grass will grow where he, for the blinking of an eyelid,
held over-haughty sway;
and across white deserts will the winds of the ages amuse themselves
with his dust.”
And after I had been held and compelled to gaze on all of this,
and faint and pained unto the depth of me so that blackness upon blackness
swum before my eyes and hell’s flute whistled a long note in my skull,
it seemed – sweet mercy! – in truth it seemed that I was left to stand alone again
in the grey plain of the beginning.

From ‘Otherworld’

2 thoughts on “The Encounter with Time and his Brother

  1. This is certainly ‘shiver down the spine’ time. Beautifully sustained use of language, imagery, and mood. Very gothic.
    (Not so uplifting for those of us past our prime – I think I’m off to the game in Cardiff again).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Roma! I just thought it was time for something which didn’t contain rhyming niceties. I will, at some time, post the whole (800+ lines) of ‘The Apocalypse of Gwair’, but will first have to work on all the notes which will need to accompany it. For you, I think, it’s ‘The Game in Kyushu’ which will stick in your mind! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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