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Silence. A Fable

by Edgar Allan Poe
The mountain pinnacles slumber; valleys, crags, and caves _are silent_.

“LISTEN to _me_,” said the Demon, as he placed his hand upon my head.
“The region of which I speak is a dreary region in Libya, by the borders
of the river Zäire. And there is no quiet there, nor silence.

“The waters of the river have a saffron and sickly hue; and they flow
not onward to the sea, but palpitate forever and forever beneath the red
eye of the sun with a tumultuous and convulsive motion. For many miles
on either side of the river’s oozy bed is a pale desert of gigantic
water-lilies. They sigh one unto the other in that solitude, and stretch
towards the heaven their long and ghastly necks, and nod to and fro
their everlasting heads. And there is an indistinct murmur which cometh
out from among them like the rushing of subterrene water. And they sigh
one unto the other.

“But there is a boundary to their realm–the boundary of the dark,
horrible, lofty forest. There, like the waves about the Hebrides, the
low underwood is agitated continually. But there is no wind throughout
the heaven. And the tall primeval trees rock eternally hither and
thither with a crashing and mighty sound. And from their high summits,
one by one, drop everlasting dews. And at the roots, strange poisonous
flowers lie writhing in perturbed slumber. And overhead, with a rustling
and loud noise, the gray clouds rush westwardly forever until they roll,
a cataract, over the fiery wall of the horizon. But there is no wind
throughout the heaven. And by the shores of the river Zäire there is
neither quiet nor silence.

“It was night, and the rain fell; and, falling, it was rain, but, having
fallen, it was blood. And I stood in the morass among the tall lilies,
and the rain fell upon my head–and the lilies sighed one unto the other
in the solemnity of their desolation.

“And, all at once, the moon arose through the thin ghastly mist, and was
crimson in color. And mine eyes fell upon a huge gray rock which stood
by the shore of the river and was lighted by the light of the moon. And
the rock was gray and ghastly, and tall,–and the rock was gray. Upon
its front were characters engraven in the stones; and I walked through
the morass of water-lilies, until I came close unto the shore, that I
might read the characters upon the stone. But I could not decipher them.
And I was going back into the morass when the moon shone with a fuller
red, and I turned and looked again upon the rock and upon the
characters;–and the characters were DESOLATION.

“And I looked upwards, and there stood a man upon the summit of the
rock; and I hid myself among the water-lilies that I might discover the
action of the man. And the man was tall and stately in form, and wrapped
up from his shoulders to his feet in the toga of old Rome. And the
outlines of his figure were indistinct–but his features were the
features of a deity; for the mantle of the night, and of the mist, and
of the moon, and of the dew, had left uncovered the features of his
face. And his brow was lofty with thought, and his eye wild with care;
and in the few furrows upon his cheek, I read the fables of sorrow, and
weariness, and disgust with mankind, and a longing after solitude.

“And the man sat upon the rock, and leaned his head upon his hand, and
looked out upon the desolation. He looked down into the low unquiet
shrubbery, and up into the tall primeval trees, and up higher at the
rustling heaven, and into the crimson moon. And I lay close within
shelter of the lilies, and observed the actions of the man. And the man
trembled in the solitude;–but the night waned, and he sat upon the
rock.

“And the man turned his attention from the heaven, and looked out upon
the dreary river Zäire, and upon the yellow ghastly waters, and upon the
pale legions of the water-lilies. And the man listened to the sighs of
the water-lilies, and to the murmur that came up from among them. And I
lay close within my covert and observed the actions of the man. And the
man trembled in the solitude;–but the night waned, and he sat upon the
rock.

“Then I went down into the recesses of the morass, and waded afar in
among the wilderness of the lilies, and called unto the hippopotami
which dwelt among the fens in the recesses of the morass. And the
hippopotami heard my call, and came, with the behemoth, unto the foot of
the rock, and roared loudly and fearfully beneath the moon. And I lay
close within my covert and observed the actions of the man. And the man
trembled in the solitude;–but the night waned, and he sat upon the
rock.

“Then I cursed the elements with the curse of tumult; and a frightful
tempest gathered in the heaven, where before there had been no wind. And
the heaven became livid with the violence of the tempest–and the rain
beat upon the head of the man–and the floods of the river came
down–and the river was tormented into foam–and the water-lilies
shrieked within their beds–and the forest crumbled before the wind–and
the thunder rolled–and the lightning fell–and the rock rocked to its
foundation. And I lay close within my covert and observed the actions of
the man. And the man trembled in the solitude;–but the night waned, and
he sat upon the rock.

“Then I grew angry and cursed, with the curse of silence, the river, and
the lilies, and the wind, and the forest, and the heaven, and the
thunder, and the sighs of the water-lilies. And they became accursed,
and _were still._ And the moon ceased to totter up its pathway to
heaven–and the thunder died away–and the lightning did not flash–and
the clouds hung motionless–and the waters sunk to their level and
remained–and the trees ceased to rock–and the water-lilies sighed no
more–and the murmur was heard no longer from among them, nor any shadow
of sound throughout the vast illimitable desert. And I looked upon the
characters of the rock, and they were changed;–and the characters were
SILENCE.

“And mine eyes fell upon the countenance of the man, and his countenance
was wan with terror. And, hurriedly, he raised his head from his hand,
and stood forth upon the rock and listened. But there was no voice
throughout the vast illimitable desert, and the characters upon the rock
were SILENCE. And the man shuddered, and turned his face away, and fled
afar off, in haste, so that I beheld him no more.”

Now there are fine tales in the volumes of the Magi–in the iron-bound,
melancholy volumes of the Magi. Therein, I say, are glorious histories
of the Heaven, and of the Earth, and of the mighty Sea–and of the Genii
that overruled the sea, and the earth, and the lofty heaven. There was
much lore, too, in the sayings which were said by the sybils; and holy,
holy things were heard of old by the dim leaves that trembled around
Dodona–but, as Allah liveth, that fable which the demon told me as he
sat by my side in the shadow of the tomb, I hold to be the most
wonderful of all! And as the Demon made an end of his story, he fell
back within the cavity of the tomb and laughed. And I could not laugh
with the Demon, and he cursed me because I could not laugh. And the lynx
which dwelleth forever in the tomb, came out therefrom, and lay down at
the feet of the Demon, and looked at him steadily in the face.
 

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