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The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion

I will bring fire to thee.

_Euripides - Androm:_

EIROS.

WHY do you call me Eiros?

CHARMION

So henceforward 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 life-like 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. To-morrow 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 every where 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 accustomedthoughts. 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
fulfilment, 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
towards 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.

Edgar Allan Poe