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The Dream of Eugene Aram -- Thomas Hood

Winding up the theme...
(Poem #720) The Dream of Eugene Aram
 'Twas in the prime of summer-time
 An evening calm and cool,
 And four-and-twenty happy boys
 Came bounding out of school:
 There were some that ran and some that leapt,
 Like troutlets in a pool.

 Away they sped with gamesome minds,
 And souls untouched by sin;
 To a level mead they came, and there
 They drave the wickets in:
 Pleasantly shone the setting sun
 Over the town of Lynn.

 Like sportive deer they coursed about,
 And shouted as they ran,--
 Turning to mirth all things of earth,
 As only boyhood can;
 But the Usher sat remote from all,
 A melancholy man!

 His hat was off, his vest apart,
 To catch heaven's blessed breeze;
 For a burning thought was in his brow,
 And his bosom ill at ease:
 So he leaned his head on his hands, and read
 The book upon his knees!

 Leaf after leaf he turned it o'er
 Nor ever glanced aside,
 For the peace of his soul he read that book
 In the golden eventide:
 Much study had made him very lean,
 And pale, and leaden-eyed.

 At last he shut the pond'rous tome,
 With a fast and fervent grasp
 He strained the dusky covers close,
 And fixed the brazen hasp;
 "Oh, God! could I so close my mind,
 And clasp it with a clasp!"

 Then leaping on his feet upright,
 Some moody turns he took,--
 Now up the mead, then down the mead,
 And past a shady nook,--
 And lo! he saw a little boy
 That pored upon a book.

 "My gentle lad, what is't you read --
 Romance or fairy fable?
 Or is it some historic page,
 Of kings and crowns unstable?"
 The young boy gave an upward glance,--
 "It is 'The Death of Abel.'"

 The Usher took six hasty strides,
 As smit with sudden pain, --
 Six hasty strides beyond the place,
 Then slowly back again;
 And down he sat beside the lad,
 And talked with him of Cain;

 And, long since then, of bloody men,
 Whose deeds tradition saves;
 Of lonely folks cut off unseen,
 And hid in sudden graves;
 Of horrid stabs, in groves forlorn,
 And murders done in caves;

 And how the sprites of injured men
 Shriek upward from the sod. --
 Ay, how the ghostly hand will point
 To show the burial clod:
 And unknown facts of guilty acts
 Are seen in dreams from God!

 He told how murderers walk the earth
 Beneath the curse of Cain, --
 With crimson clouds before their eyes,
 And flames about their brain:
 For blood has left upon their souls
 Its everlasting stain!

 "And well," quoth he, "I know for truth,
 Their pangs must be extreme, --
 Woe, woe, unutterable woe, --
 Who spill life's sacred stream!
 For why, Methought last night I wrought
 A murder, in a dream!

 One that had never done me wrong --
 A feeble man and old;
 I led him to a lonely field,
 The moon shone clear and cold:
 Now here, said I, this man shall die,
 And I will have his gold!

 "Two sudden blows with a ragged stick,
 And one with a heavy stone,
 One hurried gash with a hasty knife, --
 And then the deed was done:
 There was nothing lying at my foot
 But lifeless flesh and bone!

 "Nothing but lifeless flesh and bone,
 That could not do me ill;
 And yet I feared him all the more,
 For lying there so still:
 There was a manhood in his look,
 That murder could not kill!"

 "And lo! the universal air
 Seemed lit with ghastly flame;
 Ten thousand thousand dreadful eyes
 Were looking down in blame:
 I took the dead man by his hand,
 And called upon his name!

 "O God! it made me quake to see
 Such sense within the slain!
 But when I touched the lifeless clay,
 The blood gushed out amain!
 For every clot, a burning spot
 Was scorching in my brain!

 "My head was like an ardent coal,
 My heart as solid ice;
 My wretched, wretched soul, I knew,
 Was at the Devil's price:
 A dozen times I groaned: the dead
 Had never groaned but twice!

 "And now, from forth the frowning sky,
 From the Heaven's topmost height,
 I heard a voice -- the awful voice
 Of the blood-avenging sprite --
 'Thou guilty man! take up thy dead
 And hide it from my sight!'

 "I took the dreary body up,
 And cast it in a stream, --
 A sluggish water, black as ink,
 The depth was so extreme:
 My gentle boy, remember this
 Is nothing but a dream!

 "Down went the corse with a hollow plunge,
 And vanished in the pool;
 Anon I cleansed my bloody hands,
 And washed my forehead cool,
 And sat among the urchins young,
 That evening in the school.

 "Oh, Heaven! to think of their white souls,
 And mine so black and grim!
 I could not share in childish prayer,
 Nor join in Evening Hymn:
 Like a Devil of the Pit I seemed,
 'Mid holy Cherubim!

 "And peace went with them, one and all,
 And each calm pillow spread;
 But Guilt was my grim Chamberlain
 That lighted me to bed;
 And drew my midnight curtains round
 With fingers bloody red!

 "All night I lay in agony,
 In anguish dark and deep,
 My fevered eyes I dared not close,
 But stared aghast at Sleep:
 For Sin had rendered unto her
 The keys of Hell to keep!

 "All night I lay in agony,
 From weary chime to chime,
 With one besetting horrid hint,
 That racked me all the time;
 A mighty yearning, like the first
 Fierce impulse unto crime!

 "One stern, tyrannic thought, that made
 All other thoughts its slave;
 Stronger and stronger every pulse
 Did that temptation crave, --
 Still urging me to go and see
 The Dead Man in his grave!

 "Heavily I rose up, as soon
 As light was in the sky,
 And sought the black accursèd pool
 With a wild misgiving eye:
 And I saw the Dead in the river-bed,
 For the faithless stream was dry.

 "Merrily rose the lark, and shook
 The dewdrop from its wing;
 But I never marked its morning flight,
 I never heard it sing:
 For I was stooping once again
 Under the horrid thing.

 "With breathless speed, like a soul in chase,
 I took him up and ran;
 There was no time to dig a grave
 Before the day began:
 In a lonesome wood, with heaps of leaves,
 I hid the murdered man!

 "And all that day I read in school,
 But my thought was otherwhere;
 As soon as the midday task was done,
 In secret I went there:
 And a mighty wind had swept the leaves,
 And still the corpse was bare!

 "Then down I cast me on my face,
 And first began to weep,
 For I knew my secret then was one
 That earth refused to keep:
 Or land, or sea, though he should be
 Ten thousand fathoms deep.

 "So wills the fierce avenging Sprite,
 Till blood for blood atones!
 Ay, though he's buried in a cave,
 And trodden down with stones,
 And years have rotted off his flesh, --
 The world shall see his bones!

 "Oh God! that horrid, horrid dream
 Besets me now awake!
 Again--again, with dizzy brain,
 The human life I take:
 And my red right hand grows raging hot,
 Like Cranmer's at the stake.

 "And still no peace for the restless clay,
 Will wave or mould allow;
 The horrid thing pursues my soul --
 It stands before me now!"
 The fearful Boy looked up, and saw
 Huge drops upon his brow.

 That very night while gentle sleep
 The urchin's eyelids kissed,
 Two stern-faced men set out from Lynn,
 Through the cold and heavy mist;
 And Eugene Aram walked between,
 With gyves upon his wrist.
-- Thomas Hood

  Aram, Eugene (1704-59), English philologist, b. Yorkshire.
  A self-taught linguist, Aram was the first to identify the Celtic
  languages as related to the other languages of Europe. In 1758, while at
  work on an Anglo-Celtic lexicon, he was arrested and later hanged for the
  murder 14 years earlier of his friend Daniel Clark. The story of his
  crime inspired Thomas Hood's poem The Dream of Eugene Aram, and
  Bulwer-Lytton's novel Eugene Aram.

A long poem, but a delightful one. Having the protagonist cast his
confession in the form of a dream was an inspired decision, and fits well
the slightly fevered tone of the poem, as does his catching hold of the
fearful boy in a manner reminiscent of Coleridge's 'Ancient Mariner'.

'Eugene Aram' is definitely my favourite among the poems run in this week's
theme - with its gripping story, clever framing device and effortless
execution it certainly deserves a place in any list of great narrative
poems. And it is surely not Hood's fault that the poem's atmosphere of
solemn eeriness was somewhat spoilt for me by a chance resemblance to 'The
Walrus and the Carpenter', any more than it is Dickinson's fault that people
keep trying to sing her poems to The Yellow Rose of Texas <g>.


  For the full and fascinating story of Eugene Aram, see
    [broken link]

  Biography of Hood:
    poem #251

  We've run several Hood poems on minstrels:
    Poem #251 No!
    Poem #512 Silence
    Poem #672 Death


  For some reason, Wooster could never quite remember Eugene Aram's name -
  he quotes it "and tumty tumty walked between with gyves upon his wrist"
  (someone please post the full quote).

  Here are some other poems that would have fitted into the theme (thanks to
  Thomas for helping round them up):
    Poem #12,  "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer", John Keats
    Poem #133, "Song, from Pippa Passes", Robert Browning
    Poem #146, "Trees", Joyce Kilmer
    Poem #153, "Abou Ben Adhem", James Leigh Hunt
    Poem #316, "Ode to a Nightingale", John Keats

  And, for completeness' sake, the theme summary:
    Poem #715, "The Blessed Damozel", Dante Gabriel Rossetti
    Poem #717, "The Wreck of the Hesperus", Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
    Poem #718, "The Destruction of Sennacherib", George Gordon, Lord Byron
    Poem #719, "Loch Lomond", Lady John Scott
    Poem #720, "The Dream of Eugene Aram", Thomas Hood

  And some other Wodehouse-related poems
    Poem #353, "P. G. Wooster, Just as he Useter", Ogden Nash
    Poem #179, "Missed", P. G. Wodehouse
    Poem #408, "Caliban at Sunset", P. G. Wodehouse

  Also, Thomas beat me to the post with this one, but I'll repeat it anyway:
  There's a Wodehouse song collection at
    [broken link]
  "an attempt by the good folks at to collect the text of
  all the songs that P.G.,Wodehouse makes cursory references to in his


20 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Dean McManus said...


This poem, The Dream of Eugene Aram, has a special significance to me. My father, a
World War II veteran, memorized it while in the service. I first read it among other poems in a book on narrative poems. At the age of ten, I read and memorized it and still know it today verbatim. People couldn't believe that I had it memorized so I would recite it to them and they would look at me in disbelief, possibly thinking that I must have actually murdered someone! I was just checking to make sure it was posted correctly!

Anyway, I didn't know until now that Eugene Aram was a real person and that the murder described in the poem had actually taken place. This poem is really well-written although the language is archaic. When I was in college, I found the poem in a book at the university library but the verse which starts "All night I lay in agony from weary chime to chime" was omitted. I don't know why. Thanks for posting it a giving others the chance to read great poetry!

Best regards,
Dean McManus

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