The Faithful but Fated Dog
"Darkness" is a word which is at the same time both dreadful and evocative. This is the one word Lord Byron chooses as the title for his poem. It is a fitting description of Byron's chilling, but powerful, poem, "Darkness". "Darkness" is a foreboding tale depicting the end of life on earth. Byron's emotional and descriptive diction and imagery create the tone and setting in which the world comes to an end. It is an end most completely embodied in one small passage about a dog, which shows the keen link between Byron and the other Romantic poets.
"Darkness" is begun with the line "I had a dream, which was not all a dream." The initial impression struck by the word, "dream", is one of inconsequence and a generally positive feeling. The second half of the line denies and repudiates the first by claiming that it "was not all a dream". With these words an atmosphere of foreboding is created and heightened all the more by its contrast with the initial feeling. From this point forward, darkness and fear reign supreme. Such words as "wander", "rayless", and "pathless" are used to describe the stars and create a sense of despair and hopelessness. The word "extinguished" is used multiple times in describing both the sun and later for the loss of fire. Men first give "selfish prayer" and later cast their eyes downward with "curses". Both of these words portray the close ties to a religious setting or event. The most obvious of the religious ties is line 46 in which, "The meager by the meager were devoured". The ironic parallel to the Biblical belief that the meek shall inherit the earth is clear. The meek, or in this case the meager, shall inherit the destruction through their own death and consumption.
This appalling prospect of death and destruction is revealed throughout "Darkness" by the primary images of darkness, fire, the death of two enemies, and the dog attending his master. The first and last images of the poem are naturally of aimless, uncaring darkness. The first action of the poem is the extinguishing of the sun and the culmination is that of "Darkness" becoming the "Universe". The darkness is a direct contrast with the life-giving fire, so desperately sought and kindled by man. However, the ultimate hope vested in the fire must perish through the nature of both man and fire itself. Man kindles the fire and sets ablaze all his earthly constructs, but to no avail. Inevitably, it consumes all and destroys itself. Thus, it was a false hope. The same despair and false hope can be seen in the other important images of the poem. The two enemies who come together as the sole survivors of a city do not recognize each other or present any hostility. This peace is also short-lived. With the sight of "their mutual hideousness they died". Thus, the hope of peace died a quick and inevitable death caused by the "Famine" and "Darkness", which had stamped and transformed their visages to the deadly hideousness. This bleak destiny is observed in the portrayal of the loyal dog as well. After staunchly defending his master, the dog too dies with a "quick desolate cry".
The dog is an important observation on life and death by Byron. Like other Romantic poets, Byron was drawn to a passionate disregard for the world and society. The Byronic hero is thus molded from that appreciation for rebellion and passion. In Darkness, the faithful dog has many similarities to the typical Byronic hero. He lives strictly according to a simple and fateful code. He must be faithful to his master, though it drives him to his own inevitable doom. This same devotion and faithfulness to a true love is of great importance to any Byronic hero. This faith he will never betray. Inflexibly, he pursues his mission against any and all opposition, regardless of size or might. This, coupled to the dread inspired by his obliviousness to the inherent doom, is the lure and power of the Byronic hero, and in this case the faithful but fated dog.
The faithful but fated dog is the embodiment of Byron's philosophy of life and the fate of the world. "Darkness" is, in Byron's eyes, the only possible outcome of life and the world itself. This oblivion is both painful and inevitable. It is not, however, approached from a fatalistic standpoint. Simply because it is to be, does not mean either the dog or Byron is willing to abandon his ardent devotion to an ideal. This unremitting passion allied to an ever-present, but concealed, terror was a powerful lure to the Romantic poets and was most thoroughly explored and portrayed by Byron.
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