Axidava

The March Of The Shadows

I went to see my friend in the hospital. He had been there a month, with a bad foot. His only locomotion was being lifted from his chair to his bed and back.

When I called I found him sitting in the twilight looking out of the west window.

“Why in the dark?” I inquired.

“Don’t light the light,” he said. “Come and sit down. I am tired of reading. I have been now five hours in this chair.

“I am watching the March of the Shadows.

“Look! They are filling the street, crawling all over the houses, rubbing out the sharp outlines of the picture everywhere.

“Men are attacking with street-lamps, but it is useless. They only make stronger shadows.

“The dark is oozing over the sky. It has faded all the red and yellow clouds into a dull lead.

“Shadows! The unconquerable shadows! Before them the roaring city becomes still. The streets empty. Men flee, take refuge a little while under artificial light, then surrender and — sleep. Darkness at last has its way with us.

“All the human race, all but a thin edge, inhabit Shadow land. Only about a billion are alive. Billions and billions have disappeared into oblivion. The mighty Past is all Shadow.

“Think of it! Kings and bishops and conquerors, poets and lovers and adventurers, all so eternally quiet now, in that soundless land. The Magnificent Ones — great Caesar, Timour and Rameses, Napoleon and French Louis — are but dim shapes against the dimmer background of unremembered myriads.

“See! The Shadows invade my room. They are under the bed, behind the wardrobe, and huddle in every corner.

“As the rim of night creeps over the earth, so the rim of oblivion creeps over history. This fringe of light, the Present, continually drops off into the twilight Past. All that exists is steadily being precipitated into the non-existent.

“Shadows invade the mind. We forget. Ah! we forget! Loves, hopes, work, beauty, pain, all drop and flutter down, like leaves, into the indistinguishable mold.

“The Shadows swallow the creeds. What men once fought over they now smile at, or forget.

“The Shadows invade our bodies. The teeth go, eyes dim, legs weaken — we are on our way back to dust. Pilgrims of the Night!

“The Shadows! They are so silent and so inevitable.”

“Not a very cheerful mood you’re in,” I said.

“Come, come,” he answered, “do not intrude your cheap optimism of health upon the exquisite melancholy of sickness. There are moods when tears are far sweeter than laughter.

“The March of the Shadows is not without a certain imperial beauty. And tenderness, too. Is not forgetful Death like a great mothering bird gathering her troubled fledglings to her soft-feathered bosom?

“There is a beautiful passage in Landor’s Æsop and Rhodope’ that I recall:

“‘There are no fields of amaranth on this side of the grave; there are no voices, O Rhodope, that are not soon mute, however tuneful; there is no name, with whatever emphasis of passionate love repeated, of which the echo is not faint at last.'”

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