The Hecatean Ides; or, The Dark Spirit of Shelleyan Solitude

Worlds on worlds are rolling ever
From creation to decay,
Like the bubbles on a river
Sparkling, bursting, borne away.
— Percy Bysshe Shelley

In my mind’s eye I find
Deep liminality
Within a single beam
Of incorporeal light

Diaphanous, ghost-like,
Untouched and unearthly
As death to the living,
Yet it is alive, watching
Its changeless nature
With otherworldly eyes

Seeing the visionary unseen
Beneath lustral waters imparadised,
As if in a dreamless sleep
Deep, deep beneath still glassy seas
Of Speculum Dianae

And yet do I dream a dream of death
Or wake to sleep the sleep of dreams?

No, no, wake me not
From this beautiful dark side,
This tragedy of two stories
Lost within a single sunrise:
Goodbye, night-waters, adieu,
Darkness illumed by glamouries
Of Claude’s Enchanted Castle blue

An amethystine liminality
Between Alician wonderment
And my own reality,
Sinking deeper, deeper
Beneath still glassy seas,
Between the dark and the light
I find a luciferous night-world
Of fire and ice

In my desire to die by fire
I breathe deep to drink this sleep
Beneath still glassy seas,
Sinking deeper, deeper
Until I achieve what I sought to seek:
Drowning in liquid white-fire
I find desire in what lies beneath

Capturing the Moon’s silver beams
Upon these still glassy seas,
I feel myself glisten
Like the skin of a pearl,
Lost in another world
Within a once molten caldera,
A lava-lake, sulfur-eyed
With Venusian cloud-lightnings
Of ashen light

Do I embrace this illumined dark side
Upon the crescent of the evening sky?

As I bathe in this lustral stream
Of argent electricity,
I become the vision, the ghost,
The murmurous apparition
Of the immortal’s sleep

A disembodied deception
Floating deep beneath,
Its chorus of voiceless voices
Are like echoes of my own
Interlunar music

But are these echoes of my dark spirit
Or light of the sea-changed illuminist?

And I listen deeply,
Sinking deeper, deeper beneath
These still glassy seas,
Here, among the Alban Hills,
Beneath ruins and Arician trees
Sacred to Diana of Nemi

And still I listen deeply
To these voiceless voices, melodies
In a C-sharp minor key,
A prelude to the dark times unseen
Written quasi una fantasia,
Inspiring a kindred piece
In a posthumous fantaisie

Mournful triplet rhythms
For a three-fold divinity:

Diana the divine huntress,
Diana the moon goddess,
Diana of the underworld

The Roman Triple Goddess
As Diana Triformis

Within her tripartite unity
I begin to see a vision
Of an Italianate scene:

Upon a ruined Etruscan shrine
I see, with otherworldly eyes,
Garlanded beasts, hunting dogs wreathed
With flowery blooms, a white-fire moon
Cold in the sky, sublime,
Alive and watching
Candled ghost-lights and kingly sacrifice
Of the Hecatean Ides

Am I under a spell of nostalgia
Or a phantasmagoria vision
Of Diana’s Nemoralia?

No, no, tell me nothing, nothing,
What’s past is past, no more, nothing —
Ghosts of ghosts, echoes of echoes,
Nothing more than a memory
Inescapable as the light,
The spiritual remembrance
Of a past life, quenched at last
When to breathe deep was to drink
The dream-persuading hypnotic:
Lethean, Nepenthean,
An opiating bliss to the spirit
That craves its mortal relic

And as I gaze and gaze
Into this mirror-like lake,
As if looking into a glass darkly,
I begin to see the tracings
Of a familiar face

And as I gaze and gaze
I recognize what used to be mine —
I recognize its eyes, changed,
Embraced by this beautiful dark side
Untouched by decay

Stay a while, it says to me
With a metaphysical smile,
How beautiful, how lovely,
Othering me in ecstasies
With its voiceless voice
Of luciferous light

In its voice of bubbling silver
I become seen by the unseen,
Known to the unknown —
A glimpse into the mirror
Of Narcissus’s dream:
Stay a while, my lovely,
How beautiful you are.
And as I gaze into it,
It gazes into me —
I recognize myself,
A distorted likeness, obscure,
A grave-like elegance captured
In phantasmal portraiture


Before you reached beneath
The uncreated Deep,
You first met me, your own image,
Floating upon Asturian seas—
Do you remember the silence
Of the unseen? Do you remember me?
Look deep, deep into my eyes—
Do you see? Do you recognize
The sublime memory
Of your beautiful dark side?
Yes, you walked with the darkness,
Held its cold hand in the pale hour,
Whispered flowers that withered
Upon the quiet empty air.
Yes, I was there, I walked with you
Through regret and despair,
Through Hope’s betrayal
At the Temple of Diana,
The marbled Four Winds, hand in hand
With that serpentine lamia,
Reading to you with false smiles,
Feeding you spiced wine with lies
And illusions of happiness
Beguiled by her snake-charméd eyes—
No, it was I, my eyes alone
Followed you like a ghost,
Unseen and unknown,
Reflected in the south lake
You almost caught my gaze,
I walked with you, side by side,
Through the woodland gardens
Toward the sea-god fountain
Where Atlas held the celestial sky,
Suns and moons and unknown worlds
Bubbling in effervescent dreams,
Where life gathers among death
When the darkness was conceived —
And yet, touched by the presence
That seemed the West Wind’s gentle breeze,
Sweet Zephyrus, bringing hope and spring,
It was in reality the cold kiss
Of unforgiving Boreas
Presaging your winter tempests,
Storms of the mind, lingering
In chasms of both dark and light,
Between your desires to die
In passions of eternal hope,
Or to find what waits unchanged
On the other side,
An inextinguishable fire,
A quenchless atmosphere
Unnatural as despair and hate
Of the self-loathing mind:
Do you welcome my embrace
Of the deep’s glistening sea-change?
Do I exist as I am perceived?
Or do you see the unseen
Between life and death
In a liminality unique
Each to each?
But look deeper, deeper
Into this uncreated Deep —
Do you see? Do you recognize?
It was I, and I alone,
Still unseen, still unknown,
Alive within the mind’s eye
Following you from room to room
Until within my darkest light
You were consumed —
Goodbye, beloved, adieu,
Remember, when you walk with the darkness,
The darkness walks with you.

But is self-eclipse what I seek?
Am I listening to visions
Of my mind’s eye or spirit-speak?

No, no, I know nothing,
I feel nothing, I am nothing —
I am the unseen,
I am the unknown.
Always and ever
Alone, alone, alone

Sinking deeper, deeper
Into despair’s self-questionings,
I long to be freed from desires
To receive the answering fire

But as I slip deeper, deeper
Beneath these still glassy seas,
This luciferous night-world
Where my dark spirit glistens
Like the skin of a pearl,
Where my bones metamorphose
To breathing sea-coral,
I begin to float upon
Bubbling foam of animated light

From the deeps they rise
Embracing me with an atmosphere
Of planetary spheres,
Each alive and watching
With noctilucent eyes

Each a world not yet realized,
World upon world, a creation
Of perfect impermanence
In perilous effervescence

In full abysmal fathoms do I lie,
Or do I wake to sleep, or live to die?

No, no, wake me not
From this beautiful dark side,
This tragedy of two stories
Lost within a single sunrise:
Goodbye, night-waters, adieu,
To become only one
When once there were two —
Consumed, seduced
By the dark spirit
Of solitude.

[Clay Franklin Johnson is a writer, amateur pianist, devoted animal lover, and incorrigible reader of Gothic literature & Romantic-era poetry. Clay is the author of A Ride Through Faerie & Other Poems (2021), an illustrated collection of poetry published by Gothic Keats Press in honor of John Keats on the bicentennial year of his tragic death in 1821. Find out more on his website at or follow him on Twitter @ClayFJohnson.]