Here, you’ll find an analysis of the poem “Darkness” by Lord Byron, including a breakdown of the stanzas, an insight into the speaker + voice of the poem, and an exploration of the themes and deeper meanings. This is only a quick overview to help you get to grips with the poem; you can access a full in-depth breakdown of the poem below:
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The speaker says that he had a dream, but it wasn’t completely a dream (some of it is true). The sun went out and the stars darkened in the night sky. They had no rays or movement and the Earth became icy, it swung about in the air without a moon to guide it, growing darker. Mornings still happened but they brought no daylight, and men forgot the things they cared about in the destruction, everyone started praying selfishly for light, instead of for each other. And people did live by fire, but to make fire they had to consume the world: they started with palaces and huts, all types of houses were burned to make beacons and cities were destroyed. Men were able to look into each other’s faces when they gathered round the fire, but eventually, the fires went out and only darkness was left. So then they burned forests, and destroyed those too. In the sad and desperate light, men stopped looking human, some lay down and cried, others smiled and others hurried around collecting things to burn on these funeral piles (because they knew they were dying), looking up madly to the dark sky which seemed like the covering cloth on a coffin. They degenerated into anger, cursing and howling while birds shrieked and fluttered on the ground. Wild animals became tame and frightened, snakes slithered into the mass of humans but they were harmless so people cooked and ate them for food. War, for a moment, didn’t exist but then he came back as food became scarce and meals were bought with blood. There was no love, the whole world could only think of death. As people starved, they turned to cannibalism and ate the entrails of the dead, even dogs ate their masters: except one. He guarded his master’s dead body from others, starving himself until with a final lick of his master’s hand to see whether he could revive him, he died too. Crowds disappeared, but two people survived – and they were enemies. They met at an altar where holy objects were piled up in an unholy way, and with their skeletal hands tried to rekindle the fire that had been there – they managed to make a tiny flame that was a mockery, completely pointless, by this light they saw each other’s faces for one last time, before they both died. The world was empty.
The speaker delivers a dramatic monologue – a dramatic speech – in a prophetic tone, almost as if the poem is a forewarning of the worst that humanity is capable of; by reminding us of these dark aspects of ourselves we are able to work hard to make sure that this type of world never becomes a reality. Though this is based on a real-life historical event in the summer of 1816 (see the context for more info), the exploration of how humans react to hysteria and how physical suffering can cause psychological darkness remains true at any difficult time.
- Darkness vs Light
- Civilisation vs Savagery
- Wealth and materialism
Thanks for reading! If you find this document useful, check out the full analysis of this poem, which includes but is not limited to:
- Key Quotations
- Language Feature Analysis
- Form and Structure Analysis
- Attitudes + Messages