The superheated canopy that promised All would see the filthy Sun-flayed deeds As if the whole world were a plasma screen And every messy murder by jihadist Or pensioned soldier had 10 billion hits And made some kind of sense, some difference, But not a whit: only blood and cum and tears Irrigated these new deserts. And rumours Started of a dark world, of a hemisphere Where no Sun shone, where purple flowers bloomed Under the Moon, and water rained from stars And books were read again in pallid light And eyes found rest and limbs relaxed and lips Remembered how to kiss, and they filled ships And boats and rafts and paddled, rowed and sailed To the horizon over sunken seas That trickled to bed-rock and ocean cave And ripp’d their keels from under them and still The Sun refused to move and burned their bones Clean through their flesh to chalk and calcium; All Earth was but one thought—and that was death. The world was void, a famished, loveless coal, Shadowless, seasonless, treeless, manless, Womanless, childless, lifeless, hopeless, A nub of death—a tablet of baked clay. The rivers, lakes and oceans were no more, And nothing stirr’d on scalded ocean floor, Nor predator, nor scudding prey, nor scavenger, Nor carrion relieved the blankness of dead land; No breeze could shift, no thermal lift, no light Relent, no passing cloud provide relief; The Sun stared down with hateful eye upon The bleaching scene and never blinked and never Glanced away and never let night take the place Of day.
The poem seems to have begun as an act of translation, but there are more lines in your version — did it take on a life of its own?
I decided a couple of years ago that I would ‘reverse’ Byron’s poem ‘Darkness’ for my new book ‘Sunspots’. I love the original but because my book is about light and the Sun’s presence (and occasional absence) it seemed fitting to take the form and structure of Byron’s poem and see if I could outdo its apocalyptic vision of a world without the Sun by creating a world where the Sun did not shift from its noontime zenith. It was a game and an act of love, really.
How long had you actually known the Byron poem?
A friend showed me the Byron poem back in 2011 as I was embarking on my ‘Sunspots’ project. I have never been a particular fan of Byron but this poem blew me away. I decided there and then that I would write this ‘inside-out’ version. It was three years before I tackled it, although I did write a mini-essay about it here http:// www.writershub.co.uk/poetry-piece.php?pc=1499
Have you ever played the same game with other poems?
I have played with imitations and pastiches in the past, particularly with John Berryman’s ‘Dream Songs’ and, again in ‘Sunspots’, a couple of speeches from Shakespeare’s ‘Richard II’ (which is also a play obsessed with light and power).