In the 1830s, a man named William Miller was causing as stir, much like gripped the world in the millennium, and again for 2012. And about once every other year or so now. An American Baptist preacher, he spread a message of the Second Coming of Christ (and ultimately the arrival Judgement Day), which another preacher announced would come on October 22nd, 1844. With the benefit of hindsight, his movement is perhaps better known, now, as The Great Disappointment. The existence of The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion is evidence of how much momentum Miller’s influence gained, however: written to cash in on that popular idea of the apocalypse, the great American literary icon Edgar Allen Poe wrote a short story about what would happen at the end of days.
Why read The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion?
It’s almost two centuries old, but The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion has all the hallmarks of the apocalyptic tales that still pervade popular culture. It works almost as a blueprint, or a summary, of society’s general reaction to a coming catastrophe. There’s denial, panic, a recognition of failure – and of course lots of wailing. It presents a world that has already been destroyed, through the reflections of two souls in an afterlife plane. The language is archaic, with the odd verb reversal, but it’s as potent (and conceivable) a tale of worldwide destruction as any modern effort.
As an older text, The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion is outside copyright, so I have made it available to read on this site. You can start reading it below (continued onto a second page because it’s a bit long for one blog post), or you can click the link to download a PDF copy.
The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion
by Edgar Allan Poe
I will bring fire to thee. —Euripides Andiom.
EIROS. Why do you call me Eiros?
CHARMION. So henceforth will you always be called. You must forget, too, my earthly name, and speak to me as Charmion.
EIROS. This is indeed no dream!
CHARMION. Dreams are with us no more; but of these mysteries anon. I rejoice to see you looking like-life and rational. The film of the shadow has already passed from off your eyes. Be of heart and fear nothing. Your allotted days of stupor have expired; and, to-morrow, I will myself induct you into the full joys and wonders of your novel existence.
EIROS. True, I feel no stupor, none at all. The wild sickness and the terrible darkness have left me, and I hear no longer that mad, rushing, horrible sound, like the “voice of many waters.” Yet my senses are bewildered, Charmion, with the keenness of their perception of the new.
CHARMION. A few days will remove all this;- but I fully understand you, and feel for you. It is now ten earthly years since I underwent what you undergo, yet the remembrance of it hangs by me still. You have now suffered all of pain, however, which you will suffer in Aidenn.
EIROS. In Aidenn?
CHARMION. In Aidenn.
EIROS. Oh, God!- pity me, Charmion!- I am overburthened with the majesty of all things- of the unknown now known- of the speculative Future merged in the august and certain Present.
CHARMION. Grapple not now with such thoughts. Tomorrow we will speak of this. Your mind wavers, and its agitation will find relief in the exercise of simple memories. Look not around, nor forward- but back. I am burning with anxiety to hear the details of that stupendous event which threw you among us. Tell me of it. Let us converse of familiar things, in the old familiar language of the world which has so fearfully perished.
EIROS. Most fearfully, fearfully!- this is indeed no dream.
CHARMION. Dreams are no more. Was I much mourned, my Eiros?
EIROS. Mourned, Charmion?- oh deeply. To that last hour of all, there hung a cloud of intense gloom and devout sorrow over your household.
CHARMION. And that last hour- speak of it. Remember that, beyond the naked fact of the catastrophe itself, I know nothing. When, coming out from among mankind, I passed into Night through the Grave- at that period, if I remember aright, the calamity which overwhelmed you was utterly unanticipated. But, indeed, I knew little of the speculative philosophy of the day.
EIROS. The individual calamity was, as you say, entirely unanticipated; but analogous misfortunes had been long a subject of discussion with astronomers. I need scarce tell you, my friend, that, even when you left us, men had agreed to understand those passages in the most holy writings which speak of the final destruction of all things by fire, as having reference to the orb of the earth alone. But in regard to the immediate agency of the ruin, speculation had been at fault from that epoch in astronomical knowledge in which the comets were divested of the terrors of flame. The very moderate density of these bodies had been well established. They had been observed to pass among the satellites of Jupiter, without bringing about any sensible alteration either in the masses or in the orbits of these secondary planets. We had long regarded the wanderers as vapory creations of inconceivable tenuity, and as altogether incapable of doing injury to our substantial globe, even in the event of contact. But contact was not in any degree dreaded; for the elements of all the comets were accurately known. That among them we should look for the agency of the threatened fiery destruction had been for many years considered an inadmissible idea. But wonders and wild fancies had been, of late days, strangely rife among mankind; and although it was only with a few of the ignorant that actual apprehension prevailed, upon the announcement by astronomers of a new comet, yet this announcement was generally received with I know not what of agitation and mistrust.
The elements of the strange orb were immediately calculated, and it was at once conceded by all observers, that its path, at perihelion, would bring it into very close proximity with the earth. There were two or three astronomers, of secondary note, who resolutely maintained that a contact was inevitable. I cannot very well express to you the effect of this intelligence upon the people. For a few short days they would not believe an assertion which their intellect, so long employed among worldly considerations, could not in any manner grasp. But the truth of a vitally important fact soon makes its way into the understanding of even the most stolid. Finally, all men saw that astronomical knowledge lied not, and they awaited the comet. Its approach was not, at first, seemingly rapid; nor was its appearance of very unusual character. It was of a dull red, and had little perceptible train. For seven or eight days we saw no material increase in its apparent diameter, and but a partial alteration in its color. Meantime the ordinary affairs of men were discarded, and all interests absorbed in a growing discussion, instituted by the philosophic, in respect to the cometary nature. Even the grossly ignorant aroused their sluggish capacities to such considerations. The learned now gave their intellect- their soul- to no such points as the allaying of fear, or to the sustenance of loved theory. They sought- they panted for right views. They groaned for perfected knowledge. Truth arose in the purity of her strength and exceeding majesty, and the wise bowed down and adored.