Queen Mab, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

To Harriet ——.

Whose is the love that gleaming through the world,

Wards off the poisonous arrow of its scorn?

Whose is the warm and partial praise,

Virtue’s most sweet reward?

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Beneath whose looks did my reviving soul

Riper in truth and virtuous daring grow?

Whose eyes have I gazed fondly on,

And loved mankind the more?

HARRIET! on thine:— thou wert my purer mind;

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Thou wert the inspiration of my song;

Thine are these early wilding flowers,

Though garlanded by me.

Then press into thy breast this pledge of love;

And know, though time may change and years may roll,

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Each floweret gathered in my heart

It consecrates to thine.

Queen Mab.

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How wonderful is Death,

Death and his brother Sleep!

One, pale as yonder waning moon

With lips of lurid blue;

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The other, rosy as the morn

When throned on ocean’s wave

It blushes o’er the world:

Yet both so passing wonderful!

Hath then the gloomy Power

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Whose reign is in the tainted sepulchres

Seized on her sinless soul?

Must then that peerless form

Which love and admiration cannot view

Without a beating heart, those azure veins

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Which steal like streams along a field of snow,

That lovely outline, which is fair

As breathing marble, perish?

Must putrefaction’s breath

Leave nothing of this heavenly sight

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But loathsomeness and ruin?

Spare nothing but a gloomy theme,

On which the lightest heart might moralize?

Or is it only a sweet slumber

Stealing o’er sensation,

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Which the breath of roseate morning

Chaseth into darkness?

Will Ianthe wake again,

And give that faithful bosom joy

Whose sleepless spirit waits to catch

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Light, life and rapture from her smile?

Yes! she will wake again,

Although her glowing limbs are motionless,

And silent those sweet lips,

Once breathing eloquence,

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That might have soothed a tiger’s rage,

Or thawed the cold heart of a conqueror.

Her dewy eyes are closed,

And on their lids, whose texture fine

Scarce hides the dark blue orbs beneath,

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The baby Sleep is pillowed:

Her golden tresses shade

The bosom’s stainless pride,

Curling like tendrils of the parasite

Around a marble column.

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Hark! whence that rushing sound?

’Tis like the wondrous strain

That round a lonely ruin swells,

Which, wandering on the echoing shore,

The enthusiast hears at evening:

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’Tis softer than the west wind’s sigh;

’Tis wilder than the unmeasured notes

Of that strange lyre whose strings

The genii of the breezes sweep:

Those lines of rainbow light

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Are like the moonbeams when they fall

Through some cathedral window, but the tints

Are such as may not find

Comparison on earth.

Behold the chariot of the Fairy Queen!

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Celestial coursers paw the unyielding air;

Their filmy pennons at her word they furl,

And stop obedient to the reins of light:

These the Queen of Spells drew in,

She spread a charm around the spot,

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And leaning graceful from the aethereal car,

Long did she gaze, and silently,

Upon the slumbering maid.

Oh! not the visioned poet in his dreams,

When silvery clouds float through the ‘wildered brain,

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When every sight of lovely, wild and grand

Astonishes, enraptures, elevates,

When fancy at a glance combines

The wondrous and the beautiful —

So bright, so fair, so wild a shape

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Hath ever yet beheld,

As that which reined the coursers of the air,

And poured the magic of her gaze

Upon the maiden’s sleep.

The broad and yellow moon

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Shone dimly through her form —

That form of faultless symmetry;

The pearly and pellucid car

Moved not the moonlight’s line:

’Twas not an earthly pageant:

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Those who had looked upon the sight,

Passing all human glory,

Saw not the yellow moon,

Saw not the mortal scene,

Heard not the night-wind’s rush,

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Heard not an earthly sound,

Saw but the fairy pageant,

Heard but the heavenly strains

That filled the lonely dwelling.

The Fairy’s frame was slight, yon fibrous cloud,

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That catches but the palest tinge of even,

And which the straining eye can hardly seize

When melting into eastern twilight’s shadow,

Were scarce so thin, so slight; but the fair star

That gems the glittering coronet of morn,

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Sheds not a light so mild, so powerful,

As that which, bursting from the Fairy’s form,

Spread a purpureal halo round the scene,

Yet with an undulating motion,

Swayed to her outline gracefully.

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From her celestial car

The Fairy Queen descended,

And thrice she waved her wand

Circled with wreaths of amaranth:

Her thin and misty form

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Moved with the moving air,

And the clear silver tones,

As thus she spoke, were such

As are unheard by all but gifted ear.

FAIRY:

‘Stars! your balmiest influence shed!

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Elements! your wrath suspend!

Sleep, Ocean, in the rocky bounds

That circle thy domain!

Let not a breath be seen to stir

Around yon grass-grown ruin’s height,

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Let even the restless gossamer

Sleep on the moveless air!

Soul of Ianthe! thou,

Judged alone worthy of the envied boon,

That waits the good and the sincere; that waits

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Those who have struggled, and with resolute will

Vanquished earth’s pride and meanness, burst the chains,

The icy chains of custom, and have shone

The day-stars of their age; — Soul of Ianthe!

Awake! arise!’

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Sudden arose

Ianthe’s Soul; it stood

All beautiful in naked purity,

The perfect semblance of its bodily frame.

Instinct with inexpressible beauty and grace,

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Each stain of earthliness

Had passed away, it reassumed

Its native dignity, and stood

Immortal amid ruin.

Upon the couch the body lay

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Wrapped in the depth of slumber:

Its features were fixed and meaningless,

Yet animal life was there,

And every organ yet performed

Its natural functions: ’twas a sight

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Of wonder to behold the body and soul.

The self-same lineaments, the same

Marks of identity were there:

Yet, oh, how different! One aspires to Heaven,

Pants for its sempiternal heritage,

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And ever-changing, ever-rising still,

Wantons in endless being.

The other, for a time the unwilling sport

Of circumstance and passion, struggles on;

Fleets through its sad duration rapidly:

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Then, like an useless and worn-out machine,

Rots, perishes, and passes.

FAIRY:

‘Spirit! who hast dived so deep;

Spirit! who hast soared so high;

Thou the fearless, thou the mild,

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Accept the boon thy worth hath earned,

Ascend the car with me.’

SPIRIT:

‘Do I dream? Is this new feeling

But a visioned ghost of slumber?

If indeed I am a soul,

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A free, a disembodied soul,

Speak again to me.’

FAIRY:

‘I am the Fairy MAB: to me ’tis given

The wonders of the human world to keep:

The secrets of the immeasurable past,

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In the unfailing consciences of men,

Those stern, unflattering chroniclers, I find:

The future, from the causes which arise

In each event, I gather: not the sting

Which retributive memory implants

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In the hard bosom of the selfish man;

Nor that ecstatic and exulting throb

Which virtue’s votary feels when he sums up

The thoughts and actions of a well-spent day,

Are unforeseen, unregistered by me:

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And it is yet permitted me, to rend

The veil of mortal frailty, that the spirit,

Clothed in its changeless purity, may know

How soonest to accomplish the great end

For which it hath its being, and may taste

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That peace, which in the end all life will share.

This is the meed of virtue; happy Soul,

Ascend the car with me!’

The chains of earth’s immurement

Fell from Ianthe’s spirit;

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They shrank and brake like bandages of straw

Beneath a wakened giant’s strength.

She knew her glorious change,

And felt in apprehension uncontrolled

New raptures opening round:

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Each day-dream of her mortal life,

Each frenzied vision of the slumbers

That closed each well-spent day,

Seemed now to meet reality.

The Fairy and the Soul proceeded;

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The silver clouds disparted;

And as the car of magic they ascended,

Again the speechless music swelled,

Again the coursers of the air

Unfurled their azure pennons, and the Queen

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Shaking the beamy reins

Bade them pursue their way.

The magic car moved on.

The night was fair, and countless stars

Studded Heaven’s dark blue vault —

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Just o’er the eastern wave

Peeped the first faint smile of morn:—

The magic car moved on —

From the celestial hoofs

The atmosphere in flaming sparkles flew,

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And where the burning wheels

Eddied above the mountain’s loftiest peak,

Was traced a line of lightning.

Now it flew far above a rock,

The utmost verge of earth,

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The rival of the Andes, whose dark brow

Lowered o’er the silver sea.

Far, far below the chariot’s path,

Calm as a slumbering babe,

Tremendous Ocean lay.

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The mirror of its stillness showed

The pale and waning stars,

The chariot’s fiery track,

And the gray light of morn

Tinging those fleecy clouds

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That canopied the dawn.

Seemed it, that the chariot’s way

Lay through the midst of an immense concave,

Radiant with million constellations, tinged

With shades of infinite colour,

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And semicircled with a belt

Flashing incessant meteors.

The magic car moved on.

As they approached their goal

The coursers seemed to gather speed;

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The sea no longer was distinguished; earth

Appeared a vast and shadowy sphere;

The sun’s unclouded orb

Rolled through the black concave;

Its rays of rapid light

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Parted around the chariot’s swifter course,

And fell, like ocean’s feathery spray

Dashed from the boiling surge

Before a vessel’s prow.

The magic car moved on.

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Earth’s distant orb appeared

The smallest light that twinkles in the heaven;

Whilst round the chariot’s way

Innumerable systems rolled,

And countless spheres diffused

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An ever-varying glory.

It was a sight of wonder: some

Were horned like the crescent moon;

Some shed a mild and silver beam

Like Hesperus o’er the western sea;

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Some dashed athwart with trains of flame,

Like worlds to death and ruin driven;

Some shone like suns, and, as the chariot passed,

Eclipsed all other light.

Spirit of Nature! here!

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In this interminable wilderness

Of worlds, at whose immensity

Even soaring fancy staggers,

Here is thy fitting temple.

Yet not the lightest leaf

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That quivers to the passing breeze

Is less instinct with thee:

Yet not the meanest worm

That lurks in graves and fattens on the dead

Less shares thy eternal breath.

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Spirit of Nature! thou!

Imperishable as this scene,

Here is thy fitting temple.

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If solitude hath ever led thy steps

To the wild Ocean’s echoing shore,

And thou hast lingered there,

Until the sun’s broad orb

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Seemed resting on the burnished wave,

Thou must have marked the lines

Of purple gold, that motionless

Hung o’er the sinking sphere:

Thou must have marked the billowy clouds

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Edged with intolerable radiancy

Towering like rocks of jet

Crowned with a diamond wreath.

And yet there is a moment,

When the sun’s highest point

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Peeps like a star o’er Ocean’s western edge,

When those far clouds of feathery gold,

Shaded with deepest purple, gleam

Like islands on a dark blue sea;

Then has thy fancy soared above the earth,

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And furled its wearied wing

Within the Fairy’s fane.

Yet not the golden islands

Gleaming in yon flood of light,

Nor the feathery curtains

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Stretching o’er the sun’s bright couch,

Nor the burnished Ocean waves

Paving that gorgeous dome,

So fair, so wonderful a sight

As Mab’s aethereal palace could afford.

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Yet likest evening’s vault, that faery Hall!

As Heaven, low resting on the wave,it spread

Its floors of flashing light,

Its vast and azure dome,

Its fertile golden islands

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Floating on a silver sea;

Whilst suns their mingling beamings darted

Through clouds of circumambient darkness,

And pearly battlements around

Looked o’er the immense of Heaven.

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The magic car no longer moved.

The Fairy and the Spirit

Entered the Hall of Spells:

Those golden clouds

That rolled in glittering billows

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Beneath the azure canopy

With the aethereal footsteps trembled not:

The light and crimson mists,

Floating to strains of thrilling melody

Through that unearthly dwelling,

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Yielded to every movement of the will.

Upon their passive swell the Spirit leaned,

And, for the varied bliss that pressed around,

Used not the glorious privilege

Of virtue and of wisdom.

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‘Spirit!’ the Fairy said,

And pointed to the gorgeous dome,

‘This is a wondrous sight

And mocks all human grandeur;

But, were it virtue’s only meed, to dwell

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In a celestial palace, all resigned

To pleasurable impulses, immured

Within the prison of itself, the will

Of changeless Nature would be unfulfilled.

Learn to make others happy. Spirit, come!

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This is thine high reward:— the past shall rise;

Thou shalt behold the present; I will teach

The secrets of the future.’

The Fairy and the Spirit

Approached the overhanging battlement. —

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Below lay stretched the universe!

There, far as the remotest line

That bounds imagination’s flight,

Countless and unending orbs

In mazy motion intermingled,

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Yet still fulfilled immutably

Eternal Nature’s law.

Above, below, around,

The circling systems formed

A wilderness of harmony;

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Each with undeviating aim,

In eloquent silence, through the depths of space

Pursued its wondrous way.

There was a little light

That twinkled in the misty distance:

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None but a spirit’s eye

Might ken that rolling orb;

None but a spirit’s eye,

And in no other place

But that celestial dwelling, might behold

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Each action of this earth’s inhabitants.

But matter, space and time

In those aereal mansions cease to act;

And all-prevailing wisdom, when it reaps

The harvest of its excellence, o’er-bounds

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Those obstacles, of which an earthly soul

Fears to attempt the conquest.

The Fairy pointed to the earth.

The Spirit’s intellectual eye

Its kindred beings recognized.

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The thronging thousands, to a passing view,

Seemed like an ant-hill’s citizens.

How wonderful! that even

The passions, prejudices, interests,

That sway the meanest being, the weak touch

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That moves the finest nerve,

And in one human brain

Causes the faintest thought, becomes a link

In the great chain of Nature.

‘Behold,’ the Fairy cried,

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‘Palmyra’s ruined palaces! —

Behold! where grandeur frowned;

Behold! where pleasure smiled;

What now remains? — the memory

Of senselessness and shame —

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What is immortal there?

Nothing — it stands to tell

A melancholy tale, to give

An awful warning: soon

Oblivion will steal silently

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The remnant of its fame.

Monarchs and conquerors there

Proud o’er prostrate millions trod —

The earthquakes of the human race;

Like them, forgotten when the ruin

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That marks their shock is past.

‘Beside the eternal Nile,

The Pyramids have risen.

Nile shall pursue his changeless way:

Those Pyramids shall fall;

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Yea! not a stone shall stand to tell

The spot whereon they stood!

Their very site shall be forgotten,

As is their builder’s name!

‘Behold yon sterile spot;

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Where now the wandering Arab’s tent

Flaps in the desert-blast.

There once old Salem’s haughty fane

Reared high to Heaven its thousand golden domes,

And in the blushing face of day

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Exposed its shameful glory.

Oh! many a widow, many an orphan cursed

The building of that fane; and many a father;

Worn out with toil and slavery, implored

The poor man’s God to sweep it from the earth,

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And spare his children the detested task

Of piling stone on stone, and poisoning

The choicest days of life,

To soothe a dotard’s vanity.

There an inhuman and uncultured race

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Howled hideous praises to their Demon-God;

They rushed to war, tore from the mother’s womb

The unborn child — old age and infancy

Promiscuous perished; their victorious arms

Left not a soul to breathe. Oh! they were fiends:

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But what was he who taught them that the God

Of nature and benevolence hath given

A special sanction to the trade of blood?

His name and theirs are fading, and the tales

Of this barbarian nation, which imposture

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Recites till terror credits, are pursuing

Itself into forgetfulness.

‘Where Athens, Rome, and Sparta stood,

There is a moral desert now:

The mean and miserable huts,

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The yet more wretched palaces,

Contrasted with those ancient fanes,

Now crumbling to oblivion;

The long and lonely colonnades,

Through which the ghost of Freedom stalks,

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Seem like a well-known tune,

Which in some dear scene we have loved to hear,

Remembered now in sadness.

But, oh! how much more changed,

How gloomier is the contrast

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Of human nature there!

Where Socrates expired, a tyrant’s slave,

A coward and a fool, spreads death around —

Then, shuddering, meets his own.

Where Cicero and Antoninus lived,

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A cowled and hypocritical monk

Prays, curses and deceives.

‘Spirit, ten thousand years

Have scarcely passed away,

Since, in the waste where now the savage drinks

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His enemy’s blood, and aping Europe’s sons,

Wakes the unholy song of war, Arose a stately city,

Metropolis of the western continent:

There, now, the mossy column-stone,

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Indented by Time’s unrelaxing grasp,

Which once appeared to brave

All, save its country’s ruin;

There the wide forest scene,

Rude in the uncultivated loveliness

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Of gardens long run wild,

Seems, to the unwilling sojourner, whose steps

Chance in that desert has delayed,

Thus to have stood since earth was what it is.

Yet once it was the busiest haunt,

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Whither, as to a common centre, flocked

Strangers, and ships, and merchandise:

Once peace and freedom blessed

The cultivated plain:

But wealth, that curse of man,

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Blighted the bud of its prosperity:

Virtue and wisdom, truth and liberty,

Fled, to return not, until man shall know

That they alone can give the bliss

Worthy a soul that claims

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Its kindred with eternity.

‘There’s not one atom of yon earth

But once was living man;

Nor the minutest drop of rain,

That hangeth in its thinnest cloud,

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But flowed in human veins:

And from the burning plains

Where Libyan monsters yell,

From the most gloomy glens

Of Greenland’s sunless clime,

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To where the golden fields

Of fertile England spread

Their harvest to the day,

Thou canst not find one spot

Whereon no city stood.

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‘How strange is human pride!

I tell thee that those living things,

To whom the fragile blade of grass,

That springeth in the morn

And perisheth ere noon,

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Is an unbounded world;

I tell thee that those viewless beings,

Whose mansion is the smallest particle

Of the impassive atmosphere,

Think, feel and live like man;

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That their affections and antipathies,

Like his, produce the laws

Ruling their moral state;

And the minutest throb

That through their frame diffuses

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The slightest, faintest motion,

Is fixed and indispensable

As the majestic laws

That rule yon rolling orbs.’

The Fairy paused. The Spirit,

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In ecstasy of admiration, felt

All knowledge of the past revived; the events

Of old and wondrous times,

Which dim tradition interruptedly

Teaches the credulous vulgar, were unfolded

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In just perspective to the view;

Yet dim from their infinitude.

The Spirit seemed to stand

High on an isolated pinnacle;

The flood of ages combating below,

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The depth of the unbounded universe

Above, and all around

Nature’s unchanging harmony.

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‘Fairy!’ the Spirit said,

And on the Queen of Spells

Fixed her aethereal eyes,

‘I thank thee. Thou hast given

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A boon which I will not resign, and taught

A lesson not to be unlearned. I know

The past, and thence I will essay to glean

A warning for the future, so that man

May profit by his errors, and derive

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Experience from his folly:

For, when the power of imparting joy

Is equal to the will, the human soul

Requires no other Heaven.’

MAB:

‘Turn thee, surpassing Spirit!

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Much yet remains unscanned.

Thou knowest how great is man,

Thou knowest his imbecility:

Yet learn thou what he is:

Yet learn the lofty destiny

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Which restless time prepares

For every living soul.

‘Behold a gorgeous palace, that, amid

Yon populous city rears its thousand towers

And seems itself a city. Gloomy troops

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Of sentinels, in stern and silent ranks,

Encompass it around: the dweller there

Cannot be free and happy; hearest thou not

The curses of the fatherless, the groans

Of those who have no friend? He passes on:

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The King, the wearer of a gilded chain

That binds his soul to abjectness, the fool

Whom courtiers nickname monarch, whilst a slave

Even to the basest appetites — that man

Heeds not the shriek of penury; he smiles

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At the deep curses which the destitute

Mutter in secret, and a sullen joy

Pervades his bloodless heart when thousands groan

But for those morsels which his wantonness

Wastes in unjoyous revelry, to save

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All that they love from famine: when he hears

The tale of horror, to some ready-made face

Of hypocritical assent he turns,

Smothering the glow of shame, that, spite of him,

Flushes his bloated cheek.

Now to the meal

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Of silence, grandeur, and excess, he drags

His palled unwilling appetite. If gold,

Gleaming around, and numerous viands culled

From every clime, could force the loathing sense

To overcome satiety — if wealth

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The spring it draws from poisons not — or vice,

Unfeeling, stubborn vice, converteth not

Its food to deadliest venom; then that king

Is happy; and the peasant who fulfils

His unforced task, when he returns at even,

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And by the blazing faggot meets again

Her welcome for whom all his toil is sped,

Tastes not a sweeter meal.

Behold him now

Stretched on the gorgeous couch; his fevered brain

Reels dizzily awhile: but ah! too soon

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The slumber of intemperance subsides,

And conscience, that undying serpent, calls

Her venomous brood to their nocturnal task.

Listen! he speaks! oh! mark that frenzied eye —

Oh! mark that deadly visage.’

KING:

‘No cessation!

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Oh! must this last for ever? Awful Death,

I wish, yet fear to clasp thee! — Not one moment

Of dreamless sleep! O dear and blessed peace!

Why dost thou shroud thy vestal purity

In penury and dungeons? wherefore lurkest

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With danger, death, and solitude; yet shunn’st

The palace I have built thee? Sacred peace!

Oh visit me but once, but pitying shed

One drop of balm upon my withered soul.’

THE FAIRY:

‘Vain man! that palace is the virtuous heart,

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And Peace defileth not her snowy robes

In such a shed as thine. Hark! yet he mutters;

His slumbers are but varied agonies,

They prey like scorpions on the springs of life.

There needeth not the hell that bigots frame

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To punish those who err: earth in itself

Contains at once the evil and the cure;

And all-sufficing Nature can chastise

Those who transgress her law — she only knows

How justly to proportion to the fault

The punishment it merits.

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Is it strange

That this poor wretch should pride him in his woe?

Take pleasure in his abjectness, and hug

The scorpion that consumes him? Is it strange

That, placed on a conspicuous throne of thorns,

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Grasping an iron sceptre, and immured

Within a splendid prison, whose stern bounds

Shut him from all that’s good or dear on earth,

His soul asserts not its humanity?

That man’s mild nature rises not in war

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Against a king’s employ? No —’tis not strange.

He, like the vulgar, thinks, feels, acts and lives

Just as his father did; the unconquered powers

Of precedent and custom interpose

Between a KING and virtue. Stranger yet,

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To those who know not Nature, nor deduce

The future from the present, it may seem,

That not one slave, who suffers from the crimes

Of this unnatural being; not one wretch,

Whose children famish, and whose nuptial bed

Is earth’s unpitying bosom, rears an arm

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To dash him from his throne!

Those gilded flies

That, basking in the sunshine of a court,

Fatten on its corruption! — what are they?

— The drones of the community; they feed

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On the mechanic’s labour: the starved hind

For them compels the stubborn glebe to yield

Its unshared harvests; and yon squalid form,

Leaner than fleshless misery, that wastes

A sunless life in the unwholesome mine,

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Drags out in labour a protracted death,

To glut their grandeur; many faint with toil,

That few may know the cares and woe of sloth.

‘Whence, think’st thou, kings and parasites arose?

Whence that unnatural line of drones, who heap

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Toil and unvanquishable penury

On those who build their palaces, and bring

Their daily bread? — From vice, black loathsome vice;

From rapine, madness, treachery, and wrong;

From all that ‘genders misery, and makes

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Of earth this thorny wilderness; from lust,

Revenge, and murder . . . And when Reason’s voice,

Loud as the voice of Nature, shall have waked

The nations; and mankind perceive that vice

Is discord, war, and misery; that virtue

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Is peace, and happiness and harmony;

When man’s maturer nature shall disdain

The playthings of its childhood; — kingly glare

Will lose its power to dazzle; its authority

Will silently pass by; the gorgeous throne

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Shall stand unnoticed in the regal hall,

Fast falling to decay; whilst falsehood’s trade

Shall be as hateful and unprofitable

As that of truth is now.

Where is the fame

Which the vainglorious mighty of the earth

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Seek to eternize? Oh! the faintest sound

From Time’s light footfall, the minutest wave

That swells the flood of ages, whelms in nothing

The unsubstantial bubble. Ay! today

Stern is the tyrant’s mandate, red the gaze

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That flashes desolation, strong the arm

That scatters multitudes. To-morrow comes!

That mandate is a thunder-peal that died

In ages past; that gaze, a transient flash

On which the midnight closed, and on that arm

The worm has made his meal.

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The virtuous man,

Who, great in his humility, as kings

Are little in their grandeur; he who leads

Invincibly a life of resolute good,

And stands amid the silent dungeon depths

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More free and fearless than the trembling judge,

Who, clothed in venal power, vainly strove

To bind the impassive spirit; — when he falls,

His mild eye beams benevolence no more:

Withered the hand outstretched but to relieve;

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Sunk Reason’s simple eloquence, that rolled

But to appal the guilty. Yes! the grave

Hath quenched that eye, and Death’s relentless frost

Withered that arm: but the unfading fame

Which Virtue hangs upon its votary’s tomb;

165

The deathless memory of that man, whom kings

Call to their mind and tremble; the remembrance

With which the happy spirit contemplates

Its well-spent pilgrimage on earth,

Shall never pass away.

170

‘Nature rejects the monarch, not the man;

The subject, not the citizen: for kings

And subjects, mutual foes, forever play

A losing game into each other’s hands,

Whose stakes are vice and misery. The man

175

Of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys.

Power, like a desolating pestilence,

Pollutes whate’er it touches; and obedience,

Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,

Makes slaves of men, and, of the human frame,

A mechanized automaton.

180

When Nero,

High over flaming Rome, with savage joy

Lowered like a fiend, drank with enraptured ear

The shrieks of agonizing death, beheld

The frightful desolation spread, and felt

185

A new-created sense within his soul

Thrill to the sight, and vibrate to the sound;

Think’st thou his grandeur had not overcome

The force of human kindness? and, when Rome,

With one stern blow, hurled not the tyrant down,

190

Crushed not the arm red with her dearest blood

Had not submissive abjectness destroyed

Nature’s suggestions?

Look on yonder earth:

The golden harvests spring; the unfailing sun

Sheds light and life; the fruits, the flowers, the trees,

195

Arise in due succession; all things speak

Peace, harmony, and love. The universe,

In Nature’s silent eloquence, declares

That all fulfil the works of love and joy —

All but the outcast, Man. He fabricates

200

The sword which stabs his peace; he cherisheth

The snakes that gnaw his heart; he raiseth up

The tyrant, whose delight is in his woe,

Whose sport is in his agony. Yon sun,

Lights it the great alone? Yon silver beams,

205

Sleep they less sweetly on the cottage thatch

Than on the dome of kings? Is mother Earth

A step-dame to her numerous sons, who earn

Her unshared gifts with unremitting toil;

A mother only to those puling babes

210

Who, nursed in ease and luxury, make men

The playthings of their babyhood, and mar,

In self-important childishness, that peace

Which men alone appreciate?

‘Spirit of Nature! no.

215

The pure diffusion of thy essence throbs

Alike in every human heart.

Thou, aye, erectest there

Thy throne of power unappealable:

Thou art the judge beneath whose nod

220

Man’s brief and frail authority

Is powerless as the wind

That passeth idly by.

Thine the tribunal which surpasseth

The show of human justice,

225

As God surpasses man.

‘Spirit of Nature! thou

Life of interminable multitudes;

Soul of those mighty spheres

Whose changeless paths through

Heaven’s deep silence lie;

230

Soul of that smallest being,

The dwelling of whose life

Is one faint April sun-gleam; —

Man, like these passive things,

Thy will unconsciously fulfilleth:

235

Like theirs, his age of endless peace,

Which time is fast maturing,

Will swiftly, surely come;

And the unbounded frame, which thou pervadest,

Will be without a flaw

240

Marring its perfect symmetry.

4.

‘How beautiful this night! the balmiest sigh,

Which vernal zephyrs breathe in evening’s ear,

Were discord to the speaking quietude

That wraps this moveless scene. Heaven’s ebon vault,

5

Studded with stars unutterably bright,

Through which the moon’s unclouded grandeur rolls,

Seems like a canopy which love had spread

To curtain her sleeping world. Yon gentle hills,

Robed in a garment of untrodden snow;

10

Yon darksome rocks, whence icicles depend,

So stainless, that their white and glittering spires

Tinge not the moon’s pure beam; yon castled steep,

Whose banner hangeth o’er the time-worn tower

So idly, that rapt fancy deemeth it

15

A metaphor of peace; — all form a scene

Where musing Solitude might love to lift

Her soul above this sphere of earthliness;

Where Silence undisturbed might watch alone,

So cold, so bright, so still.

The orb of day,

20

In southern climes, o’er ocean’s waveless field

Sinks sweetly smiling: not the faintest breath

Steals o’er the unruffled deep; the clouds of eve

Reflect unmoved the lingering beam of day;

And vesper’s image on the western main

25

Is beautifully still. To-morrow comes:

Cloud upon cloud, in dark and deepening mass,

Roll o’er the blackened waters; the deep roar

Of distant thunder mutters awfully;

Tempest unfolds its pinion o’er the gloom

30

That shrouds the boiling surge; the pitiless fiend,

With all his winds and lightnings, tracks his prey;

The torn deep yawns — the vessel finds a grave

Beneath its jagged gulf.

Ah! whence yon glare

That fires the arch of Heaven! — that dark red smoke

35

Blotting the silver moon? The stars are quenched

In darkness, and the pure and spangling snow

Gleams faintly through the gloom that gathers round!

Hark to that roar, whose swift and deaf’ning peals

In countless echoes through the mountains ring,

40

Startling pale Midnight on her starry throne!

Now swells the intermingling din; the jar

Frequent and frightful of the bursting bomb;

The falling beam, the shriek, the groan, the shout,

The ceaseless clangour, and the rush of men

45

Inebriate with rage:— loud, and more loud

The discord grows; till pale Death shuts the scene,

And o’er the conqueror and the conquered draws

His cold and bloody shroud. — Of all the men

Whom day’s departing beam saw blooming there,

50

In proud and vigorous health; of all the hearts

That beat with anxious life at sunset there;

How few survive, how few are beating now!

All is deep silence, like the fearful calm

That slumbers in the storm’s portentous pause;

55

Save when the frantic wail of widowed love

Comes shuddering on the blast, or the faint moan

With which some soul bursts from the frame of clay

Wrapped round its struggling powers.

The gray morn

Dawns on the mournful scene; the sulphurous smoke

60

Before the icy wind slow rolls away,

And the bright beams of frosty morning dance

Along the spangling snow. There tracks of blood

Even to the forest’s depth, and scattered arms,

65

And lifeless warriors, whose hard lineaments

Death’s self could change not, mark the dreadful path

Of the outsallying victors: far behind,

Black ashes note where their proud city stood.

Within yon forest is a gloomy glen —

Each tree which guards its darkness from the day,

Waves o’er a warrior’s tomb.

70

I see thee shrink,

Surpassing Spirit! — wert thou human else?

I see a shade of doubt and horror fleet

Across thy stainless features: yet fear not;

This is no unconnected misery,

75

Nor stands uncaused, and irretrievable.

Man’s evil nature, that apology

Which kings who rule, and cowards who crouch, set up

For their unnumbered crimes, sheds not the blood

Which desolates the discord-wasted land.

80

From kings, and priests, and statesmen, war arose,

Whose safety is man’s deep unbettered woe,

Whose grandeur his debasement. Let the axe

Strike at the root, the poison-tree will fall;

And where its venomed exhalations spread

85

Ruin, and death, and woe, where millions lay

Quenching the serpent’s famine, and their bones

Bleaching unburied in the putrid blast,

A garden shall arise, in loveliness

Surpassing fabled Eden.

Hath Nature’s soul,

90

That formed this world so beautiful, that spread

Earth’s lap with plenty, and life’s smallest chord

Strung to unchanging unison, that gave

The happy birds their dwelling in the grove,

That yielded to the wanderers of the deep

95

The lovely silence of the unfathomed main,

And filled the meanest worm that crawls in dust

With spirit, thought, and love; on Man alone,

Partial in causeless malice, wantonly

Heaped ruin, vice, and slavery; his soul

100

Blasted with withering curses; placed afar

The meteor-happiness, that shuns his grasp,

But serving on the frightful gulf to glare,

Rent wide beneath his footsteps?

Nature! — no!

Kings, priests, and statesmen, blast the human flower

105

Even in its tender bud; their influence darts

Like subtle poison through the bloodless veins

Of desolate society. The child,

Ere he can lisp his mother’s sacred name,

Swells with the unnatural pride of crime, and lifts

110

His baby-sword even in a hero’s mood.

This infant-arm becomes the bloodiest scourge

Of devastated earth; whilst specious names,

Learned in soft childhood’s unsuspecting hour,

Serve as the sophisms with which manhood dims

115

Bright Reason’s ray, and sanctifies the sword

Upraised to shed a brother’s innocent blood.

Let priest-led slaves cease to proclaim that man

Inherits vice and misery, when Force

And Falsehood hang even o’er the cradled babe

120

Stifling with rudest grasp all natural good.

‘Ah! to the stranger-soul, when first it peeps

From its new tenement, and looks abroad

For happiness and sympathy, how stern

And desolate a tract is this wide world!

125

How withered all the buds of natural good!

No shade, no shelter from the sweeping storms

Of pitiless power! On its wretched frame,

Poisoned, perchance, by the disease and woe

Heaped on the wretched parent whence it sprung

130

By morals, law, and custom, the pure winds

Of Heaven, that renovate the insect tribes,

May breathe not. The untainting light of day

May visit not its longings. It is bound

Ere it has life: yea, all the chains are forged

135

Long ere its being: all liberty and love

And peace is torn from its defencelessness;

Cursed from its birth, even from its cradle doomed

To abjectness and bondage!

‘Throughout this varied and eternal world

140

Soul is the only element: the block

That for uncounted ages has remained

The moveless pillar of a mountain’s weight

Is active, living spirit. Every grain

Is sentient both in unity and part,

145

And the minutest atom comprehends

A world of loves and hatreds; these beget

Evil and good: hence truth and falsehood spring;

Hence will and thought and action, all the germs

Of pain or pleasure, sympathy or hate,

150

That variegate the eternal universe.

Soul is not more polluted than the beams

Of Heaven’s pure orb, ere round their rapid lines

The taint of earth-born atmospheres arise.

‘Man is of soul and body, formed for deeds

155

Of high resolve, on fancy’s boldest wing

To soar unwearied, fearlessly to turn

The keenest pangs to peacefulness, and taste

The joys which mingled sense and spirit yield.

Or he is formed for abjectness and woe,

160

To grovel on the dunghill of his fears,

To shrink at every sound, to quench the flame

Of natural love in sensualism, to know

That hour as blessed when on his worthless days

The frozen hand of Death shall set its seal,

165

Yet fear the cure, though hating the disease.

The one is man that shall hereafter be;

The other, man as vice has made him now.

‘War is the statesman’s game, the priest’s delight,

The lawyer’s jest, the hired assassin’s trade,

170

And, to those royal murderers, whose mean thrones

Are bought by crimes of treachery and gore,

The bread they eat, the staff on which they lean.

Guards, garbed in blood-red livery, surround

Their palaces, participate the crimes

175

That force defends, and from a nation’s rage

Secure the crown, which all the curses reach

That famine, frenzy, woe and penury breathe.

These are the hired bravos who defend

The tyrant’s throne — the bullies of his fear:

180

These are the sinks and channels of worst vice,

The refuse of society, the dregs

Of all that is most vile: their cold hearts blend

Deceit with sternness, ignorance with pride,

All that is mean and villanous, with rage

185

Which hopelessness of good, and self-contempt,

Alone might kindle; they are decked in wealth,

Honour and power, then are sent abroad

To do their work. The pestilence that stalks

In gloomy triumph through some eastern land

190

Is less destroying. They cajole with gold,

And promises of fame, the thoughtless youth

Already crushed with servitude: he knows

His wretchedness too late, and cherishes

Repentance for his ruin, when his doom

195

Is sealed in gold and blood!

Those too the tyrant serve, who, skilled to snare

The feet of Justice in the toils of law,

Stand, ready to oppress the weaker still;

And right or wrong will vindicate for gold,

200

Sneering at public virtue, which beneath

Their pitiless tread lies torn and trampled, where

Honour sits smiling at the sale of truth.

‘Then grave and hoary-headed hypocrites,

Without a hope, a passion, or a love,

205

Who, through a life of luxury and lies,

Have crept by flattery to the seats of power,

Support the system whence their honours flow . . .

They have three words:— well tyrants know their use,

Well pay them for the loan, with usury

210

Torn from a bleeding world! — God, Hell, and Heaven.

A vengeful, pitiless, and almighty fiend,

Whose mercy is a nickname for the rage

Of tameless tigers hungering for blood.

Hell, a red gulf of everlasting fire,

215

Where poisonous and undying worms prolong

Eternal misery to those hapless slaves

Whose life has been a penance for its crimes.

And Heaven, a meed for those who dare belie

Their human nature, quake, believe, and cringe

220

Before the mockeries of earthly power.

‘These tools the tyrant tempers to his work,

Wields in his wrath, and as he wills destroys,

Omnipotent in wickedness: the while

Youth springs, age moulders, manhood tamely does

225

His bidding, bribed by short-lived joys to lend

Force to the weakness of his trembling arm.

‘They rise, they fall; one generation comes

Yielding its harvest to destruction’s scythe.

It fades, another blossoms: yet behold!

230

Red glows the tyrant’s stamp-mark on its bloom,

Withering and cankering deep its passive prime.

He has invented lying words and modes,

Empty and vain as his own coreless heart;

Evasive meanings, nothings of much sound,

235

To lure the heedless victim to the toils

Spread round the valley of its paradise.

‘Look to thyself, priest, conqueror, or prince!

Whether thy trade is falsehood, and thy lusts

Deep wallow in the earnings of the poor,

240

With whom thy Master was:— or thou delight’st

In numbering o’er the myriads of thy slain,

All misery weighing nothing in the scale

Against thy short-lived fame: or thou dost load

With cowardice and crime the groaning land,

245

A pomp-fed king. Look to thy wretched self!

Ay, art thou not the veriest slave that e’er

Crawled on the loathing earth? Are not thy days

Days of unsatisfying listlessness?

Dost thou not cry, ere night’s long rack is o’er,

250

“When will the morning come?” Is not thy youth

A vain and feverish dream of sensualism?

Thy manhood blighted with unripe disease?

Are not thy views of unregretted death

Drear, comfortless, and horrible? Thy mind,

255

Is it not morbid as thy nerveless frame,

Incapable of judgement, hope, or love?

And dost thou wish the errors to survive

That bar thee from all sympathies of good,

After the miserable interest

260

Thou hold’st in their protraction? When the grave

Has swallowed up thy memory and thyself,

Dost thou desire the bane that poisons earth

To twine its roots around thy coffined clay,

Spring from thy bones, and blossom on thy tomb,

265

That of its fruit thy babes may eat and die?

5.

‘Thus do the generations of the earth

Go to the grave, and issue from the womb,

Surviving still the imperishable change

That renovates the world; even as the leaves

5

Which the keen frost-wind of the waning year

Has scattered on the forest soil, and heaped

For many seasons there — though long they choke,

Loading with loathsome rottenness the land,

All germs of promise, yet when the tall trees

10

From which they fell, shorn of their lovely shapes,

Lie level with the earth to moulder there,

They fertilize the land they long deformed,

Till from the breathing lawn a forest springs

Of youth, integrity, and loveliness,

15

Like that which gave it life, to spring and die.

Thus suicidal selfishness, that blights

The fairest feelings of the opening heart,

Is destined to decay, whilst from the soil

Shall spring all virtue, all delight, all love,

20

And judgement cease to wage unnatural war

With passion’s unsubduable array.

Twin-sister of religion, selfishness!

Rival in crime and falsehood, aping all

The wanton horrors of her bloody play;

25

Yet frozen, unimpassioned, spiritless,

Shunning the light, and owning not its name,

Compelled, by its deformity, to screen,

With flimsy veil of justice and of right,

Its unattractive lineaments, that scare

30

All, save the brood of ignorance: at once

The cause and the effect of tyranny;

Unblushing, hardened, sensual, and vile;

Dead to all love but of its abjectness,

With heart impassive by more noble powers

35

Than unshared pleasure, sordid gain, or fame;

Despising its own miserable being,

Which still it longs, yet fears to disenthrall.

‘Hence commerce springs, the venal interchange

Of all that human art or nature yield;

40

Which wealth should purchase not, but want demand,

And natural kindness hasten to supply

From the full fountain of its boundless love,

For ever stifled, drained, and tainted now.

Commerce! beneath whose poison-breathing shade

45

No solitary virtue dares to spring,

But Poverty and Wealth with equal hand

Scatter their withering curses, and unfold

The doors of premature and violent death,

To pining famine and full-fed disease,

50

To all that shares the lot of human life,

Which poisoned, body and soul, scarce drags the chain,

That lengthens as it goes and clanks behind.

‘Commerce has set the mark of selfishness,

The signet of its all-enslaving power

55

Upon a shining ore, and called it gold:

Before whose image bow the vulgar great,

The vainly rich, the miserable proud,

The mob of peasants, nobles, priests, and kings,

And with blind feelings reverence the power

60

That grinds them to the dust of misery.

But in the temple of their hireling hearts

Gold is a living god, and rules in scorn

All earthly things but virtue.

‘Since tyrants, by the sale of human life,

65

Heap luxuries to their sensualism, and fame

To their wide-wasting and insatiate pride,

Success has sanctioned to a credulous world

The ruin, the disgrace, the woe of war.

His hosts of blind and unresisting dupes

70

The despot numbers; from his cabinet

These puppets of his schemes he moves at will,

Even as the slaves by force or famine driven,

Beneath a vulgar master, to perform

A task of cold and brutal drudgery; —

75

Hardened to hope, insensible to fear,

Scarce living pulleys of a dead machine,

Mere wheels of work and articles of trade,

That grace the proud and noisy pomp of wealth!

‘The harmony and happiness of man

80

Yields to the wealth of nations; that which lifts

His nature to the heaven of its pride,

Is bartered for the poison of his soul;

The weight that drags to earth his towering hopes,

Blighting all prospect but of selfish gain,

85

Withering all passion but of slavish fear,

Extinguishing all free and generous love

Of enterprise and daring, even the pulse

That fancy kindles in the beating heart

To mingle with sensation, it destroys —

90

Leaves nothing but the sordid lust of self,

The grovelling hope of interest and gold,

Unqualified, unmingled, unredeemed

Even by hypocrisy.

And statesmen boast

Of wealth! The wordy eloquence, that lives

95

After the ruin of their hearts, can gild

The bitter poison of a nation’s woe,

Can turn the worship of the servile mob

To their corrupt and glaring idol, Fame,

From Virtue, trampled by its iron tread,

100

Although its dazzling pedestal be raised

Amid the horrors of a limb-strewn field,

With desolated dwellings smoking round.

The man of ease, who, by his warm fireside,

To deeds of charitable intercourse,

105

And bare fulfilment of the common laws

Of decency and prejudice, confines

The struggling nature of his human heart,

Is duped by their cold sophistry; he sheds

A passing tear perchance upon the wreck

110

Of earthly peace, when near his dwelling’s door

The frightful waves are driven — when his son

Is murdered by the tyrant, or religion

Drives his wife raving mad. But the poor man,

Whose life is misery, and fear, and care;

115

Whom the morn wakens but to fruitless toil;

Who ever hears his famished offspring’s scream,

Whom their pale mother’s uncomplaining gaze

For ever meets, and the proud rich man’s eye

Flashing command, and the heart-breaking scene

120

Of thousands like himself; — he little heeds

The rhetoric of tyranny; his hate

Is quenchless as his wrongs; he laughs to scorn

The vain and bitter mockery of words,

Feeling the horror of the tyrant’s deeds,

125

And unrestrained but by the arm of power,

That knows and dreads his enmity.

‘The iron rod of Penury still compels

Her wretched slave to bow the knee to wealth,

And poison, with unprofitable toil,

130

A life too void of solace to confirm

The very chains that bind him to his doom.

Nature, impartial in munificence,

Has gifted man with all-subduing will.

Matter, with all its transitory shapes,

135

Lies subjected and plastic at his feet,

That, weak from bondage, tremble as they tread.

How many a rustic Milton has passed by,

Stifling the speechless longings of his heart,

In unremitting drudgery and care!

140

How many a vulgar Cato has compelled

His energies, no longer tameless then,

To mould a pin, or fabricate a nail!

How many a Newton, to whose passive ken

Those mighty spheres that gem infinity

145

Were only specks of tinsel, fixed in Heaven

To light the midnights of his native town!

‘Yet every heart contains perfection’s germ:

The wisest of the sages of the earth,

That ever from the stores of reason drew

150

Science and truth, and virtue’s dreadless tone,

Were but a weak and inexperienced boy,

Proud, sensual, unimpassioned, unimbued

With pure desire and universal love,

Compared to that high being, of cloudless brain,

155

Untainted passion, elevated will,

Which Death (who even would linger long in awe

Within his noble presence, and beneath

His changeless eyebeam) might alone subdue.

Him, every slave now dragging through the filth

160

Of some corrupted city his sad life,

Pining with famine, swoln with luxury,

Blunting the keenness of his spiritual sense

With narrow schemings and unworthy cares,

Or madly rushing through all violent crime,

165

To move the deep stagnation of his soul —

Might imitate and equal.

But mean lust

Has bound its chains so tight around the earth,

That all within it but the virtuous man

Is venal: gold or fame will surely reach

170

The price prefixed by selfishness, to all

But him of resolute and unchanging will;

Whom, nor the plaudits of a servile crowd,

Nor the vile joys of tainting luxury,

Can bribe to yield his elevated soul

175

To Tyranny or Falsehood, though they wield

With blood-red hand the sceptre of the world.

‘All things are sold: the very light of Heaven

Is venal; earth’s unsparing gifts of love,

The smallest and most despicable things

180

That lurk in the abysses of the deep,

All objects of our life, even life itself,

And the poor pittance which the laws allow

Of liberty, the fellowship of man,

Those duties which his heart of human love

185

Should urge him to perform instinctively,

Are bought and sold as in a public mart

Of undisguising selfishness, that sets

On each its price, the stamp-mark of her reign.

Even love is sold; the solace of all woe

190

Is turned to deadliest agony, old age

Shivers in selfish beauty’s loathing arms,

And youth’s corrupted impulses prepare

A life of horror from the blighting bane

Of commerce; whilst the pestilence that springs

195

From unenjoying sensualism, has filled

All human life with hydra-headed woes.

‘Falsehood demands but gold to pay the pangs

Of outraged conscience; for the slavish priest

Sets no great value on his hireling faith:

200

A little passing pomp, some servile souls,

Whom cowardice itself might safely chain,

Or the spare mite of avarice could bribe

To deck the triumph of their languid zeal,

Can make him minister to tyranny.

205

More daring crime requires a loftier meed:

Without a shudder, the slave-soldier lends

His arm to murderous deeds, and steels his heart,

When the dread eloquence of dying men,

Low mingling on the lonely field of fame,

210

Assails that nature, whose applause he sells

For the gross blessings of a patriot mob,

For the vile gratitude of heartless kings,

And for a cold world’s good word — viler still!

‘There is a nobler glory, which survives

215

Until our being fades, and, solacing

All human care, accompanies its change;

Deserts not virtue in the dungeon’s gloom,

And, in the precincts of the palace, guides

Its footsteps through that labyrinth of crime;

220

Imbues his lineaments with dauntlessness,

Even when, from Power’s avenging hand, he takes

Its sweetest, last and noblest title — death;

— The consciousness of good, which neither gold,

Nor sordid fame, nor hope of heavenly bliss

225

Can purchase; but a life of resolute good —

Unalterable will, quenchless desire

Of universal happiness, the heart

That beats with it in unison, the brain,

Whose ever wakeful wisdom toils to change

230

Reason’s rich stores for its eternal weal.

‘This commerce of sincerest virtue needs

No mediative signs of selfishness,

No jealous intercourse of wretched gain,

No balancings of prudence, cold and long;

235

In just and equal measure all is weighed,

One scale contains the sum of human weal,

And one, the good man’s heart.

How vainly seek

The selfish for that happiness denied

To aught but virtue! Blind and hardened, they,

240

Who hope for peace amid the storms of care,

Who covet power they know not how to use,

And sigh for pleasure they refuse to give —

Madly they frustrate still their own designs;

And, where they hope that quiet to enjoy

245

Which virtue pictures, bitterness of soul,

Pining regrets, and vain repentances,

Disease, disgust, and lassitude, pervade

Their valueless and miserable lives.

‘But hoary-headed Selfishness has felt

250

Its death-blow, and is tottering to the grave:

A brighter morn awaits the human day,

When every transfer of earth’s natural gifts

Shall be a commerce of good words and works;

When poverty and wealth, the thirst of fame,

255

The fear of infamy, disease and woe,

War with its million horrors, and fierce hell

Shall live but in the memory of Time,

Who, like a penitent libertine, shall start,

Look back, and shudder at his younger years.’

6.

All touch, all eye, all ear,

The Spirit felt the Fairy’s burning speech.

O’er the thin texture of its frame,

The varying periods painted changing glows,

5

As on a summer even,

When soul-enfolding music floats around,

The stainless mirror of the lake

Re-images the eastern gloom,

Mingling convulsively its purple hues

10

With sunset’s burnished gold.

Then thus the Spirit spoke:

‘It is a wild and miserable world!

Thorny, and full of care,

Which every fiend can make his prey at will.

15

O Fairy! in the lapse of years,

Is there no hope in store?

Will yon vast suns roll on

Interminably, still illuming

The night of so many wretched souls,

20

And see no hope for them?

Will not the universal Spirit e’er

Revivify this withered limb of Heaven?’

The Fairy calmly smiled

In comfort, and a kindling gleam of hope

25

Suffused the Spirit’s lineaments.

‘Oh! rest thee tranquil; chase those fearful doubts,

Which ne’er could rack an everlasting soul,

That sees the chains which bind it to its doom.

Yes! crime and misery are in yonder earth,

30

Falsehood, mistake, and lust;

But the eternal world

Contains at once the evil and the cure.

Some eminent in virtue shall start up,

Even in perversest time:

35

The truths of their pure lips, that never die,

Shall bind the scorpion falsehood with a wreath

Of ever-living flame,

Until the monster sting itself to death.

‘How sweet a scene will earth become!

40

Of purest spirits a pure dwelling-place,

Symphonious with the planetary spheres;

When man, with changeless Nature coalescing,

Will undertake regeneration’s work,

When its ungenial poles no longer point

45

To the red and baleful sun

That faintly twinkles there.

‘Spirit! on yonder earth,

Falsehood now triumphs; deadly power

Has fixed its seal upon the lip of truth!

50

Madness and misery are there!

The happiest is most wretched! Yet confide,

Until pure health-drops, from the cup of joy,

Fall like a dew of balm upon the world.

Now, to the scene I show, in silence turn,

55

And read the blood-stained charter of all woe,

Which Nature soon, with re-creating hand,

Will blot in mercy from the book of earth.

How bold the flight of Passion’s wandering wing,

How swift the step of Reason’s firmer tread,

60

How calm and sweet the victories of life,

How terrorless the triumph of the grave!

How powerless were the mightiest monarch’s arm,

Vain his loud threat, and impotent his frown!

How ludicrous the priest’s dogmatic roar!

65

The weight of his exterminating curse

How light! and his affected charity,

To suit the pressure of the changing times,

What palpable deceit! — but for thy aid,

Religion! but for thee, prolific fiend,

70

Who peoplest earth with demons, Hell with men,

And Heaven with slaves!

‘Thou taintest all thou look’st upon! — the stars,

Which on thy cradle beamed so brightly sweet,

Were gods to the distempered playfulness

75

Of thy untutored infancy: the trees,

The grass, the clouds, the mountains, and the sea,

All living things that walk, swim, creep, or fly,

Were gods: the sun had homage, and the moon

Her worshipper. Then thou becam’st, a boy,

80

More daring in thy frenzies: every shape,

Monstrous or vast, or beautifully wild,

Which, from sensation’s relics, fancy culls

The spirits of the air, the shuddering ghost,

The genii of the elements, the powers

85

That give a shape to Nature’s varied works,

Had life and place in the corrupt belief

Of thy blind heart: yet still thy youthful hands

Were pure of human blood. Then manhood gave

Its strength and ardour to thy frenzied brain;

90

Thine eager gaze scanned the stupendous scene,

Whose wonders mocked the knowledge of thy pride:

Their everlasting and unchanging laws

Reproached thine ignorance. Awhile thou stoodst

Baffled and gloomy; then thou didst sum up

95

The elements of all that thou didst know;

The changing seasons, winter’s leafless reign,

The budding of the Heaven-breathing trees,

The eternal orbs that beautify the night,

The sunrise, and the setting of the moon,

100

Earthquakes and wars, and poisons and disease,

And all their causes, to an abstract point

Converging, thou didst bend and called it God!

The self-sufficing, the omnipotent,

The merciful, and the avenging God!

105

Who, prototype of human misrule, sits

High in Heaven’s realm, upon a golden throne,

Even like an earthly king; and whose dread work,

Hell, gapes for ever for the unhappy slaves

Of fate, whom He created, in his sport,

110

To triumph in their torments when they fell!

Earth heard the name; Earth trembled, as the smoke

Of His revenge ascended up to Heaven,

Blotting the constellations; and the cries

Of millions, butchered in sweet confidence

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And unsuspecting peace, even when the bonds

Of safety were confirmed by wordy oaths

Sworn in His dreadful name, rung through the land;

Whilst innocent babes writhed on thy stubborn spear,

And thou didst laugh to hear the mother’s shriek

120

Of maniac gladness, as the sacred steel

Felt cold in her torn entrails!

‘Religion! thou wert then in manhood’s prime:

But age crept on: one God would not suffice

For senile puerility; thou framedst

125

A tale to suit thy dotage, and to glut

Thy misery-thirsting soul, that the mad fiend

Thy wickedness had pictured might afford

A plea for sating the unnatural thirst

For murder, rapine, violence, and crime,

130

That still consumed thy being, even when

Thou heardst the step of Fate; — that flames might light

Thy funeral scene, and the shrill horrent shrieks

Of parents dying on the pile that burned

To light their children to thy paths, the roar

135

Of the encircling flames, the exulting cries

Of thine apostles, loud commingling there,

Might sate thine hungry ear

Even on the bed of death!

‘But now contempt is mocking thy gray hairs;

140

Thou art descending to the darksome grave,

Unhonoured and unpitied, but by those

Whose pride is passing by like thine, and sheds,

Like thine, a glare that fades before the sun

Of truth, and shines but in the dreadful night

145

That long has lowered above the ruined world.

‘Throughout these infinite orbs of mingling light,

Of which yon earth is one, is wide diffused

A Spirit of activity and life,

That knows no term, cessation, or decay;

150

That fades not when the lamp of earthly life,

Extinguished in the dampness of the grave,

Awhile there slumbers, more than when the babe

In the dim newness of its being feels

The impulses of sublunary things,

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And all is wonder to unpractised sense:

But, active, steadfast, and eternal, still

Guides the fierce whirlwind, in the tempest roars,

Cheers in the day, breathes in the balmy groves,

Strengthens in health, and poisons in disease;

160

And in the storm of change, that ceaselessly

Rolls round the eternal universe, and shakes

Its undecaying battlement, presides,

Apportioning with irresistible law

The place each spring of its machine shall fill;

165

So that when waves on waves tumultuous heap

Confusion to the clouds, and fiercely driven

Heaven’s lightnings scorch the uprooted ocean-fords,

Whilst, to the eye of shipwrecked mariner,

Lone sitting on the bare and shuddering rock,

170

All seems unlinked contingency and chance:

No atom of this turbulence fulfils

A vague and unnecessitated task,

Or acts but as it must and ought to act.

Even the minutest molecule of light,

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That in an April sunbeam’s fleeting glow

Fulfils its destined, though invisible work,

The universal Spirit guides; nor less,

When merciless ambition, or mad zeal,

Has led two hosts of dupes to battlefield,

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That, blind, they there may dig each other’s graves,

And call the sad work glory, does it rule

All passions: not a thought, a will, an act,

No working of the tyrant’s moody mind,

Nor one misgiving of the slaves who boast

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Their servitude, to hide the shame they feel,

Nor the events enchaining every will,

That from the depths of unrecorded time

Have drawn all-influencing virtue, pass

Unrecognized, or unforeseen by thee,

190

Soul of the Universe! eternal spring

Of life and death, of happiness and woe,

Of all that chequers the phantasmal scene

That floats before our eyes in wavering light,

Which gleams but on the darkness of our prison,

195

Whose chains and massy walls

We feel, but cannot see.

‘Spirit of Nature! all-sufficing Power,

Necessity! thou mother of the world!

Unlike the God of human error, thou

200

Requir’st no prayers or praises; the caprice

Of man’s weak will belongs no more to thee

Than do the changeful passions of his breast

To thy unvarying harmony: the slave,

Whose horrible lusts spread misery o’er the world,

205

And the good man, who lifts, with virtuous pride,

His being, in the sight of happiness,

That springs from his own works; the poison-tree

Beneath whose shade all life is withered up,

And the fair oak, whose leafy dome affords

210

A temple where the vows of happy love

Are registered, are equal in thy sight:

No love, no hate thou cherishest; revenge

And favouritism, and worst desire of fame

Thou know’st not: all that the wide world contains

215

Are but thy passive instruments, and thou

Regard’st them all with an impartial eye,

Whose joy or pain thy nature cannot feel,

Because thou hast not human sense,

Because thou art not human mind.

220

‘Yes! when the sweeping storm of time

Has sung its death-dirge o’er the ruined fanes

And broken altars of the almighty Fiend

Whose name usurps thy honours, and the blood

Through centuries clotted there, has floated down

225

The tainted flood of ages, shalt thou live

Unchangeable! A shrine is raised to thee,

Which, nor the tempest-breath of time,

Nor the interminable flood,

Over earth’s slight pageant rolling,

230

Availeth to destroy — .

The sensitive extension of the world.

That wondrous and eternal fane,

Where pain and pleasure, good and evil join,

To do the will of strong necessity,

235

And life, in multitudinous shapes,

Still pressing forward where no term can be,

Like hungry and unresting flame

Curls round the eternal columns of its strength.’

7.

SPIRIT:

‘I was an infant when my mother went

To see an atheist burned. She took me there:

The dark-robed priests were met around the pile;

The multitude was gazing silently;

5

And as the culprit passed with dauntless mien,

Tempered disdain in his unaltering eye,

Mixed with a quiet smile, shone calmly forth:

The thirsty fire crept round his manly limbs;

His resolute eyes were scorched to blindness soon;

10

His death-pang rent my heart! the insensate mob

Uttered a cry of triumph, and I wept.

“Weep not, child!” cried my mother, “for that man

Has said, There is no God.”’

FAIRY:

‘There is no God!

Nature confirms the faith his death-groan sealed:

15

Let heaven and earth, let man’s revolving race,

His ceaseless generations tell their tale;

Let every part depending on the chain

That links it to the whole, point to the hand

That grasps its term! let every seed that falls

20

In silent eloquence unfold its store

Of argument; infinity within,

Infinity without, belie creation;

The exterminable spirit it contains

Is nature’s only God; but human pride

25

Is skilful to invent most serious names

To hide its ignorance.

The name of God

Has fenced about all crime with holiness,

Himself the creature of His worshippers,

Whose names and attributes and passions change,

30

Seeva, Buddh, Foh, Jehovah, God, or Lord,

Even with the human dupes who build His shrines,

Still serving o’er the war-polluted world

For desolation’s watchword; whether hosts

Stain His death-blushing chariot-wheels, as on

35

Triumphantly they roll, whilst Brahmins raise

A sacred hymn to mingle with the groans;

Or countless partners of His power divide

His tyranny to weakness; or the smoke

Of burning towns, the cries of female helplessness,

40

Unarmed old age, and youth, and infancy,

Horribly massacred, ascend to Heaven

In honour of His name; or, last and worst,

Earth groans beneath religion’s iron age,

And priests dare babble of a God of peace,

45

Even whilst their hands are red with guiltless blood,

Murdering the while, uprooting every germ

Of truth, exterminating, spoiling all,

Making the earth a slaughter-house!

‘O Spirit! through the sense

50

By which thy inner nature was apprised

Of outward shows, vague dreams have rolled,

And varied reminiscences have waked

Tablets that never fade;

All things have been imprinted there,

55

The stars, the sea, the earth, the sky,

Even the unshapeliest lineaments

Of wild and fleeting visions

Have left a record there

To testify of earth.

60

‘These are my empire, for to me is given

The wonders of the human world to keep,

And Fancy’s thin creations to endow

With manner, being, and reality;

Therefore a wondrous phantom, from the dreams

65

Of human error’s dense and purblind faith,

I will evoke, to meet thy questioning.

Ahasuerus, rise!’

A strange and woe-worn wight

Arose beside the battlement,

70

And stood unmoving there.

His inessential figure cast no shade

Upon the golden floor;

His port and mien bore mark of many years,

And chronicles of untold ancientness

75

Were legible within his beamless eye:

Yet his cheek bore the mark of youth;

Freshness and vigour knit his manly frame;

The wisdom of old age was mingled there

With youth’s primaeval dauntlessness;

80

And inexpressible woe,

Chastened by fearless resignation, gave

An awful grace to his all-speaking brow.

SPIRIT:

‘Is there a God?’

AHASUERUS:

‘Is there a God! — ay, an almighty God,

85

And vengeful as almighty! Once His voice

Was heard on earth: earth shuddered at the sound;

The fiery-visaged firmament expressed

Abhorrence, and the grave of Nature yawned

To swallow all the dauntless and the good

90

That dared to hurl defiance at His throne,

Girt as it was with power. None but slaves

Survived — cold-blooded slaves, who did the work

Of tyrannous omnipotence; whose souls

No honest indignation ever urged

95

To elevated daring, to one deed

Which gross and sensual self did not pollute.

These slaves built temples for the omnipotent Fiend,

Gorgeous and vast: the costly altars smoked

With human blood, and hideous paeans rung

100

Through all the long-drawn aisles. A murderer heard

His voice in Egypt, one whose gifts and arts

Had raised him to his eminence in power,

Accomplice of omnipotence in crime,

And confidant of the all-knowing one.

105

These were Jehovah’s words:—

‘From an eternity of idleness

I, God, awoke; in seven days’ toil made earth

From nothing; rested, and created man:

I placed him in a Paradise, and there

110

Planted the tree of evil, so that he

Might eat and perish, and My soul procure

Wherewith to sate its malice, and to turn,

Even like a heartless conqueror of the earth,

All misery to My fame. The race of men

115

Chosen to My honour, with impunity

May sate the lusts I planted in their heart.

Here I command thee hence to lead them on,

Until, with hardened feet, their conquering troops

Wade on the promised soil through woman’s blood,

120

And make My name be dreaded through the land.

Yet ever-burning flame and ceaseless woe

Shall be the doom of their eternal souls,

With every soul on this ungrateful earth,

Virtuous or vicious, weak or strong — even all

125

Shall perish, to fulfil the blind revenge

(Which you, to men, call justice) of their God.’

The murderer’s brow

Quivered with horror.

‘God omnipotent,

Is there no mercy? must our punishment

130

Be endless? will long ages roll away,

And see no term? Oh! wherefore hast Thou made

In mockery and wrath this evil earth?

Mercy becomes the powerful — be but just:

O God! repent and save.’

‘One way remains:

135

I will beget a Son, and He shall bear

The sins of all the world; He shall arise

In an unnoticed corner of the earth,

And there shall die upon a cross, and purge

The universal crime; so that the few

140

On whom My grace descends, those who are marked

As vessels to the honour of their God,

May credit this strange sacrifice, and save

Their souls alive: millions shall live and die,

Who ne’er shall call upon their Saviour’s name,

145

But, unredeemed, go to the gaping grave.

Thousands shall deem it an old woman’s tale,

Such as the nurses frighten babes withal:

These in a gulf of anguish and of flame

Shall curse their reprobation endlessly,

150

Yet tenfold pangs shall force them to avow,

Even on their beds of torment, where they howl,

My honour, and the justice of their doom.

What then avail their virtuous deeds, their thoughts

Of purity, with radiant genius bright,

155

Or lit with human reason’s earthly ray?

Many are called, but few will I elect.

Do thou My bidding, Moses!’

Even the murderer’s cheek

Was blanched with horror, and his quivering lips

Scarce faintly uttered —‘O almighty One,

160

I tremble and obey!’

‘O Spirit! centuries have set their seal

On this heart of many wounds, and loaded brain,

Since the Incarnate came: humbly He came,

Veiling His horrible Godhead in the shape

165

Of man, scorned by the world, His name unheard,

Save by the rabble of His native town,

Even as a parish demagogue. He led

The crowd; He taught them justice, truth, and peace,

In semblance; but He lit within their souls

170

The quenchless flames of zeal, and blessed the sword

He brought on earth to satiate with the blood

Of truth and freedom His malignant soul.

At length His mortal frame was led to death.

I stood beside Him: on the torturing cross

175

No pain assailed His unterrestrial sense;

And yet He groaned. Indignantly I summed

The massacres and miseries which His name

Had sanctioned in my country, and I cried,

“Go! Go!” in mockery.

180

A smile of godlike malice reillumed

His fading lineaments. —“I go,” He cried,

“But thou shalt wander o’er the unquiet earth

Eternally.”— The dampness of the grave

Bathed my imperishable front. I fell,

185

And long lay tranced upon the charmed soil.

When I awoke Hell burned within my brain,

Which staggered on its seat; for all around

The mouldering relics of my kindred lay,

Even as the Almighty’s ire arrested them,

190

And in their various attitudes of death

My murdered children’s mute and eyeless skulls

Glared ghastily upon me.

But my soul,

From sight and sense of the polluting woe

Of tyranny, had long learned to prefer

195

Hell’s freedom to the servitude of Heaven.

Therefore I rose, and dauntlessly began

My lonely and unending pilgrimage,

Resolved to wage unweariable war

With my almighty Tyrant, and to hurl

200

Defiance at His impotence to harm

Beyond the curse I bore. The very hand

That barred my passage to the peaceful grave

Has crushed the earth to misery, and given

Its empire to the chosen of His slaves.

205

These have I seen, even from the earliest dawn

Of weak, unstable and precarious power,

Then preaching peace, as now they practise war;

So, when they turned but from the massacre

Of unoffending infidels, to quench

210

Their thirst for ruin in the very blood

That flowed in their own veins, and pitiless zeal

Froze every human feeling, as the wife

Sheathed in her husband’s heart the sacred steel,

Even whilst its hopes were dreaming of her love;

215

And friends to friends, brothers to brothers stood

Opposed in bloodiest battle-field, and war,

Scarce satiable by fate’s last death-draught, waged,

Drunk from the winepress of the Almighty’s wrath;

Whilst the red cross, in mockery of peace,

220

Pointed to victory! When the fray was done,

No remnant of the exterminated faith

Survived to tell its ruin, but the flesh,

With putrid smoke poisoning the atmosphere,

That rotted on the half-extinguished pile.

225

‘Yes! I have seen God’s worshippers unsheathe

The sword of His revenge, when grace descended,

Confirming all unnatural impulses,

To sanctify their desolating deeds;

And frantic priests waved the ill-omened cross

230

O’er the unhappy earth: then shone the sun

On showers of gore from the upflashing steel

Of safe assassination, and all crime

Made stingless by the Spirits of the Lord,

And blood-red rainbows canopied the land.

235

‘Spirit, no year of my eventful being

Has passed unstained by crime and misery,

Which flows from God’s own faith. I’ve marked His slaves

With tongues whose lies are venomous, beguile

The insensate mob, and, whilst one hand was red

240

With murder, feign to stretch the other out

For brotherhood and peace; and that they now

Babble of love and mercy, whilst their deeds

Are marked with all the narrowness and crime

That Freedom’s young arm dare not yet chastise,

245

Reason may claim our gratitude, who now

Establishing the imperishable throne

Of truth, and stubborn virtue, maketh vain

The unprevailing malice of my Foe,

Whose bootless rage heaps torments for the brave,

250

Adds impotent eternities to pain,

Whilst keenest disappointment racks His breast

To see the smiles of peace around them play,

To frustrate or to sanctify their doom.

‘Thus have I stood — through a wild waste of years

255

Struggling with whirlwinds of mad agony,

Yet peaceful, and serene, and self-enshrined,

Mocking my powerless Tyrant’s horrible curse

With stubborn and unalterable will,

Even as a giant oak, which Heaven’s fierce flame

260

Had scathed in the wilderness, to stand

A monument of fadeless ruin there;

Yet peacefully and movelessly it braves

The midnight conflict of the wintry storm,

As in the sunlight’s calm it spreads

265

Its worn and withered arms on high

To meet the quiet of a summer’s noon.’

The Fairy waved her wand:

Ahasuerus fled

Fast as the shapes of mingled shade and mist,

270

That lurk in the glens of a twilight grove,

Flee from the morning beam:

The matter of which dreams are made

Not more endowed with actual life

Than this phantasmal portraiture

275

Of wandering human thought.

8.

THE FAIRY:

‘The Present and the Past thou hast beheld:

It was a desolate sight. Now, Spirit, learn

The secrets of the Future. — Time!

Unfold the brooding pinion of thy gloom,

5

Render thou up thy half-devoured babes,

And from the cradles of eternity,

Where millions lie lulled to their portioned sleep

By the deep murmuring stream of passing things,

Tear thou that gloomy shroud. — Spirit, behold

10

Thy glorious destiny!’

Joy to the Spirit came.

Through the wide rent in Time’s eternal veil,

Hope was seen beaming through the mists of fear:

Earth was no longer Hell;

15

Love, freedom, health, had given

Their ripeness to the manhood of its prime,

And all its pulses beat

Symphonious to the planetary spheres:

Then dulcet music swelled

20

Concordant with the life-strings of the soul;

It throbbed in sweet and languid beatings there,

Catching new life from transitory death —

Like the vague sighings of a wind at even,

That wakes the wavelets of the slumbering sea

25

And dies on the creation of its breath,

And sinks and rises, fails and swells by fits:

Was the pure stream of feeling

That sprung from these sweet notes,

And o’er the Spirit’s human sympathies

30

With mild and gentle motion calmly flowed.

Joy to the Spirit came —

Such joy as when a lover sees

The chosen of his soul in happiness,

And witnesses her peace

35

Whose woe to him were bitterer than death,

Sees her unfaded cheek

Glow mantling in first luxury of health,

Thrills with her lovely eyes,

Which like two stars amid the heaving main

40

Sparkle through liquid bliss.

Then in her triumph spoke the Fairy Queen:

‘I will not call the ghost of ages gone

To unfold the frightful secrets of its lore;

The present now is past,

45

And those events that desolate the earth

Have faded from the memory of Time,

Who dares not give reality to that

Whose being I annul. To me is given

The wonders of the human world to keep,

50

Space, matter, time, and mind. Futurity

Exposes now its treasure; let the sight

Renew and strengthen all thy failing hope.

O human Spirit! spur thee to the goal

Where virtue fixes universal peace,

55

And midst the ebb and flow of human things,

Show somewhat stable, somewhat certain still,

A lighthouse o’er the wild of dreary waves.

‘The habitable earth is full of bliss;

Those wastes of frozen billows that were hurled

60

By everlasting snowstorms round the poles,

Where matter dared not vegetate or live,

But ceaseless frost round the vast solitude

Bound its broad zone of stillness, are unloosed;

And fragrant zephyrs there from spicy isles

65

Ruffle the placid ocean-deep, that rolls

Its broad, bright surges to the sloping sand,

Whose roar is wakened into echoings sweet

To murmur through the Heaven-breathing groves

And melodize with man’s blest nature there.

70

‘Those deserts of immeasurable sand,

Whose age-collected fervours scarce allowed

A bird to live, a blade of grass to spring,

Where the shrill chirp of the green lizard’s love

Broke on the sultry silentness alone,

75

Now teem with countless rills and shady woods,

Cornfields and pastures and white cottages;

And where the startled wilderness beheld

A savage conqueror stained in kindred blood,

A tigress sating with the flesh of lambs

80

The unnatural famine of her toothless cubs,

Whilst shouts and howlings through the desert rang,

Sloping and smooth the daisy-spangled lawn,

Offering sweet incense to the sunrise, smiles

To see a babe before his mother’s door,

85

Sharing his morning’s meal

With the green and golden basilisk

That comes to lick his feet.

‘Those trackless deeps, where many a weary sail

Has seen above the illimitable plain,

90

Morning on night, and night on morning rise,

Whilst still no land to greet the wanderer spread

Its shadowy mountains on the sun-bright sea,

Where the loud roarings of the tempest-waves

So long have mingled with the gusty wind

95

In melancholy loneliness, and swept

The desert of those ocean solitudes,

But vocal to the sea-bird’s harrowing shriek,

The bellowing monster, and the rushing storm,

Now to the sweet and many-mingling sounds

100

Of kindliest human impulses respond.

Those lonely realms bright garden-isles begem,

With lightsome clouds and shining seas between,

And fertile valleys, resonant with bliss,

Whilst green woods overcanopy the wave,

105

Which like a toil-worn labourer leaps to shore,

To meet the kisses of the flow’rets there.

‘All things are recreated, and the flame

Of consentaneous love inspires all life:

The fertile bosom of the earth gives suck

110

To myriads, who still grow beneath her care,

Rewarding her with their pure perfectness:

The balmy breathings of the wind inhale

Her virtues, and diffuse them all abroad:

Health floats amid the gentle atmosphere,

115

Glows in the fruits, and mantles on the stream:

No storms deform the beaming brow of Heaven,

Nor scatter in the freshness of its pride

The foliage of the ever-verdant trees;

But fruits are ever ripe, flowers ever fair,

120

And Autumn proudly bears her matron grace,

Kindling a flush on the fair cheek of Spring,

Whose virgin bloom beneath the ruddy fruit

Reflects its tint, and blushes into love.

‘The lion now forgets to thirst for blood:

125

There might you see him sporting in the sun

Beside the dreadless kid; his claws are sheathed,

His teeth are harmless, custom’s force has made

His nature as the nature of a lamb.

Like passion’s fruit, the nightshade’s tempting bane

130

Poisons no more the pleasure it bestows:

All bitterness is past; the cup of joy

Unmingled mantles to the goblet’s brim,

And courts the thirsty lips it fled before.

‘But chief, ambiguous Man, he that can know

135

More misery, and dream more joy than all;

Whose keen sensations thrill within his breast

To mingle with a loftier instinct there,

Lending their power to pleasure and to pain,

Yet raising, sharpening, and refining each;

140

Who stands amid the ever-varying world,

The burthen or the glory of the earth;

He chief perceives the change, his being notes

The gradual renovation, and defines

Each movement of its progress on his mind.

145

‘Man, where the gloom of the long polar night

Lowers o’er the snow-clad rocks and frozen soil,

Where scarce the hardiest herb that braves the frost

Basks in the moonlight’s ineffectual glow,

Shrank with the plants, and darkened with the night;

150

His chilled and narrow energies, his heart,

Insensible to courage, truth, or love,

His stunted stature and imbecile frame,

Marked him for some abortion of the earth,

Fit compeer of the bears that roamed around,

155

Whose habits and enjoyments were his own:

His life a feverish dream of stagnant woe,

Whose meagre wants, but scantily fulfilled,

Apprised him ever of the joyless length

Which his short being’s wretchedness had reached;

160

His death a pang which famine, cold and toil

Long on the mind, whilst yet the vital spark

Clung to the body stubbornly, had brought:

All was inflicted here that Earth’s revenge

Could wreak on the infringers of her law;

165

One curse alone was spared — the name of God.

‘Nor where the tropics bound the realms of day

With a broad belt of mingling cloud and flame,

Where blue mists through the unmoving atmosphere

Scattered the seeds of pestilence, and fed

170

Unnatural vegetation, where the land

Teemed with all earthquake, tempest and disease,

Was Man a nobler being; slavery

Had crushed him to his country’s bloodstained dust;

Or he was bartered for the fame of power,

175

Which all internal impulses destroying,

Makes human will an article of trade;

Or he was changed with Christians for their gold,

And dragged to distant isles, where to the sound

Of the flesh-mangling scourge, he does the work

180

Of all-polluting luxury and wealth,

Which doubly visits on the tyrants’ heads

The long-protracted fulness of their woe;

Or he was led to legal butchery,

To turn to worms beneath that burning sun,

185

Where kings first leagued against the rights of men,

And priests first traded with the name of God.

‘Even where the milder zone afforded Man

A seeming shelter, yet contagion there,

Blighting his being with unnumbered ills,

190

Spread like a quenchless fire; nor truth till late

Availed to arrest its progress, or create

That peace which first in bloodless victory waved

Her snowy standard o’er this favoured clime:

There man was long the train-bearer of slaves,

195

The mimic of surrounding misery,

The jackal of ambition’s lion-rage,

The bloodhound of religion’s hungry zeal.

‘Here now the human being stands adorning

This loveliest earth with taintless body and mind;

200

Blessed from his birth with all bland impulses,

Which gently in his noble bosom wake

All kindly passions and all pure desires.

Him, still from hope to hope the bliss pursuing

Which from the exhaustless lore of human weal

205

Dawns on the virtuous mind, the thoughts that rise

In time-destroying infiniteness, gift

With self-enshrined eternity, that mocks

The unprevailing hoariness of age,

And man, once fleeting o’er the transient scene

210

Swift as an unremembered vision, stands

Immortal upon earth: no longer now

He slays the lamb that looks him in the face,

And horribly devours his mangled flesh,

Which, still avenging Nature’s broken law,

215

Kindled all putrid humours in his frame,

All evil passions, and all vain belief,

Hatred, despair, and loathing in his mind,

The germs of misery, death, disease, and crime.

No longer now the winged habitants,

220

That in the woods their sweet lives sing away —

Flee from the form of man; but gather round,

And prune their sunny feathers on the hands

Which little children stretch in friendly sport

Towards these dreadless partners of their play.

225

All things are void of terror: Man has lost

His terrible prerogative, and stands

An equal amidst equals: happiness

And science dawn though late upon the earth;

Peace cheers the mind, health renovates the frame;

230

Disease and pleasure cease to mingle here,

Reason and passion cease to combat there;

Whilst each unfettered o’er the earth extend

Their all-subduing energies, and wield

The sceptre of a vast dominion there;

235

Whilst every shape and mode of matter lends

Its force to the omnipotence of mind,

Which from its dark mine drags the gem of truth

To decorate its Paradise of peace.’

9.

‘O happy Earth! reality of Heaven!

To which those restless souls that ceaselessly

Throng through the human universe, aspire;

Thou consummation of all mortal hope!

5

Thou glorious prize of blindly-working will!

Whose rays, diffused throughout all space and time,

Verge to one point and blend for ever there:

Of purest spirits thou pure dwelling-place!

Where care and sorrow, impotence and crime,

10

Languor, disease, and ignorance dare not come:

O happy Earth, reality of Heaven!

‘Genius has seen thee in her passionate dreams,

And dim forebodings of thy loveliness

Haunting the human heart, have there entwined

15

Those rooted hopes of some sweet place of bliss

Where friends and lovers meet to part no more.

Thou art the end of all desire and will,

The product of all action; and the souls

That by the paths of an aspiring change

20

Have reached thy haven of perpetual peace,

There rest from the eternity of toil

That framed the fabric of thy perfectness.

‘Even Time, the conqueror, fled thee in his fear;

That hoary giant, who, in lonely pride,

25

So long had ruled the world, that nations fell

Beneath his silent footstep. Pyramids,

That for millenniums had withstood the tide

Of human things, his storm-breath drove in sand

Across that desert where their stones survived

30

The name of him whose pride had heaped them there.

Yon monarch, in his solitary pomp,

Was but the mushroom of a summer day,

That his light-winged footstep pressed to dust:

Time was the king of earth: all things gave way

35

Before him, but the fixed and virtuous will,

The sacred sympathies of soul and sense,

That mocked his fury and prepared his fall.

‘Yet slow and gradual dawned the morn of love;

Long lay the clouds of darkness o’er the scene,

40

Till from its native Heaven they rolled away:

First, Crime triumphant o’er all hope careered

Unblushing, undisguising, bold and strong;

Whilst Falsehood, tricked in Virtue’s attributes,

Long sanctified all deeds of vice and woe,

45

Till done by her own venomous sting to death,

She left the moral world without a law,

No longer fettering Passion’s fearless wing —

Nor searing Reason with the brand of God.

Then steadily the happy ferment worked;

50

Reason was free; and wild though Passion went

Through tangled glens and wood-embosomed meads,

Gathering a garland of the strangest flowers,

Yet like the bee returning to her queen,

She bound the sweetest on her sister’s brow,

55

Who meek and sober kissed the sportive child,

No longer trembling at the broken rod.

‘Mild was the slow necessity of death:

The tranquil spirit failed beneath its grasp,

Without a groan, almost without a fear,

60

Calm as a voyager to some distant land,

And full of wonder, full of hope as he.

The deadly germs of languor and disease

Died in the human frame, and Purity

Blessed with all gifts her earthly worshippers.

65

How vigorous then the athletic form of age!

How clear its open and unwrinkled brow!

Where neither avarice, cunning, pride, nor care,

Had stamped the seal of gray deformity

On all the mingling lineaments of time.

70

How lovely the intrepid front of youth!

Which meek-eyed courage decked with freshest grace; —

Courage of soul, that dreaded not a name,

And elevated will, that journeyed on

Through life’s phantasmal scene in fearlessness,

75

With virtue, love, and pleasure, hand in hand.

‘Then, that sweet bondage which is Freedom’s self,

And rivets with sensation’s softest tie

The kindred sympathies of human souls,

Needed no fetters of tyrannic law:

80

Those delicate and timid impulses

In Nature’s primal modesty arose,

And with undoubted confidence disclosed

The growing longings of its dawning love,

Unchecked by dull and selfish chastity,

85

That virtue of the cheaply virtuous,

Who pride themselves in senselessness and frost.

No longer prostitution’s venomed bane

Poisoned the springs of happiness and life;

Woman and man, in confidence and love,

90

Equal and free and pure together trod

The mountain-paths of virtue, which no more

Were stained with blood from many a pilgrim’s feet.

‘Then, where, through distant ages, long in pride

The palace of the monarch-slave had mocked

95

Famine’s faint groan, and Penury’s silent tear,

A heap of crumbling ruins stood, and threw

Year after year their stones upon the field,

Wakening a lonely echo; and the leaves

Of the old thorn, that on the topmost tower

100

Usurped the royal ensign’s grandeur, shook

In the stern storm that swayed the topmost tower

And whispered strange tales in the Whirlwind’s ear.

‘Low through the lone cathedral’s roofless aisles

The melancholy winds a death-dirge sung:

105

It were a sight of awfulness to see

The works of faith and slavery, so vast,

So sumptuous, yet so perishing withal!

Even as the corpse that rests beneath its wall.

A thousand mourners deck the pomp of death

110

To-day, the breathing marble glows above

To decorate its memory, and tongues

Are busy of its life: to-morrow, worms

In silence and in darkness seize their prey.

‘Within the massy prison’s mouldering courts,

115

Fearless and free the ruddy children played,

Weaving gay chaplets for their innocent brows

With the green ivy and the red wallflower,

That mock the dungeon’s unavailing gloom;

The ponderous chains, and gratings of strong iron,

120

There rusted amid heaps of broken stone

That mingled slowly with their native earth:

There the broad beam of day, which feebly once

Lighted the cheek of lean Captivity

With a pale and sickly glare, then freely shone

125

On the pure smiles of infant playfulness:

No more the shuddering voice of hoarse Despair

Pealed through the echoing vaults, but soothing notes

Of ivy-fingered winds and gladsome birds

And merriment were resonant around.

130

‘These ruins soon left not a wreck behind:

Their elements, wide scattered o’er the globe,

To happier shapes were moulded, and became

Ministrant to all blissful impulses:

Thus human things were perfected, and earth,

135

Even as a child beneath its mother’s love,

Was strengthened in all excellence, and grew

Fairer and nobler with each passing year.

‘Now Time his dusky pennons o’er the scene

Closes in steadfast darkness, and the past

140

Fades from our charmed sight. My task is done:

Thy lore is learned. Earth’s wonders are thine own,

With all the fear and all the hope they bring.

My spells are passed: the present now recurs.

Ah me! a pathless wilderness remains

145

Yet unsubdued by man’s reclaiming hand.

‘Yet, human Spirit, bravely hold thy course,

Let virtue teach thee firmly to pursue

The gradual paths of an aspiring change:

For birth and life and death, and that strange state

150

Before the naked soul has found its home,

All tend to perfect happiness, and urge

The restless wheels of being on their way,

Whose flashing spokes, instinct with infinite life,

Bicker and burn to gain their destined goal:

155

For birth but wakes the spirit to the sense

Of outward shows, whose unexperienced shape

New modes of passion to its frame may lend;

Life is its state of action, and the store

Of all events is aggregated there

160

That variegate the eternal universe;

Death is a gate of dreariness and gloom,

That leads to azure isles and beaming skies

And happy regions of eternal hope.

Therefore, O Spirit! fearlessly bear on:

165

Though storms may break the primrose on its stalk,

Though frosts may blight the freshness of its bloom,

Yet Spring’s awakening breath will woo the earth,

To feed with kindliest dews its favourite flower,

That blooms in mossy banks and darksome glens,

170

Lighting the greenwood with its sunny smile.

‘Fear not then, Spirit, Death’s disrobing hand,

So welcome when the tyrant is awake,

So welcome when the bigot’s hell-torch burns;

’Tis but the voyage of a darksome hour,

175

The transient gulf-dream of a startling sleep.

Death is no foe to Virtue: earth has seen

Love’s brightest roses on the scaffold bloom,

Mingling with Freedom’s fadeless laurels there,

And presaging the truth of visioned bliss.

180

Are there not hopes within thee, which this scene

Of linked and gradual being has confirmed?

Whose stingings bade thy heart look further still,

When, to the moonlight walk by Henry led,

Sweetly and sadly thou didst talk of death?

185

And wilt thou rudely tear them from thy breast,

Listening supinely to a bigot’s creed,

Or tamely crouching to the tyrant’s rod,

Whose iron thongs are red with human gore?

Never: but bravely bearing on, thy will

190

Is destined an eternal war to wage

With tyranny and falsehood, and uproot

The germs of misery from the human heart.

Thine is the hand whose piety would soothe

The thorny pillow of unhappy crime,

195

Whose impotence an easy pardon gains,

Watching its wanderings as a friend’s disease:

Thine is the brow whose mildness would defy

Its fiercest rage, and brave its sternest will,

When fenced by power and master of the world.

200

Thou art sincere and good; of resolute mind,

Free from heart-withering custom’s cold control,

Of passion lofty, pure and unsubdued.

Earth’s pride and meanness could not vanquish thee,

And therefore art thou worthy of the boon

205

Which thou hast now received: Virtue shall keep

Thy footsteps in the path that thou hast trod,

And many days of beaming hope shall bless

Thy spotless life of sweet and sacred love.

Go, happy one, and give that bosom joy

210

Whose sleepless spirit waits to catch

Light, life and rapture from thy smile.’

The Fairy waves her wand of charm.

Speechless with bliss the Spirit mounts the car,

That rolled beside the battlement,

215

Bending her beamy eyes in thankful ness.

Again the enchanted steeds were yoked,

Again the burning wheels inflame

The steep descent of Heaven’s untrodden way.

Fast and far the chariot flew:

220

The vast and fiery globes that rolled

Around the Fairy’s palace-gate

Lessened by slow degrees and soon appeared

Such tiny twinklers as the planet orbs

That there attendant on the solar power

225

With borrowed light pursued their narrower way.

Earth floated then below:

The chariot paused a moment there;

The Spirit then descended:

The restless coursers pawed the ungenial soil,

230

Snuffed the gross air, and then, their errand done,

Unfurled their pinions to the winds of Heaven.

The Body and the Soul united then,

A gentle start convulsed Ianthe’s frame:

Her veiny eyelids quietly unclosed;

235

Moveless awhile the dark blue orbs remained:

She looked around in wonder and beheld

Henry, who kneeled in silence by her couch,

Watching her sleep with looks of speechless love,

And the bright beaming stars

240

That through the casement shone.

Notes on the Text and its Punctuation.

1.

Throughout this varied and eternal world

Soul is the only element: the block

That for uncounted ages has remained

The moveless pillar of a mountain’s weight

Is active, living spirit. (4, lines 139–143.)

This punctuation was proposed in 1888 by Mr. J. R. Tutin (see “Notebook of the Shelley Society”, Part 1, page 21), and adopted by Dowden, “Poetical Works of Shelley”, Macmillan, 1890. The editio princeps (1813), which is followed by Forman (1892) and Woodberry (1893), has a comma after element and a full stop at remained.

2.

Guards . . . from a nation’s rage

Secure the crown, etc. (4, lines 173–176.)

So Mrs. Shelley (“Poetical Works”, 1839, both editions), Rossetti, Forman, Dowden. The editio princeps reads Secures, which Woodberry defends and retains.

3. 4, lines 203–220: omitted by Mrs. Shelley from the text of “Poetical Works”, 1839, 1st edition, but restored in the 2nd edition of 1839. See above, “Note on Queen Mab, by Mrs. Shelley”.

4. All germs of promise, yet when the tall trees, etc. (5, line 9.)

So Rossetti, Dowden, Woodberry. In editions 1813 (editio princeps) and 1839 (“Poetical Works”, both editions) there is a full stop at promise which Forman retains.

5. Who ever hears his famished offspring’s scream, etc. (5, line 116.)

The editio princeps has offsprings — an evident misprint.

6. 6, lines 54–57, line 275: struck out of the text of “Poetical Works”, 1839 (1st edition), but restored in the 2nd edition of that year. See Note 3 above.

7. The exterminable spirit it contains, etc. (7, line 23.)

Exterminable seems to be used here in the sense of ‘illimitable’ (N. E. D.). Rossetti proposes interminable, or inexterminable.

8. A smile of godlike malice reillumed, etc. (7, line 180.)

The editio princeps and the first edition of “Poetical Works”, 1839, read reillumined here, which is retained by Forman, Dowden, Woodberry. With Rossetti, I follow Mrs. Shelley’s reading in “Poetical Works”, 1839 (2nd edition).

9. One curse alone was spared — the name of God. (8, line 165.)

Removed from the text, “Poetical Works”, 1839 (1st edition); restored, “Poetical Works”, 1839 (2nd edition). See Notes 3 and 6 above.

10.

Which from the exhaustless lore of human weal

Dawns on the virtuous mind, etc. (8, lines 204–205.)

With some hesitation as to lore, I reprint these lines as they are given by Shelley himself in the note on this passage (supra). The text of 1813 runs:—

Which from the exhaustless store of human weal

Draws on the virtuous mind, etc.

This is retained by Woodberry, while Rossetti, Forman, and Dowden adopt eclectic texts, Forman and Dowden reading lore and Draws, while Rossetti, again, reads store and Dawns. Our text is supported by the authority of Dr. Richard Garnett. The comma after infiniteness (line 206) has a metrical, not a logical, value.

11. Nor searing Reason with the brand of God. (9, line 48.)

Removed from the text, “Poetical Works”, 1839 (1st edition), by Mrs. Shelley, who failed, doubtless through an oversight, to restore it in the second edition. See Notes 3, 6, and 9 above.

12. Where neither avarice, cunning, pride, nor care, etc. (9, line 67.)

The editio princeps reads pride, or care, which is retained by Forman and Woodberry. With Rossetti and Dowden, I follow Mrs. Shelley’s text, “Poetical Works”, 1839 (both editions).

Notes to Queen Mab.

1. The mine, big with destructive power, burst under me, etc. (Note on 7 67.)

This is the reading of the “Poetical Works” of 1839 (2nd edition). The editio princeps (1813) reads burst upon me. Doubtless under was intended by Shelley: the occurrence, thrice over, of upon in the ten lines preceding would account for the unconscious substitution of the word here, either by the printer, or perhaps by Shelley himself in his transcript for the press.

2. . . . it cannot arise from reasoning, etc. (Note on 7 135.)

The editio princeps (1813) has conviction for reasoning here — an obvious error of the press, overlooked by Mrs. Shelley in 1839, and perpetuated in his several editions of the poems by Mr. H. Buxton Forman. Reasoning, Mr. W.M. Rossetti’s conjectural emendation, is manifestly the right word here, and has been adopted by Dowden and Woodberry.

3. Him, still from hope to hope, etc. (Note on 8 203–207.)

See editor’s note 10 on “Queen Mab” above.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/shelley/percy_bysshe/queen_mab/dedication.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30