The Revolt of Islam, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Canto 3.

1.

What thoughts had sway o’er Cythna’s lonely slumber

That night, I know not; but my own did seem

1110

As if they might ten thousand years outnumber

Of waking life, the visions of a dream

Which hid in one dim gulf the troubled stream

Of mind; a boundless chaos wild and vast,

Whose limits yet were never memory’s theme:

1115

And I lay struggling as its whirlwinds passed,

Sometimes for rapture sick, sometimes for pain aghast.

2.

Two hours, whose mighty circle did embrace

More time than might make gray the infant world,

Rolled thus, a weary and tumultuous space:

1120

When the third came, like mist on breezes curled,

From my dim sleep a shadow was unfurled:

Methought, upon the threshold of a cave

I sate with Cythna; drooping briony, pearled

With dew from the wild streamlet’s shattered wave,

1125

Hung, where we sate to taste the joys which Nature gave.

3.

We lived a day as we were wont to live,

But Nature had a robe of glory on,

And the bright air o’er every shape did weave

Intenser hues, so that the herbless stone,

1130

The leafless bough among the leaves alone,

Had being clearer than its own could be,

And Cythna’s pure and radiant self was shown,

In this strange vision, so divine to me,

That if I loved before, now love was agony.

4.
1135

Morn fled, noon came, evening, then night descended,

And we prolonged calm talk beneath the sphere

Of the calm moon — when suddenly was blended

With our repose a nameless sense of fear;

And from the cave behind I seemed to hear

1140

Sounds gathering upwards! — accents incomplete,

And stifled shrieks — and now, more near and near,

A tumult and a rush of thronging feet

The cavern’s secret depths beneath the earth did beat.

5.

The scene was changed, and away, away, away!

1145

Through the air and over the sea we sped,

And Cythna in my sheltering bosom lay,

And the winds bore me — through the darkness spread

Around, the gaping earth then vomited

Legions of foul and ghastly shapes, which hung

1150

Upon my flight; and ever, as we fled,

They plucked at Cythna — soon to me then clung

A sense of actual things those monstrous dreams among.

6.

And I lay struggling in the impotence

Of sleep, while outward life had burst its bound,

1155

Though, still deluded, strove the tortured sense

To its dire wanderings to adapt the sound

Which in the light of morn was poured around

Our dwelling; breathless, pale and unaware

I rose, and all the cottage crowded found

1160

With armed men, whose glittering swords were bare,

And whose degraded limbs the tyrant’s garb did wear.

7.

And, ere with rapid lips and gathered brow

I could demand the cause — a feeble shriek —

It was a feeble shriek, faint, far and low,

1165

Arrested me — my mien grew calm and meek,

And grasping a small knife, I went to seek

That voice among the crowd —’twas Cythna’s cry!

Beneath most calm resolve did agony wreak

Its whirlwind rage:— so I passed quietly

1170

Till I beheld, where bound, that dearest child did lie.

8.

I started to behold her, for delight

And exultation, and a joyance free,

Solemn, serene and lofty, filled the light

Of the calm smile with which she looked on me:

1175

So that I feared some brainless ecstasy,

Wrought from that bitter woe, had wildered her —

‘Farewell! farewell!’ she said, as I drew nigh;

‘At first my peace was marred by this strange stir,

Now I am calm as truth — its chosen minister.

9.
1180

‘Look not so, Laon — say farewell in hope,

These bloody men are but the slaves who bear

Their mistress to her task — it was my scope

The slavery where they drag me now, to share,

And among captives willing chains to wear

1185

Awhile — the rest thou knowest — return, dear friend!

Let our first triumph trample the despair

Which would ensnare us now, for in the end,

In victory or in death our hopes and fears must blend.’

10.

These words had fallen on my unheeding ear,

1190

Whilst I had watched the motions of the crew

With seeming-careless glance; not many were

Around her, for their comrades just withdrew

To guard some other victim — so I drew

My knife, and with one impulse, suddenly

1195

All unaware three of their number slew,

And grasped a fourth by the throat, and with loud cry

My countrymen invoked to death or liberty!

11.

What followed then, I know not — for a stroke

On my raised arm and naked head, came down,

1200

Filling my eyes with blood. — When I awoke,

I felt that they had bound me in my swoon,

And up a rock which overhangs the town,

By the steep path were bearing me; below,

The plain was filled with slaughter — overthrown

1205

The vineyards and the harvests, and the glow

Of blazing roofs shone far o’er the white Ocean’s flow.

12.

Upon that rock a mighty column stood,

Whose capital seemed sculptured in the sky,

Which to the wanderers o’er the solitude

1210

Of distant seas, from ages long gone by,

Had made a landmark; o’er its height to fly

Scarcely the cloud, the vulture, or the blast,

Has power — and when the shades of evening lie

On Earth and Ocean, its carved summits cast

1215

The sunken daylight far through the aerial waste.

13.

They bore me to a cavern in the hill

Beneath that column, and unbound me there;

And one did strip me stark; and one did fill

A vessel from the putrid pool; one bare

1220

A lighted torch, and four with friendless care

Guided my steps the cavern-paths along,

Then up a steep and dark and narrow stair

We wound, until the torch’s fiery tongue

Amid the gushing day beamless and pallid hung.

14.
1225

They raised me to the platform of the pile,

That column’s dizzy height:— the grate of brass

Through which they thrust me, open stood the while,

As to its ponderous and suspended mass,

With chains which eat into the flesh, alas!

1230

With brazen links, my naked limbs they bound:

The grate, as they departed to repass,

With horrid clangour fell, and the far sound

Of their retiring steps in the dense gloom was drowned.

15.

The noon was calm and bright:— around that column

1235

The overhanging sky and circling sea

Spread forth in silentness profound and solemn

The darkness of brief frenzy cast on me,

So that I knew not my own misery:

The islands and the mountains in the day

1240

Like clouds reposed afar; and I could see

The town among the woods below that lay,

And the dark rocks which bound the bright and glassy bay.

16.

It was so calm, that scarce the feathery weed

Sown by some eagle on the topmost stone

1245

Swayed in the air:— so bright, that noon did breed

No shadow in the sky beside mine own —

Mine, and the shadow of my chain alone.

Below, the smoke of roofs involved in flame

Rested like night, all else was clearly shown

1250

In that broad glare; yet sound to me none came,

But of the living blood that ran within my frame.

17.

The peace of madness fled, and ah, too soon!

A ship was lying on the sunny main,

Its sails were flagging in the breathless noon —

1255

Its shadow lay beyond — that sight again

Waked, with its presence, in my tranced brain

The stings of a known sorrow, keen and cold:

I knew that ship bore Cythna o’er the plain

Of waters, to her blighting slavery sold,

1260

And watched it with such thoughts as must remain untold.

18.

I watched until the shades of evening wrapped

Earth like an exhalation — then the bark

Moved, for that calm was by the sunset snapped.

It moved a speck upon the Ocean dark:

1265

Soon the wan stars came forth, and I could mark

Its path no more! — I sought to close mine eyes,

But like the balls, their lids were stiff and stark;

I would have risen, but ere that I could rise,

My parched skin was split with piercing agonies.

19.
1270

I gnawed my brazen chain, and sought to sever

Its adamantine links, that I might die:

O Liberty! forgive the base endeavour,

Forgive me, if, reserved for victory,

The Champion of thy faith e’er sought to fly. —

1275

That starry night, with its clear silence, sent

Tameless resolve which laughed at misery

Into my soul — linked remembrance lent

To that such power, to me such a severe content.

20.

To breathe, to be, to hope, or to despair

1280

And die, I questioned not; nor, though the Sun

Its shafts of agony kindling through the air

Moved over me, nor though in evening dun,

Or when the stars their visible courses run,

Or morning, the wide universe was spread

1285

In dreary calmness round me, did I shun

Its presence, nor seek refuge with the dead

From one faint hope whose flower a dropping poison shed.

21.

Two days thus passed — I neither raved nor died —

Thirst raged within me, like a scorpion’s nest

1290

Built in mine entrails; I had spurned aside

The water-vessel, while despair possessed

My thoughts, and now no drop remained! The uprest

Of the third sun brought hunger — but the crust

Which had been left, was to my craving breast

1295

Fuel, not food. I chewed the bitter dust,

And bit my bloodless arm, and licked the brazen rust.

22.

My brain began to fail when the fourth morn

Burst o’er the golden isles — a fearful sleep,

Which through the caverns dreary and forlorn

1300

Of the riven soul, sent its foul dreams to sweep

With whirlwind swiftness — a fall far and deep —

A gulf, a void, a sense of senselessness —

These things dwelt in me, even as shadows keep

Their watch in some dim charnel’s loneliness,

1305

A shoreless sea, a sky sunless and planetless!

23.

The forms which peopled this terrific trance

I well remember — like a choir of devils,

Around me they involved a giddy dance;

Legions seemed gathering from the misty levels

1310

Of Ocean, to supply those ceaseless revels,

Foul, ceaseless shadows:— thought could not divide

The actual world from these entangling evils,

Which so bemocked themselves, that I descried

All shapes like mine own self, hideously multiplied.

24.
1315

The sense of day and night, of false and true,

Was dead within me. Yet two visions burst

That darkness — one, as since that hour I knew,

Was not a phantom of the realms accursed,

Where then my spirit dwelt — but of the first

1320

I know not yet, was it a dream or no.

But both, though not distincter, were immersed

In hues which, when through memory’s waste they flow,

Make their divided streams more bright and rapid now.

25.

Methought that grate was lifted, and the seven

1325

Who brought me thither four stiff corpses bare,

And from the frieze to the four winds of Heaven

Hung them on high by the entangled hair;

Swarthy were three — the fourth was very fair;

As they retired, the golden moon upsprung,

1330

And eagerly, out in the giddy air,

Leaning that I might eat, I stretched and clung

Over the shapeless depth in which those corpses hung.

26.

A woman’s shape, now lank and cold and blue,

The dwelling of the many-coloured worm,

1335

Hung there; the white and hollow cheek I drew

To my dry lips — what radiance did inform

Those horny eyes? whose was that withered form?

Alas, alas! it seemed that Cythna’s ghost

Laughed in those looks, and that the flesh was warm

1340

Within my teeth! — a whirlwind keen as frost

Then in its sinking gulfs my sickening spirit tossed.

27.

Then seemed it that a tameless hurricane

Arose, and bore me in its dark career

Beyond the sun, beyond the stars that wane

1345

On the verge of formless space — it languished there,

And dying, left a silence lone and drear,

More horrible than famine:— in the deep

The shape of an old man did then appear,

Stately and beautiful; that dreadful sleep

1350

His heavenly smiles dispersed, and I could wake and weep.

28.

And, when the blinding tears had fallen, I saw

That column, and those corpses, and the moon,

And felt the poisonous tooth of hunger gnaw

My vitals, I rejoiced, as if the boon

1355

Of senseless death would be accorded soon; —

When from that stony gloom a voice arose,

Solemn and sweet as when low winds attune

The midnight pines; the grate did then unclose,

And on that reverend form the moonlight did repose.

29.
1360

He struck my chains, and gently spake and smiled;

As they were loosened by that Hermit old,

Mine eyes were of their madness half beguiled,

To answer those kind looks; he did enfold

His giant arms around me, to uphold

1365

My wretched frame; my scorched limbs he wound

In linen moist and balmy, and as cold

As dew to drooping leaves; — the chain, with sound

Like earthquake, through the chasm of that steep stair did bound,

30.

As, lifting me, it fell! — What next I heard,

1370

Were billows leaping on the harbour-bar,

And the shrill sea-wind, whose breath idly stirred

My hair; — I looked abroad, and saw a star

Shining beside a sail, and distant far

That mountain and its column, the known mark

1375

Of those who in the wide deep wandering are,

So that I feared some Spirit, fell and dark,

In trance had lain me thus within a fiendish bark.

31.

For now indeed, over the salt sea-billow

I sailed: yet dared not look upon the shape

1380

Of him who ruled the helm, although the pillow

For my light head was hollowed in his lap,

And my bare limbs his mantle did enwrap,

Fearing it was a fiend: at last, he bent

O’er me his aged face; as if to snap

1385

Those dreadful thoughts the gentle grandsire bent,

And to my inmost soul his soothing looks he sent.

32.

A soft and healing potion to my lips

At intervals he raised — now looked on high,

To mark if yet the starry giant dips

1390

His zone in the dim sea — now cheeringly,

Though he said little, did he speak to me.

‘It is a friend beside thee — take good cheer,

Poor victim, thou art now at liberty!’

I joyed as those a human tone to hear,

1395

Who in cells deep and lone have languished many a year.

33.

A dim and feeble joy, whose glimpses oft

Were quenched in a relapse of wildering dreams;

Yet still methought we sailed, until aloft

The stars of night grew pallid, and the beams

1400

Of morn descended on the ocean-streams,

And still that aged man, so grand and mild,

Tended me, even as some sick mother seems

To hang in hope over a dying child,

Till in the azure East darkness again was piled.

34.
1405

And then the night-wind steaming from the shore,

Sent odours dying sweet across the sea,

And the swift boat the little waves which bore,

Were cut by its keen keel, though slantingly;

Soon I could hear the leaves sigh, and could see

1410

The myrtle-blossoms starring the dim grove,

As past the pebbly beach the boat did flee

On sidelong wing, into a silent cove,

Where ebon pines a shade under the starlight wove.

_1223 torches’ editions 1818, 1839.

_1385 bent]meant cj. J. Nettleship.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/shelley/percy_bysshe/revolt_of_islam/canto3.html

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