The Complete Poetical Works, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Hellas

A Lyrical Drama.

MANTIS EIM EZTHLON AGONUN. — OEDIP. COLON.

[“Hellas” was composed at Pisa in the autumn of 1821, and dispatched to London, November 11. It was published, with the author’s name, by C. & J. Ollier in the spring of 1822. A transcript of the poem by Edward Williams is in the Rowfant Library. Ollier availed himself of Shelley’s permission to cancel certain passages in the notes; he also struck out certain lines of the text. These omissions were, some of them, restored in Galignani’s one-volume edition of “Coleridge, Shelley and Keats”, Paris, 1829, and also by Mrs. Shelley in the “Poetical Works”, 1839. A passage in the “Preface”, suppressed by Ollier, was restored by Mr. Buxton Forman (1892) from a proof copy of “Hellas” in his possession. The “Prologue to Hellas” was edited by Dr. Garnett in 1862 (“Relics of Shelley”) from the manuscripts at Boscombe Manor.

Our text is that of the editio princeps, 1822, corrected by a list of “Errata” sent by Shelley to Ollier, April 11, 1822. The Editor’s Notes at the end of Volume 3 should be consulted.]

Table of Contents

Dedication.

Preface.

Prologue to Hellas.

Dramatis Personae:

Note on Hellas, by Mrs. Shelley.

Dedication.

TO HIS EXCELLENCY

PRINCE ALEXANDER MAVROCORDATO

LATE SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS TO THE HOSPODAR OF WALLACHIA

THE DRAMA OF HELLAS IS INSCRIBED AS AN

IMPERFECT TOKEN OF THE ADMIRATION,

SYMPATHY, AND FRIENDSHIP OF

THE AUTHOR.

Pisa, November 1, 1821.

Preface.

The poem of “Hellas”, written at the suggestion of the events of the moment, is a mere improvise, and derives its interest (should it be found to possess any) solely from the intense sympathy which the Author feels with the cause he would celebrate.

The subject, in its present state, is insusceptible of being treated otherwise than lyrically, and if I have called this poem a drama from the circumstance of its being composed in dialogue, the licence is not greater than that which has been assumed by other poets who have called their productions epics, only because they have been divided into twelve or twenty-four books.

The “Persae” of Aeschylus afforded me the first model of my conception, although the decision of the glorious contest now waging in Greece being yet suspended forbids a catastrophe parallel to the return of Xerxes and the desolation of the Persians. I have, therefore, contented myself with exhibiting a series of lyric pictures, and with having wrought upon the curtain of futurity, which falls upon the unfinished scene, such figures of indistinct and visionary delineation as suggest the final triumph of the Greek cause as a portion of the cause of civilisation and social improvement.

The drama (if drama it must be called) is, however, so inartificial that I doubt whether, if recited on the Thespian waggon to an Athenian village at the Dionysiaca, it would have obtained the prize of the goat. I shall bear with equanimity any punishment, greater than the loss of such a reward, which the Aristarchi of the hour may think fit to inflict.

The only “goat-song” which I have yet attempted has, I confess, in spite of the unfavourable nature of the subject, received a greater and a more valuable portion of applause than I expected or than it deserved.

Common fame is the only authority which I can allege for the details which form the basis of the poem, and I must trespass upon the forgiveness of my readers for the display of newspaper erudition to which I have been reduced. Undoubtedly, until the conclusion of the war, it will be impossible to obtain an account of it sufficiently authentic for historical materials; but poets have their privilege, and it is unquestionable that actions of the most exalted courage have been performed by the Greeks — that they have gained more than one naval victory, and that their defeat in Wallachia was signalized by circumstances of heroism more glorious even than victory.

The apathy of the rulers of the civilised world to the astonishing circumstance of the descendants of that nation to which they owe their civilisation, rising as it were from the ashes of their ruin, is something perfectly inexplicable to a mere spectator of the shows of this mortal scene. We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their root in Greece. But for Greece — Rome, the instructor, the conqueror, or the metropolis of our ancestors, would have spread no illumination with her arms, and we might still have been savages and idolaters; or, what is worse, might have arrived at such a stagnant and miserable state of social institution as China and Japan possess.

The human form and the human mind attained to a perfection in Greece which has impressed its image on those faultless productions, whose very fragments are the despair of modern art, and has propagated impulses which cannot cease, through a thousand channels of manifest or imperceptible operation, to ennoble and delight mankind until the extinction of the race.

The modern Greek is the descendant of those glorious beings whom the imagination almost refuses to figure to itself as belonging to our kind, and he inherits much of their sensibility, their rapidity of conception, their enthusiasm, and their courage. If in many instances he is degraded by moral and political slavery to the practice of the basest vices it engenders — and that below the level of ordinary degradation — let us reflect that the corruption of the best produces the worst, and that habits which subsist only in relation to a peculiar state of social institution may be expected to cease as soon as that relation is dissolved. In fact, the Greeks, since the admirable novel of Anastasius could have been a faithful picture of their manners, have undergone most important changes; the flower of their youth, returning to their country from the universities of Italy, Germany, and France, have communicated to their fellow-citizens the latest results of that social perfection of which their ancestors were the original source. The University of Chios contained before the breaking out of the revolution eight hundred students, and among them several Germans and Americans. The munificence and energy of many of the Greek princes and merchants, directed to the renovation of their country with a spirit and a wisdom which has few examples, is above all praise.

The English permit their own oppressors to act according to their natural sympathy with the Turkish tyrant, and to brand upon their name the indelible blot of an alliance with the enemies of domestic happiness, of Christianity and civilisation.

Russia desires to possess, not to liberate Greece; and is contented to see the Turks, its natural enemies, and the Greeks, its intended slaves, enfeeble each other until one or both fall into its net. The wise and generous policy of England would have consisted in establishing the independence of Greece, and in maintaining it both against Russia and the Turk; — but when was the oppressor generous or just?

The Spanish Peninsula is already free. France is tranquil in the enjoyment of a partial exemption from the abuses which its unnatural and feeble government are vainly attempting to revive. The seed of blood and misery has been sown in Italy, and a more vigorous race is arising to go forth to the harvest. The world waits only the news of a revolution of Germany to see the tyrants who have pinnacled themselves on its supineness precipitated into the ruin from which they shall never arise. Well do these destroyers of mankind know their enemy, when they impute the insurrection in Greece to the same spirit before which they tremble throughout the rest of Europe, and that enemy well knows the power and the cunning of its opponents, and watches the moment of their approaching weakness and inevitable division to wrest the bloody sceptres from their grasp.

Should the English people ever become free, they will reflect upon the part which those who presume to represent their will have played in the great drama of the revival of liberty, with feelings which it would become them to anticipate. This is the age of the war of the oppressed against the oppressors, and every one of those ringleaders of the privileged gangs of murderers and swindlers, called Sovereigns, look to each other for aid against the common enemy, and suspend their mutual jealousies in the presence of a mightier fear. Of this holy alliance all the despots of the earth are virtual members. But a new race has arisen throughout Europe, nursed in the abhorrence of the opinions which are its chains, and she will continue to produce fresh generations to accomplish that destiny which tyrants foresee and dread.

[This paragraph, suppressed in 1822 by Charles Ollier, was first restored in 1892 by Mr. Buxton Forman [“Poetical Works of P. B. S.”, volume 4 pages 40-41] from a proof copy of Hellas in his possession.]

Prologue to Hellas.

HERALD OF ETERNITY:

It is the day when all the sons of God

Wait in the roofless senate-house, whose floor

Is Chaos, and the immovable abyss

Frozen by His steadfast word to hyaline

. . .

5

The shadow of God, and delegate

Of that before whose breath the universe

Is as a print of dew.

Hierarchs and kings

Who from your thrones pinnacled on the past

Sway the reluctant present, ye who sit

10

Pavilioned on the radiance or the gloom

Of mortal thought, which like an exhalation

Steaming from earth, conceals the . . . of heaven

Which gave it birth. . . . assemble here

Before your Father’s throne; the swift decree

15

Yet hovers, and the fiery incarnation

Is yet withheld, clothed in which it shall

annul

The fairest of those wandering isles that gem

The sapphire space of interstellar air,

20

That green and azure sphere, that earth enwrapped

Less in the beauty of its tender light

Than in an atmosphere of living spirit

Which interpenetrating all the . . .

it rolls from realm to realm

25

And age to age, and in its ebb and flow

Impels the generations

To their appointed place,

Whilst the high Arbiter

Beholds the strife, and at the appointed time

30

Sends His decrees veiled in eternal . . .

Within the circuit of this pendent orb

There lies an antique region, on which fell

The dews of thought in the world’s golden dawn

Earliest and most benign, and from it sprung

35

Temples and cities and immortal forms

And harmonies of wisdom and of song,

And thoughts, and deeds worthy of thoughts so fair.

And when the sun of its dominion failed,

And when the winter of its glory came,

40

The winds that stripped it bare blew on and swept

That dew into the utmost wildernesses

In wandering clouds of sunny rain that thawed

The unmaternal bosom of the North.

Haste, sons of God, . . . for ye beheld,

45

Reluctant, or consenting, or astonished,

The stern decrees go forth, which heaped on Greece

Ruin and degradation and despair.

A fourth now waits: assemble, sons of God,

To speed or to prevent or to suspend,

50

If, as ye dream, such power be not withheld,

The unaccomplished destiny.

. . .

CHORUS:

The curtain of the Universe

Is rent and shattered,

The splendour-winged worlds disperse

55

Like wild doves scattered.

Space is roofless and bare,

And in the midst a cloudy shrine,

Dark amid thrones of light.

In the blue glow of hyaline

60

Golden worlds revolve and shine.

In . . . flight

From every point of the Infinite,

Like a thousand dawns on a single night

The splendours rise and spread;

65

And through thunder and darkness dread

Light and music are radiated,

And in their pavilioned chariots led

By living wings high overhead

The giant Powers move,

70

Gloomy or bright as the thrones they fill.

. . .

A chaos of light and motion

Upon that glassy ocean.

. . .

The senate of the Gods is met,

Each in his rank and station set;

75

There is silence in the spaces —

Lo! Satan, Christ, and Mahomet

Start from their places!

CHRIST:

Almighty Father!

Low-kneeling at the feet of Destiny

. . .

80

There are two fountains in which spirits weep

When mortals err, Discord and Slavery named,

And with their bitter dew two Destinies

Filled each their irrevocable urns; the third

Fiercest and mightiest, mingled both, and added

85

Chaos and Death, and slow Oblivion’s lymph,

And hate and terror, and the poisoned rain

. . .

The Aurora of the nations. By this brow

Whose pores wept tears of blood, by these wide wounds,

By this imperial crown of agony,

90

By infamy and solitude and death,

For this I underwent, and by the pain

Of pity for those who would . . . for me

The unremembered joy of a revenge,

For this I felt — by Plato’s sacred light,

95

Of which my spirit was a burning morrow —

By Greece and all she cannot cease to be.

Her quenchless words, sparks of immortal truth,

Stars of all night — her harmonies and forms,

Echoes and shadows of what Love adores

100

In thee, I do compel thee, send forth Fate,

Thy irrevocable child: let her descend,

A seraph-winged Victory [arrayed]

In tempest of the omnipotence of God

Which sweeps through all things.

105

From hollow leagues, from Tyranny which arms

Adverse miscreeds and emulous anarchies

To stamp, as on a winged serpent’s seed,

Upon the name of Freedom; from the storm

Of faction, which like earthquake shakes and sickens

110

The solid heart of enterprise; from all

By which the holiest dreams of highest spirits

Are stars beneath the dawn . . .

She shall arise

Victorious as the world arose from Chaos!

And as the Heavens and the Earth arrayed

115

Their presence in the beauty and the light

Of Thy first smile, O Father — as they gather

The spirit of Thy love which paves for them

Their path o’er the abyss, till every sphere

Shall be one living Spirit — so shall Greece —

SATAN:

120

Be as all things beneath the empyrean,

Mine! Art thou eyeless like old Destiny,

Thou mockery-king, crowned with a wreath of thorns?

Whose sceptre is a reed, the broken reed

Which pierces thee! whose throne a chair of scorn;

125

For seest thou not beneath this crystal floor

The innumerable worlds of golden light

Which are my empire, and the least of them

which thou wouldst redeem from me?

Know’st thou not them my portion?

130

Or wouldst rekindle the . . . strife

Which our great Father then did arbitrate

Which he assigned to his competing sons

Each his apportioned realm?

Thou Destiny,

Thou who art mailed in the omnipotence

135

Of Him who tends thee forth, whate’er thy task,

Speed, spare not to accomplish, and be mine

Thy trophies, whether Greece again become

The fountain in the desert whence the earth

Shall drink of freedom, which shall give it strength

140

To suffer, or a gulf of hollow death

To swallow all delight, all life, all hope.

Go, thou Vicegerent of my will, no less

Than of the Father’s; but lest thou shouldst faint,

The winged hounds, Famine and Pestilence,

145

Shall wait on thee, the hundred-forked snake

Insatiate Superstition still shall . . .

The earth behind thy steps, and War shall hover

Above, and Fraud shall gape below, and Change

Shall flit before thee on her dragon wings,

150

Convulsing and consuming, and I add

Three vials of the tears which daemons weep

When virtuous spirits through the gate of Death

Pass triumphing over the thorns of life,

Sceptres and crowns, mitres and swords and snares,

155

Trampling in scorn, like Him and Socrates.

The first is Anarchy; when Power and Pleasure,

Glory and science and security,

On Freedom hang like fruit on the green tree,

Then pour it forth, and men shall gather ashes.

The second Tyranny —

CHRIST:

160

Obdurate spirit!

Thou seest but the Past in the To-come.

Pride is thy error and thy punishment.

Boast not thine empire, dream not that thy worlds

Are more than furnace-sparks or rainbow-drops

165

Before the Power that wields and kindles them.

True greatness asks not space, true excellence

Lives in the Spirit of all things that live,

Which lends it to the worlds thou callest thine.

. . .

MAHOMET:

. . . Haste thou and fill the waning crescent

170

With beams as keen as those which pierced the shadow

Of Christian night rolled back upon the West,

When the orient moon of Islam rode in triumph

From Tmolus to the Acroceraunian snow.

. . .

Wake, thou Word

175

Of God, and from the throne of Destiny

Even to the utmost limit of thy way

May Triumph

. . .

Be thou a curse on them whose creed

Divides and multiplies the most high God.

_8 your Garnett; yon Forman, Dowden.

Hellas.

Dramatis Personae:

MAHMUD.
HASSAN.
DAOOD.
AHASUERUS, A JEW.
CHORUS OF GREEK CAPTIVE WOMEN.
THE PHANTOM OF MAHOMET II. [(OMITTED, EDITION 1822.)]
MESSENGERS, SLAVES, AND ATTENDANTS.

SCENE: CONSTANTINOPLE.

TIME: SUNSET.

Hellas.

SCENE: A TERRACE ON THE SERAGLIO. MAHMUD SLEEPING, AN INDIAN SLAVE SITTING BESIDE HIS COUCH.

CHORUS OF GREEK CAPTIVE WOMEN:

We strew these opiate flowers

On thy restless pillow —

They were stripped from Orient bowers,

By the Indian billow.

5

Be thy sleep

Calm and deep,

Like theirs who fell — not ours who weep!

INDIAN:

Away, unlovely dreams!

Away, false shapes of sleep

10

Be his, as Heaven seems,

Clear, and bright, and deep!

Soft as love, and calm as death,

Sweet as a summer night without a breath.

CHORUS:

Sleep, sleep! our song is laden

15

With the soul of slumber;

It was sung by a Samian maiden,

Whose lover was of the number

Who now keep

That calm sleep

20

Whence none may wake, where none shall weep.

INDIAN:

I touch thy temples pale!

I breathe my soul on thee!

And could my prayers avail,

All my joy should be

25

Dead, and I would live to weep,

So thou mightst win one hour of quiet sleep.

CHORUS:

Breathe low, low

The spell of the mighty mistress now!

When Conscience lulls her sated snake,

30

And Tyrants sleep, let Freedom wake.

Breathe low — low

The words which, like secret fire, shall flow

Through the veins of the frozen earth — low, low!

SEMICHORUS 1:

Life may change, but it may fly not;

35

Hope may vanish, but can die not;

Truth be veiled, but still it burneth;

Love repulsed — but it returneth!

SEMICHORUS 2:

Yet were life a charnel where

Hope lay coffined with Despair;

40

Yet were truth a sacred lie,

Love were lust —

SEMICHORUS 1:

If Liberty

Lent not life its soul of light,

Hope its iris of delight,

Truth its prophet’s robe to wear,

45

Love its power to give and bear.

CHORUS:

In the great morning of the world,

The Spirit of God with might unfurled

The flag of Freedom over Chaos,

And all its banded anarchs fled,

50

Like vultures frighted from Imaus,

Before an earthquake’s tread. —

So from Time’s tempestuous dawn

Freedom’s splendour burst and shone:—

Thermopylae and Marathon

55

Caught like mountains beacon-lighted,

The springing Fire. — The winged glory

On Philippi half-alighted,

Like an eagle on a promontory.

Its unwearied wings could fan

60

The quenchless ashes of Milan.

From age to age, from man to man,

It lived; and lit from land to land

Florence, Albion, Switzerland.

Then night fell; and, as from night,

65

Reassuming fiery flight,

From the West swift Freedom came,

Against the course of Heaven and doom.

A second sun arrayed in flame,

To burn, to kindle, to illume.

70

From far Atlantis its young beams

Chased the shadows and the dreams.

France, with all her sanguine steams,

Hid, but quenched it not; again

Through clouds its shafts of glory rain

75

From utmost Germany to Spain.

As an eagle fed with morning

Scorns the embattled tempest’s warning,

When she seeks her aerie hanging

In the mountain-cedar’s hair,

80

And her brood expect the clanging

Of her wings through the wild air,

Sick with famine:— Freedom, so

To what of Greece remaineth now

Returns; her hoary ruins glow

85

Like Orient mountains lost in day;

Beneath the safety of her wings

Her renovated nurslings prey,

And in the naked lightenings

Of truth they purge their dazzled eyes.

90

Let Freedom leave — where’er she flies,

A Desert, or a Paradise:

Let the beautiful and the brave

Share her glory, or a grave.

SEMICHORUS 1:

With the gifts of gladness

95

Greece did thy cradle strew;

SEMICHORUS 2:

With the tears of sadness

Greece did thy shroud bedew!

SEMICHORUS 1:

With an orphan’s affection

She followed thy bier through Time;

SEMICHORUS 2:

100

And at thy resurrection

Reappeareth, like thou, sublime!

SEMICHORUS 1:

If Heaven should resume thee,

To Heaven shall her spirit ascend;

SEMICHORUS 2:

If Hell should entomb thee,

105

To Hell shall her high hearts bend.

SEMICHORUS 1:

If Annihilation —

SEMICHORUS 2:

Dust let her glories be!

And a name and a nation

Be forgotten, Freedom, with thee!

INDIAN:

110

His brow grows darker — breathe not — move not!

He starts — he shudders — ye that love not,

With your panting loud and fast,

Have awakened him at last.

MAHMUD [STARTING FROM HIS SLEEP]:

Man the Seraglio-guard! make fast the gate!

115

What! from a cannonade of three short hours?

’Tis false! that breach towards the Bosphorus

Cannot be practicable yet — who stirs?

Stand to the match; that when the foe prevails

One spark may mix in reconciling ruin

120

The conqueror and the conquered! Heave the tower

Into the gap — wrench off the roof!

[ENTER HASSAN.]

Ha! what!

The truth of day lightens upon my dream

And I am Mahmud still.

HASSAN:

Your Sublime Highness

Is strangely moved.

MAHMUD:

The times do cast strange shadows

125

On those who watch and who must rule their course,

Lest they, being first in peril as in glory,

Be whelmed in the fierce ebb:— and these are of them.

Thrice has a gloomy vision hunted me

As thus from sleep into the troubled day;

130

It shakes me as the tempest shakes the sea,

Leaving no figure upon memory’s glass.

Would that — no matter. Thou didst say thou knewest

A Jew, whose spirit is a chronicle

Of strange and secret and forgotten things.

135

I bade thee summon him:—’tis said his tribe

Dream, and are wise interpreters of dreams.

HASSAN:

The Jew of whom I spake is old — so old

He seems to have outlived a world’s decay;

The hoary mountains and the wrinkled ocean

140

Seem younger still than he; — his hair and beard

Are whiter than the tempest-sifted snow;

His cold pale limbs and pulseless arteries

Are like the fibres of a cloud instinct

With light, and to the soul that quickens them

145

Are as the atoms of the mountain-drift

To the winter wind:— but from his eye looks forth

A life of unconsumed thought which pierces

The Present, and the Past, and the To-come.

Some say that this is he whom the great prophet

150

Jesus, the son of Joseph, for his mockery,

Mocked with the curse of immortality.

Some feign that he is Enoch: others dream

He was pre-adamite and has survived

Cycles of generation and of ruin.

155

The sage, in truth, by dreadful abstinence

And conquering penance of the mutinous flesh,

Deep contemplation, and unwearied study,

In years outstretched beyond the date of man,

May have attained to sovereignty and science

160

Over those strong and secret things and thoughts

Which others fear and know not.

MAHMUD:

I would talk

With this old Jew.

HASSAN:

Thy will is even now

Made known to him, where he dwells in a sea-cavern

‘Mid the Demonesi, less accessible

165

Than thou or God! He who would question him

Must sail alone at sunset, where the stream

Of Ocean sleeps around those foamless isles,

When the young moon is westering as now,

And evening airs wander upon the wave;

170

And when the pines of that bee-pasturing isle,

Green Erebinthus, quench the fiery shadow

Of his gilt prow within the sapphire water,

Then must the lonely helmsman cry aloud

‘Ahasuerus!’ and the caverns round

175

Will answer ‘Ahasuerus!’ If his prayer

Be granted, a faint meteor will arise

Lighting him over Marmora, and a wind

Will rush out of the sighing pine-forest,

And with the wind a storm of harmony

180

Unutterably sweet, and pilot him

Through the soft twilight to the Bosphorus:

Thence at the hour and place and circumstance

Fit for the matter of their conference

The Jew appears. Few dare, and few who dare

185

Win the desired communion — but that shout

Bodes —

[A SHOUT WITHIN.]

MAHMUD:

Evil, doubtless; Like all human sounds.

Let me converse with spirits.

HASSAN:

That shout again.

MAHMUD:

This Jew whom thou hast summoned —

HASSAN:

Will be here —

MAHMUD:

When the omnipotent hour to which are yoked

190

He, I, and all things shall compel — enough!

Silence those mutineers — that drunken crew,

That crowd about the pilot in the storm.

Ay! strike the foremost shorter by a head!

They weary me, and I have need of rest.

195

Kinks are like stars — they rise and set, they have

The worship of the world, but no repose.

[EXEUNT SEVERALLY.]

CHORUS:

Worlds on worlds are rolling ever

From creation to decay,

Like the bubbles on a river

200

Sparkling, bursting, borne away.

But they are still immortal

Who, through birth’s orient portal

And death’s dark chasm hurrying to and fro,

Clothe their unceasing flight

205

In the brief dust and light

Gathered around their chariots as they go;

New shapes they still may weave,

New gods, new laws receive,

Bright or dim are they as the robes they last

210

On Death’s bare ribs had cast.

A power from the unknown God,

A Promethean conqueror, came;

Like a triumphal path he trod

The thorns of death and shame.

215

A mortal shape to him

Was like the vapour dim

Which the orient planet animates with light;

Hell, Sin, and Slavery came,

Like bloodhounds mild and tame,

220

Nor preyed, until their Lord had taken flight;

The moon of Mahomet

Arose, and it shall set:

While blazoned as on Heaven’s immortal noon

The cross leads generations on.

225

Swift as the radiant shapes of sleep

From one whose dreams are Paradise

Fly, when the fond wretch wakes to weep,

And Day peers forth with her blank eyes;

So fleet, so faint, so fair,

230

The Powers of earth and air

Fled from the folding-star of Bethlehem:

Apollo, Pan, and Love,

And even Olympian Jove

Grew weak, for killing Truth had glared on them;

235

Our hills and seas and streams,

Dispeopled of their dreams,

Their waters turned to blood, their dew to tears,

Wailed for the golden years.

[ENTER MAHMUD, HASSAN, DAOOD, AND OTHERS.]

MAHMUD:

More gold? our ancestors bought gold with victory,

And shall I sell it for defeat?

DAOOD:

240

The Janizars

Clamour for pay.

MAHMUD:

Go! bid them pay themselves

With Christian blood! Are there no Grecian virgins

Whose shrieks and spasms and tears they may enjoy?

No infidel children to impale on spears?

245

No hoary priests after that Patriarch

Who bent the curse against his country’s heart,

Which clove his own at last? Go! bid them kill,

Blood is the seed of gold.

DAOOD:

It has been sown,

And yet the harvest to the sicklemen

Is as a grain to each.

MAHMUD:

250

Then, take this signet,

Unlock the seventh chamber in which lie

The treasures of victorious Solyman —

An empire’s spoil stored for a day of ruin.

O spirit of my sires! is it not come?

255

The prey-birds and the wolves are gorged and sleep;

But these, who spread their feast on the red earth,

Hunger for gold, which fills not. — See them fed;

Then, lead them to the rivers of fresh death.

[EXIT DAOOD.]

O miserable dawn, after a night

260

More glorious than the day which it usurped!

O faith in God! O power on earth! O word

Of the great prophet, whose o’ershadowing wings

Darkened the thrones and idols of the West,

Now bright! — For thy sake cursed be the hour,

265

Even as a father by an evil child,

When the orient moon of Islam rolled in triumph

From Caucasus to White Ceraunia!

Ruin above, and anarchy below;

Terror without, and treachery within;

270

The Chalice of destruction full, and all

Thirsting to drink; and who among us dares

To dash it from his lips? and where is Hope?

HASSAN:

The lamp of our dominion still rides high;

One God is God — Mahomet is His prophet.

275

Four hundred thousand Moslems, from the limits

Of utmost Asia, irresistibly

Throng, like full clouds at the Sirocco’s cry;

But not like them to weep their strength in tears:

They bear destroying lightning, and their step

280

Wakes earthquake to consume and overwhelm,

And reign in ruin. Phrygian Olympus,

Tmolus, and Latmos, and Mycale, roughen

With horrent arms; and lofty ships even now,

Like vapours anchored to a mountain’s edge,

285

Freighted with fire and whirlwind, wait at Scala

The convoy of the ever-veering wind.

Samos is drunk with blood; — the Greek has paid

Brief victory with swift loss and long despair.

The false Moldavian serfs fled fast and far

290

When the fierce shout of ‘Allah-illa-Allah!’

Rose like the war-cry of the northern wind

Which kills the sluggish clouds, and leaves a flock

Of wild swans struggling with the naked storm.

So were the lost Greeks on the Danube’s day!

295

If night is mute, yet the returning sun

Kindles the voices of the morning birds;

Nor at thy bidding less exultingly

Than birds rejoicing in the golden day,

The Anarchies of Africa unleash

300

Their tempest-winged cities of the sea,

To speak in thunder to the rebel world.

Like sulphurous clouds, half-shattered by the storm,

They sweep the pale Aegean, while the Queen

Of Ocean, bound upon her island-throne,

305

Far in the West, sits mourning that her sons

Who frown on Freedom spare a smile for thee:

Russia still hovers, as an eagle might

Within a cloud, near which a kite and crane

Hang tangled in inextricable fight,

310

To stoop upon the victor; — for she fears

The name of Freedom, even as she hates thine.

But recreant Austria loves thee as the Grave

Loves Pestilence, and her slow dogs of war

Fleshed with the chase, come up from Italy,

315

And howl upon their limits; for they see

The panther, Freedom, fled to her old cover,

Amid seas and mountains, and a mightier brood

Crouch round. What Anarch wears a crown or mitre,

Or bears the sword, or grasps the key of gold,

320

Whose friends are not thy friends, whose foes thy foes?

Our arsenals and our armouries are full;

Our forts defy assault; ten thousand cannon

Lie ranged upon the beach, and hour by hour

Their earth-convulsing wheels affright the city;

325

The galloping of fiery steeds makes pale

The Christian merchant; and the yellow Jew

Hides his hoard deeper in the faithless earth.

Like clouds, and like the shadows of the clouds,

Over the hills of Anatolia,

330

Swift in wide troops the Tartar chivalry

Sweep; — the far flashing of their starry lances

Reverberates the dying light of day.

We have one God, one King, one Hope, one Law;

But many-headed Insurrection stands

335

Divided in itself, and soon must fall.

MAHMUD:

Proud words, when deeds come short, are seasonable:

Look, Hassan, on yon crescent moon, emblazoned

Upon that shattered flag of fiery cloud

Which leads the rear of the departing day;

340

Wan emblem of an empire fading now!

See how it trembles in the blood-red air,

And like a mighty lamp whose oil is spent

Shrinks on the horizon’s edge, while, from above,

One star with insolent and victorious light

345

Hovers above its fall, and with keen beams,

Like arrows through a fainting antelope,

Strikes its weak form to death.

HASSAN:

Even as that moon

Renews itself —

MAHMUD:

Shall we be not renewed!

Far other bark than ours were needed now

350

To stem the torrent of descending time:

The Spirit that lifts the slave before his lord

Stalks through the capitals of armed kings,

And spreads his ensign in the wilderness:

Exults in chains; and, when the rebel falls,

355

Cries like the blood of Abel from the dust;

And the inheritors of the earth, like beasts

When earthquake is unleashed, with idiot fear

Cower in their kingly dens — as I do now.

What were Defeat when Victory must appal?

360

Or Danger, when Security looks pale? —

How said the messenger — who, from the fort

Islanded in the Danube, saw the battle

Of Bucharest? — that —

HASSAN:

Ibrahim’s scimitar

Drew with its gleam swift victory from Heaven,

365

To burn before him in the night of battle —

A light and a destruction.

MAHMUD:

Ay! the day

Was ours: but how? —

HASSAN:

The light Wallachians,

The Arnaut, Servian, and Albanian allies

Fled from the glance of our artillery

370

Almost before the thunderstone alit.

One half the Grecian army made a bridge

Of safe and slow retreat, with Moslem dead;

The other —

MAHMUD:

Speak — tremble not. —

HASSAN:

Islanded

By victor myriads, formed in hollow square

375

With rough and steadfast front, and thrice flung back

The deluge of our foaming cavalry;

Thrice their keen wedge of battle pierced our lines.

Our baffled army trembled like one man

Before a host, and gave them space; but soon,

380

From the surrounding hills, the batteries blazed,

Kneading them down with fire and iron rain:

Yet none approached; till, like a field of corn

Under the hook of the swart sickleman,

The band, intrenched in mounds of Turkish dead,

385

Grew weak and few. — Then said the Pacha, ‘Slaves,

Render yourselves — they have abandoned you —

What hope of refuge, or retreat, or aid?

We grant your lives.’ ‘Grant that which is thine own!’

Cried one, and fell upon his sword and died!

390

Another —‘God, and man, and hope abandon me;

But I to them, and to myself, remain

Constant:’— he bowed his head, and his heart burst.

A third exclaimed, ‘There is a refuge, tyrant,

Where thou darest not pursue, and canst not harm

395

Shouldst thou pursue; there we shall meet again.’

Then held his breath, and, after a brief spasm,

The indignant spirit cast its mortal garment

Among the slain — dead earth upon the earth!

So these survivors, each by different ways,

400

Some strange, all sudden, none dishonourable,

Met in triumphant death; and when our army

Closed in, while yet wonder, and awe, and shame

Held back the base hyaenas of the battle

That feed upon the dead and fly the living,

405

One rose out of the chaos of the slain:

And if it were a corpse which some dread spirit

Of the old saviours of the land we rule

Had lifted in its anger, wandering by; —

Or if there burned within the dying man

410

Unquenchable disdain of death, and faith

Creating what it feigned; — I cannot tell —

But he cried, ‘Phantoms of the free, we come!

Armies of the Eternal, ye who strike

To dust the citadels of sanguine kings,

415

And shake the souls throned on their stony hearts,

And thaw their frostwork diadems like dew; —

O ye who float around this clime, and weave

The garment of the glory which it wears,

Whose fame, though earth betray the dust it clasped,

420

Lies sepulchred in monumental thought; —

Progenitors of all that yet is great,

Ascribe to your bright senate, O accept

In your high ministrations, us, your sons —

Us first, and the more glorious yet to come!

425

And ye, weak conquerors! giants who look pale

When the crushed worm rebels beneath your tread,

The vultures and the dogs, your pensioners tame,

Are overgorged; but, like oppressors, still

They crave the relic of Destruction’s feast.

430

The exhalations and the thirsty winds

Are sick with blood; the dew is foul with death;

Heaven’s light is quenched in slaughter: thus, where’er

Upon your camps, cities, or towers, or fleets,

The obscene birds the reeking remnants cast

435

Of these dead limbs — upon your streams and mountains,

Upon your fields, your gardens, and your housetops,

Where’er the winds shall creep, or the clouds fly,

Or the dews fall, or the angry sun look down

With poisoned light — Famine, and Pestilence,

440

And Panic, shall wage war upon our side!

Nature from all her boundaries is moved

Against ye: Time has found ye light as foam.

The Earth rebels; and Good and Evil stake

Their empire o’er the unborn world of men

445

On this one cast; — but ere the die be thrown,

The renovated genius of our race,

Proud umpire of the impious game, descends,

A seraph-winged Victory, bestriding

The tempest of the Omnipotence of God,

450

Which sweeps all things to their appointed doom,

And you to oblivion!’— More he would have said,

But —

MAHMUD:

Died — as thou shouldst ore thy lips had painted

Their ruin in the hues of our success.

A rebel’s crime, gilt with a rebel’s tongue!

Your heart is Greek, Hassan.

HASSAN:

455

It may be so:

A spirit not my own wrenched me within,

And I have spoken words I fear and hate;

Yet would I die for —

MAHMUD:

Live! oh live! outlive

Me and this sinking empire. But the fleet —

HASSAN:

Alas! —

MAHMUD:

460

The fleet which, like a flock of clouds

Chased by the wind, flies the insurgent banner!

Our winged castles from their merchant ships!

Our myriads before their weak pirate bands!

Our arms before their chains! our years of empire

465

Before their centuries of servile fear!

Death is awake! Repulse is on the waters!

They own no more the thunder-bearing banner

Of Mahmud; but, like hounds of a base breed,

Gorge from a stranger’s hand, and rend their master.

HASSAN:

470

Latmos, and Ampelos, and Phanae saw

The wreck —

MAHMUD:

The caves of the Icarian isles

Told each to the other in loud mockery,

And with the tongue as of a thousand echoes,

First of the sea-convulsing fight — and, then —

475

Thou darest to speak — senseless are the mountains:

Interpret thou their voice!

HASSAN:

My presence bore

A part in that day’s shame. The Grecian fleet

Bore down at daybreak from the North, and hung

As multitudinous on the ocean line,

480

As cranes upon the cloudless Thracian wind.

Our squadron, convoying ten thousand men,

Was stretching towards Nauplia when the battle

Was kindled. —

First through the hail of our artillery

485

The agile Hydriote barks with press of sail

Dashed:— ship to ship, cannon to cannon, man

To man were grappled in the embrace of war,

Inextricable but by death or victory.

The tempest of the raging fight convulsed

490

To its crystalline depths that stainless sea,

And shook Heaven’s roof of golden morning clouds,

Poised on an hundred azure mountain-isles.

In the brief trances of the artillery

One cry from the destroyed and the destroyer

495

Rose, and a cloud of desolation wrapped

The unforeseen event, till the north wind

Sprung from the sea, lifting the heavy veil

Of battle-smoke — then victory — victory!

For, as we thought, three frigates from Algiers

500

Bore down from Naxos to our aid, but soon

The abhorred cross glimmered behind, before,

Among, around us; and that fatal sign

Dried with its beams the strength in Moslem hearts,

As the sun drinks the dew. — What more? We fled! —

505

Our noonday path over the sanguine foam

Was beaconed — and the glare struck the sun pale —

By our consuming transports: the fierce light

Made all the shadows of our sails blood-red,

And every countenance blank. Some ships lay feeding

510

The ravening fire, even to the water’s level;

Some were blown up; some, settling heavily,

Sunk; and the shrieks of our companions died

Upon the wind, that bore us fast and far,

Even after they were dead. Nine thousand perished!

515

We met the vultures legioned in the air

Stemming the torrent of the tainted wind;

They, screaming from their cloudy mountain-peaks,

Stooped through the sulphurous battle-smoke and perched

Each on the weltering carcase that we loved,

520

Like its ill angel or its damned soul,

Riding upon the bosom of the sea.

We saw the dog-fish hastening to their feast.

Joy waked the voiceless people of the sea,

And ravening Famine left his ocean cave

525

To dwell with War, with us, and with Despair.

We met night three hours to the west of Patmos,

And with night, tempest —

MAHMUD:

Cease!

[ENTER A MESSENGER.]

MESSENGER:

Your Sublime Highness,

That Christian hound, the Muscovite Ambassador,

Has left the city. — If the rebel fleet

530

Had anchored in the port, had victory

Crowned the Greek legions in the Hippodrome,

Panic were tamer. — Obedience and Mutiny,

Like giants in contention planet-struck,

Stand gazing on each other. — There is peace

In Stamboul. —

MAHMUD:

535

Is the grave not calmer still?

Its ruins shall be mine.

HASSAN:

Fear not the Russian:

The tiger leagues not with the stag at bay

Against the hunter. — Cunning, base, and cruel,

He crouches, watching till the spoil be won,

540

And must be paid for his reserve in blood.

After the war is fought, yield the sleek Russian

That which thou canst not keep, his deserved portion

Of blood, which shall not flow through streets and fields,

Rivers and seas, like that which we may win,

545

But stagnate in the veins of Christian slaves!

[ENTER SECOND MESSENGER.]

SECOND MESSENGER:

Nauplia, Tripolizza, Mothon, Athens,

Navarin, Artas, Monembasia,

Corinth, and Thebes are carried by assault,

And every Islamite who made his dogs

550

Fat with the flesh of Galilean slaves

Passed at the edge of the sword: the lust of blood,

Which made our warriors drunk, is quenched in death;

But like a fiery plague breaks out anew

In deeds which make the Christian cause look pale

555

In its own light. The garrison of Patras

Has store but for ten days, nor is there hope

But from the Briton: at once slave and tyrant,

His wishes still are weaker than his fears,

Or he would sell what faith may yet remain

560

From the oaths broke in Genoa and in Norway;

And if you buy him not, your treasury

Is empty even of promises — his own coin.

The freedman of a western poet-chief

Holds Attica with seven thousand rebels,

565

And has beat back the Pacha of Negropont:

The aged Ali sits in Yanina

A crownless metaphor of empire:

His name, that shadow of his withered might,

Holds our besieging army like a spell

570

In prey to famine, pest, and mutiny;

He, bastioned in his citadel, looks forth

Joyless upon the sapphire lake that mirrors

The ruins of the city where he reigned

Childless and sceptreless. The Greek has reaped

575

The costly harvest his own blood matured,

Not the sower, Ali — who has bought a truce

From Ypsilanti with ten camel-loads

Of Indian gold.

[ENTER A THIRD MESSENGER.]

MAHMUD:

What more?

THIRD MESSENGER:

The Christian tribes

Of Lebanon and the Syrian wilderness

580

Are in revolt; — Damascus, Hems, Aleppo

Tremble; — the Arab menaces Medina,

The Aethiop has intrenched himself in Sennaar,

And keeps the Egyptian rebel well employed,

Who denies homage, claims investiture

585

As price of tardy aid. Persia demands

The cities on the Tigris, and the Georgians

Refuse their living tribute. Crete and Cyprus,

Like mountain-twins that from each other’s veins

Catch the volcano-fire and earthquake-spasm,

590

Shake in the general fever. Through the city,

Like birds before a storm, the Santons shriek,

And prophesyings horrible and new

Are heard among the crowd: that sea of men

Sleeps on the wrecks it made, breathless and still.

595

A Dervise, learned in the Koran, preaches

That it is written how the sins of Islam

Must raise up a destroyer even now.

The Greeks expect a Saviour from the West,

Who shall not come, men say, in clouds and glory,

600

But in the omnipresence of that Spirit

In which all live and are. Ominous signs

Are blazoned broadly on the noonday sky:

One saw a red cross stamped upon the sun;

It has rained blood; and monstrous births declare

605

The secret wrath of Nature and her Lord.

The army encamped upon the Cydaris

Was roused last night by the alarm of battle,

And saw two hosts conflicting in the air,

The shadows doubtless of the unborn time

610

Cast on the mirror of the night. While yet

The fight hung balanced, there arose a storm

Which swept the phantoms from among the stars.

At the third watch the Spirit of the Plague

Was heard abroad flapping among the tents;

615

Those who relieved watch found the sentinels dead.

The last news from the camp is, that a thousand

Have sickened, and —

[ENTER A FOURTH MESSENGER.]

MAHMUD:

And thou, pale ghost, dim shadow

Of some untimely rumour, speak!

FOURTH MESSENGER:

One comes

Fainting with toil, covered with foam and blood:

620

He stood, he says, on Chelonites’

Promontory, which o’erlooks the isles that groan

Under the Briton’s frown, and all their waters

Then trembling in the splendour of the moon,

When as the wandering clouds unveiled or hid

625

Her boundless light, he saw two adverse fleets

Stalk through the night in the horizon’s glimmer,

Mingling fierce thunders and sulphureous gleams,

And smoke which strangled every infant wind

That soothed the silver clouds through the deep air.

630

At length the battle slept, but the Sirocco

Awoke, and drove his flock of thunder-clouds

Over the sea-horizon, blotting out

All objects — save that in the faint moon-glimpse

He saw, or dreamed he saw, the Turkish admiral

635

And two the loftiest of our ships of war,

With the bright image of that Queen of Heaven,

Who hid, perhaps, her face for grief, reversed;

And the abhorred cross —

[ENTER AN ATTENDANT.]

ATTENDANT:

Your Sublime Highness,

The Jew, who —

MAHMUD:

Could not come more seasonably:

640

Bid him attend. I’ll hear no more! too long

We gaze on danger through the mist of fear,

And multiply upon our shattered hopes

The images of ruin. Come what will!

To-morrow and to-morrow are as lamps

645

Set in our path to light us to the edge

Through rough and smooth, nor can we suffer aught

Which He inflicts not in whose hand we are.

[EXEUNT.]

SEMICHORUS 1:

Would I were the winged cloud

Of a tempest swift and loud!

650

I would scorn

The smile of morn

And the wave where the moonrise is born!

I would leave

The spirits of eve

655

A shroud for the corpse of the day to weave

From other threads than mine!

Bask in the deep blue noon divine.

Who would? Not I.

SEMICHORUS 2:

Whither to fly?

SEMICHORUS 1:

660

Where the rocks that gird th’ Aegean

Echo to the battle paean

Of the free —

I would flee

A tempestuous herald of victory!

My golden rain

665

For the Grecian slain

Should mingle in tears with the bloody main,

And my solemn thunder-knell

Should ring to the world the passing-bell

670

Of Tyranny!

SEMICHORUS 2:

Ah king! wilt thou chain

The rack and the rain?

Wilt thou fetter the lightning and hurricane?

The storms are free,

675

But we —

CHORUS:

O Slavery! thou frost of the world’s prime,

Killing its flowers and leaving its thorns bare!

Thy touch has stamped these limbs with crime,

These brows thy branding garland bear,

680

But the free heart, the impassive soul

Scorn thy control!

SEMICHORUS 1:

Let there be light! said Liberty,

And like sunrise from the sea,

Athens arose! — Around her born,

685

Shone like mountains in the morn

Glorious states; — and are they now

Ashes, wrecks, oblivion?

SEMICHORUS 2:

Go,

Where Thermae and Asopus swallowed

Persia, as the sand does foam:

690

Deluge upon deluge followed,

Discord, Macedon, and Rome:

And lastly thou!

SEMICHORUS 1:

Temples and towers,

Citadels and marts, and they

Who live and die there, have been ours,

695

And may be thine, and must decay;

But Greece and her foundations are

Built below the tide of war,

Based on the crystalline sea

Of thought and its eternity;

700

Her citizens, imperial spirits,

Rule the present from the past,

On all this world of men inherits

Their seal is set.

SEMICHORUS 2:

Hear ye the blast,

Whose Orphic thunder thrilling calls

705

From ruin her Titanian walls?

Whose spirit shakes the sapless bones

Of Slavery? Argos, Corinth, Crete

Hear, and from their mountain thrones

The daemons and the nymphs repeat

The harmony.

SEMICHORUS 1:

710

I hear! I hear!

SEMICHORUS 2:

The world’s eyeless charioteer,

Destiny, is hurrying by!

What faith is crushed, what empire bleeds

Beneath her earthquake-footed steeds?

715

What eagle-winged victory sits

At her right hand? what shadow flits

Before? what splendour rolls behind?

Ruin and renovation cry

‘Who but We?’

SEMICHORUS 1:

I hear! I hear!

720

The hiss as of a rushing wind,

The roar as of an ocean foaming,

The thunder as of earthquake coming.

I hear! I hear!

The crash as of an empire falling,

725

The shrieks as of a people calling

‘Mercy! mercy!’— How they thrill!

Then a shout of ‘kill! kill! kill!’

And then a small still voice, thus —

SEMICHORUS 2:

For

Revenge and Wrong bring forth their kind,

730

The foul cubs like their parents are,

Their den is in the guilty mind,

And Conscience feeds them with despair.

SEMICHORUS 1:

In sacred Athens, near the fane

Of Wisdom, Pity’s altar stood:

735

Serve not the unknown God in vain.

But pay that broken shrine again,

Love for hate and tears for blood.

[ENTER MAHMUD AND AHASUERUS.]

MAHMUD:

Thou art a man, thou sayest, even as we.

AHASUERUS:

No more!

MAHMUD:

But raised above thy fellow-men

By thought, as I by power.

AHASUERUS:

740

Thou sayest so.

MAHMUD:

Thou art an adept in the difficult lore

Of Greek and Frank philosophy; thou numberest

The flowers, and thou measurest the stars;

Thou severest element from element;

745

Thy spirit is present in the Past, and sees

The birth of this old world through all its cycles

Of desolation and of loveliness,

And when man was not, and how man became

The monarch and the slave of this low sphere,

750

And all its narrow circles — it is much —

I honour thee, and would be what thou art

Were I not what I am; but the unborn hour,

Cradled in fear and hope, conflicting storms,

Who shall unveil? Nor thou, nor I, nor any

755

Mighty or wise. I apprehended not

What thou hast taught me, but I now perceive

That thou art no interpreter of dreams;

Thou dost not own that art, device, or God,

Can make the Future present — let it come!

760

Moreover thou disdainest us and ours;

Thou art as God, whom thou contemplatest.

AHASUERUS:

Disdain thee? — not the worm beneath thy feet!

The Fathomless has care for meaner things

Than thou canst dream, and has made pride for those

765

Who would be what they may not, or would seem

That which they are not. Sultan! talk no more

Of thee and me, the Future and the Past;

But look on that which cannot change — the One,

The unborn and the undying. Earth and ocean,

770

Space, and the isles of life or light that gem

The sapphire floods of interstellar air,

This firmament pavilioned upon chaos,

With all its cressets of immortal fire,

Whose outwall, bastioned impregnably

775

Against the escape of boldest thoughts, repels them

As Calpe the Atlantic clouds — this Whole

Of suns, and worlds, and men, and beasts, and flowers,

With all the silent or tempestuous workings

By which they have been, are, or cease to be,

780

Is but a vision; — all that it inherits

Are motes of a sick eye, bubbles and dreams;

Thought is its cradle and its grave, nor less

The Future and the Past are idle shadows

Of thought’s eternal flight — they have no being:

785

Nought is but that which feels itself to be.

MAHMUD:

What meanest thou? Thy words stream like a tempest

Of dazzling mist within my brain — they shake

The earth on which I stand, and hang like night

On Heaven above me. What can they avail?

790

They cast on all things surest, brightest, best,

Doubt, insecurity, astonishment.

AHASUERUS:

Mistake me not! All is contained in each.

Dodona’s forest to an acorn’s cup

Is that which has been, or will be, to that

795

Which is — the absent to the present. Thought

Alone, and its quick elements, Will, Passion,

Reason, Imagination, cannot die;

They are, what that which they regard appears,

The stuff whence mutability can weave

800

All that it hath dominion o’er, worlds, worms,

Empires, and superstitions. What has thought

To do with time, or place, or circumstance?

Wouldst thou behold the Future? — ask and have!

Knock and it shall be opened — look, and lo!

805

The coming age is shadowed on the Past

As on a glass.

MAHMUD:

Wild, wilder thoughts convulse

My spirit — Did not Mahomet the Second

Win Stamboul?

AHASUERUS:

Thou wouldst ask that giant spirit

The written fortunes of thy house and faith.

810

Thou wouldst cite one out of the grave to tell

How what was born in blood must die.

MAHMUD:

Thy words

Have power on me! I see —

AHASUERUS:

What hearest thou?

MAHMUD:

A far whisper —

Terrible silence.

AHASUERUS:

What succeeds?

MAHMUD:

The sound

815

As of the assault of an imperial city,

The hiss of inextinguishable fire,

The roar of giant cannon; the earthquaking

Fall of vast bastions and precipitous towers,

The shock of crags shot from strange enginery,

820

The clash of wheels, and clang of armed hoofs,

And crash of brazen mail as of the wreck

Of adamantine mountains — the mad blast

Of trumpets, and the neigh of raging steeds,

The shrieks of women whose thrill jars the blood,

825

And one sweet laugh, most horrible to hear,

As of a joyous infant waked and playing

With its dead mother’s breast, and now more loud

The mingled battle-cry — ha! hear I not

‘En touto nike!’ ‘Allah-illa-Allah!’?

AHASUERUS:

The sulphurous mist is raised — thou seest —

MAHMUD:

830

A chasm,

As of two mountains in the wall of Stamboul;

And in that ghastly breach the Islamites,

Like giants on the ruins of a world,

Stand in the light of sunrise. In the dust

835

Glimmers a kingless diadem, and one

Of regal port has cast himself beneath

The stream of war. Another proudly clad

In golden arms spurs a Tartarian barb

Into the gap, and with his iron mace

840

Directs the torrent of that tide of men,

And seems — he is — Mahomet!

AHASUERUS:

What thou seest

Is but the ghost of thy forgotten dream.

A dream itself, yet less, perhaps, than that

Thou call’st reality. Thou mayst behold

845

How cities, on which Empire sleeps enthroned,

Bow their towered crests to mutability.

Poised by the flood, e’en on the height thou holdest,

Thou mayst now learn how the full tide of power

Ebbs to its depths. — Inheritor of glory,

850

Conceived in darkness, born in blood, and nourished

With tears and toil, thou seest the mortal throes

Of that whose birth was but the same. The Past

Now stands before thee like an Incarnation

Of the To-come; yet wouldst thou commune with

855

That portion of thyself which was ere thou

Didst start for this brief race whose crown is death,

Dissolve with that strong faith and fervent passion

Which called it from the uncreated deep,

Yon cloud of war, with its tempestuous phantoms

860

Of raging death; and draw with mighty will

The imperial shade hither.

[EXIT AHASUERUS.]

[THE PHANTOM OF MAHOMET THE SECOND APPEARS.]

MAHMUD:

Approach!

PHANTOM:

I come

Thence whither thou must go! The grave is fitter

To take the living than give up the dead;

Yet has thy faith prevailed, and I am here.

865

The heavy fragments of the power which fell

When I arose, like shapeless crags and clouds,

Hang round my throne on the abyss, and voices

Of strange lament soothe my supreme repose,

Wailing for glory never to return. —

870

A later Empire nods in its decay:

The autumn of a greener faith is come,

And wolfish change, like winter, howls to strip

The foliage in which Fame, the eagle, built

Her aerie, while Dominion whelped below.

875

The storm is in its branches, and the frost

Is on its leaves, and the blank deep expects

Oblivion on oblivion, spoil on spoil,

Ruin on ruin:— Thou art slow, my son;

The Anarchs of the world of darkness keep

880

A throne for thee, round which thine empire lies

Boundless and mute; and for thy subjects thou,

Like us, shalt rule the ghosts of murdered life,

The phantoms of the powers who rule thee now —

Mutinous passions, and conflicting fears,

885

And hopes that sate themselves on dust, and die! —

Stripped of their mortal strength, as thou of thine.

Islam must fall, but we will reign together

Over its ruins in the world of death:—

And if the trunk be dry, yet shall the seed

890

Unfold itself even in the shape of that

Which gathers birth in its decay. Woe! woe!

To the weak people tangled in the grasp

Of its last spasms.

MAHMUD:

Spirit, woe to all!

Woe to the wronged and the avenger! Woe

895

To the destroyer, woe to the destroyed!

Woe to the dupe, and woe to the deceiver!

Woe to the oppressed, and woe to the oppressor!

Woe both to those that suffer and inflict;

Those who are born and those who die! but say,

900

Imperial shadow of the thing I am,

When, how, by whom, Destruction must accomplish

Her consummation!

PHANTOM:

Ask the cold pale Hour,

Rich in reversion of impending death,

When HE shall fall upon whose ripe gray hairs

905

Sit Care, and Sorrow, and Infirmity —

The weight which Crime, whose wings are plumed with years,

Leaves in his flight from ravaged heart to heart

Over the heads of men, under which burthen

They bow themselves unto the grave: fond wretch!

910

He leans upon his crutch, and talks of years

To come, and how in hours of youth renewed

He will renew lost joys, and —

VOICE WITHOUT:

Victory! Victory!

[THE PHANTOM VANISHES.]

MAHMUD:

What sound of the importunate earth has broken

My mighty trance?

VOICE WITHOUT:

Victory! Victory!

MAHMUD:

915

Weak lightning before darkness! poor faint smile

Of dying Islam! Voice which art the response

Of hollow weakness! Do I wake and live?

Were there such things, or may the unquiet brain,

Vexed by the wise mad talk of the old Jew,

920

Have shaped itself these shadows of its fear?

It matters not! — for nought we see or dream,

Possess, or lose, or grasp at, can be worth

More than it gives or teaches. Come what may,

The Future must become the Past, and I

925

As they were to whom once this present hour,

This gloomy crag of time to which I cling,

Seemed an Elysian isle of peace and joy

Never to be attained. — I must rebuke

This drunkenness of triumph ere it die,

930

And dying, bring despair. Victory! poor slaves!

[EXIT MAHMUD.]

VOICE WITHOUT:

Shout in the jubilee of death! The Greeks

Are as a brood of lions in the net

Round which the kingly hunters of the earth

Stand smiling. Anarchs, ye whose daily food

935

Are curses, groans, and gold, the fruit of death,

From Thule to the girdle of the world,

Come, feast! the board groans with the flesh of men;

The cup is foaming with a nation’s blood,

Famine and Thirst await! eat, drink, and die!

SEMICHORUS 1:

940

Victorious Wrong, with vulture scream,

Salutes the rising sun, pursues the flying day!

I saw her, ghastly as a tyrant’s dream,

Perch on the trembling pyramid of night,

Beneath which earth and all her realms pavilioned lay

945

In visions of the dawning undelight.

Who shall impede her flight?

Who rob her of her prey?

VOICE WITHOUT:

Victory! Victory! Russia’s famished eagles

Dare not to prey beneath the crescent’s light.

950

Impale the remnant of the Greeks! despoil!

Violate! make their flesh cheaper than dust!

SEMICHORUS 2:

Thou voice which art

The herald of the ill in splendour hid!

Thou echo of the hollow heart

955

Of monarchy, bear me to thine abode

When desolation flashes o’er a world destroyed:

Oh, bear me to those isles of jagged cloud

Which float like mountains on the earthquake, mid

The momentary oceans of the lightning,

960

Or to some toppling promontory proud

Of solid tempest whose black pyramid,

Riven, overhangs the founts intensely bright’ning

Of those dawn-tinted deluges of fire

Before their waves expire,

965

When heaven and earth are light, and only light

In the thunder-night!

VOICE WITHOUT:

Victory! Victory! Austria, Russia, England,

And that tame serpent, that poor shadow, France,

Cry peace, and that means death when monarchs speak.

970

Ho, there! bring torches, sharpen those red stakes,

These chains are light, fitter for slaves and poisoners

Than Greeks. Kill! plunder! burn! let none remain.

SEMICHORUS 1:

Alas! for Liberty!

If numbers, wealth, or unfulfilling years,

975

Or fate, can quell the free!

Alas! for Virtue, when

Torments, or contumely, or the sneers

Of erring judging men

Can break the heart where it abides.

980

Alas! if Love, whose smile makes this obscure world splendid,

Can change with its false times and tides,

Like hope and terror —

Alas for Love!

And Truth, who wanderest lone and unbefriended,

985

If thou canst veil thy lie-consuming mirror

Before the dazzled eyes of Error,

Alas for thee! Image of the Above.

SEMICHORUS 2:

Repulse, with plumes from conquest torn,

Led the ten thousand from the limits of the morn

990

Through many an hostile Anarchy!

At length they wept aloud, and cried, ‘The Sea! the Sea!’

Through exile, persecution, and despair,

Rome was, and young Atlantis shall become

The wonder, or the terror, or the tomb

995

Of all whose step wakes Power lulled in her savage lair:

But Greece was as a hermit-child,

Whose fairest thoughts and limbs were built

To woman’s growth, by dreams so mild,

She knew not pain or guilt;

1000

And now, O Victory, blush! and Empire, tremble

When ye desert the free —

If Greece must be

A wreck, yet shall its fragments reassemble,

And build themselves again impregnably

1005

In a diviner clime,

To Amphionic music on some Cape sublime,

Which frowns above the idle foam of Time.

SEMICHORUS 1:

Let the tyrants rule the desert they have made;

Let the free possess the Paradise they claim;

1010

Be the fortune of our fierce oppressors weighed

With our ruin, our resistance, and our name!

SEMICHORUS 2:

Our dead shall be the seed of their decay,

Our survivors be the shadow of their pride,

Our adversity a dream to pass away —

1015

Their dishonour a remembrance to abide!

VOICE WITHOUT:

Victory! Victory! The bought Briton sends

The keys of ocean to the Islamite. —

Now shall the blazon of the cross be veiled,

And British skill directing Othman might,

1020

Thunder-strike rebel victory. Oh, keep holy

This jubilee of unrevenged blood!

Kill! crush! despoil! Let not a Greek escape!

SEMICHORUS 1:

Darkness has dawned in the East

On the noon of time:

1025

The death-birds descend to their feast

From the hungry clime.

Let Freedom and Peace flee far

To a sunnier strand,

And follow Love’s folding-star

1030

To the Evening land!

SEMICHORUS 2:

The young moon has fed

Her exhausted horn

With the sunset’s fire:

The weak day is dead,

1035

But the night is not born;

And, like loveliness panting with wild desire

While it trembles with fear and delight,

Hesperus flies from awakening night,

And pants in its beauty and speed with light

1040

Fast-flashing, soft, and bright.

Thou beacon of love! thou lamp of the free!

Guide us far, far away,

To climes where now veiled by the ardour of day

Thou art hidden

1045

From waves on which weary Noon

Faints in her summer swoon,

Between kingless continents sinless as Eden,

Around mountains and islands inviolably

Pranked on the sapphire sea.

SEMICHORUS 1:

1050

Through the sunset of hope,

Like the shapes of a dream.

What Paradise islands of glory gleam!

Beneath Heaven’s cope,

Their shadows more clear float by —

1055

The sound of their oceans, the light of their sky,

The music and fragrance their solitudes breathe

Burst, like morning on dream, or like Heaven on death,

Through the walls of our prison;

And Greece, which was dead, is arisen!

CHORUS:

1060

The world’s great age begins anew,

The golden years return,

The earth doth like a snake renew

Her winter weeds outworn:

Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam,

1065

Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.

A brighter Hellas rears its mountains

From waves serener far;

A new Peneus rolls his fountains

Against the morning star.

1070

Where fairer Tempes bloom, there sleep

Young Cyclads on a sunnier deep.

A loftier Argo cleaves the main,

Fraught with a later prize;

Another Orpheus sings again,

1075

And loves, and weeps, and dies.

A new Ulysses leaves once more

Calypso for his native shore.

Oh, write no more the tale of Troy,

If earth Death’s scroll must be!

1080

Nor mix with Laian rage the joy

Which dawns upon the free:

Although a subtler Sphinx renew

Riddles of death Thebes never knew.

Another Athens shall arise,

1085

And to remoter time

Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,

The splendour of its prime;

And leave, if nought so bright may live,

All earth can take or Heaven can give.

1090

Saturn and Love their long repose

Shall burst, more bright and good

Than all who fell, than One who rose,

Than many unsubdued:

Not gold, not blood, their altar dowers,

1095

But votive tears and symbol flowers.

Oh, cease! must hate and death return?

Cease! must men kill and die?

Cease! drain not to its dregs the urn

Of bitter prophecy.

1100

The world is weary of the past,

Oh, might it die or rest at last!

(1) THE QUENCHLESS ASHES OF MILAN [L. 60].

Milan was the centre of the resistance of the Lombard league against the Austrian tyrant. Frederic Barbarossa burnt the city to the ground, but liberty lived in its ashes, and it rose like an exhalation from its ruin. See Sismondi’s “Histoire des Republiques Italiennes”, a book which has done much towards awakening the Italians to an imitation of their great ancestors.

(2) THE CHORUS [L. 197].

The popular notions of Christianity are represented in this chorus as true in their relation to the worship they superseded, and that which in all probability they will supersede, without considering their merits in a relation more universal. The first stanza contrasts the immortality of the living and thinking beings which inhabit the planets, and to use a common and inadequate phrase, “clothe themselves in matter”, with the transience of the noblest manifestations of the external world.

The concluding verses indicate a progressive state of more or loss exalted existence, according to the degree of perfection which every distinct intelligence may have attained. Let it not be supposed that I mean to dogmatise upon a subject, concerning which all men are equally ignorant, or that I think the Gordian knot of the origin of evil can be disentangled by that or any similar assertions. The received hypothesis of a Being resembling men in the moral attributes of His nature, having called us out of non-existence, and after inflicting on us the misery of the commission of error, should superadd that of the punishment and the privations consequent upon it, still would remain inexplicable and incredible. That there is a true solution of the riddle, and that in our present state that solution is unattainable by us, are propositions which may be regarded as equally certain: meanwhile, as it is the province of the poet to attach himself to those ideas which exalt and ennoble humanity, let him be permitted to have conjectured the condition of that futurity towards which we are all impelled by an inextinguishable thirst for immortality. Until better arguments can be produced than sophisms which disgrace the cause, this desire itself must remain the strongest and the only presumption that eternity is the inheritance of every thinking being.

(3) NO HOARY PRIESTS AFTER THAT PATRIARCH [L. 245].

The Greek Patriarch, after haying been compelled to fulminate an anathema against the insurgents, was put to death by the Turks.

Fortunately the Greeks have been taught that they cannot buy security by degradation, and the Turks, though equally cruel, are less cunning than the smooth-faced tyrants of Europe. As to the anathema, his Holiness might as well have thrown his mitre at Mount Athos for any effect that it produced. The chiefs of the Greeks are almost all men of comprehension and enlightened views on religion and politics.

(4) THE FREEDMAN OF A WESTERN POET-CHIEF [L. 563].

A Greek who had been Lord Byron’s servant commands the insurgents in Attica. This Greek, Lord Byron informs me, though a poet and an enthusiastic patriot, gave him rather the idea of a timid and unenterprising person. It appears that circumstances make men what they are, and that we all contain the germ of a degree of degradation or of greatness whose connection with our character is determined by events.

(5) THE GREEKS EXPECT A SAVIOUR FROM THE WEST [L. 598].

It is reported that this Messiah had arrived at a seaport near Lacedaemon in an American brig. The association of names and ideas is irresistibly ludicrous, but the prevalence of such a rumour strongly marks the state of popular enthusiasm in Greece.

(6) THE SOUND AS OF THE ASSAULT OF AN IMPERIAL CITY [LL. 814-15].

For the vision of Mahmud of the taking of Constantinople in 1453, see Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, volume 12 page 223.

The manner of the invocation of the spirit of Mahomet the Second will be censured as over subtle. I could easily have made the Jew a regular conjuror, and the Phantom an ordinary ghost. I have preferred to represent the Jew as disclaiming all pretension, or even belief, in supernatural agency, and as tempting Mahmud to that state of mind in which ideas may be supposed to assume the force of sensations through the confusion of thought with the objects of thought, and the excess of passion animating the creations of imagination.

It is a sort of natural magic, susceptible of being exercised in a degree by any one who should have made himself master of the secret associations of another’s thoughts.

(7) THE CHORUS [L. 1060].

The final chorus is indistinct and obscure, as the event of the living drama whose arrival it foretells. Prophecies of wars, and rumours of wars, etc., may safely be made by poet or prophet in any age, but to anticipate however darkly a period of regeneration and happiness is a more hazardous exercise of the faculty which bards possess or feign. It will remind the reader ‘magno NEC proximus intervallo’ of Isaiah and Virgil, whose ardent spirits overleaping the actual reign of evil which we endure and bewail, already saw the possible and perhaps approaching state of society in which the ‘lion shall lie down with the lamb,’ and ‘omnis feret omnia tellus.’ Let these great names be my authority and my excuse.

(8) SATURN AND LOVE THEIR LONG REPOSE SHALL BURST [L. 1090].

Saturn and Love were among the deities of a real or imaginary state of innocence and happiness. ALL those WHO FELL, or the Gods of Greece, Asia, and Egypt; the ONE WHO ROSE, or Jesus Christ, at whose appearance the idols of the Pagan World wore amerced of their worship; and the MANY UNSUBDUED, or the monstrous objects of the idolatry of China, India, the Antarctic islands, and the native tribes of America, certainly have reigned over the understandings of men in conjunction or in succession, during periods in which all we know of evil has been in a state of portentous, and, until the revival of learning and the arts, perpetually increasing, activity. The Grecian gods seem indeed to have been personally more innocent, although it cannot be said, that as far as temperance and chastity are concerned, they gave so edifying an example as their successor. The sublime human character of Jesus Christ was deformed by an imputed identification with a Power, who tempted, betrayed, and punished the innocent beings who were called into existence by His sole will; and for the period of a thousand years, the spirit of this most just, wise, and benevolent of men has been propitiated with myriads of hecatombs of those who approached the nearest to His innocence and wisdom, sacrificed under every aggravation of atrocity and variety of torture. The horrors of the Mexican, the Peruvian, and the Indian superstitions are well known.

_77 tempest’s]tempests edition 1822.

_87 prey edition 1822; play editions 1839.

_253 spoil edition 1822; spoils editions 1839.

_279 bear edition 1822; have editions 1839.

_322 assault edition 1822; assaults editions 1839.

_351 his edition 1822; its editions 1839.

_356 of the earth edition 1822; of earth editions 1839.

_384 band edition 1822; bands editions 1839.

_466 Repulse is “Shelley, Errata”, edition 1822; Repulsed edition 1822.

_472 Told Errata, Wms. transcript; Hold edition 1822.

_503 in edition 1822; of editions 1839.

_527 And edition 1822; As editions 1839.

_563 freedman edition 1822; freeman editions 1839.

_620 on Chelonites’]on Chelonites “Errata”; upon Clelonite’s edition 1822; upon Clelonit’s editions 1839.

_657 the deep blue “Errata”, Wms. transcript; the blue edition 1822.

_728 For edition 1822, Wms. transcript; Fear cj. Fleay, Forman, Dowden. See Editor’s Note.

_762 thy edition 1822; my editions 1839.

_958 earthquake edition 1822; earthquakes editions 1839.

_1057 dream edition 1822; dreams editions 1839.

_1068 his edition 1822; its editions 1839.

_1072 Argo]Argos edition 1822.

_1091-_1093 See Editor’s note.

_1091 bright editions 1839; wise edition 1829 (ed. Galignani).

_1093 unsubdued editions 1839; unwithstood edition 1829 (ed. Galignani).

Note on Hellas, by Mrs. Shelley.

The South of Europe was in a state of great political excitement at the beginning of the year 1821. The Spanish Revolution had been a signal to Italy; secrete societies were formed; and, when Naples rose to declare the Constitution, the call was responded to from Brundusium to the foot of the Alps. To crush these attempts to obtain liberty, early in 1821 the Austrians poured their armies into the Peninsula: at first their coming rather seemed to add energy and resolution to a people long enslaved. The Piedmontese asserted their freedom; Genoa threw off the yoke of the King of Sardinia; and, as if in playful imitation, the people of the little state of Massa and Carrara gave the conge to their sovereign, and set up a republic.

Tuscany alone was perfectly tranquil. It was said that the Austrian minister presented a list of sixty Carbonari to the Grand Duke, urging their imprisonment; and the Grand Duke replied, ‘I do not know whether these sixty men are Carbonari, but I know, if I imprison them, I shall directly have sixty thousand start up.’ But, though the Tuscans had no desire to disturb the paternal government beneath whose shelter they slumbered, they regarded the progress of the various Italian revolutions with intense interest, and hatred for the Austrian was warm in every bosom. But they had slender hopes; they knew that the Neapolitans would offer no fit resistance to the regular German troops, and that the overthrow of the constitution in Naples would act as a decisive blow against all struggles for liberty in Italy.

We have seen the rise and progress of reform. But the Holy Alliance was alive and active in those days, and few could dream of the peaceful triumph of liberty. It seemed then that the armed assertion of freedom in the South of Europe was the only hope of the liberals, as, if it prevailed, the nations of the north would imitate the example. Happily the reverse has proved the fact. The countries accustomed to the exercise of the privileges of freemen, to a limited extent, have extended, and are extending, these limits. Freedom and knowledge have now a chance of proceeding hand in hand; and, if it continue thus, we may hope for the durability of both. Then, as I have said — in 1821 — Shelley, as well as every other lover of liberty, looked upon the struggles in Spain and Italy as decisive of the destinies of the world, probably for centuries to come. The interest he took in the progress of affairs was intense. When Genoa declared itself free, his hopes were at their highest. Day after day he read the bulletins of the Austrian army, and sought eagerly to gather tokens of its defeat. He heard of the revolt of Genoa with emotions of transport. His whole heart and soul were in the triumph of the cause. We were living at Pisa at that time; and several well-informed Italians, at the head of whom we may place the celebrated Vacca, were accustomed to seek for sympathy in their hopes from Shelley: they did not find such for the despair they too generally experienced, founded on contempt for their southern countrymen.

While the fate of the progress of the Austrian armies then invading Naples was yet in suspense, the news of another revolution filled him with exultation. We had formed the acquaintance at Pisa of several Constantinopolitan Greeks, of the family of Prince Caradja, formerly Hospodar of Wallachia; who, hearing that the bowstring, the accustomed finale of his viceroyalty, was on the road to him, escaped with his treasures, and took up his abode in Tuscany. Among these was the gentleman to whom the drama of “Hellas” is dedicated. Prince Mavrocordato was warmed by those aspirations for the independence of his country which filled the hearts of many of his countrymen. He often intimated the possibility of an insurrection in Greece; but we had no idea of its being so near at hand, when, on the 1st of April 1821, he called on Shelley, bringing the proclamation of his cousin, Prince Ypsilanti, and, radiant with exultation and delight, declared that henceforth Greece would be free.

Shelley had hymned the dawn of liberty in Spain and Naples, in two odes dictated by the warmest enthusiasm; he felt himself naturally impelled to decorate with poetry the uprise of the descendants of that people whose works he regarded with deep admiration, and to adopt the vaticinatory character in prophesying their success. “Hellas” was written in a moment of enthusiasm. It is curious to remark how well he overcomes the difficulty of forming a drama out of such scant materials. His prophecies, indeed, came true in their general, not their particular, purport. He did not foresee the death of Lord Londonderry, which was to be the epoch of a change in English politics, particularly as regarded foreign affairs; nor that the navy of his country would fight for instead of against the Greeks, and by the battle of Navarino secure their enfranchisement from the Turks. Almost against reason, as it appeared to him, he resolved to believe that Greece would prove triumphant; and in this spirit, auguring ultimate good, yet grieving over the vicissitudes to be endured in the interval, he composed his drama.

“Hellas” was among the last of his compositions, and is among the most beautiful. The choruses are singularly imaginative, and melodious in their versification. There are some stanzas that beautifully exemplify Shelley’s peculiar style; as, for instance, the assertion of the intellectual empire which must be for ever the inheritance of the country of Homer, Sophocles, and Plato:—

‘But Greece and her foundations are

Built below the tide of war,

Based on the crystalline sea

Of thought and its eternity.’

And again, that philosophical truth felicitously imaged forth —

‘Revenge and Wrong bring forth their kind,

The foul cubs like their parents are,

Their den is in the guilty mind,

And Conscience feeds them with despair.’

The conclusion of the last chorus is among the most beautiful of his lyrics. The imagery is distinct and majestic; the prophecy, such as poets love to dwell upon, the Regeneration of Mankind — and that regeneration reflecting back splendour on the foregone time, from which it inherits so much of intellectual wealth, and memory of past virtuous deeds, as must render the possession of happiness and peace of tenfold value.

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