The Revolt of Islam, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Canto 1.


When the last hope of trampled France had failed

Like a brief dream of unremaining glory,

From visions of despair I rose, and scaled


The peak of an aerial promontory,

Whose caverned base with the vexed surge was hoary;

And saw the golden dawn break forth, and waken

Each cloud, and every wave:— but transitory

The calm; for sudden, the firm earth was shaken,


As if by the last wreck its frame were overtaken.


So as I stood, one blast of muttering thunder

Burst in far peals along the waveless deep,

When, gathering fast, around, above, and under,

Long trains of tremulous mist began to creep,


Until their complicating lines did steep

The orient sun in shadow:— not a sound

Was heard; one horrible repose did keep

The forests and the floods, and all around

Darkness more dread than night was poured upon the ground.


Hark! ’tis the rushing of a wind that sweeps

Earth and the ocean. See! the lightnings yawn

Deluging Heaven with fire, and the lashed deeps

Glitter and boil beneath: it rages on,

One mighty stream, whirlwind and waves upthrown,


Lightning, and hail, and darkness eddying by.

There is a pause — the sea-birds, that were gone

Into their caves to shriek, come forth, to spy

What calm has fall’n on earth, what light is in the sky.


For, where the irresistible storm had cloven


That fearful darkness, the blue sky was seen

Fretted with many a fair cloud interwoven

Most delicately, and the ocean green,

Beneath that opening spot of blue serene,

Quivered like burning emerald; calm was spread


On all below; but far on high, between

Earth and the upper air, the vast clouds fled,

Countless and swift as leaves on autumn’s tempest shed.


For ever, as the war became more fierce

Between the whirlwinds and the rack on high,


That spot grew more serene; blue light did pierce

The woof of those white clouds, which seem to lie

Far, deep, and motionless; while through the sky

The pallid semicircle of the moon

Passed on, in slow and moving majesty;


Its upper horn arrayed in mists, which soon

But slowly fled, like dew beneath the beams of noon.


I could not choose but gaze; a fascination

Dwelt in that moon, and sky, and clouds, which drew

My fancy thither, and in expectation


Of what I knew not, I remained:— the hue

Of the white moon, amid that heaven so blue,

Suddenly stained with shadow did appear;

A speck, a cloud, a shape, approaching grew,

Like a great ship in the sun’s sinking sphere


Beheld afar at sea, and swift it came anear.


Even like a bark, which from a chasm of mountains,

Dark, vast and overhanging, on a river

Which there collects the strength of all its fountains,

Comes forth, whilst with the speed its frame doth quiver,


Sails, oars and stream, tending to one endeavour;

So, from that chasm of light a winged Form

On all the winds of heaven approaching ever

Floated, dilating as it came; the storm

Pursued it with fierce blasts, and lightnings swift and warm.


A course precipitous, of dizzy speed,

Suspending thought and breath; a monstrous sight!

For in the air do I behold indeed

An Eagle and a Serpent wreathed in fight:—

And now, relaxing its impetuous flight,


Before the aerial rock on which I stood,

The Eagle, hovering, wheeled to left and right,

And hung with lingering wings over the flood,

And startled with its yells the wide air’s solitude.


A shaft of light upon its wings descended,


And every golden feather gleamed therein —

Feather and scale, inextricably blended.

The Serpent’s mailed and many-coloured skin

Shone through the plumes its coils were twined within

By many a swoln and knotted fold, and high


And far, the neck, receding lithe and thin,

Sustained a crested head, which warily

Shifted and glanced before the Eagle’s steadfast eye.


Around, around, in ceaseless circles wheeling

With clang of wings and scream, the Eagle sailed


Incessantly — sometimes on high concealing

Its lessening orbs, sometimes as if it failed,

Drooped through the air; and still it shrieked and wailed,

And casting back its eager head, with beak

And talon unremittingly assailed


The wreathed Serpent, who did ever seek

Upon his enemy’s heart a mortal wound to wreak.


What life, what power, was kindled and arose

Within the sphere of that appalling fray!

For, from the encounter of those wondrous foes,


A vapour like the sea’s suspended spray

Hung gathered; in the void air, far away,

Floated the shattered plumes; bright scales did leap,

Where’er the Eagle’s talons made their way,

Like sparks into the darkness; — as they sweep,


Blood stains the snowy foam of the tumultuous deep.


Swift chances in that combat — many a check,

And many a change, a dark and wild turmoil;

Sometimes the Snake around his enemy’s neck

Locked in stiff rings his adamantine coil,


Until the Eagle, faint with pain and toil,

Remitted his strong flight, and near the sea

Languidly fluttered, hopeless so to foil

His adversary, who then reared on high

His red and burning crest, radiant with victory.


Then on the white edge of the bursting surge,

Where they had sunk together, would the Snake

Relax his suffocating grasp, and scourge

The wind with his wild writhings; for to break

That chain of torment, the vast bird would shake


The strength of his unconquerable wings

As in despair, and with his sinewy neck,

Dissolve in sudden shock those linked rings —

Then soar, as swift as smoke from a volcano springs.


Wile baffled wile, and strength encountered strength,


Thus long, but unprevailing:— the event

Of that portentous fight appeared at length:

Until the lamp of day was almost spent

It had endured, when lifeless, stark, and rent,

Hung high that mighty Serpent, and at last


Fell to the sea, while o’er the continent

With clang of wings and scream the Eagle passed,

Heavily borne away on the exhausted blast.


And with it fled the tempest, so that ocean

And earth and sky shone through the atmosphere —


Only, ’twas strange to see the red commotion

Of waves like mountains o’er the sinking sphere

Of sunset sweep, and their fierce roar to hear

Amid the calm: down the steep path I wound

To the sea-shore — the evening was most clear


And beautiful, and there the sea I found

Calm as a cradled child in dreamless slumber bound.


There was a Woman, beautiful as morning,

Sitting beneath the rocks, upon the sand

Of the waste sea — fair as one flower adorning


An icy wilderness; each delicate hand

Lay crossed upon her bosom, and the band

Of her dark hair had fall’n, and so she sate

Looking upon the waves; on the bare strand

Upon the sea-mark a small boat did wait,


Fair as herself, like Love by Hope left desolate.


It seemed that this fair Shape had looked upon

That unimaginable fight, and now

That her sweet eyes were weary of the sun,

As brightly it illustrated her woe;


For in the tears which silently to flow

Paused not, its lustre hung: she watching aye

The foam-wreaths which the faint tide wove below

Upon the spangled sands, groaned heavily,

And after every groan looked up over the sea.


And when she saw the wounded Serpent make

His path between the waves, her lips grew pale,

Parted, and quivered; the tears ceased to break

From her immovable eyes; no voice of wail

Escaped her; but she rose, and on the gale


Loosening her star-bright robe and shadowy hair

Poured forth her voice; the caverns of the vale

That opened to the ocean, caught it there,

And filled with silver sounds the overflowing air.


She spake in language whose strange melody


Might not belong to earth. I heard alone,

What made its music more melodious be,

The pity and the love of every tone;

But to the Snake those accents sweet were known

His native tongue and hers; nor did he beat


The hoar spray idly then, but winding on

Through the green shadows of the waves that meet

Near to the shore, did pause beside her snowy feet.


Then on the sands the Woman sate again,

And wept and clasped her hands, and all between,


Renewed the unintelligible strain

Of her melodious voice and eloquent mien;

And she unveiled her bosom, and the green

And glancing shadows of the sea did play

O’er its marmoreal depth:— one moment seen,


For ere the next, the Serpent did obey

Her voice, and, coiled in rest in her embrace it lay.


Then she arose, and smiled on me with eyes

Serene yet sorrowing, like that planet fair,

While yet the daylight lingereth in the skies


Which cleaves with arrowy beams the dark-red air,

And said: ‘To grieve is wise, but the despair

Was weak and vain which led thee here from sleep:

This shalt thou know, and more, if thou dost dare

With me and with this Serpent, o’er the deep,


A voyage divine and strange, companionship to keep.’


Her voice was like the wildest, saddest tone,

Yet sweet, of some loved voice heard long ago.

I wept. ‘Shall this fair woman all alone,

Over the sea with that fierce Serpent go?


His head is on her heart, and who can know

How soon he may devour his feeble prey?’—

Such were my thoughts, when the tide gan to flow;

And that strange boat like the moon’s shade did sway

Amid reflected stars that in the waters lay:—


A boat of rare device, which had no sail

But its own curved prow of thin moonstone,

Wrought like a web of texture fine and frail,

To catch those gentlest winds which are not known

To breathe, but by the steady speed alone


With which it cleaves the sparkling sea; and now

We are embarked — the mountains hang and frown

Over the starry deep that gleams below,

A vast and dim expanse, as o’er the waves we go.


And as we sailed, a strange and awful tale


That Woman told, like such mysterious dream

As makes the slumberer’s cheek with wonder pale!

’Twas midnight, and around, a shoreless stream,

Wide ocean rolled, when that majestic theme

Shrined in her heart found utterance, and she bent


Her looks on mine; those eyes a kindling beam

Of love divine into my spirit sent,

And ere her lips could move, made the air eloquent.


‘Speak not to me, but hear! Much shalt thou learn,

Much must remain unthought, and more untold,


In the dark Future’s ever-flowing urn:

Know then, that from the depth of ages old

Two Powers o’er mortal things dominion hold,

Ruling the world with a divided lot,

Immortal, all-pervading, manifold,


Twin Genii, equal Gods — when life and thought

Sprang forth, they burst the womb of inessential Nought.


‘The earliest dweller of the world, alone,

Stood on the verge of chaos. Lo! afar

O’er the wide wild abyss two meteors shone,


Sprung from the depth of its tempestuous jar:

A blood-red Comet and the Morning Star

Mingling their beams in combat — as he stood,

All thoughts within his mind waged mutual war,

In dreadful sympathy — when to the flood


That fair Star fell, he turned and shed his brother’s blood.


‘Thus evil triumphed, and the Spirit of evil,

One Power of many shapes which none may know,

One Shape of many names; the Fiend did revel

In victory, reigning o’er a world of woe,


For the new race of man went to and fro,

Famished and homeless, loathed and loathing, wild,

And hating good — for his immortal foe,

He changed from starry shape, beauteous and mild,

To a dire Snake, with man and beast unreconciled.


‘The darkness lingering o’er the dawn of things,

Was Evil’s breath and life; this made him strong

To soar aloft with overshadowing wings;

And the great Spirit of Good did creep among

The nations of mankind, and every tongue


Cursed and blasphemed him as he passed; for none

Knew good from evil, though their names were hung

In mockery o’er the fane where many a groan,

As King, and Lord, and God, the conquering Fiend did own —


‘The Fiend, whose name was Legion: Death, Decay,


Earthquake and Blight, and Want, and Madness pale,

Winged and wan diseases, an array

Numerous as leaves that strew the autumnal gale;

Poison, a snake in flowers, beneath the veil

Of food and mirth, hiding his mortal head;


And, without whom all these might nought avail,

Fear, Hatred, Faith, and Tyranny, who spread

Those subtle nets which snare the living and the dead.


‘His spirit is their power, and they his slaves

In air, and light, and thought, and language, dwell;


And keep their state from palaces to graves,

In all resorts of men — invisible,

But when, in ebon mirror, Nightmare fell

To tyrant or impostor bids them rise,

Black winged demon forms — whom, from the hell,


His reign and dwelling beneath nether skies,

He loosens to their dark and blasting ministries.


‘In the world’s youth his empire was as firm

As its foundations . . . Soon the Spirit of Good,

Though in the likeness of a loathsome worm,


Sprang from the billows of the formless flood,

Which shrank and fled; and with that Fiend of blood

Renewed the doubtful war . . . Thrones then first shook,

And earth’s immense and trampled multitude

In hope on their own powers began to look,


And Fear, the demon pale, his sanguine shrine forsook.


‘Then Greece arose, and to its bards and sages,

In dream, the golden-pinioned Genii came,

Even where they slept amid the night of ages,

Steeping their hearts in the divinest flame


Which thy breath kindled, Power of holiest name!

And oft in cycles since, when darkness gave

New weapons to thy foe, their sunlike fame

Upon the combat shone — a light to save,

Like Paradise spread forth beyond the shadowy grave.


‘Such is this conflict — when mankind doth strive

With its oppressors in a strife of blood,

Or when free thoughts, like lightnings, are alive,

And in each bosom of the multitude

Justice and truth with Custom’s hydra brood


Wage silent war; when Priests and Kings dissemble

In smiles or frowns their fierce disquietude,

When round pure hearts a host of hopes assemble,

The Snake and Eagle meet — the world’s foundations tremble!


‘Thou hast beheld that fight — when to thy home


Thou dost return, steep not its hearth in tears;

Though thou may’st hear that earth is now become

The tyrant’s garbage, which to his compeers,

The vile reward of their dishonoured years,

He will dividing give. — The victor Fiend,


Omnipotent of yore, now quails, and fears

His triumph dearly won, which soon will lend

An impulse swift and sure to his approaching end.


‘List, stranger, list, mine is an human form,

Like that thou wearest — touch me — shrink not now!


My hand thou feel’st is not a ghost’s, but warm

With human blood. —’Twas many years ago,

Since first my thirsting soul aspired to know

The secrets of this wondrous world, when deep

My heart was pierced with sympathy, for woe


Which could not be mine own, and thought did keep,

In dream, unnatural watch beside an infant’s sleep.


‘Woe could not be mine own, since far from men

I dwelt, a free and happy orphan child,

By the sea-shore, in a deep mountain glen;


And near the waves, and through the forests wild,

I roamed, to storm and darkness reconciled:

For I was calm while tempest shook the sky:

But when the breathless heavens in beauty smiled,

I wept, sweet tears, yet too tumultuously


For peace, and clasped my hands aloft in ecstasy.


‘These were forebodings of my fate — before

A woman’s heart beat in my virgin breast,

It had been nurtured in divinest lore:

A dying poet gave me books, and blessed


With wild but holy talk the sweet unrest

In which I watched him as he died away —

A youth with hoary hair — a fleeting guest

Of our lone mountains: and this lore did sway

My spirit like a storm, contending there alway.


‘Thus the dark tale which history doth unfold

I knew, but not, methinks, as others know,

For they weep not; and Wisdom had unrolled

The clouds which hide the gulf of mortal woe —

To few can she that warning vision show —


For I loved all things with intense devotion;

So that when Hope’s deep source in fullest flow,

Like earthquake did uplift the stagnant ocean

Of human thoughts — mine shook beneath the wide emotion.


‘When first the living blood through all these veins


Kindled a thought in sense, great France sprang forth,

And seized, as if to break, the ponderous chains

Which bind in woe the nations of the earth.

I saw, and started from my cottage-hearth;

And to the clouds and waves in tameless gladness


Shrieked, till they caught immeasurable mirth —

And laughed in light and music: soon, sweet madness

Was poured upon my heart, a soft and thrilling sadness.


‘Deep slumber fell on me:— my dreams were fire —

Soft and delightful thoughts did rest and hover


Like shadows o’er my brain; and strange desire,

The tempest of a passion, raging over

My tranquil soul, its depths with light did cover,

Which passed; and calm, and darkness, sweeter far,

Came — then I loved; but not a human lover!


For when I rose from sleep, the Morning Star

Shone through the woodbine-wreaths which round my casement were.


‘’Twas like an eye which seemed to smile on me.

I watched, till by the sun made pale, it sank

Under the billows of the heaving sea;


But from its beams deep love my spirit drank,

And to my brain the boundless world now shrank

Into one thought — one image — yes, for ever!

Even like the dayspring, poured on vapours dank,

The beams of that one Star did shoot and quiver


Through my benighted mind — and were extinguished never.


‘The day passed thus: at night, methought, in dream

A shape of speechless beauty did appear:

It stood like light on a careering stream

Of golden clouds which shook the atmosphere;


A winged youth, his radiant brow did wear

The Morning Star: a wild dissolving bliss

Over my frame he breathed, approaching near,

And bent his eyes of kindling tenderness

Near mine, and on my lips impressed a lingering kiss —


‘And said: “A Spirit loves thee, mortal maiden,

How wilt thou prove thy worth?” Then joy and sleep

Together fled; my soul was deeply laden,

And to the shore I went to muse and weep;

But as I moved, over my heart did creep


A joy less soft, but more profound and strong

Than my sweet dream; and it forbade to keep

The path of the sea-shore: that Spirit’s tongue

Seemed whispering in my heart, and bore my steps along.


‘How, to that vast and peopled city led,


Which was a field of holy warfare then,

I walked among the dying and the dead,

And shared in fearless deeds with evil men,

Calm as an angel in the dragon’s den —

How I braved death for liberty and truth,


And spurned at peace, and power, and fame — and when

Those hopes had lost the glory of their youth,

How sadly I returned — might move the hearer’s ruth:


‘Warm tears throng fast! the tale may not be said —

Know then, that when this grief had been subdued,


I was not left, like others, cold and dead;

The Spirit whom I loved, in solitude

Sustained his child: the tempest-shaken wood,

The waves, the fountains, and the hush of night —

These were his voice, and well I understood


His smile divine, when the calm sea was bright

With silent stars, and Heaven was breathless with delight.


‘In lonely glens, amid the roar of rivers,

When the dim nights were moonless, have I known

Joys which no tongue can tell; my pale lip quivers


When thought revisits them:— know thou alone,

That after many wondrous years were flown,

I was awakened by a shriek of woe;

And over me a mystic robe was thrown,

By viewless hands, and a bright Star did glow


Before my steps — the Snake then met his mortal foe.’


‘Thou fearest not then the Serpent on thy heart?’

‘Fear it!’ she said, with brief and passionate cry,

And spake no more: that silence made me start —

I looked, and we were sailing pleasantly,


Swift as a cloud between the sea and sky;

Beneath the rising moon seen far away,

Mountains of ice, like sapphire, piled on high,

Hemming the horizon round, in silence lay

On the still waters — these we did approach alway.


And swift and swifter grew the vessel’s motion,

So that a dizzy trance fell on my brain —

Wild music woke me; we had passed the ocean

Which girds the pole, Nature’s remotest reign —

And we glode fast o’er a pellucid plain


Of waters, azure with the noontide day.

Ethereal mountains shone around — a Fane

Stood in the midst, girt by green isles which lay

On the blue sunny deep, resplendent far away.


It was a Temple, such as mortal hand


Has never built, nor ecstasy, nor dream

Reared in the cities of enchanted land:

’Twas likest Heaven, ere yet day’s purple stream

Ebbs o’er the western forest, while the gleam

Of the unrisen moon among the clouds


Is gathering — when with many a golden beam

The thronging constellations rush in crowds,

Paving with fire the sky and the marmoreal floods.


Like what may be conceived of this vast dome,

When from the depths which thought can seldom pierce


Genius beholds it rise, his native home,

Girt by the deserts of the Universe;

Yet, nor in painting’s light, or mightier verse,

Or sculpture’s marble language, can invest

That shape to mortal sense — such glooms immerse


That incommunicable sight, and rest

Upon the labouring brain and overburdened breast.


Winding among the lawny islands fair,

Whose blosmy forests starred the shadowy deep,

The wingless boat paused where an ivory stair


Its fretwork in the crystal sea did steep,

Encircling that vast Fane’s aerial heap:

We disembarked, and through a portal wide

We passed — whose roof of moonstone carved, did keep

A glimmering o’er the forms on every side,


Sculptures like life and thought, immovable, deep-eyed.


We came to a vast hall, whose glorious roof

Was diamond, which had drunk the lightning’s sheen

In darkness, and now poured it through the woof

Of spell-inwoven clouds hung there to screen


Its blinding splendour — through such veil was seen

That work of subtlest power, divine and rare;

Orb above orb, with starry shapes between,

And horned moons, and meteors strange and fair,

On night-black columns poised — one hollow hemisphere!


Ten thousand columns in that quivering light

Distinct — between whose shafts wound far away

The long and labyrinthine aisles — more bright

With their own radiance than the Heaven of Day;

And on the jasper walls around, there lay


Paintings, the poesy of mightiest thought,

Which did the Spirit’s history display;

A tale of passionate change, divinely taught,

Which, in their winged dance, unconscious Genii wrought.


Beneath, there sate on many a sapphire throne,


The Great, who had departed from mankind,

A mighty Senate; — some, whose white hair shone

Like mountain snow, mild, beautiful, and blind;

Some, female forms, whose gestures beamed with mind;

And ardent youths, and children bright and fair;


And some had lyres whose strings were intertwined

With pale and clinging flames, which ever there

Waked faint yet thrilling sounds that pierced the crystal air.


One seat was vacant in the midst, a throne,

Reared on a pyramid like sculptured flame,


Distinct with circling steps which rested on

Their own deep fire — soon as the Woman came

Into that hall, she shrieked the Spirit’s name

And fell; and vanished slowly from the sight.

Darkness arose from her dissolving frame,


Which gathering, filled that dome of woven light,

Blotting its sphered stars with supernatural night.


Then first, two glittering lights were seen to glide

In circles on the amethystine floor,

Small serpent eyes trailing from side to side,


Like meteors on a river’s grassy shore,

They round each other rolled, dilating more

And more — then rose, commingling into one,

One clear and mighty planet hanging o’er

A cloud of deepest shadow, which was thrown


Athwart the glowing steps and the crystalline throne.


The cloud which rested on that cone of flame

Was cloven; beneath the planet sate a Form,

Fairer than tongue can speak or thought may frame,

The radiance of whose limbs rose-like and warm


Flowed forth, and did with softest light inform

The shadowy dome, the sculptures, and the state

Of those assembled shapes — with clinging charm

Sinking upon their hearts and mine. He sate

Majestic, yet most mild — calm, yet compassionate.


Wonder and joy a passing faintness threw

Over my brow — a hand supported me,

Whose touch was magic strength; an eye of blue

Looked into mine, like moonlight, soothingly;

And a voice said:—‘Thou must a listener be


This day — two mighty Spirits now return,

Like birds of calm, from the world’s raging sea,

They pour fresh light from Hope’s immortal urn;

A tale of human power — despair not — list and learn!


I looked, and lo! one stood forth eloquently.


His eyes were dark and deep, and the clear brow

Which shadowed them was like the morning sky,

The cloudless Heaven of Spring, when in their flow

Through the bright air, the soft winds as they blow

Wake the green world — his gestures did obey


The oracular mind that made his features glow,

And where his curved lips half-open lay,

Passion’s divinest stream had made impetuous way.


Beneath the darkness of his outspread hair

He stood thus beautiful; but there was One


Who sate beside him like his shadow there,

And held his hand — far lovelier; she was known

To be thus fair, by the few lines alone

Which through her floating locks and gathered cloak,

Glances of soul-dissolving glory, shone:—


None else beheld her eyes — in him they woke

Memories which found a tongue as thus he silence broke.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00