The Revolt of Islam, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Canto 10.


Was there a human spirit in the steed,

That thus with his proud voice, ere night was gone,


He broke our linked rest? or do indeed

All living things a common nature own,

And thought erect an universal throne,

Where many shapes one tribute ever bear?

And Earth, their mutual mother, does she groan


To see her sons contend? and makes she bare

Her breast, that all in peace its drainless stores may share?


I have heard friendly sounds from many a tongue

Which was not human — the lone nightingale

Has answered me with her most soothing song,


Out of her ivy bower, when I sate pale

With grief, and sighed beneath; from many a dale

The antelopes who flocked for food have spoken

With happy sounds, and motions, that avail

Like man’s own speech; and such was now the token


Of waning night, whose calm by that proud neigh was broken.


Each night, that mighty steed bore me abroad,

And I returned with food to our retreat,

And dark intelligence; the blood which flowed

Over the fields, had stained the courser’s feet;


Soon the dust drinks that bitter dew — then meet

The vulture, and the wild dog, and the snake,

The wolf, and the hyaena gray, and eat

The dead in horrid truce: their throngs did make

Behind the steed, a chasm like waves in a ship’s wake.


For, from the utmost realms of earth came pouring

The banded slaves whom every despot sent

At that throned traitor’s summons; like the roaring

Of fire, whose floods the wild deer circumvent

In the scorched pastures of the South; so bent


The armies of the leagued Kings around

Their files of steel and flame; — the continent

Trembled, as with a zone of ruin bound,

Beneath their feet, the sea shook with their Navies’ sound.


From every nation of the earth they came,


The multitude of moving heartless things,

Whom slaves call men: obediently they came,

Like sheep whom from the fold the shepherd brings

To the stall, red with blood; their many kings

Led them, thus erring, from their native land;


Tartar and Frank, and millions whom the wings

Of Indian breezes lull, and many a band

The Arctic Anarch sent, and Idumea’s sand,


Fertile in prodigies and lies; — so there

Strange natures made a brotherhood of ill.


The desert savage ceased to grasp in fear

His Asian shield and bow, when, at the will

Of Europe’s subtler son, the bolt would kill

Some shepherd sitting on a rock secure;

But smiles of wondering joy his face would fill,


And savage sympathy: those slaves impure,

Each one the other thus from ill to ill did lure.


For traitorously did that foul Tyrant robe

His countenance in lies — even at the hour

When he was snatched from death, then o’er the globe,


With secret signs from many a mountain-tower,

With smoke by day, and fire by night, the power

Of Kings and Priests, those dark conspirators,

He called:— they knew his cause their own, and swore

Like wolves and serpents to their mutual wars


Strange truce, with many a rite which Earth and Heaven abhors.


Myriads had come — millions were on their way;

The Tyrant passed, surrounded by the steel

Of hired assassins, through the public way,

Choked with his country’s dead:— his footsteps reel


On the fresh blood — he smiles. ‘Ay, now I feel

I am a King in truth!’ he said, and took

His royal seat, and bade the torturing wheel

Be brought, and fire, and pincers, and the hook,

And scorpions, that his soul on its revenge might look.


‘But first, go slay the rebels — why return

The victor bands?’ he said, ‘millions yet live,

Of whom the weakest with one word might turn

The scales of victory yet; — let none survive

But those within the walls — each fifth shall give


The expiation for his brethren here. —

Go forth, and waste and kill!’—‘O king, forgive

My speech,’ a soldier answered —‘but we fear

The spirits of the night, and morn is drawing near;


‘For we were slaying still without remorse,


And now that dreadful chief beneath my hand

Defenceless lay, when on a hell-black horse,

An Angel bright as day, waving a brand

Which flashed among the stars, passed.’—‘Dost thou stand

Parleying with me, thou wretch?’ the king replied;


‘Slaves, bind him to the wheel; and of this band,

Whoso will drag that woman to his side

That scared him thus, may burn his dearest foe beside;


‘And gold and glory shall be his. — Go forth!’

They rushed into the plain. — Loud was the roar


Of their career: the horsemen shook the earth;

The wheeled artillery’s speed the pavement tore;

The infantry, file after file, did pour

Their clouds on the utmost hills. Five days they slew

Among the wasted fields; the sixth saw gore


Stream through the city; on the seventh, the dew

Of slaughter became stiff, and there was peace anew:


Peace in the desert fields and villages,

Between the glutted beasts and mangled dead!

Peace in the silent streets! save when the cries


Of victims to their fiery judgement led,

Made pale their voiceless lips who seemed to dread

Even in their dearest kindred, lest some tongue

Be faithless to the fear yet unbetrayed;

Peace in the Tyrant’s palace, where the throng


Waste the triumphal hours in festival and song!


Day after day the burning sun rolled on

Over the death-polluted land — it came

Out of the east like fire, and fiercely shone

A lamp of Autumn, ripening with its flame


The few lone ears of corn; — the sky became

Stagnate with heat, so that each cloud and blast

Languished and died — the thirsting air did claim

All moisture, and a rotting vapour passed

From the unburied dead, invisible and fast.


First Want, then Plague came on the beasts; their food

Failed, and they drew the breath of its decay.

Millions on millions, whom the scent of blood

Had lured, or who, from regions far away,

Had tracked the hosts in festival array,


From their dark deserts; gaunt and wasting now,

Stalked like fell shades among their perished prey;

In their green eyes a strange disease did glow,

They sank in hideous spasm, or pains severe and slow.


The fish were poisoned in the streams; the birds


In the green woods perished; the insect race

Was withered up; the scattered flocks and herds

Who had survived the wild beasts’ hungry chase

Died moaning, each upon the other’s face

In helpless agony gazing; round the City


All night, the lean hyaenas their sad case

Like starving infants wailed; a woeful ditty!

And many a mother wept, pierced with unnatural pity.


Amid the aereal minarets on high,

The Ethiopian vultures fluttering fell


From their long line of brethren in the sky,

Startling the concourse of mankind. — Too well

These signs the coming mischief did foretell:—

Strange panic first, a deep and sickening dread

Within each heart, like ice, did sink and dwell,


A voiceless thought of evil, which did spread

With the quick glance of eyes, like withering lightnings shed.


Day after day, when the year wanes, the frosts

Strip its green crown of leaves, till all is bare;

So on those strange and congregated hosts


Came Famine, a swift shadow, and the air

Groaned with the burden of a new despair;

Famine, than whom Misrule no deadlier daughter

Feeds from her thousand breasts, though sleeping there

With lidless eyes, lie Faith, and Plague, and Slaughter,


A ghastly brood; conceived of Lethe’s sullen water.


There was no food, the corn was trampled down,

The flocks and herds had perished; on the shore

The dead and putrid fish were ever thrown;

The deeps were foodless, and the winds no more


Creaked with the weight of birds, but, as before

Those winged things sprang forth, were void of shade;

The vines and orchards, Autumn’s golden store,

Were burned; — so that the meanest food was weighed

With gold, and Avarice died before the god it made.


There was no corn — in the wide market-place

All loathliest things, even human flesh, was sold;

They weighed it in small scales — and many a face

Was fixed in eager horror then: his gold

The miser brought; the tender maid, grown bold


Through hunger, bared her scorned charms in vain;

The mother brought her eldest born, controlled

By instinct blind as love, but turned again

And bade her infant suck, and died in silent pain.


Then fell blue Plague upon the race of man.


‘O, for the sheathed steel, so late which gave

Oblivion to the dead, when the streets ran

With brothers’ blood! O, that the earthquake’s grave

Would gape, or Ocean lift its stifling wave!’

Vain cries — throughout the streets thousands pursued


Each by his fiery torture howl and rave,

Or sit in frenzy’s unimagined mood,

Upon fresh heaps of dead; a ghastly multitude.


It was not hunger now, but thirst. Each well

Was choked with rotting corpses, and became


A cauldron of green mist made visible

At sunrise. Thither still the myriads came,

Seeking to quench the agony of the flame,

Which raged like poison through their bursting veins;

Naked they were from torture, without shame,


Spotted with nameless scars and lurid blains,

Childhood, and youth, and age, writhing in savage pains.


It was not thirst, but madness! Many saw

Their own lean image everywhere, it went

A ghastlier self beside them, till the awe


Of that dread sight to self-destruction sent

Those shrieking victims; some, ere life was spent,

Sought, with a horrid sympathy, to shed

Contagion on the sound; and others rent

Their matted hair, and cried aloud, ‘We tread


On fire! the avenging Power his hell on earth has spread!’


Sometimes the living by the dead were hid.

Near the great fountain in the public square,

Where corpses made a crumbling pyramid

Under the sun, was heard one stifled prayer


For life, in the hot silence of the air;

And strange ’twas, amid that hideous heap to see

Some shrouded in their long and golden hair,

As if not dead, but slumbering quietly

Like forms which sculptors carve, then love to agony.


Famine had spared the palace of the king:—

He rioted in festival the while,

He and his guards and priests; but Plague did fling

One shadow upon all. Famine can smile

On him who brings it food, and pass, with guile


Of thankful falsehood, like a courtier gray,

The house-dog of the throne; but many a mile

Comes Plague, a winged wolf, who loathes alway

The garbage and the scum that strangers make her prey.


So, near the throne, amid the gorgeous feast,


Sheathed in resplendent arms, or loosely dight

To luxury, ere the mockery yet had ceased

That lingered on his lips, the warrior’s might

Was loosened, and a new and ghastlier night

In dreams of frenzy lapped his eyes; he fell


Headlong, or with stiff eyeballs sate upright

Among the guests, or raving mad did tell

Strange truths; a dying seer of dark oppression’s hell.


The Princes and the Priests were pale with terror;

That monstrous faith wherewith they ruled mankind,


Fell, like a shaft loosed by the bowman’s error,

On their own hearts: they sought and they could find

No refuge —’twas the blind who led the blind!

So, through the desolate streets to the high fane,

The many-tongued and endless armies wind


In sad procession: each among the train

To his own Idol lifts his supplications vain.


‘O God!’ they cried, ‘we know our secret pride

Has scorned thee, and thy worship, and thy name;

Secure in human power we have defied


Thy fearful might; we bend in fear and shame

Before thy presence; with the dust we claim

Kindred; be merciful, O King of Heaven!

Most justly have we suffered for thy fame

Made dim, but be at length our sins forgiven,


Ere to despair and death thy worshippers be driven.


‘O King of Glory! thou alone hast power!

Who can resist thy will? who can restrain

Thy wrath, when on the guilty thou dost shower

The shafts of thy revenge, a blistering rain?


Greatest and best, be merciful again!

Have we not stabbed thine enemies, and made

The Earth an altar, and the Heavens a fane,

Where thou wert worshipped with their blood, and laid

Those hearts in dust which would thy searchless works have weighed?


‘Well didst thou loosen on this impious City

Thine angels of revenge: recall them now;

Thy worshippers, abased, here kneel for pity,

And bind their souls by an immortal vow:

We swear by thee! and to our oath do thou


Give sanction, from thine hell of fiends and flame,

That we will kill with fire and torments slow,

The last of those who mocked thy holy name,

And scorned the sacred laws thy prophets did proclaim.’


Thus they with trembling limbs and pallid lips


Worshipped their own hearts’ image, dim and vast,

Scared by the shade wherewith they would eclipse

The light of other minds; — troubled they passed

From the great Temple; — fiercely still and fast

The arrows of the plague among them fell,


And they on one another gazed aghast,

And through the hosts contention wild befell,

As each of his own god the wondrous works did tell.


And Oromaze, Joshua, and Mahomet,

Moses, and Buddh, Zerdusht, and Brahm, and Foh,


A tumult of strange names, which never met

Before, as watchwords of a single woe,

Arose; each raging votary ‘gan to throw

Aloft his armed hands, and each did howl

‘Our God alone is God!’— and slaughter now


Would have gone forth, when from beneath a cowl

A voice came forth, which pierced like ice through every soul.


’Twas an Iberian Priest from whom it came,

A zealous man, who led the legioned West,

With words which faith and pride had steeped in flame,


To quell the unbelievers; a dire guest

Even to his friends was he, for in his breast

Did hate and guile lie watchful, intertwined,

Twin serpents in one deep and winding nest;

He loathed all faith beside his own, and pined


To wreak his fear of Heaven in vengeance on mankind.


But more he loathed and hated the clear light

Of wisdom and free thought, and more did fear,

Lest, kindled once, its beams might pierce the night,

Even where his Idol stood; for, far and near


Did many a heart in Europe leap to hear

That faith and tyranny were trampled down;

Many a pale victim, doomed for truth to share

The murderer’s cell, or see, with helpless groan,

The priests his children drag for slaves to serve their own.


He dared not kill the infidels with fire

Or steel, in Europe; the slow agonies

Of legal torture mocked his keen desire:

So he made truce with those who did despise

The expiation, and the sacrifice,


That, though detested, Islam’s kindred creed

Might crush for him those deadlier enemies;

For fear of God did in his bosom breed

A jealous hate of man, an unreposing need.


‘Peace! Peace!’ he cried, ‘when we are dead, the Day


Of Judgement comes, and all shall surely know

Whose God is God, each fearfully shall pay

The errors of his faith in endless woe!

But there is sent a mortal vengeance now

On earth, because an impious race had spurned


Him whom we all adore — a subtle foe,

By whom for ye this dread reward was earned,

And kingly thrones, which rest on faith, nigh overturned.


‘Think ye, because ye weep, and kneel, and pray,

That God will lull the pestilence? It rose


Even from beneath his throne, where, many a day,

His mercy soothed it to a dark repose:

It walks upon the earth to judge his foes;

And what are thou and I, that he should deign

To curb his ghastly minister, or close


The gates of death, ere they receive the twain

Who shook with mortal spells his undefended reign?


‘Ay, there is famine in the gulf of hell,

Its giant worms of fire for ever yawn. —

Their lurid eyes are on us! those who fell


By the swift shafts of pestilence ere dawn,

Are in their jaws! they hunger for the spawn

Of Satan, their own brethren, who were sent

To make our souls their spoil. See! see! they fawn

Like dogs, and they will sleep with luxury spent,


When those detested hearts their iron fangs have rent!


‘Our God may then lull Pestilence to sleep:—

Pile high the pyre of expiation now,

A forest’s spoil of boughs, and on the heap

Pour venomous gums, which sullenly and slow,


When touched by flame, shall burn, and melt, and flow,

A stream of clinging fire — and fix on high

A net of iron, and spread forth below

A couch of snakes, and scorpions, and the fry

Of centipedes and worms, earth’s hellish progeny!


‘Let Laon and Laone on that pyre,

Linked tight with burning brass, perish! — then pray

That, with this sacrifice, the withering ire

Of Heaven may be appeased.’ He ceased, and they

A space stood silent, as far, far away


The echoes of his voice among them died;

And he knelt down upon the dust, alway

Muttering the curses of his speechless pride,

Whilst shame, and fear, and awe, the armies did divide.


His voice was like a blast that burst the portal


Of fabled hell; and as he spake, each one

Saw gape beneath the chasms of fire immortal,

And Heaven above seemed cloven, where, on a throne

Girt round with storms and shadows, sate alone

Their King and Judge — fear killed in every breast


All natural pity then, a fear unknown

Before, and with an inward fire possessed,

They raged like homeless beasts whom burning woods invest.


’Twas morn. — At noon the public crier went forth,

Proclaiming through the living and the dead,


‘The Monarch saith, that his great Empire’s worth

Is set on Laon and Laone’s head:

He who but one yet living here can lead,

Or who the life from both their hearts can wring,

Shall be the kingdom’s heir — a glorious meed!


But he who both alive can hither bring,

The Princess shall espouse, and reign an equal King.’


Ere night the pyre was piled, the net of iron

Was spread above, the fearful couch below;

It overtopped the towers that did environ


That spacious square; for Fear is never slow

To build the thrones of Hate, her mate and foe;

So, she scourged forth the maniac multitude

To rear this pyramid — tottering and slow,

Plague-stricken, foodless, like lean herds pursued


By gadflies, they have piled the heath, and gums, and wood.


Night came, a starless and a moonless gloom.

Until the dawn, those hosts of many a nation

Stood round that pile, as near one lover’s tomb

Two gentle sisters mourn their desolation;


And in the silence of that expectation,

Was heard on high the reptiles’ hiss and crawl —

It was so deep — save when the devastation

Of the swift pest, with fearful interval,

Marking its path with shrieks, among the crowd would fall.


Morn came — among those sleepless multitudes,

Madness, and Fear, and Plague, and Famine still

Heaped corpse on corpse, as in autumnal woods

The frosts of many a wind with dead leaves fill

Earth’s cold and sullen brooks; in silence, still


The pale survivors stood; ere noon, the fear

Of Hell became a panic, which did kill

Like hunger or disease, with whispers drear,

As ‘Hush! hark! Come they yet? — Just Heaven! thine hour is near!’


And Priests rushed through their ranks, some counterfeiting


The rage they did inspire, some mad indeed

With their own lies; they said their god was waiting

To see his enemies writhe, and burn, and bleed —

And that, till then, the snakes of Hell had need

Of human souls:— three hundred furnaces


Soon blazed through the wide City, where, with speed,

Men brought their infidel kindred to appease

God’s wrath, and, while they burned, knelt round on quivering knees.


The noontide sun was darkened with that smoke,

The winds of eve dispersed those ashes gray.


The madness which these rites had lulled, awoke

Again at sunset. — Who shall dare to say

The deeds which night and fear brought forth, or weigh

In balance just the good and evil there?

He might man’s deep and searchless heart display,


And cast a light on those dim labyrinths, where

Hope, near imagined chasms, is struggling with despair.


’Tis said, a mother dragged three children then,

To those fierce flames which roast the eyes in the head,

And laughed, and died; and that unholy men,


Feasting like fiends upon the infidel dead,

Looked from their meal, and saw an Angel tread

The visible floor of Heaven, and it was she!

And, on that night, one without doubt or dread

Came to the fire, and said, ‘Stop, I am he!


Kill me!’— They burned them both with hellish mockery.


And, one by one, that night, young maidens came,

Beauteous and calm, like shapes of living stone

Clothed in the light of dreams, and by the flame

Which shrank as overgorged, they laid them down,


And sung a low sweet song, of which alone

One word was heard, and that was Liberty;

And that some kissed their marble feet, with moan

Like love, and died; and then that they did die

With happy smiles, which sunk in white tranquillity.

_3834 native home edition 1818.

_3967 earthquakes edition 1818.

_4176 reptiles’]reptiles edition 1818.

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