The Revolt of Islam, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Canto 11.


She saw me not — she heard me not — alone

Upon the mountain’s dizzy brink she stood;

She spake not, breathed not, moved not — there was thrown

Over her look, the shadow of a mood

Which only clothes the heart in solitude,


A thought of voiceless depth; — she stood alone,

Above, the Heavens were spread; — below, the flood

Was murmuring in its caves; — the wind had blown

Her hair apart, through which her eyes and forehead shone.


A cloud was hanging o’er the western mountains;


Before its blue and moveless depth were flying

Gray mists poured forth from the unresting fountains

Of darkness in the North:— the day was dying:—

Sudden, the sun shone forth, its beams were lying

Like boiling gold on Ocean, strange to see,


And on the shattered vapours, which defying

The power of light in vain, tossed restlessly

In the red Heaven, like wrecks in a tempestuous sea.


It was a stream of living beams, whose bank

On either side by the cloud’s cleft was made;


And where its chasms that flood of glory drank,

Its waves gushed forth like fire, and as if swayed

By some mute tempest, rolled on HER; the shade

Of her bright image floated on the river

Of liquid light, which then did end and fade —


Her radiant shape upon its verge did shiver;

Aloft, her flowing hair like strings of flame did quiver.


I stood beside her, but she saw me not —

She looked upon the sea, and skies, and earth;

Rapture, and love, and admiration wrought


A passion deeper far than tears, or mirth,

Or speech, or gesture, or whate’er has birth

From common joy; which with the speechless feeling

That led her there united, and shot forth

From her far eyes a light of deep revealing,


All but her dearest self from my regard concealing.


Her lips were parted, and the measured breath

Was now heard there; — her dark and intricate eyes

Orb within orb, deeper than sleep or death,

Absorbed the glories of the burning skies,


Which, mingling with her heart’s deep ecstasies,

Burst from her looks and gestures; — and a light

Of liquid tenderness, like love, did rise

From her whole frame, an atmosphere which quite

Arrayed her in its beams, tremulous and soft and bright.


She would have clasped me to her glowing frame;

Those warm and odorous lips might soon have shed

On mine the fragrance and the invisible flame

Which now the cold winds stole; — she would have laid

Upon my languid heart her dearest head;


I might have heard her voice, tender and sweet;

Her eyes, mingling with mine, might soon have fed

My soul with their own joy. — One moment yet

I gazed — we parted then, never again to meet!


Never but once to meet on Earth again!


She heard me as I fled — her eager tone

Sunk on my heart, and almost wove a chain

Around my will to link it with her own,

So that my stern resolve was almost gone.

‘I cannot reach thee! whither dost thou fly?


My steps are faint — Come back, thou dearest one —

Return, ah me! return!’— The wind passed by

On which those accents died, faint, far, and lingeringly.


Woe! Woe! that moonless midnight! — Want and Pest

Were horrible, but one more fell doth rear,


As in a hydra’s swarming lair, its crest

Eminent among those victims — even the Fear

Of Hell: each girt by the hot atmosphere

Of his blind agony, like a scorpion stung

By his own rage upon his burning bier


Of circling coals of fire; but still there clung

One hope, like a keen sword on starting threads uphung:


Not death — death was no more refuge or rest;

Not life — it was despair to be! — not sleep,

For fiends and chasms of fire had dispossessed


All natural dreams: to wake was not to weep,

But to gaze mad and pallid, at the leap

To which the Future, like a snaky scourge,

Or like some tyrant’s eye, which aye doth keep

Its withering beam upon his slaves, did urge


Their steps; they heard the roar of Hell’s sulphureous surge.


Each of that multitude, alone, and lost

To sense of outward things, one hope yet knew;

As on a foam-girt crag some seaman tossed

Stares at the rising tide, or like the crew


Whilst now the ship is splitting through and through;

Each, if the tramp of a far steed was heard,

Started from sick despair, or if there flew

One murmur on the wind, or if some word

Which none can gather yet, the distant crowd has stirred.


Why became cheeks, wan with the kiss of death,

Paler from hope? they had sustained despair.

Why watched those myriads with suspended breath

Sleepless a second night? they are not here,

The victims, and hour by hour, a vision drear,


Warm corpses fall upon the clay-cold dead;

And even in death their lips are wreathed with fear. —

The crowd is mute and moveless — overhead

Silent Arcturus shines —‘Ha! hear’st thou not the tread


‘Of rushing feet? laughter? the shout, the scream,


Of triumph not to be contained? See! hark!

They come, they come! give way!’ Alas, ye deem

Falsely —’tis but a crowd of maniacs stark

Driven, like a troop of spectres, through the dark,

From the choked well, whence a bright death-fire sprung,


A lurid earth-star, which dropped many a spark

From its blue train, and spreading widely, clung

To their wild hair, like mist the topmost pines among.


And many, from the crowd collected there,

Joined that strange dance in fearful sympathies;


There was the silence of a long despair,

When the last echo of those terrible cries

Came from a distant street, like agonies

Stifled afar. — Before the Tyrant’s throne

All night his aged Senate sate, their eyes


In stony expectation fixed; when one

Sudden before them stood, a Stranger and alone.


Dark Priests and haughty Warriors gazed on him

With baffled wonder, for a hermit’s vest

Concealed his face; but when he spake, his tone,


Ere yet the matter did their thoughts arrest —

Earnest, benignant, calm, as from a breast

Void of all hate or terror — made them start;

For as with gentle accents he addressed

His speech to them, on each unwilling heart


Unusual awe did fall — a spirit-quelling dart.


‘Ye Princes of the Earth, ye sit aghast

Amid the ruin which yourselves have made,

Yes, Desolation heard your trumpet’s blast,

And sprang from sleep! — dark Terror has obeyed


Your bidding — O, that I whom ye have made

Your foe, could set my dearest enemy free

From pain and fear! but evil casts a shade,

Which cannot pass so soon, and Hate must be

The nurse and parent still of an ill progeny.


‘Ye turn to Heaven for aid in your distress;

Alas, that ye, the mighty and the wise,

Who, if ye dared, might not aspire to less

Than ye conceive of power, should fear the lies

Which thou, and thou, didst frame for mysteries


To blind your slaves:— consider your own thought,

An empty and a cruel sacrifice

Ye now prepare, for a vain idol wrought

Out of the fears and hate which vain desires have brought.


‘Ye seek for happiness — alas, the day!


Ye find it not in luxury nor in gold,

Nor in the fame, nor in the envied sway

For which, O willing slaves to Custom old,

Severe taskmistress! ye your hearts have sold.

Ye seek for peace, and when ye die, to dream


No evil dreams: all mortal things are cold

And senseless then; if aught survive, I deem

It must be love and joy, for they immortal seem.


‘Fear not the future, weep not for the past.

Oh, could I win your ears to dare be now


Glorious, and great, and calm! that ye would cast

Into the dust those symbols of your woe,

Purple, and gold, and steel! that ye would go

Proclaiming to the nations whence ye came,

That Want, and Plague, and Fear, from slavery flow;


And that mankind is free, and that the shame

Of royalty and faith is lost in freedom’s fame!


‘If thus, ’tis well — if not, I come to say

That Laon —’ while the Stranger spoke, among

The Council sudden tumult and affray


Arose, for many of those warriors young,

Had on his eloquent accents fed and hung

Like bees on mountain-flowers; they knew the truth,

And from their thrones in vindication sprung;

The men of faith and law then without ruth


Drew forth their secret steel, and stabbed each ardent youth.


They stabbed them in the back and sneered — a slave

Who stood behind the throne, those corpses drew

Each to its bloody, dark, and secret grave;

And one more daring raised his steel anew


To pierce the Stranger. ‘What hast thou to do

With me, poor wretch?’— Calm, solemn and severe,

That voice unstrung his sinews, and he threw

His dagger on the ground, and pale with fear,

Sate silently — his voice then did the Stranger rear.


‘It doth avail not that I weep for ye —

Ye cannot change, since ye are old and gray,

And ye have chosen your lot — your fame must be

A book of blood, whence in a milder day

Men shall learn truth, when ye are wrapped in clay:


Now ye shall triumph. I am Laon’s friend,

And him to your revenge will I betray,

So ye concede one easy boon. Attend!

For now I speak of things which ye can apprehend.


‘There is a People mighty in its youth,


A land beyond the Oceans of the West,

Where, though with rudest rites, Freedom and Truth

Are worshipped; from a glorious Mother’s breast,

Who, since high Athens fell, among the rest

Sate like the Queen of Nations, but in woe,


By inbred monsters outraged and oppressed,

Turns to her chainless child for succour now,

It draws the milk of Power in Wisdom’s fullest flow.


‘That land is like an Eagle, whose young gaze

Feeds on the noontide beam, whose golden plume


Floats moveless on the storm, and in the blaze

Of sunrise gleams when Earth is wrapped in gloom;

An epitaph of glory for the tomb

Of murdered Europe may thy fame be made,

Great People! as the sands shalt thou become;


Thy growth is swift as morn, when night must fade;

The multitudinous Earth shall sleep beneath thy shade.


‘Yes, in the desert there is built a home

For Freedom. Genius is made strong to rear

The monuments of man beneath the dome


Of a new Heaven; myriads assemble there,

Whom the proud lords of man, in rage or fear,

Drive from their wasted homes: the boon I pray

Is this — that Cythna shall be convoyed there —

Nay, start not at the name — America!


And then to you this night Laon will I betray.


‘With me do what ye will. I am your foe!’

The light of such a joy as makes the stare

Of hungry snakes like living emeralds glow,

Shone in a hundred human eyes —‘Where, where


Is Laon? Haste! fly! drag him swiftly here!

We grant thy boon.’—‘I put no trust in ye,

Swear by the Power ye dread.’—‘We swear, we swear!’

The Stranger threw his vest back suddenly,

And smiled in gentle pride, and said, ‘Lo! I am he!’

_4321 wreathed]writhed. “Poetical Works” 1839. 1st edition.

_4361 the mighty]tho’ mighty edition 1818.

_4362 ye]he edition 1818.

_4432 there]then edition 1818.

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