The Revolt of Islam, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Canto 2.


The starlight smile of children, the sweet looks

Of women, the fair breast from which I fed,

The murmur of the unreposing brooks,


And the green light which, shifting overhead,

Some tangled bower of vines around me shed,

The shells on the sea-sand, and the wild flowers,

The lamp-light through the rafters cheerly spread,

And on the twining flax — in life’s young hours


These sights and sounds did nurse my spirit’s folded powers.


In Argolis, beside the echoing sea,

Such impulses within my mortal frame

Arose, and they were dear to memory,

Like tokens of the dead:— but others came


Soon, in another shape: the wondrous fame

Of the past world, the vital words and deeds

Of minds whom neither time nor change can tame,

Traditions dark and old, whence evil creeds

Start forth, and whose dim shade a stream of poison feeds.


I heard, as all have heard, the various story

Of human life, and wept unwilling tears.

Feeble historians of its shame and glory,

False disputants on all its hopes and fears,

Victims who worshipped ruin, chroniclers


Of daily scorn, and slaves who loathed their state

Yet, flattering power, had given its ministers

A throne of judgement in the grave:—’twas fate,

That among such as these my youth should seek its mate.


The land in which I lived, by a fell bane


Was withered up. Tyrants dwelt side by side,

And stabled in our homes — until the chain

Stifled the captive’s cry, and to abide

That blasting curse men had no shame — all vied

In evil, slave and despot; fear with lust


Strange fellowship through mutual hate had tied,

Like two dark serpents tangled in the dust,

Which on the paths of men their mingling poison thrust.


Earth, our bright home, its mountains and its waters,

And the ethereal shapes which are suspended


Over its green expanse, and those fair daughters,

The clouds, of Sun and Ocean, who have blended

The colours of the air since first extended

It cradled the young world, none wandered forth

To see or feel; a darkness had descended


On every heart; the light which shows its worth,

Must among gentle thoughts and fearless take its birth.


This vital world, this home of happy spirits,

Was as a dungeon to my blasted kind;

All that despair from murdered hope inherits


They sought, and in their helpless misery blind,

A deeper prison and heavier chains did find,

And stronger tyrants:— a dark gulf before,

The realm of a stern Ruler, yawned; behind,

Terror and Time conflicting drove, and bore


On their tempestuous flood the shrieking wretch from shore.


Out of that Ocean’s wrecks had Guilt and Woe

Framed a dark dwelling for their homeless thought,

And, starting at the ghosts which to and fro

Glide o’er its dim and gloomy strand, had brought


The worship thence which they each other taught.

Well might men loathe their life, well might they turn

Even to the ills again from which they sought

Such refuge after death! — well might they learn

To gaze on this fair world with hopeless unconcern!


For they all pined in bondage; body and soul,

Tyrant and slave, victim and torturer, bent

Before one Power, to which supreme control

Over their will by their own weakness lent,

Made all its many names omnipotent;


All symbols of things evil, all divine;

And hymns of blood or mockery, which rent

The air from all its fanes, did intertwine

Imposture’s impious toils round each discordant shrine.


I heard, as all have heard, life’s various story,


And in no careless heart transcribed the tale;

But, from the sneers of men who had grown hoary

In shame and scorn, from groans of crowds made pale

By famine, from a mother’s desolate wail

O’er her polluted child, from innocent blood


Poured on the earth, and brows anxious and pale

With the heart’s warfare, did I gather food

To feed my many thoughts — a tameless multitude!


I wandered through the wrecks of days departed

Far by the desolated shore, when even


O’er the still sea and jagged islets darted

The light of moonrise; in the northern Heaven,

Among the clouds near the horizon driven,

The mountains lay beneath one planet pale;

Around me, broken tombs and columns riven


Looked vast in twilight, and the sorrowing gale

Waked in those ruins gray its everlasting wail!


I knew not who had framed these wonders then,

Nor had I heard the story of their deeds;

But dwellings of a race of mightier men,


And monuments of less ungentle creeds

Tell their own tale to him who wisely heeds

The language which they speak; and now, to me

The moonlight making pale the blooming weeds,

The bright stars shining in the breathless sea,


Interpreted those scrolls of mortal mystery.


Such man has been, and such may yet become!

Ay, wiser, greater, gentler even than they

Who on the fragments of yon shattered dome

Have stamped the sign of power — I felt the sway


Of the vast stream of ages bear away

My floating thoughts — my heart beat loud and fast —

Even as a storm let loose beneath the ray

Of the still moon, my spirit onward passed

Beneath truth’s steady beams upon its tumult cast.


It shall be thus no more! too long, too long,

Sons of the glorious dead, have ye lain bound

In darkness and in ruin! — Hope is strong,

Justice and Truth their winged child have found —

Awake! arise! until the mighty sound


Of your career shall scatter in its gust

The thrones of the oppressor, and the ground

Hide the last altar’s unregarded dust,

Whose Idol has so long betrayed your impious trust!


It must be so — I will arise and waken


The multitude, and like a sulphurous hill,

Which on a sudden from its snows has shaken

The swoon of ages, it shall burst and fill

The world with cleansing fire; it must, it will —

It may not be restrained! — and who shall stand


Amid the rocking earthquake steadfast still,

But Laon? on high Freedom’s desert land

A tower whose marble walls the leagued storms withstand!


One summer night, in commune with the hope

Thus deeply fed, amid those ruins gray


I watched, beneath the dark sky’s starry cope;

And ever from that hour upon me lay

The burden of this hope, and night or day,

In vision or in dream, clove to my breast:

Among mankind, or when gone far away


To the lone shores and mountains, ’twas a guest

Which followed where I fled, and watched when I did rest.


These hopes found words through which my spirit sought

To weave a bondage of such sympathy,

As might create some response to the thought


Which ruled me now — and as the vapours lie

Bright in the outspread morning’s radiancy,

So were these thoughts invested with the light

Of language: and all bosoms made reply

On which its lustre streamed, whene’er it might


Through darkness wide and deep those tranced spirits smite.


Yes, many an eye with dizzy tears was dim,

And oft I thought to clasp my own heart’s brother,

When I could feel the listener’s senses swim,

And hear his breath its own swift gaspings smother


Even as my words evoked them — and another,

And yet another, I did fondly deem,

Felt that we all were sons of one great mother;

And the cold truth such sad reverse did seem

As to awake in grief from some delightful dream.


Yes, oft beside the ruined labyrinth

Which skirts the hoary caves of the green deep,

Did Laon and his friend, on one gray plinth,

Round whose worn base the wild waves hiss and leap,

Resting at eve, a lofty converse keep:


And that this friend was false, may now be said

Calmly — that he like other men could weep

Tears which are lies, and could betray and spread

Snares for that guileless heart which for his own had bled.


Then, had no great aim recompensed my sorrow,


I must have sought dark respite from its stress

In dreamless rest, in sleep that sees no morrow —

For to tread life’s dismaying wilderness

Without one smile to cheer, one voice to bless,

Amid the snares and scoffs of human kind,


Is hard — but I betrayed it not, nor less

With love that scorned return sought to unbind

The interwoven clouds which make its wisdom blind.


With deathless minds which leave where they have passed

A path of light, my soul communion knew;


Till from that glorious intercourse, at last,

As from a mine of magic store, I drew

Words which were weapons; — round my heart there grew

The adamantine armour of their power;

And from my fancy wings of golden hue


Sprang forth — yet not alone from wisdom’s tower,

A minister of truth, these plumes young Laon bore.


An orphan with my parents lived, whose eyes

Were lodestars of delight, which drew me home

When I might wander forth; nor did I prize


Aught human thing beneath Heaven’s mighty dome

Beyond this child; so when sad hours were come,

And baffled hope like ice still clung to me,

Since kin were cold, and friends had now become

Heartless and false, I turned from all, to be,


Cythna, the only source of tears and smiles to thee.


What wert thou then? A child most infantine,

Yet wandering far beyond that innocent age

In all but its sweet looks and mien divine;

Even then, methought, with the world’s tyrant rage


A patient warfare thy young heart did wage,

When those soft eyes of scarcely conscious thought

Some tale, or thine own fancies, would engage

To overflow with tears, or converse fraught

With passion, o’er their depths its fleeting light had wrought.


She moved upon this earth a shape of brightness,

A power, that from its objects scarcely drew

One impulse of her being — in her lightness

Most like some radiant cloud of morning dew,

Which wanders through the waste air’s pathless blue,


To nourish some far desert; she did seem

Beside me, gathering beauty as she grew,

Like the bright shade of some immortal dream

Which walks, when tempest sleeps, the wave of life’s dark stream.


As mine own shadow was this child to me,


A second self, far dearer and more fair;

Which clothed in undissolving radiancy

All those steep paths which languor and despair

Of human things, had made so dark and bare,

But which I trod alone — nor, till bereft


Of friends, and overcome by lonely care,

Knew I what solace for that loss was left,

Though by a bitter wound my trusting heart was cleft.


Once she was dear, now she was all I had

To love in human life — this playmate sweet,


This child of twelve years old — so she was made

My sole associate, and her willing feet

Wandered with mine where earth and ocean meet,

Beyond the aereal mountains whose vast cells

The unreposing billows ever beat,


Through forests wild and old, and lawny dells

Where boughs of incense droop over the emerald wells.


And warm and light I felt her clasping hand

When twined in mine; she followed where I went,

Through the lone paths of our immortal land.


It had no waste but some memorial lent

Which strung me to my toil — some monument

Vital with mind; then Cythna by my side,

Until the bright and beaming day were spent,

Would rest, with looks entreating to abide,


Too earnest and too sweet ever to be denied.


And soon I could not have refused her — thus

For ever, day and night, we two were ne’er

Parted, but when brief sleep divided us:

And when the pauses of the lulling air


Of noon beside the sea had made a lair

For her soothed senses, in my arms she slept,

And I kept watch over her slumbers there,

While, as the shifting visions over her swept,

Amid her innocent rest by turns she smiled and wept.


And, in the murmur of her dreams was heard

Sometimes the name of Laon:— suddenly

She would arise, and, like the secret bird

Whom sunset wakens, fill the shore and sky

With her sweet accents, a wild melody!


Hymns which my soul had woven to Freedom, strong

The source of passion, whence they rose, to be;

Triumphant strains, which, like a spirit’s tongue,

To the enchanted waves that child of glory sung —


Her white arms lifted through the shadowy stream


Of her loose hair. Oh, excellently great

Seemed to me then my purpose, the vast theme

Of those impassioned songs, when Cythna sate

Amid the calm which rapture doth create

After its tumult, her heart vibrating,


Her spirit o’er the Ocean’s floating state

From her deep eyes far wandering, on the wing

Of visions that were mine, beyond its utmost spring!


For, before Cythna loved it, had my song

Peopled with thoughts the boundless universe,


A mighty congregation, which were strong

Where’er they trod the darkness to disperse

The cloud of that unutterable curse

Which clings upon mankind:— all things became

Slaves to my holy and heroic verse,


Earth, sea and sky, the planets, life and fame

And fate, or whate’er else binds the world’s wondrous frame.


And this beloved child thus felt the sway

Of my conceptions, gathering like a cloud

The very wind on which it rolls away:


Hers too were all my thoughts, ere yet, endowed

With music and with light, their fountains flowed

In poesy; and her still and earnest face,

Pallid with feelings which intensely glowed

Within, was turned on mine with speechless grace,


Watching the hopes which there her heart had learned to trace.


In me, communion with this purest being

Kindled intenser zeal, and made me wise

In knowledge, which, in hers mine own mind seeing,

Left in the human world few mysteries:


How without fear of evil or disguise

Was Cythna! — what a spirit strong and mild,

Which death, or pain or peril could despise,

Yet melt in tenderness! what genius wild

Yet mighty, was enclosed within one simple child!


New lore was this — old age with its gray hair,

And wrinkled legends of unworthy things,

And icy sneers, is nought: it cannot dare

To burst the chains which life for ever flings

On the entangled soul’s aspiring wings,


So is it cold and cruel, and is made

The careless slave of that dark power which brings

Evil, like blight, on man, who, still betrayed,

Laughs o’er the grave in which his living hopes are laid.


Nor are the strong and the severe to keep


The empire of the world: thus Cythna taught

Even in the visions of her eloquent sleep,

Unconscious of the power through which she wrought

The woof of such intelligible thought,

As from the tranquil strength which cradled lay


In her smile-peopled rest, my spirit sought

Why the deceiver and the slave has sway

O’er heralds so divine of truth’s arising day.


Within that fairest form, the female mind,

Untainted by the poison clouds which rest


On the dark world, a sacred home did find:

But else, from the wide earth’s maternal breast,

Victorious Evil, which had dispossessed

All native power, had those fair children torn,

And made them slaves to soothe his vile unrest,


And minister to lust its joys forlorn,

Till they had learned to breathe the atmosphere of scorn.


This misery was but coldly felt, till she

Became my only friend, who had endued

My purpose with a wider sympathy;


Thus, Cythna mourned with me the servitude

In which the half of humankind were mewed

Victims of lust and hate, the slaves of slaves,

She mourned that grace and power were thrown as food

To the hyena lust, who, among graves,


Over his loathed meal, laughing in agony, raves.


And I, still gazing on that glorious child,

Even as these thoughts flushed o’er her:—‘Cythna sweet,

Well with the world art thou unreconciled;

Never will peace and human nature meet


Till free and equal man and woman greet

Domestic peace; and ere this power can make

In human hearts its calm and holy seat,

This slavery must be broken’— as I spake,

From Cythna’s eyes a light of exultation brake.


She replied earnestly:—‘It shall be mine,

This task — mine, Laon! — thou hast much to gain;

Nor wilt thou at poor Cythna’s pride repine,

If she should lead a happy female train

To meet thee over the rejoicing plain,


When myriads at thy call shall throng around

The Golden City.’— Then the child did strain

My arm upon her tremulous heart, and wound

Her own about my neck, till some reply she found.


I smiled, and spake not. —‘Wherefore dost thou smile


At what I say? Laon, I am not weak,

And, though my cheek might become pale the while,

With thee, if thou desirest, will I seek

Through their array of banded slaves to wreak

Ruin upon the tyrants. I had thought


It was more hard to turn my unpractised cheek

To scorn and shame, and this beloved spot

And thee, O dearest friend, to leave and murmur not.


‘Whence came I what I am? Thou, Laon, knowest

How a young child should thus undaunted be;


Methinks, it is a power which thou bestowest,

Through which I seek, by most resembling thee,

So to become most good and great and free;

Yet far beyond this Ocean’s utmost roar,

In towers and huts are many like to me,


Who, could they see thine eyes, or feel such lore

As I have learnt from them, like me would fear no more.


‘Think’st thou that I shall speak unskilfully,

And none will heed me? I remember now,

How once, a slave in tortures doomed to die,


Was saved, because in accents sweet and low

He sung a song his Judge loved long ago,

As he was led to death. — All shall relent

Who hear me — tears, as mine have flowed, shall flow,

Hearts beat as mine now beats, with such intent


As renovates the world; a will omnipotent!


‘Yes, I will tread Pride’s golden palaces,

Through Penury’s roofless huts and squalid cells

Will I descend, where’er in abjectness

Woman with some vile slave her tyrant dwells,


There with the music of thine own sweet spells

Will disenchant the captives, and will pour

For the despairing, from the crystal wells

Of thy deep spirit, reason’s mighty lore,

And power shall then abound, and hope arise once more.


‘Can man be free if woman be a slave?

Chain one who lives, and breathes this boundless air,

To the corruption of a closed grave!

Can they whose mates are beasts, condemned to bear

Scorn, heavier far than toil or anguish, dare


To trample their oppressors? in their home

Among their babes, thou knowest a curse would wear

The shape of woman — hoary Crime would come

Behind, and Fraud rebuild religion’s tottering dome.


‘I am a child:— I would not yet depart.


When I go forth alone, bearing the lamp

Aloft which thou hast kindled in my heart,

Millions of slaves from many a dungeon damp

Shall leap in joy, as the benumbing cramp

Of ages leaves their limbs — no ill may harm


Thy Cythna ever — truth its radiant stamp

Has fixed, as an invulnerable charm,

Upon her children’s brow, dark Falsehood to disarm.


‘Wait yet awhile for the appointed day —

Thou wilt depart, and I with tears shall stand


Watching thy dim sail skirt the ocean gray;

Amid the dwellers of this lonely land

I shall remain alone — and thy command

Shall then dissolve the world’s unquiet trance,

And, multitudinous as the desert sand


Borne on the storm, its millions shall advance,

Thronging round thee, the light of their deliverance.


‘Then, like the forests of some pathless mountain,

Which from remotest glens two warring winds

Involve in fire which not the loosened fountain


Of broadest floods might quench, shall all the kinds

Of evil, catch from our uniting minds

The spark which must consume them; — Cythna then

Will have cast off the impotence that binds

Her childhood now, and through the paths of men


Will pass, as the charmed bird that haunts the serpent’s den.


‘We part! — O Laon, I must dare nor tremble,

To meet those looks no more! — Oh, heavy stroke!

Sweet brother of my soul! can I dissemble

The agony of this thought?’— As thus she spoke


The gathered sobs her quivering accents broke,

And in my arms she hid her beating breast.

I remained still for tears — sudden she woke

As one awakes from sleep, and wildly pressed

My bosom, her whole frame impetuously possessed.


‘We part to meet again — but yon blue waste,

Yon desert wide and deep, holds no recess,

Within whose happy silence, thus embraced

We might survive all ills in one caress:

Nor doth the grave — I fear ’tis passionless —


Nor yon cold vacant Heaven:— we meet again

Within the minds of men, whose lips shall bless

Our memory, and whose hopes its light retain

When these dissevered bones are trodden in the plain.’


I could not speak, though she had ceased, for now


The fountains of her feeling, swift and deep,

Seemed to suspend the tumult of their flow;

So we arose, and by the starlight steep

Went homeward — neither did we speak nor weep,

But, pale, were calm with passion — thus subdued


Like evening shades that o’er the mountains creep,

We moved towards our home; where, in this mood,

Each from the other sought refuge in solitude.

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