The Revolt of Islam, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Canto 4.


The old man took the oars, and soon the bark


Smote on the beach beside a tower of stone;

It was a crumbling heap, whose portal dark

With blooming ivy-trails was overgrown;

Upon whose floor the spangling sands were strown,

And rarest sea-shells, which the eternal flood,


Slave to the mother of the months, had thrown

Within the walls of that gray tower, which stood

A changeling of man’s art nursed amid Nature’s brood.


When the old man his boat had anchored,

He wound me in his arms with tender care,


And very few, but kindly words he said,

And bore me through the tower adown a stair,

Whose smooth descent some ceaseless step to wear

For many a year had fallen. — We came at last

To a small chamber, which with mosses rare


Was tapestried, where me his soft hands placed

Upon a couch of grass and oak-leaves interlaced.


The moon was darting through the lattices

Its yellow light, warm as the beams of day —

So warm, that to admit the dewy breeze,


The old man opened them; the moonlight lay

Upon a lake whose waters wove their play

Even to the threshold of that lonely home:

Within was seen in the dim wavering ray

The antique sculptured roof, and many a tome


Whose lore had made that sage all that he had become.


The rock-built barrier of the sea was past —

And I was on the margin of a lake,

A lonely lake, amid the forests vast

And snowy mountains:— did my spirit wake


From sleep as many-coloured as the snake

That girds eternity? in life and truth,

Might not my heart its cravings ever slake?

Was Cythna then a dream, and all my youth,

And all its hopes and fears, and all its joy and ruth?


Thus madness came again — a milder madness,

Which darkened nought but time’s unquiet flow

With supernatural shades of clinging sadness;

That gentle Hermit, in my helpless woe,

By my sick couch was busy to and fro,


Like a strong spirit ministrant of good:

When I was healed, he led me forth to show

The wonders of his sylvan solitude,

And we together sate by that isle-fretted flood.


He knew his soothing words to weave with skill


From all my madness told; like mine own heart,

Of Cythna would he question me, until

That thrilling name had ceased to make me start,

From his familiar lips — it was not art,

Of wisdom and of justice when he spoke —


When mid soft looks of pity, there would dart

A glance as keen as is the lightning’s stroke

When it doth rive the knots of some ancestral oak.


Thus slowly from my brain the darkness rolled,

My thoughts their due array did re-assume


Through the enchantments of that Hermit old;

Then I bethought me of the glorious doom

Of those who sternly struggle to relume

The lamp of Hope o’er man’s bewildered lot,

And, sitting by the waters, in the gloom


Of eve, to that friend’s heart I told my thought —

That heart which had grown old, but had corrupted not.


That hoary man had spent his livelong age

In converse with the dead, who leave the stamp

Of ever-burning thoughts on many a page,


When they are gone into the senseless damp

Of graves; — his spirit thus became a lamp

Of splendour, like to those on which it fed;

Through peopled haunts, the City and the Camp,

Deep thirst for knowledge had his footsteps led,


And all the ways of men among mankind he read.


But custom maketh blind and obdurate

The loftiest hearts; — he had beheld the woe

In which mankind was bound, but deemed that fate

Which made them abject, would preserve them so;


And in such faith, some steadfast joy to know,

He sought this cell: but when fame went abroad

That one in Argolis did undergo

Torture for liberty, and that the crowd

High truths from gifted lips had heard and understood;


And that the multitude was gathering wide —

His spirit leaped within his aged frame;

In lonely peace he could no more abide,

But to the land on which the victor’s flame

Had fed, my native land, the Hermit came:


Each heart was there a shield, and every tongue

Was as a sword of truth — young Laon’s name

Rallied their secret hopes, though tyrants sung

Hymns of triumphant joy our scattered tribes among.


He came to the lone column on the rock,


And with his sweet and mighty eloquence

The hearts of those who watched it did unlock,

And made them melt in tears of penitence.

They gave him entrance free to bear me thence.

‘Since this,’ the old man said, ‘seven years are spent,


While slowly truth on thy benighted sense

Has crept; the hope which wildered it has lent

Meanwhile, to me the power of a sublime intent.


‘Yes, from the records of my youthful state,

And from the lore of bards and sages old,


From whatsoe’er my wakened thoughts create

Out of the hopes of thine aspirings bold,

Have I collected language to unfold

Truth to my countrymen; from shore to shore

Doctrines of human power my words have told,


They have been heard, and men aspire to more

Than they have ever gained or ever lost of yore.


‘In secret chambers parents read, and weep,

My writings to their babes, no longer blind;

And young men gather when their tyrants sleep,


And vows of faith each to the other bind;

And marriageable maidens, who have pined

With love, till life seemed melting through their look,

A warmer zeal, a nobler hope, now find;

And every bosom thus is rapt and shook,


Like autumn’s myriad leaves in one swoln mountain-brook.


‘The tyrants of the Golden City tremble

At voices which are heard about the streets;

The ministers of fraud can scarce dissemble

The lies of their own heart, but when one meets


Another at the shrine, he inly weets,

Though he says nothing, that the truth is known;

Murderers are pale upon the judgement-seats,

And gold grows vile even to the wealthy crone,

And laughter fills the Fane, and curses shake the Throne.


‘Kind thoughts, and mighty hopes, and gentle deeds

Abound, for fearless love, and the pure law

Of mild equality and peace, succeeds

To faiths which long have held the world in awe,

Bloody and false, and cold:— as whirlpools draw


All wrecks of Ocean to their chasm, the sway

Of thy strong genius, Laon, which foresaw

This hope, compels all spirits to obey,

Which round thy secret strength now throng in wide array.


‘For I have been thy passive instrument’—


(As thus the old man spake, his countenance

Gleamed on me like a spirit’s)—‘thou hast lent

To me, to all, the power to advance

Towards this unforeseen deliverance

From our ancestral chains — ay, thou didst rear


That lamp of hope on high, which time nor chance

Nor change may not extinguish, and my share

Of good, was o’er the world its gathered beams to bear.


‘But I, alas! am both unknown and old,

And though the woof of wisdom I know well


To dye in hues of language, I am cold

In seeming, and the hopes which inly dwell,

My manners note that I did long repel;

But Laon’s name to the tumultuous throng

Were like the star whose beams the waves compel


And tempests, and his soul-subduing tongue

Were as a lance to quell the mailed crest of wrong.


‘Perchance blood need not flow, if thou at length

Wouldst rise, perchance the very slaves would spare

Their brethren and themselves; great is the strength


Of words — for lately did a maiden fair,

Who from her childhood has been taught to bear

The Tyrant’s heaviest yoke, arise, and make

Her sex the law of truth and freedom hear,

And with these quiet words —“for thine own sake


I prithee spare me;”— did with ruth so take


‘All hearts, that even the torturer who had bound

Her meek calm frame, ere it was yet impaled,

Loosened her, weeping then; nor could be found

One human hand to harm her — unassailed


Therefore she walks through the great City, veiled

In virtue’s adamantine eloquence,

‘Gainst scorn, and death and pain thus trebly mailed,

And blending, in the smiles of that defence,

The Serpent and the Dove, Wisdom and Innocence.


‘The wild-eyed women throng around her path:

From their luxurious dungeons, from the dust

Of meaner thralls, from the oppressor’s wrath,

Or the caresses of his sated lust

They congregate:— in her they put their trust;


The tyrants send their armed slaves to quell

Her power; — they, even like a thunder-gust

Caught by some forest, bend beneath the spell

Of that young maiden’s speech, and to their chiefs rebel.


‘Thus she doth equal laws and justice teach


To woman, outraged and polluted long;

Gathering the sweetest fruit in human reach

For those fair hands now free, while armed wrong

Trembles before her look, though it be strong;

Thousands thus dwell beside her, virgins bright,


And matrons with their babes, a stately throng!

Lovers renew the vows which they did plight

In early faith, and hearts long parted now unite,


‘And homeless orphans find a home near her,

And those poor victims of the proud, no less,


Fair wrecks, on whom the smiling world with stir,

Thrusts the redemption of its wickedness:—

In squalid huts, and in its palaces

Sits Lust alone, while o’er the land is borne

Her voice, whose awful sweetness doth repress


All evil, and her foes relenting turn,

And cast the vote of love in hope’s abandoned urn.


‘So in the populous City, a young maiden

Has baffled Havoc of the prey which he

Marks as his own, whene’er with chains o’erladen


Men make them arms to hurl down tyranny —

False arbiter between the bound and free;

And o’er the land, in hamlets and in towns

The multitudes collect tumultuously,

And throng in arms; but tyranny disowns


Their claim, and gathers strength around its trembling thrones.


‘Blood soon, although unwillingly, to shed

The free cannot forbear — the Queen of Slaves,

The hoodwinked Angel of the blind and dead,

Custom, with iron mace points to the graves


Where her own standard desolately waves

Over the dust of Prophets and of Kings.

Many yet stand in her array —“she paves

Her path with human hearts,” and o’er it flings

The wildering gloom of her immeasurable wings.


‘There is a plain beneath the City’s wall,

Bounded by misty mountains, wide and vast,

Millions there lift at Freedom’s thrilling call

Ten thousand standards wide, they load the blast

Which bears one sound of many voices past,


And startles on his throne their sceptred foe:

He sits amid his idle pomp aghast,

And that his power hath passed away, doth know —

Why pause the victor swords to seal his overthrow?


‘The tyrant’s guards resistance yet maintain:


Fearless, and fierce, and hard as beasts of blood,

They stand a speck amid the peopled plain;

Carnage and ruin have been made their food

From infancy — ill has become their good,

And for its hateful sake their will has wove


The chains which eat their hearts. The multitude

Surrounding them, with words of human love,

Seek from their own decay their stubborn minds to move.


‘Over the land is felt a sudden pause,

As night and day those ruthless bands around,


The watch of love is kept:— a trance which awes

The thoughts of men with hope; as when the sound

Of whirlwind, whose fierce blasts the waves and clouds confound,

Dies suddenly, the mariner in fear

Feels silence sink upon his heart — thus bound,


The conquerors pause, and oh! may freemen ne’er

Clasp the relentless knees of Dread, the murderer!


‘If blood be shed, ’tis but a change and choice

Of bonds — from slavery to cowardice

A wretched fall! — Uplift thy charmed voice!


Pour on those evil men the love that lies

Hovering within those spirit-soothing eyes —

Arise, my friend, farewell!’— As thus he spake,

From the green earth lightly I did arise,

As one out of dim dreams that doth awake,


And looked upon the depth of that reposing lake.


I saw my countenance reflected there; —

And then my youth fell on me like a wind

Descending on still waters — my thin hair

Was prematurely gray, my face was lined


With channels, such as suffering leaves behind,

Not age; my brow was pale, but in my cheek

And lips a flush of gnawing fire did find

Their food and dwelling; though mine eyes might speak

A subtle mind and strong within a frame thus weak.


And though their lustre now was spent and faded,

Yet in my hollow looks and withered mien

The likeness of a shape for which was braided

The brightest woof of genius, still was seen —

One who, methought, had gone from the world’s scene,


And left it vacant —’twas her lover’s face —

It might resemble her — it once had been

The mirror of her thoughts, and still the grace

Which her mind’s shadow cast, left there a lingering trace.


What then was I? She slumbered with the dead.


Glory and joy and peace, had come and gone.

Doth the cloud perish, when the beams are fled

Which steeped its skirts in gold? or, dark and lone,

Doth it not through the paths of night unknown,

On outspread wings of its own wind upborne


Pour rain upon the earth? The stars are shown,

When the cold moon sharpens her silver horn

Under the sea, and make the wide night not forlorn.


Strengthened in heart, yet sad, that aged man

I left, with interchange of looks and tears,


And lingering speech, and to the Camp began

My war. O’er many a mountain-chain which rears

Its hundred crests aloft, my spirit bears

My frame; o’er many a dale and many a moor,

And gaily now meseems serene earth wears


The blosmy spring’s star-bright investiture,

A vision which aught sad from sadness might allure.


My powers revived within me, and I went,

As one whom winds waft o’er the bending grass,

Through many a vale of that broad continent.


At night when I reposed, fair dreams did pass

Before my pillow; — my own Cythna was,

Not like a child of death, among them ever;

When I arose from rest, a woful mass

That gentlest sleep seemed from my life to sever,


As if the light of youth were not withdrawn for ever.


Aye as I went, that maiden who had reared

The torch of Truth afar, of whose high deeds

The Hermit in his pilgrimage had heard,

Haunted my thoughts. — Ah, Hope its sickness feeds


With whatsoe’er it finds, or flowers or weeds!

Could she be Cythna? — Was that corpse a shade

Such as self-torturing thought from madness breeds?

Why was this hope not torture? Yet it made

A light around my steps which would not ever fade.

_1625 Where]When edition 1818.

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