The Revolt of Islam, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Canto 6.


Beside the dimness of the glimmering sea,

Weaving swift language from impassioned themes,

With that dear friend I lingered, who to me

So late had been restored, beneath the gleams

Of the silver stars; and ever in soft dreams


Of future love and peace sweet converse lapped

Our willing fancies, till the pallid beams

Of the last watchfire fell, and darkness wrapped

The waves, and each bright chain of floating fire was snapped;


And till we came even to the City’s wall


And the great gate; then, none knew whence or why,

Disquiet on the multitudes did fall:

And first, one pale and breathless passed us by,

And stared and spoke not; — then with piercing cry

A troop of wild-eyed women, by the shrieks


Of their own terror driven — tumultuously

Hither and thither hurrying with pale cheeks,

Each one from fear unknown a sudden refuge seeks —


Then, rallying cries of treason and of danger

Resounded: and —‘They come! to arms! to arms!


The Tyrant is amongst us, and the stranger

Comes to enslave us in his name! to arms!’

In vain: for Panic, the pale fiend who charms

Strength to forswear her right, those millions swept

Like waves before the tempest — these alarms


Came to me, as to know their cause I lept

On the gate’s turret, and in rage and grief and scorn I wept!


For to the North I saw the town on fire,

And its red light made morning pallid now,

Which burst over wide Asia; — louder, higher,


The yells of victory and the screams of woe

I heard approach, and saw the throng below

Stream through the gates like foam-wrought waterfalls

Fed from a thousand storms — the fearful glow

Of bombs flares overhead — at intervals


The red artillery’s bolt mangling among them falls.


And now the horsemen come — and all was done

Swifter than I have spoken — I beheld

Their red swords flash in the unrisen sun.

I rushed among the rout, to have repelled


That miserable flight — one moment quelled

By voice and looks and eloquent despair,

As if reproach from their own hearts withheld

Their steps, they stood; but soon came pouring there

New multitudes, and did those rallied bands o’erbear.


I strove, as, drifted on some cataract

By irresistible streams, some wretch might strive

Who hears its fatal roar:— the files compact

Whelmed me, and from the gate availed to drive

With quickening impulse, as each bolt did rive


Their ranks with bloodier chasm:— into the plain

Disgorged at length the dead and the alive

In one dread mass, were parted, and the stain

Of blood, from mortal steel fell o’er the fields like rain.


For now the despot’s bloodhounds with their prey


Unarmed and unaware, were gorging deep

Their gluttony of death; the loose array

Of horsemen o’er the wide fields murdering sweep,

And with loud laughter for their tyrant reap

A harvest sown with other hopes; the while,


Far overhead, ships from Propontis keep

A killing rain of fire:— when the waves smile

As sudden earthquakes light many a volcano-isle,


Thus sudden, unexpected feast was spread

For the carrion-fowls of Heaven. — I saw the sight —


I moved — I lived — as o’er the heaps of dead,

Whose stony eyes glared in the morning light

I trod; — to me there came no thought of flight,

But with loud cries of scorn, which whoso heard

That dreaded death, felt in his veins the might


Of virtuous shame return, the crowd I stirred,

And desperation’s hope in many hearts recurred.


A band of brothers gathering round me, made,

Although unarmed, a steadfast front, and still

Retreating, with stern looks beneath the shade


Of gathered eyebrows, did the victors fill

With doubt even in success; deliberate will

Inspired our growing troop; not overthrown

It gained the shelter of a grassy hill,

And ever still our comrades were hewn down,


And their defenceless limbs beneath our footsteps strown.


Immovably we stood — in joy I found,

Beside me then, firm as a giant pine

Among the mountain-vapours driven around,

The old man whom I loved — his eyes divine


With a mild look of courage answered mine,

And my young friend was near, and ardently

His hand grasped mine a moment — now the line

Of war extended, to our rallying cry

As myriads flocked in love and brotherhood to die.


For ever while the sun was climbing Heaven

The horseman hewed our unarmed myriads down

Safely, though when by thirst of carnage driven

Too near, those slaves were swiftly overthrown

By hundreds leaping on them:— flesh and bone


Soon made our ghastly ramparts; then the shaft

Of the artillery from the sea was thrown

More fast and fiery, and the conquerors laughed

In pride to hear the wind our screams of torment waft.


For on one side alone the hill gave shelter,


So vast that phalanx of unconquered men,

And there the living in the blood did welter

Of the dead and dying, which in that green glen,

Like stifled torrents, made a plashy fen

Under the feet — thus was the butchery waged


While the sun clomb Heaven’s eastern steep — but when

It ‘gan to sink — a fiercer combat raged,

For in more doubtful strife the armies were engaged.


Within a cave upon the hill were found

A bundle of rude pikes, the instrument


Of those who war but on their native ground

For natural rights: a shout of joyance sent

Even from our hearts the wide air pierced and rent,

As those few arms the bravest and the best

Seized, and each sixth, thus armed, did now present


A line which covered and sustained the rest,

A confident phalanx, which the foes on every side invest.


That onset turned the foes to flight almost;

But soon they saw their present strength, and knew

That coming night would to our resolute host


Bring victory; so dismounting, close they drew

Their glittering files, and then the combat grew

Unequal but most horrible; — and ever

Our myriads, whom the swift bolt overthrew,

Or the red sword, failed like a mountain river


Which rushes forth in foam to sink in sands for ever.


Sorrow and shame, to see with their own kind

Our human brethren mix, like beasts of blood,

To mutual ruin armed by one behind

Who sits and scoffs! — That friend so mild and good,


Who like its shadow near my youth had stood,

Was stabbed! — my old preserver’s hoary hair

With the flesh clinging to its roots, was strewed

Under my feet! — I lost all sense or care,

And like the rest I grew desperate and unaware.


The battle became ghastlier — in the midst

I paused, and saw, how ugly and how fell

O Hate! thou art, even when thy life thou shedd’st

For love. The ground in many a little dell

Was broken, up and down whose steeps befell


Alternate victory and defeat, and there

The combatants with rage most horrible

Strove, and their eyes started with cracking stare,

And impotent their tongues they lolled into the air,


Flaccid and foamy, like a mad dog’s hanging;


Want, and Moon-madness, and the pest’s swift Bane

When its shafts smite — while yet its bow is twanging —

Have each their mark and sign — some ghastly stain;

And this was thine, O War! of hate and pain

Thou loathed slave! I saw all shapes of death


And ministered to many, o’er the plain

While carnage in the sunbeam’s warmth did seethe,

Till twilight o’er the east wove her serenest wreath.


The few who yet survived, resolute and firm

Around me fought. At the decline of day


Winding above the mountain’s snowy term

New banners shone; they quivered in the ray

Of the sun’s unseen orb — ere night the array

Of fresh troops hemmed us in — of those brave bands

I soon survived alone — and now I lay


Vanquished and faint, the grasp of bloody hands

I felt, and saw on high the glare of falling brands,


When on my foes a sudden terror came,

And they fled, scattering — lo! with reinless speed

A black Tartarian horse of giant frame


Comes trampling over the dead, the living bleed

Beneath the hoofs of that tremendous steed,

On which, like to an Angel, robed in white,

Sate one waving a sword; — the hosts recede

And fly, as through their ranks with awful might,


Sweeps in the shadow of eve that Phantom swift and bright;


And its path made a solitude. — I rose

And marked its coming: it relaxed its course

As it approached me, and the wind that flows

Through night, bore accents to mine ear whose force


Might create smiles in death — the Tartar horse

Paused, and I saw the shape its might which swayed,

And heard her musical pants, like the sweet source

Of waters in the desert, as she said,

‘Mount with me, Laon, now’— I rapidly obeyed.


Then: ‘Away! away!’ she cried, and stretched her sword

As ’twere a scourge over the courser’s head,

And lightly shook the reins. — We spake no word,

But like the vapour of the tempest fled

Over the plain; her dark hair was dispread


Like the pine’s locks upon the lingering blast;

Over mine eyes its shadowy strings it spread

Fitfully, and the hills and streams fled fast,

As o’er their glimmering forms the steed’s broad shadow passed.


And his hoofs ground the rocks to fire and dust,


His strong sides made the torrents rise in spray,

And turbulence, as of a whirlwind’s gust

Surrounded us; — and still away! away!

Through the desert night we sped, while she alway

Gazed on a mountain which we neared, whose crest,


Crowned with a marble ruin, in the ray

Of the obscure stars gleamed; — its rugged breast

The steed strained up, and then his impulse did arrest.


A rocky hill which overhung the Ocean:—

From that lone ruin, when the steed that panted


Paused, might be heard the murmur of the motion

Of waters, as in spots for ever haunted

By the choicest winds of Heaven, which are enchanted

To music, by the wand of Solitude,

That wizard wild, and the far tents implanted


Upon the plain, be seen by those who stood

Thence marking the dark shore of Ocean’s curved flood.


One moment these were heard and seen — another

Passed; and the two who stood beneath that night,

Each only heard, or saw, or felt the other;


As from the lofty steed she did alight,

Cythna, (for, from the eyes whose deepest light

Of love and sadness made my lips feel pale

With influence strange of mournfullest delight,

My own sweet Cythna looked), with joy did quail,


And felt her strength in tears of human weakness fail.


And for a space in my embrace she rested,

Her head on my unquiet heart reposing,

While my faint arms her languid frame invested;

At length she looked on me, and half unclosing


Her tremulous lips, said, ‘Friend, thy bands were losing

The battle, as I stood before the King

In bonds. — I burst them then, and swiftly choosing

The time, did seize a Tartar’s sword, and spring

Upon his horse, and swift, as on the whirlwind’s wing,


‘Have thou and I been borne beyond pursuer,

And we are here.’— Then, turning to the steed,

She pressed the white moon on his front with pure

And rose-like lips, and many a fragrant weed

From the green ruin plucked, that he might feed; —


But I to a stone seat that Maiden led,

And, kissing her fair eyes, said, ‘Thou hast need

Of rest,’ and I heaped up the courser’s bed

In a green mossy nook, with mountain flowers dispread.


Within that ruin, where a shattered portal


Looks to the eastern stars, abandoned now

By man, to be the home of things immortal,

Memories, like awful ghosts which come and go,

And must inherit all he builds below,

When he is gone, a hall stood; o’er whose roof


Fair clinging weeds with ivy pale did grow,

Clasping its gray rents with a verdurous woof,

A hanging dome of leaves, a canopy moon-proof.


The autumnal winds, as if spell-bound, had made

A natural couch of leaves in that recess,


Which seasons none disturbed, but, in the shade

Of flowering parasites, did Spring love to dress

With their sweet blooms the wintry loneliness

Of those dead leaves, shedding their stars, whene’er

The wandering wind her nurslings might caress;


Whose intertwining fingers ever there

Made music wild and soft that filled the listening air.


We know not where we go, or what sweet dream

May pilot us through caverns strange and fair

Of far and pathless passion, while the stream


Of life, our bark doth on its whirlpools bear,

Spreading swift wings as sails to the dim air;

Nor should we seek to know, so the devotion

Of love and gentle thoughts be heard still there

Louder and louder from the utmost Ocean


Of universal life, attuning its commotion.


To the pure all things are pure! Oblivion wrapped

Our spirits, and the fearful overthrow

Of public hope was from our being snapped,

Though linked years had bound it there; for now


A power, a thirst, a knowledge, which below

All thoughts, like light beyond the atmosphere,

Clothing its clouds with grace, doth ever flow,

Came on us, as we sate in silence there,

Beneath the golden stars of the clear azure air; —


In silence which doth follow talk that causes

The baffled heart to speak with sighs and tears,

When wildering passion swalloweth up the pauses

Of inexpressive speech:— the youthful years

Which we together passed, their hopes and fears,


The blood itself which ran within our frames,

That likeness of the features which endears

The thoughts expressed by them, our very names,

And all the winged hours which speechless memory claims,


Had found a voice — and ere that voice did pass,


The night grew damp and dim, and, through a rent

Of the ruin where we sate, from the morass

A wandering Meteor by some wild wind sent,

Hung high in the green dome, to which it lent

A faint and pallid lustre; while the song


Of blasts, in which its blue hair quivering bent,

Strewed strangest sounds the moving leaves among;

A wondrous light, the sound as of a spirit’s tongue.


The Meteor showed the leaves on which we sate,

And Cythna’s glowing arms, and the thick ties


Of her soft hair, which bent with gathered weight

My neck near hers; her dark and deepening eyes,

Which, as twin phantoms of one star that lies

O’er a dim well, move, though the star reposes,

Swam in our mute and liquid ecstasies,


Her marble brow, and eager lips, like roses,

With their own fragrance pale, which Spring but half uncloses.


The Meteor to its far morass returned:

The beating of our veins one interval

Made still; and then I felt the blood that burned


Within her frame, mingle with mine, and fall

Around my heart like fire; and over all

A mist was spread, the sickness of a deep

And speechless swoon of joy, as might befall

Two disunited spirits when they leap


In union from this earth’s obscure and fading sleep.


Was it one moment that confounded thus

All thought, all sense, all feeling, into one

Unutterable power, which shielded us

Even from our own cold looks, when we had gone


Into a wide and wild oblivion

Of tumult and of tenderness? or now

Had ages, such as make the moon and sun,

The seasons, and mankind their changes know,

Left fear and time unfelt by us alone below?


I know not. What are kisses whose fire clasps

The failing heart in languishment, or limb

Twined within limb? or the quick dying gasps

Of the life meeting, when the faint eyes swim

Through tears of a wide mist boundless and dim,


In one caress? What is the strong control

Which leads the heart that dizzy steep to climb,

Where far over the world those vapours roll

Which blend two restless frames in one reposing soul?


It is the shadow which doth float unseen,


But not unfelt, o’er blind mortality,

Whose divine darkness fled not from that green

And lone recess, where lapped in peace did lie

Our linked frames, till, from the changing sky

That night and still another day had fled;


And then I saw and felt. The moon was high,

And clouds, as of a coming storm, were spread

Under its orb — loud winds were gathering overhead.


Cythna’s sweet lips seemed lurid in the moon,

Her fairest limbs with the night wind were chill,


And her dark tresses were all loosely strewn

O’er her pale bosom:— all within was still,

And the sweet peace of joy did almost fill

The depth of her unfathomable look; —

And we sate calmly, though that rocky hill,


The waves contending in its caverns strook,

For they foreknew the storm, and the gray ruin shook.


There we unheeding sate, in the communion

Of interchanged vows, which, with a rite

Of faith most sweet and sacred, stamped our union. —


Few were the living hearts which could unite

Like ours, or celebrate a bridal night

With such close sympathies, for they had sprung

From linked youth, and from the gentle might

Of earliest love, delayed and cherished long,


Which common hopes and fears made, like a tempest, strong.


And such is Nature’s law divine, that those

Who grow together cannot choose but love,

If faith or custom do not interpose,

Or common slavery mar what else might move


All gentlest thoughts; as in the sacred grove

Which shades the springs of Ethiopian Nile,

That living tree which, if the arrowy dove

Strike with her shadow, shrinks in fear awhile,

But its own kindred leaves clasps while the sunbeams smile;


And clings to them, when darkness may dissever

The close caresses of all duller plants

Which bloom on the wide earth — thus we for ever

Were linked, for love had nursed us in the haunts

Where knowledge, from its secret source enchants


Young hearts with the fresh music of its springing,

Ere yet its gathered flood feeds human wants,

As the great Nile feeds Egypt; ever flinging

Light on the woven boughs which o’er its waves are swinging.


The tones of Cythna’s voice like echoes were


Of those far murmuring streams; they rose and fell,

Mixed with mine own in the tempestuous air —

And so we sate, until our talk befell

Of the late ruin, swift and horrible,

And how those seeds of hope might yet be sown,


Whose fruit is evil’s mortal poison: well,

For us, this ruin made a watch-tower lone,

But Cythna’s eyes looked faint, and now two days were gone


Since she had food:— therefore I did awaken

The Tartar steed, who, from his ebon mane


Soon as the clinging slumbers he had shaken,

Bent his thin head to seek the brazen rein,

Following me obediently; with pain

Of heart, so deep and dread, that one caress,

When lips and heart refuse to part again


Till they have told their fill, could scarce express

The anguish of her mute and fearful tenderness,


Cythna beheld me part, as I bestrode

That willing steed — the tempest and the night,

Which gave my path its safety as I rode


Down the ravine of rocks, did soon unite

The darkness and the tumult of their might

Borne on all winds. — Far through the streaming rain

Floating at intervals the garments white

Of Cythna gleamed, and her voice once again


Came to me on the gust, and soon I reached the plain.


I dreaded not the tempest, nor did he

Who bore me, but his eyeballs wide and red

Turned on the lightning’s cleft exultingly;

And when the earth beneath his tameless tread,


Shook with the sullen thunder, he would spread

His nostrils to the blast, and joyously

Mock the fierce peal with neighings; — thus we sped

O’er the lit plain, and soon I could descry

Where Death and Fire had gorged the spoil of victory.


There was a desolate village in a wood

Whose bloom-inwoven leaves now scattering fed

The hungry storm; it was a place of blood,

A heap of hearthless walls; — the flames were dead

Within those dwellings now — the life had fled


From all those corpses now — but the wide sky

Flooded with lightning was ribbed overhead

By the black rafters, and around did lie

Women, and babes, and men, slaughtered confusedly.


Beside the fountain in the market-place


Dismounting, I beheld those corpses stare

With horny eyes upon each other’s face,

And on the earth and on the vacant air,

And upon me, close to the waters where

I stooped to slake my thirst; — I shrank to taste,


For the salt bitterness of blood was there;

But tied the steed beside, and sought in haste

If any yet survived amid that ghastly waste.


No living thing was there beside one woman,

Whom I found wandering in the streets, and she


Was withered from a likeness of aught human

Into a fiend, by some strange misery:

Soon as she heard my steps she leaped on me,

And glued her burning lips to mine, and laughed

With a loud, long, and frantic laugh of glee,


And cried, ‘Now, Mortal, thou hast deeply quaffed

The Plague’s blue kisses — soon millions shall pledge the draught!


‘My name is Pestilence — this bosom dry,

Once fed two babes — a sister and a brother —

When I came home, one in the blood did lie


Of three death-wounds — the flames had ate the other!

Since then I have no longer been a mother,

But I am Pestilence; — hither and thither

I flit about, that I may slay and smother:—

All lips which I have kissed must surely wither,


But Death’s — if thou art he, we’ll go to work together!


‘What seek’st thou here? The moonlight comes in flashes —

The dew is rising dankly from the dell —

’Twill moisten her! and thou shalt see the gashes

In my sweet boy, now full of worms — but tell


First what thou seek’st.’—‘I seek for food.’—’’Tis well,

Thou shalt have food. Famine, my paramour,

Waits for us at the feast — cruel and fell

Is Famine, but he drives not from his door

Those whom these lips have kissed, alone. No more, no more!’


As thus she spake, she grasped me with the strength

Of madness, and by many a ruined hearth

She led, and over many a corpse:— at length

We came to a lone hut where on the earth

Which made its floor, she in her ghastly mirth,


Gathering from all those homes now desolate,

Had piled three heaps of loaves, making a dearth

Among the dead — round which she set in state

A ring of cold, stiff babes; silent and stark they sate.


She leaped upon a pile, and lifted high


Her mad looks to the lightning, and cried: ‘Eat!

Share the great feast — to-morrow we must die!’

And then she spurned the loaves with her pale feet,

Towards her bloodless guests; — that sight to meet,

Mine eyes and my heart ached, and but that she


Who loved me, did with absent looks defeat

Despair, I might have raved in sympathy;

But now I took the food that woman offered me;


And vainly having with her madness striven

If I might win her to return with me,


Departed. In the eastern beams of Heaven

The lightning now grew pallid — rapidly,

As by the shore of the tempestuous sea

The dark steed bore me; and the mountain gray

Soon echoed to his hoofs, and I could see


Cythna among the rocks, where she alway

Had sate with anxious eyes fixed on the lingering day.


And joy was ours to meet: she was most pale,

Famished, and wet and weary, so I cast

My arms around her, lest her steps should fail


As to our home we went, and thus embraced,

Her full heart seemed a deeper joy to taste

Than e’er the prosperous know; the steed behind

Trod peacefully along the mountain waste;

We reached our home ere morning could unbind


Night’s latest veil, and on our bridal-couch reclined.


Her chilled heart having cherished in my bosom,

And sweetest kisses past, we two did share

Our peaceful meal:— as an autumnal blossom

Which spreads its shrunk leaves in the sunny air,


After cold showers, like rainbows woven there,

Thus in her lips and cheeks the vital spirit

Mantled, and in her eyes, an atmosphere

Of health, and hope; and sorrow languished near it,

And fear, and all that dark despondence doth inherit.

_2397 — isle. Bradley, who cps. Marianne’s Dream, St. 12. See note at end.

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