The Revolt of Islam, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Canto 7.


So we sate joyous as the morning ray

Which fed upon the wrecks of night and storm

Now lingering on the winds; light airs did play

Among the dewy weeds, the sun was warm,

And we sate linked in the inwoven charm


Of converse and caresses sweet and deep,

Speechless caresses, talk that might disarm

Time, though he wield the darts of death and sleep,

And those thrice mortal barbs in his own poison steep.


I told her of my sufferings and my madness,


And how, awakened from that dreamy mood

By Liberty’s uprise, the strength of gladness

Came to my spirit in my solitude;

And all that now I was — while tears pursued

Each other down her fair and listening cheek


Fast as the thoughts which fed them, like a flood

From sunbright dales; and when I ceased to speak,

Her accents soft and sweet the pausing air did wake.


She told me a strange tale of strange endurance,

Like broken memories of many a heart


Woven into one; to which no firm assurance,

So wild were they, could her own faith impart.

She said that not a tear did dare to start

From the swoln brain, and that her thoughts were firm

When from all mortal hope she did depart,


Borne by those slaves across the Ocean’s term,

And that she reached the port without one fear infirm.


One was she among many there, the thralls

Of the cold Tyrant’s cruel lust; and they

Laughed mournfully in those polluted halls;


But she was calm and sad, musing alway

On loftiest enterprise, till on a day

The Tyrant heard her singing to her lute

A wild, and sad, and spirit-thrilling lay,

Like winds that die in wastes — one moment mute


The evil thoughts it made, which did his breast pollute.


Even when he saw her wondrous loveliness,

One moment to great Nature’s sacred power

He bent, and was no longer passionless;

But when he bade her to his secret bower


Be borne, a loveless victim, and she tore

Her locks in agony, and her words of flame

And mightier looks availed not; then he bore

Again his load of slavery, and became

A king, a heartless beast, a pageant and a name.


She told me what a loathsome agony

Is that when selfishness mocks love’s delight,

Foul as in dream’s most fearful imagery,

To dally with the mowing dead — that night

All torture, fear, or horror made seem light


Which the soul dreams or knows, and when the day

Shone on her awful frenzy, from the sight

Where like a Spirit in fleshly chains she lay

Struggling, aghast and pale the Tyrant fled away.


Her madness was a beam of light, a power


Which dawned through the rent soul; and words it gave,

Gestures and looks, such as in whirlwinds bore

Which might not be withstood — whence none could save —

All who approached their sphere — like some calm wave

Vexed into whirlpools by the chasms beneath;


And sympathy made each attendant slave

Fearless and free, and they began to breathe

Deep curses, like the voice of flames far underneath.


The King felt pale upon his noonday throne:

At night two slaves he to her chamber sent —


One was a green and wrinkled eunuch, grown

From human shape into an instrument

Of all things ill — distorted, bowed and bent.

The other was a wretch from infancy

Made dumb by poison; who nought knew or meant


But to obey: from the fire isles came he,

A diver lean and strong, of Oman’s coral sea.


They bore her to a bark, and the swift stroke

Of silent rowers clove the blue moonlight seas,

Until upon their path the morning broke;


They anchored then, where, be there calm or breeze,

The gloomiest of the drear Symplegades

Shakes with the sleepless surge; — the Ethiop there

Wound his long arms around her, and with knees

Like iron clasped her feet, and plunged with her


Among the closing waves out of the boundless air.


‘Swift as an eagle stooping from the plain

Of morning light, into some shadowy wood,

He plunged through the green silence of the main,

Through many a cavern which the eternal flood


Had scooped, as dark lairs for its monster brood;

And among mighty shapes which fled in wonder,

And among mightier shadows which pursued

His heels, he wound: until the dark rocks under

He touched a golden chain — a sound arose like thunder.


‘A stunning clang of massive bolts redoubling

Beneath the deep — a burst of waters driven

As from the roots of the sea, raging and bubbling:

And in that roof of crags a space was riven

Through which there shone the emerald beams of heaven,


Shot through the lines of many waves inwoven,

Like sunlight through acacia woods at even,

Through which, his way the diver having cloven,

Passed like a spark sent up out of a burning oven.


‘And then,’ she said, ‘he laid me in a cave


Above the waters, by that chasm of sea,

A fountain round and vast, in which the wave

Imprisoned, boiled and leaped perpetually,

Down which, one moment resting, he did flee,

Winning the adverse depth; that spacious cell


Like an hupaithric temple wide and high,

Whose aery dome is inaccessible,

Was pierced with one round cleft through which the sunbeams fell.


‘Below, the fountain’s brink was richly paven

With the deep’s wealth, coral, and pearl, and sand


Like spangling gold, and purple shells engraven

With mystic legends by no mortal hand,

Left there, when thronging to the moon’s command,

The gathering waves rent the Hesperian gate

Of mountains, and on such bright floor did stand


Columns, and shapes like statues, and the state

Of kingless thrones, which Earth did in her heart create.


‘The fiend of madness which had made its prey

Of my poor heart, was lulled to sleep awhile:

There was an interval of many a day,


And a sea-eagle brought me food the while,

Whose nest was built in that untrodden isle,

And who, to be the gaoler had been taught

Of that strange dungeon; as a friend whose smile

Like light and rest at morn and even is sought


That wild bird was to me, till madness misery brought.


‘The misery of a madness slow and creeping,

Which made the earth seem fire, the sea seem air,

And the white clouds of noon which oft were sleeping,

In the blue heaven so beautiful and fair,


Like hosts of ghastly shadows hovering there;

And the sea-eagle looked a fiend, who bore

Thy mangled limbs for food! — Thus all things were

Transformed into the agony which I wore

Even as a poisoned robe around my bosom’s core.


‘Again I knew the day and night fast fleeing,

The eagle, and the fountain, and the air;

Another frenzy came — there seemed a being

Within me — a strange load my heart did bear,

As if some living thing had made its lair


Even in the fountains of my life:— a long

And wondrous vision wrought from my despair,

Then grew, like sweet reality among

Dim visionary woes, an unreposing throng.


‘Methought I was about to be a mother —


Month after month went by, and still I dreamed

That we should soon be all to one another,

I and my child; and still new pulses seemed

To beat beside my heart, and still I deemed

There was a babe within — and, when the rain


Of winter through the rifted cavern streamed,

Methought, after a lapse of lingering pain,

I saw that lovely shape, which near my heart had lain.


‘It was a babe, beautiful from its birth —

It was like thee, dear love, its eyes were thine,


Its brow, its lips, and so upon the earth

It laid its fingers, as now rest on mine

Thine own, beloved! —’twas a dream divine;

Even to remember how it fled, how swift,

How utterly, might make the heart repine —


Though ’twas a dream.’— Then Cythna did uplift

Her looks on mine, as if some doubt she sought to shift:


A doubt which would not flee, a tenderness

Of questioning grief, a source of thronging tears;

Which having passed, as one whom sobs oppress


She spoke: ‘Yes, in the wilderness of years

Her memory, aye, like a green home appears;

She sucked her fill even at this breast, sweet love,

For many months. I had no mortal fears;

Methought I felt her lips and breath approve —


It was a human thing which to my bosom clove.


‘I watched the dawn of her first smiles; and soon

When zenith stars were trembling on the wave,

Or when the beams of the invisible moon,

Or sun, from many a prism within the cave


Their gem-born shadows to the water gave,

Her looks would hunt them, and with outspread hand,

From the swift lights which might that fountain pave,

She would mark one, and laugh, when that command

Slighting, it lingered there, and could not understand.


‘Methought her looks began to talk with me;

And no articulate sounds, but something sweet

Her lips would frame — so sweet it could not be,

That it was meaningless; her touch would meet

Mine, and our pulses calmly flow and beat


In response while we slept; and on a day

When I was happiest in that strange retreat,

With heaps of golden shells we two did play —

Both infants, weaving wings for time’s perpetual way.


‘Ere night, methought, her waning eyes were grown


Weary with joy, and tired with our delight,

We, on the earth, like sister twins lay down

On one fair mother’s bosom:— from that night

She fled — like those illusions clear and bright,

Which dwell in lakes, when the red moon on high


Pause ere it wakens tempest; — and her flight,

Though ’twas the death of brainless fantasy,

Yet smote my lonesome heart more than all misery.


‘It seemed that in the dreary night the diver

Who brought me thither, came again, and bore


My child away. I saw the waters quiver,

When he so swiftly sunk, as once before:

Then morning came — it shone even as of yore,

But I was changed — the very life was gone

Out of my heart — I wasted more and more,


Day after day, and sitting there alone,

Vexed the inconstant waves with my perpetual moan.


‘I was no longer mad, and yet methought

My breasts were swoln and changed:— in every vein

The blood stood still one moment, while that thought


Was passing — with a gush of sickening pain

It ebbed even to its withered springs again:

When my wan eyes in stern resolve I turned

From that most strange delusion, which would fain

Have waked the dream for which my spirit yearned


With more than human love — then left it unreturned.


‘So now my reason was restored to me

I struggled with that dream, which, like a beast

Most fierce and beauteous, in my memory

Had made its lair, and on my heart did feast;


But all that cave and all its shapes, possessed

By thoughts which could not fade, renewed each one

Some smile, some look, some gesture which had blessed

Me heretofore: I, sitting there alone,

Vexed the inconstant waves with my perpetual moan.


‘Time passed, I know not whether months or years;

For day, nor night, nor change of seasons made

Its note, but thoughts and unavailing tears:

And I became at last even as a shade,

A smoke, a cloud on which the winds have preyed,


Till it be thin as air; until, one even,

A Nautilus upon the fountain played,

Spreading his azure sail where breath of Heaven

Descended not, among the waves and whirlpools driven.


‘And, when the Eagle came, that lovely thing,


Oaring with rosy feet its silver boat,

Fled near me as for shelter; on slow wing,

The Eagle, hovering o’er his prey did float;

But when he saw that I with fear did note

His purpose, proffering my own food to him,


The eager plumes subsided on his throat —

He came where that bright child of sea did swim,

And o’er it cast in peace his shadow broad and dim.


‘This wakened me, it gave me human strength;

And hope, I know not whence or wherefore, rose,


But I resumed my ancient powers at length;

My spirit felt again like one of those

Like thine, whose fate it is to make the woes

Of humankind their prey — what was this cave?

Its deep foundation no firm purpose knows


Immutable, resistless, strong to save,

Like mind while yet it mocks the all-devouring grave.


‘And where was Laon? might my heart be dead,

While that far dearer heart could move and be?

Or whilst over the earth the pall was spread,


Which I had sworn to rend? I might be free,

Could I but win that friendly bird to me,

To bring me ropes; and long in vain I sought

By intercourse of mutual imagery

Of objects, if such aid he could be taught;


But fruit, and flowers, and boughs, yet never ropes he brought.


‘We live in our own world, and mine was made

From glorious fantasies of hope departed:

Aye we are darkened with their floating shade,

Or cast a lustre on them — time imparted


Such power to me — I became fearless-hearted,

My eye and voice grew firm, calm was my mind,

And piercing, like the morn, now it has darted

Its lustre on all hidden things, behind

Yon dim and fading clouds which load the weary wind.


‘My mind became the book through which I grew

Wise in all human wisdom, and its cave,

Which like a mine I rifled through and through,

To me the keeping of its secrets gave —

One mind, the type of all, the moveless wave


Whose calm reflects all moving things that are,

Necessity, and love, and life, the grave,

And sympathy, fountains of hope and fear,

Justice, and truth, and time, and the world’s natural sphere.


‘And on the sand would I make signs to range


These woofs, as they were woven, of my thought;

Clear, elemental shapes, whose smallest change

A subtler language within language wrought:

The key of truths which once were dimly taught

In old Crotona; — and sweet melodies


Of love, in that lorn solitude I caught

From mine own voice in dream, when thy dear eyes

Shone through my sleep, and did that utterance harmonize.


‘Thy songs were winds whereon I fled at will,

As in a winged chariot, o’er the plain


Of crystal youth; and thou wert there to fill

My heart with joy, and there we sate again

On the gray margin of the glimmering main,

Happy as then but wiser far, for we

Smiled on the flowery grave in which were lain


Fear, Faith and Slavery; and mankind was free,

Equal, and pure, and wise, in Wisdom’s prophecy.


‘For to my will my fancies were as slaves

To do their sweet and subtile ministries;

And oft from that bright fountain’s shadowy waves


They would make human throngs gather and rise

To combat with my overflowing eyes,

And voice made deep with passion — thus I grew

Familiar with the shock and the surprise

And war of earthly minds, from which I drew


The power which has been mine to frame their thoughts anew.


‘And thus my prison was the populous earth —

Where I saw — even as misery dreams of morn

Before the east has given its glory birth —

Religion’s pomp made desolate by the scorn


Of Wisdom’s faintest smile, and thrones uptorn,

And dwellings of mild people interspersed

With undivided fields of ripening corn,

And love made free — a hope which we have nursed

Even with our blood and tears — until its glory burst.


‘All is not lost! There is some recompense

For hope whose fountain can be thus profound,

Even throned Evil’s splendid impotence,

Girt by its hell of power, the secret sound

Of hymns to truth and freedom — the dread bound


Of life and death passed fearlessly and well,

Dungeons wherein the high resolve is found,

Racks which degraded woman’s greatness tell,

And what may else be good and irresistible.


‘Such are the thoughts which, like the fires that flare


In storm-encompassed isles, we cherish yet

In this dark ruin — such were mine even there;

As in its sleep some odorous violet,

While yet its leaves with nightly dews are wet,

Breathes in prophetic dreams of day’s uprise,


Or as, ere Scythian frost in fear has met

Spring’s messengers descending from the skies,

The buds foreknow their life — this hope must ever rise.


‘So years had passed, when sudden earthquake rent

The depth of ocean, and the cavern cracked


With sound, as if the world’s wide continent

Had fallen in universal ruin wracked:

And through the cleft streamed in one cataract

The stifling waters — when I woke, the flood

Whose banded waves that crystal cave had sacked


Was ebbing round me, and my bright abode

Before me yawned — a chasm desert, and bare, and broad.


‘Above me was the sky, beneath the sea:

I stood upon a point of shattered stone,

And heard loose rocks rushing tumultuously


With splash and shock into the deep — anon

All ceased, and there was silence wide and lone.

I felt that I was free! The Ocean-spray

Quivered beneath my feet, the broad Heaven shone

Around, and in my hair the winds did play


Lingering as they pursued their unimpeded way.


‘My spirit moved upon the sea like wind

Which round some thymy cape will lag and hover,

Though it can wake the still cloud, and unbind

The strength of tempest: day was almost over,


When through the fading light I could discover

A ship approaching — its white sails were fed

With the north wind — its moving shade did cover

The twilight deep; the mariners in dread

Cast anchor when they saw new rocks around them spread.


‘And when they saw one sitting on a crag,

They sent a boat to me; — the Sailors rowed

In awe through many a new and fearful jag

Of overhanging rock, through which there flowed

The foam of streams that cannot make abode.


They came and questioned me, but when they heard

My voice, they became silent, and they stood

And moved as men in whom new love had stirred

Deep thoughts: so to the ship we passed without a word.

_2877 dreams edition 1818.

_2994 opprest edition 1818.

_3115 lone solitude edition 1818.

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