The Revolt of Islam, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Canto 8.


‘I sate beside the Steersman then, and gazing


Upon the west, cried, “Spread the sails! Behold!

The sinking moon is like a watch-tower blazing

Over the mountains yet; — the City of Gold

Yon Cape alone does from the sight withhold;

The stream is fleet — the north breathes steadily


Beneath the stars; they tremble with the cold!

Ye cannot rest upon the dreary sea! —

Haste, haste to the warm home of happier destiny!”


‘The Mariners obeyed — the Captain stood

Aloof, and, whispering to the Pilot, said,


“Alas, alas! I fear we are pursued

By wicked ghosts; a Phantom of the Dead,

The night before we sailed, came to my bed

In dream, like that!” The Pilot then replied,

“It cannot be — she is a human Maid —


Her low voice makes you weep — she is some bride,

Or daughter of high birth — she can be nought beside.”


‘We passed the islets, borne by wind and stream,

And as we sailed, the Mariners came near

And thronged around to listen; — in the gleam


Of the pale moon I stood, as one whom fear

May not attaint, and my calm voice did rear;

“Ye are all human — yon broad moon gives light

To millions who the selfsame likeness wear,

Even while I speak — beneath this very night,


Their thoughts flow on like ours, in sadness or delight.


‘“What dream ye? Your own hands have built an home,

Even for yourselves on a beloved shore:

For some, fond eyes are pining till they come,

How they will greet him when his toils are o’er,


And laughing babes rush from the well-known door!

Is this your care? ye toil for your own good —

Ye feel and think — has some immortal power

Such purposes? or in a human mood,

Dream ye some Power thus builds for man in solitude?


‘“What is that Power? Ye mock yourselves, and give

A human heart to what ye cannot know:

As if the cause of life could think and live!

’Twere as if man’s own works should feel, and show

The hopes, and fears, and thoughts from which they flow,


And he be like to them! Lo! Plague is free

To waste, Blight, Poison, Earthquake, Hail, and Snow,

Disease, and Want, and worse Necessity

Of hate and ill, and Pride, and Fear, and Tyranny!


‘“What is that Power? Some moon-struck sophist stood


Watching the shade from his own soul upthrown

Fill Heaven and darken Earth, and in such mood

The Form he saw and worshipped was his own,

His likeness in the world’s vast mirror shown;

And ’twere an innocent dream, but that a faith


Nursed by fear’s dew of poison, grows thereon,

And that men say, that Power has chosen Death

On all who scorn its laws, to wreak immortal wrath.


‘“Men say that they themselves have heard and seen,

Or known from others who have known such things,


A Shade, a Form, which Earth and Heaven between

Wields an invisible rod — that Priests and Kings,

Custom, domestic sway, ay, all that brings

Man’s freeborn soul beneath the oppressor’s heel,

Are his strong ministers, and that the stings


Of death will make the wise his vengeance feel,

Though truth and virtue arm their hearts with tenfold steel.


‘“And it is said, this Power will punish wrong;

Yes, add despair to crime, and pain to pain!

And deepest hell, and deathless snakes among,


Will bind the wretch on whom is fixed a stain,

Which, like a plague, a burden, and a bane,

Clung to him while he lived; for love and hate,

Virtue and vice, they say are difference vain —

The will of strength is right — this human state


Tyrants, that they may rule, with lies thus desolate.


‘“Alas, what strength? Opinion is more frail

Than yon dim cloud now fading on the moon

Even while we gaze, though it awhile avail

To hide the orb of truth — and every throne


Of Earth or Heaven, though shadow, rests thereon,

One shape of many names:— for this ye plough

The barren waves of ocean, hence each one

Is slave or tyrant; all betray and bow,

Command, or kill, or fear, or wreak, or suffer woe.


‘“Its names are each a sign which maketh holy

All power — ay, the ghost, the dream, the shade

Of power — lust, falsehood, hate, and pride, and folly;

The pattern whence all fraud and wrong is made,

A law to which mankind has been betrayed;


And human love, is as the name well known

Of a dear mother, whom the murderer laid

In bloody grave, and into darkness thrown,

Gathered her wildered babes around him as his own.


‘“O Love, who to the hearts of wandering men


Art as the calm to Ocean’s weary waves!

Justice, or Truth, or Joy! those only can

From slavery and religion’s labyrinth caves

Guide us, as one clear star the seaman saves.

To give to all an equal share of good,


To track the steps of Freedom, though through graves

She pass, to suffer all in patient mood,

To weep for crime, though stained with thy friend’s dearest blood —


‘“To feel the peace of self-contentment’s lot,

To own all sympathies, and outrage none,


And in the inmost bowers of sense and thought,

Until life’s sunny day is quite gone down,

To sit and smile with Joy, or, not alone,

To kiss salt tears from the worn cheek of Woe;

To live, as if to love and live were one —


This is not faith or law, nor those who bow

To thrones on Heaven or Earth, such destiny may know.


‘“But children near their parents tremble now,

Because they must obey — one rules another,

And as one Power rules both high and low,


So man is made the captive of his brother,

And Hate is throned on high with Fear her mother,

Above the Highest — and those fountain-cells,

Whence love yet flowed when faith had choked all other,

Are darkened — Woman as the bond-slave dwells


Of man, a slave; and life is poisoned in its wells.


‘“Man seeks for gold in mines, that he may weave

A lasting chain for his own slavery; —

In fear and restless care that he may live

He toils for others, who must ever be


The joyless thralls of like captivity;

He murders, for his chiefs delight in ruin;

He builds the altar, that its idol’s fee

May be his very blood; he is pursuing —

O, blind and willing wretch! — his own obscure undoing.


‘“Woman! — she is his slave, she has become

A thing I weep to speak — the child of scorn,

The outcast of a desolated home;

Falsehood, and fear, and toil, like waves have worn

Channels upon her cheek, which smiles adorn,


As calm decks the false Ocean:— well ye know

What Woman is, for none of Woman born

Can choose but drain the bitter dregs of woe,

Which ever from the oppressed to the oppressors flow.


‘“This need not be; ye might arise, and will


That gold should lose its power, and thrones their glory;

That love, which none may bind, be free to fill

The world, like light; and evil faith, grown hoary

With crime, be quenched and die. — Yon promontory

Even now eclipses the descending moon! —


Dungeons and palaces are transitory —

High temples fade like vapour — Man alone

Remains, whose will has power when all beside is gone.


‘“Let all be free and equal! — From your hearts

I feel an echo; through my inmost frame


Like sweetest sound, seeking its mate, it darts —

Whence come ye, friends? Alas, I cannot name

All that I read of sorrow, toil, and shame,

On your worn faces; as in legends old

Which make immortal the disastrous fame


Of conquerors and impostors false and bold,

The discord of your hearts, I in your looks behold.


‘“Whence come ye, friends? from pouring human blood

Forth on the earth? Or bring ye steel and gold,

That Kings may dupe and slay the multitude?


Or from the famished poor, pale, weak and cold,

Bear ye the earnings of their toil? Unfold!

Speak! Are your hands in slaughter’s sanguine hue

Stained freshly? have your hearts in guile grown old?

Know yourselves thus! ye shall be pure as dew,


And I will be a friend and sister unto you.


‘“Disguise it not — we have one human heart —

All mortal thoughts confess a common home:

Blush not for what may to thyself impart

Stains of inevitable crime: the doom


Is this, which has, or may, or must become

Thine, and all humankind’s. Ye are the spoil

Which Time thus marks for the devouring tomb —

Thou and thy thoughts and they, and all the toil

Wherewith ye twine the rings of life’s perpetual coil.


‘“Disguise it not — ye blush for what ye hate,

And Enmity is sister unto Shame;

Look on your mind — it is the book of fate —

Ah! it is dark with many a blazoned name

Of misery — all are mirrors of the same;


But the dark fiend who with his iron pen

Dipped in scorn’s fiery poison, makes his fame

Enduring there, would o’er the heads of men

Pass harmless, if they scorned to make their hearts his den.


‘“Yes, it is Hate, that shapeless fiendly thing


Of many names, all evil, some divine,

Whom self-contempt arms with a mortal sting;

Which, when the heart its snaky folds entwine

Is wasted quite, and when it doth repine

To gorge such bitter prey, on all beside


It turns with ninefold rage, as with its twine

When Amphisbaena some fair bird has tied,

Soon o’er the putrid mass he threats on every side.


‘“Reproach not thine own soul, but know thyself,

Nor hate another’s crime, nor loathe thine own.


It is the dark idolatry of self,

Which, when our thoughts and actions once are gone,

Demands that man should weep, and bleed, and groan;

Oh, vacant expiation! Be at rest. —

The past is Death’s, the future is thine own;


And love and joy can make the foulest breast

A paradise of flowers, where peace might build her nest.


‘“Speak thou! whence come ye?”— A Youth made reply:

“Wearily, wearily o’er the boundless deep

We sail; — thou readest well the misery


Told in these faded eyes, but much doth sleep

Within, which there the poor heart loves to keep,

Or dare not write on the dishonoured brow;

Even from our childhood have we learned to steep

The bread of slavery in the tears of woe,


And never dreamed of hope or refuge until now.


‘“Yes — I must speak — my secret should have perished

Even with the heart it wasted, as a brand

Fades in the dying flame whose life it cherished,

But that no human bosom can withstand


Thee, wondrous Lady, and the mild command

Of thy keen eyes:— yes, we are wretched slaves,

Who from their wonted loves and native land

Are reft, and bear o’er the dividing waves

The unregarded prey of calm and happy graves.


‘“We drag afar from pastoral vales the fairest

Among the daughters of those mountains lone,

We drag them there, where all things best and rarest

Are stained and trampled:— years have come and gone

Since, like the ship which bears me, I have known


No thought; — but now the eyes of one dear Maid

On mine with light of mutual love have shone —

She is my life — I am but as the shade

Of her — a smoke sent up from ashes, soon to fade.


‘“For she must perish in the Tyrant’s hall —


Alas, alas!”— He ceased, and by the sail

Sate cowering — but his sobs were heard by all,

And still before the ocean and the gale

The ship fled fast till the stars ‘gan to fail;

And, round me gathered with mute countenance,


The Seamen gazed, the Pilot, worn and pale

With toil, the Captain with gray locks, whose glance

Met mine in restless awe — they stood as in a trance.


‘“Recede not! pause not now! Thou art grown old,

But Hope will make thee young, for Hope and Youth


Are children of one mother, even Love — behold!

The eternal stars gaze on us! — is the truth

Within your soul? care for your own, or ruth

For others’ sufferings? do ye thirst to bear

A heart which not the serpent Custom’s tooth


May violate? — Be free! and even here,

Swear to be firm till death!” They cried, “We swear! We swear!”


‘The very darkness shook, as with a blast

Of subterranean thunder, at the cry;

The hollow shore its thousand echoes cast


Into the night, as if the sea and sky,

And earth, rejoiced with new-born liberty,

For in that name they swore! Bolts were undrawn,

And on the deck, with unaccustomed eye

The captives gazing stood, and every one


Shrank as the inconstant torch upon her countenance shone.


‘They were earth’s purest children, young and fair,

With eyes the shrines of unawakened thought,

And brows as bright as Spring or Morning, ere

Dark time had there its evil legend wrought


In characters of cloud which wither not. —

The change was like a dream to them; but soon

They knew the glory of their altered lot,

In the bright wisdom of youth’s breathless noon,

Sweet talk, and smiles, and sighs, all bosoms did attune.


‘But one was mute; her cheeks and lips most fair,

Changing their hue like lilies newly blown,

Beneath a bright acacia’s shadowy hair,

Waved by the wind amid the sunny noon,

Showed that her soul was quivering; and full soon


That Youth arose, and breathlessly did look

On her and me, as for some speechless boon:

I smiled, and both their hands in mine I took,

And felt a soft delight from what their spirits shook.

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