The Revolt of Islam, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Canto 9.


‘That night we anchored in a woody bay,


And sleep no more around us dared to hover

Than, when all doubt and fear has passed away,

It shades the couch of some unresting lover,

Whose heart is now at rest: thus night passed over

In mutual joy:— around, a forest grew


Of poplars and dark oaks, whose shade did cover

The waning stars pranked in the waters blue,

And trembled in the wind which from the morning flew.


‘The joyous Mariners, and each free Maiden

Now brought from the deep forest many a bough,


With woodland spoil most innocently laden;

Soon wreaths of budding foliage seemed to flow

Over the mast and sails, the stern and prow

Were canopied with blooming boughs — the while

On the slant sun’s path o’er the waves we go


Rejoicing, like the dwellers of an isle

Doomed to pursue those waves that cannot cease to smile.


‘The many ships spotting the dark blue deep

With snowy sails, fled fast as ours came nigh,

In fear and wonder; and on every steep


Thousands did gaze, they heard the startling cry,

Like Earth’s own voice lifted unconquerably

To all her children, the unbounded mirth,

The glorious joy of thy name — Liberty!

They heard! — As o’er the mountains of the earth


From peak to peak leap on the beams of Morning’s birth:


‘So from that cry over the boundless hills

Sudden was caught one universal sound,

Like a volcano’s voice, whose thunder fills

Remotest skies — such glorious madness found


A path through human hearts with stream which drowned

Its struggling fears and cares, dark Custom’s brood;

They knew not whence it came, but felt around

A wide contagion poured — they called aloud

On Liberty — that name lived on the sunny flood.


‘We reached the port. — Alas! from many spirits

The wisdom which had waked that cry, was fled,

Like the brief glory which dark Heaven inherits

From the false dawn, which fades ere it is spread,

Upon the night’s devouring darkness shed:


Yet soon bright day will burst — even like a chasm

Of fire, to burn the shrouds outworn and dead,

Which wrap the world; a wide enthusiasm,

To cleanse the fevered world as with an earthquake’s spasm!


‘I walked through the great City then, but free


From shame or fear; those toil-worn Mariners

And happy Maidens did encompass me;

And like a subterranean wind that stirs

Some forest among caves, the hopes and fears

From every human soul, a murmur strange


Made as I passed; and many wept, with tears

Of joy and awe, and winged thoughts did range,

And half-extinguished words, which prophesied of change.


‘For, with strong speech I tore the veil that hid

Nature, and Truth, and Liberty, and Love —


As one who from some mountain’s pyramid

Points to the unrisen sun! — the shades approve

His truth, and flee from every stream and grove.

Thus, gentle thoughts did many a bosom fill —

Wisdom, the mail of tried affections wove


For many a heart, and tameless scorn of ill,

Thrice steeped in molten steel the unconquerable will.


‘Some said I was a maniac wild and lost;

Some, that I scarce had risen from the grave,

The Prophet’s virgin bride, a heavenly ghost:—


Some said, I was a fiend from my weird cave,

Who had stolen human shape, and o’er the wave,

The forest, and the mountain, came; — some said

I was the child of God, sent down to save

Woman from bonds and death, and on my head


The burden of their sins would frightfully be laid.


‘But soon my human words found sympathy

In human hearts: the purest and the best,

As friend with friend, made common cause with me,

And they were few, but resolute; — the rest,


Ere yet success the enterprise had blessed,

Leagued with me in their hearts; — their meals, their slumber,

Their hourly occupations, were possessed

By hopes which I had armed to overnumber

Those hosts of meaner cares, which life’s strong wings encumber.


‘But chiefly women, whom my voice did waken

From their cold, careless, willing slavery,

Sought me: one truth their dreary prison has shaken —

They looked around, and lo! they became free!

Their many tyrants sitting desolately


In slave-deserted halls, could none restrain;

For wrath’s red fire had withered in the eye,

Whose lightning once was death — nor fear, nor gain

Could tempt one captive now to lock another’s chain.


‘Those who were sent to bind me, wept, and felt


Their minds outsoar the bonds which clasped them round,

Even as a waxen shape may waste and melt

In the white furnace; and a visioned swound,

A pause of hope and awe the City bound,

Which, like the silence of a tempest’s birth,


When in its awful shadow it has wound

The sun, the wind, the ocean, and the earth,

Hung terrible, ere yet the lightnings have leaped forth.


‘Like clouds inwoven in the silent sky,

By winds from distant regions meeting there,


In the high name of truth and liberty,

Around the City millions gathered were,

By hopes which sprang from many a hidden lair —

Words which the lore of truth in hues of flame

Arrayed, thine own wild songs which in the air


Like homeless odours floated, and the name

Of thee, and many a tongue which thou hadst dipped in flame.


‘The Tyrant knew his power was gone, but Fear,

The nurse of Vengeance, bade him wait the event —

That perfidy and custom, gold and prayer,


And whatsoe’er, when force is impotent,

To fraud the sceptre of the world has lent,

Might, as he judged, confirm his failing sway.

Therefore throughout the streets, the Priests he sent

To curse the rebels. — To their gods did they


For Earthquake, Plague, and Want, kneel in the public way.


‘And grave and hoary men were bribed to tell

From seats where law is made the slave of wrong,

How glorious Athens in her splendour fell,

Because her sons were free — and that among


Mankind, the many to the few belong,

By Heaven, and Nature, and Necessity.

They said, that age was truth, and that the young

Marred with wild hopes the peace of slavery,

With which old times and men had quelled the vain and free.


‘And with the falsehood of their poisonous lips

They breathed on the enduring memory

Of sages and of bards a brief eclipse;

There was one teacher, who necessity

Had armed with strength and wrong against mankind,


His slave and his avenger aye to be;

That we were weak and sinful, frail and blind,

And that the will of one was peace, and we

Should seek for nought on earth but toil and misery —


‘“For thus we might avoid the hell hereafter.”


So spake the hypocrites, who cursed and lied;

Alas, their sway was past, and tears and laughter

Clung to their hoary hair, withering the pride

Which in their hollow hearts dared still abide;

And yet obscener slaves with smoother brow,


And sneers on their strait lips, thin, blue and wide,

Said that the rule of men was over now,

And hence, the subject world to woman’s will must bow;


‘And gold was scattered through the streets, and wine

Flowed at a hundred feasts within the wall.


In vain! the steady towers in Heaven did shine

As they were wont, nor at the priestly call

Left Plague her banquet in the Ethiop’s hall,

Nor Famine from the rich man’s portal came,

Where at her ease she ever preys on all


Who throng to kneel for food: nor fear nor shame,

Nor faith, nor discord, dimmed hope’s newly kindled flame.


‘For gold was as a god whose faith began

To fade, so that its worshippers were few,

And Faith itself, which in the heart of man


Gives shape, voice, name, to spectral Terror, knew

Its downfall, as the altars lonelier grew,

Till the Priests stood alone within the fane;

The shafts of falsehood unpolluting flew,

And the cold sneers of calumny were vain,


The union of the free with discord’s brand to stain.


‘The rest thou knowest. — Lo! we two are here —

We have survived a ruin wide and deep —

Strange thoughts are mine. — I cannot grieve or fear,

Sitting with thee upon this lonely steep


I smile, though human love should make me weep.

We have survived a joy that knows no sorrow,

And I do feel a mighty calmness creep

Over my heart, which can no longer borrow

Its hues from chance or change, dark children of to-morrow.


‘We know not what will come — yet, Laon, dearest,

Cythna shall be the prophetess of Love,

Her lips shall rob thee of the grace thou wearest,

To hide thy heart, and clothe the shapes which rove

Within the homeless Future’s wintry grove;


For I now, sitting thus beside thee, seem

Even with thy breath and blood to live and move,

And violence and wrong are as a dream

Which rolls from steadfast truth, an unreturning stream.


‘The blasts of Autumn drive the winged seeds


Over the earth — next come the snows, and rain,

And frosts, and storms, which dreary Winter leads

Out of his Scythian cave, a savage train;

Behold! Spring sweeps over the world again,

Shedding soft dews from her ethereal wings;


Flowers on the mountains, fruits over the plain,

And music on the waves and woods she flings,

And love on all that lives, and calm on lifeless things.


‘O Spring, of hope, and love, and youth, and gladness

Wind-winged emblem! brightest, best and fairest!


Whence comest thou, when, with dark Winter’s sadness

The tears that fade in sunny smiles thou sharest?

Sister of joy, thou art the child who wearest

Thy mother’s dying smile, tender and sweet;

Thy mother Autumn, for whose grave thou bearest


Fresh flowers, and beams like flowers, with gentle feet,

Disturbing not the leaves which are her winding-sheet.


‘Virtue, and Hope, and Love, like light and Heaven,

Surround the world. — We are their chosen slaves.

Has not the whirlwind of our spirit driven


Truth’s deathless germs to thought’s remotest caves?

Lo, Winter comes! — the grief of many graves,

The frost of death, the tempest of the sword,

The flood of tyranny, whose sanguine waves

Stagnate like ice at Faith the enchanter’s word,


And bind all human hearts in its repose abhorred.


‘The seeds are sleeping in the soil: meanwhile

The Tyrant peoples dungeons with his prey,

Pale victims on the guarded scaffold smile

Because they cannot speak; and, day by day,


The moon of wasting Science wanes away

Among her stars, and in that darkness vast

The sons of earth to their foul idols pray,

And gray Priests triumph, and like blight or blast

A shade of selfish care o’er human looks is cast.


‘This is the winter of the world; — and here

We die, even as the winds of Autumn fade,

Expiring in the frore and foggy air.

Behold! Spring comes, though we must pass, who made

The promise of its birth — even as the shade


Which from our death, as from a mountain, flings

The future, a broad sunrise; thus arrayed

As with the plumes of overshadowing wings,

From its dark gulf of chains, Earth like an eagle springs.


‘O dearest love! we shall be dead and cold


Before this morn may on the world arise;

Wouldst thou the glory of its dawn behold?

Alas! gaze not on me, but turn thine eyes

On thine own heart — it is a paradise

Which everlasting Spring has made its own,


And while drear Winter fills the naked skies,

Sweet streams of sunny thought, and flowers fresh-blown,

Are there, and weave their sounds and odours into one.


‘In their own hearts the earnest of the hope

Which made them great, the good will ever find;


And though some envious shade may interlope

Between the effect and it, One comes behind,

Who aye the future to the past will bind —

Necessity, whose sightless strength for ever

Evil with evil, good with good must wind


In bands of union, which no power may sever:

They must bring forth their kind, and be divided never!


‘The good and mighty of departed ages

Are in their graves, the innocent and free,

Heroes, and Poets, and prevailing Sages,


Who leave the vesture of their majesty

To adorn and clothe this naked world; — and we

Are like to them — such perish, but they leave

All hope, or love, or truth, or liberty,

Whose forms their mighty spirits could conceive,


To be a rule and law to ages that survive.


‘So be the turf heaped over our remains

Even in our happy youth, and that strange lot,

Whate’er it be, when in these mingling veins

The blood is still, be ours; let sense and thought


Pass from our being, or be numbered not

Among the things that are; let those who come

Behind, for whom our steadfast will has bought

A calm inheritance, a glorious doom,

Insult with careless tread, our undivided tomb.


‘Our many thoughts and deeds, our life and love,

Our happiness, and all that we have been,

Immortally must live, and burn and move,

When we shall be no more; — the world has seen

A type of peace; and — as some most serene


And lovely spot to a poor maniac’s eye,

After long years, some sweet and moving scene

Of youthful hope, returning suddenly,

Quells his long madness — thus man shall remember thee.


‘And Calumny meanwhile shall feed on us,


As worms devour the dead, and near the throne

And at the altar, most accepted thus

Shall sneers and curses be; — what we have done

None shall dare vouch, though it be truly known;

That record shall remain, when they must pass


Who built their pride on its oblivion;

And fame, in human hope which sculptured was,

Survive the perished scrolls of unenduring brass.


‘The while we two, beloved, must depart,

And Sense and Reason, those enchanters fair,


Whose wand of power is hope, would bid the heart

That gazed beyond the wormy grave despair:

These eyes, these lips, this blood, seems darkly there

To fade in hideous ruin; no calm sleep

Peopling with golden dreams the stagnant air,


Seems our obscure and rotting eyes to steep

In joy; — but senseless death — a ruin dark and deep!


‘These are blind fancies — reason cannot know

What sense can neither feel, nor thought conceive;

There is delusion in the world — and woe,


And fear, and pain — we know not whence we live,

Or why, or how, or what mute Power may give

Their being to each plant, and star, and beast,

Or even these thoughts. — Come near me! I do weave

A chain I cannot break — I am possessed


With thoughts too swift and strong for one lone human breast.


‘Yes, yes — thy kiss is sweet, thy lips are warm —

O! willingly, beloved, would these eyes,

Might they no more drink being from thy form,

Even as to sleep whence we again arise,


Close their faint orbs in death: I fear nor prize

Aught that can now betide, unshared by thee —

Yes, Love when Wisdom fails makes Cythna wise:

Darkness and death, if death be true, must be

Dearer than life and hope, if unenjoyed with thee.


‘Alas, our thoughts flow on with stream, whose waters

Return not to their fountain — Earth and Heaven,

The Ocean and the Sun, the Clouds their daughters,

Winter, and Spring, and Morn, and Noon, and Even,

All that we are or know, is darkly driven


Towards one gulf. — Lo! what a change is come

Since I first spake — but time shall be forgiven,

Though it change all but thee!’— She ceased — night’s gloom

Meanwhile had fallen on earth from the sky’s sunless dome.


Though she had ceased, her countenance uplifted


To Heaven, still spake, with solemn glory bright;

Her dark deep eyes, her lips, whose motions gifted

The air they breathed with love, her locks undight.

‘Fair star of life and love,’ I cried, ‘my soul’s delight,

Why lookest thou on the crystalline skies?


O, that my spirit were yon Heaven of night,

Which gazes on thee with its thousand eyes!’

She turned to me and smiled — that smile was Paradise!

_3573 hues of grace edition 1818.

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