The Complete Poetical Works
Percy Bysshe Shelley

Oxford edition

Including materials never before printed in any edition of the poems

Edited with textual notes


Thomas Hutchinson, M. A.

Editor of the Oxford Wordsworth

Text derived from the Oxford Edition of 1914.

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Table of Contents

  1. Preface.
  2. Postscript.
  3. Preface by Mrs. Shelley to First Collected Edition, 1839.
  4. Postscript in Second Edition of 1839.
  5. Preface by Mrs. Shelley to the Volume of Posthumous Poems Published in 1824.
  1. The Daemon of the World. a Fragment.
  2. Alastor: or, the Spirit of Solitude.
  3. The Revolt of Islam.
  4. Prince Athanase. A Fragment.
  5. Rosalind and Helen.
  6. Julian and Maddalo.
  7. Prometheus Unbound.
  8. The Cenci. a Tragedy in Five Acts.
  9. The Mask of Anarchy.
  10. Peter Bell the Third.
  11. Letter to Maria Gisborne.
  12. The Witch of Atlas.
  13. Oedipus Tyrannus
  14. Epipsychidion.
  15. Adonais.
  16. Hellas
  17. Fragments of an Unfinished Drama.
  18. Charles the First.
  19. The Triumph of Life.
  20. Early Poems [1814, 1815].
  21. Poems Written in 1816.
  22. Poems Written in 1817.
  23. Poems Written in 1818.
  24. Poems Written in 1819.
  25. Poems Written in 1820.
  26. Poems Written in 1821.
  27. Poems Written in 1822.
  28. Translations.
  29. Juvenilia.
  1. Notes on the Text and its Punctuation.
  2. A List of the Principal Editions of ShelLey’s Poetical Works, showing the various printed sources of the contents of this Edition.


This edition of his “Poetical Works” contains all Shelley’s ascertained poems and fragments of verse that have hitherto appeared in print. In preparing the volume I have worked as far as possible on the principle of recognizing the editio princeps as the primary textual authority. I have not been content to reprint Mrs. Shelley’s recension of 1839, or that of any subsequent editor of the “Poems”. The present text is the result of a fresh collation of the early editions; and in every material instance of departure from the wording of those originals the rejected reading has been subjoined in a footnote. Again, wherever — as in the case of “Julian and Maddalo”— there has appeared to be good reason for superseding the authority of the editio princeps, the fact is announced, and the substituted exemplar indicated, in the Prefatory Note. in the case of a few pieces extant in two or more versions of debatable authority the alternative text or texts will be found at the [end] of the [relevant work]; but it may be said once for all that this does not pretend to be a variorum edition, in the proper sense of the term — the textual apparatus does not claim to be exhaustive. Thus I have not thought it necessary to cumber the footnotes with every minute grammatical correction introduced by Mrs. Shelley, apparently on her own authority, into the texts of 1839; nor has it come within the scheme of this edition to record every conjectural emendation adopted or proposed by Rossetti and others in recent times. But it is hoped that, up to and including the editions of 1839 at least, no important variation of the text has been overlooked. Whenever a reading has been adopted on manuscript authority, a reference to the particular source has been added below.

I have been chary of gratuitous interference with the punctuation of the manuscripts and early editions; in this direction, however, some revision was indispensable. Even in his most carefully finished “fair copy” Shelley under-punctuates1, and sometimes punctuates capriciously. In the very act of transcribing his mind was apt to stray from the work in hand to higher things; he would lose himself in contemplating those airy abstractions and lofty visions of which alone he greatly cared to sing, to the neglect and detriment of the merely external and formal element of his song. Shelley recked little of the jots and tittles of literary craftsmanship; he committed many a small sin against the rules of grammar, and certainly paid but a halting attention to the nice distinctions of punctuation. Thus in the early editions a comma occasionally plays the part of a semicolon; colons and semicolons seem to be employed interchangeably; a semicolon almost invariably appears where nowadays we should employ the dash; and, lastly, the dash itself becomes a point of all work, replacing indifferently commas, colons, semicolons or periods. Inadequate and sometimes haphazard as it is, however, Shelley’s punctuation, so far as it goes, is of great value as an index to his metrical, or at times, it may be, to his rhetorical intention — for, in Shelley’s hands, punctuation serves rather to mark the rhythmical pause and onflow of the verse, or to secure some declamatory effect, than to indicate the structure or elucidate the sense. For this reason the original pointing has been retained, save where it tends to obscure or pervert the poet’s meaning. Amongst the Editor’s Notes at the end of the Volume 3 the reader will find lists of the punctual variations in the longer poems, by means of which the supplementary points now added may be identified, and the original points, which in this edition have been deleted or else replaced by others, ascertained, in the order of their occurrence. In the use of capitals Shelley’s practice has been followed, while an attempt has been made to reduce the number of his inconsistencies in this regard.

1 Thus in the exquisite autograph “Hunt MS.” of “Julian and Maddalo”, Mr. Buxton Forman, the most conservative of editors, finds it necessary to supplement Shelley’s punctuation in no fewer than ninety-four places.

To have reproduced the spelling of the manuscripts would only have served to divert attention from Shelley’s poetry to my own ingenuity in disgusting the reader according to the rules of editorial punctilio.1 Shelley was neither very accurate, nor always consistent, in his spelling. He was, to say the truth, indifferent about all such matters: indeed, to one absorbed in the spectacle of a world travailing for lack of the gospel of “Political Justice”, the study of orthographical niceties must have seemed an occupation for Bedlamites. Again — as a distinguished critic and editor of Shelley, Professor Dowden, aptly observes in this connexion —‘a great poet is not of an age, but for all time.’ Irregular or antiquated forms such as ‘recieve,’ ‘sacrifize,’ ‘tyger,’ ‘gulph,’ ‘desart,’ ‘falshood,’ and the like, can only serve to distract the reader’s attention, and mar his enjoyment of the verse. Accordingly Shelley’s eccentricities in this kind have been discarded, and his spelling reversed in accordance with modern usage. All weak preterite-forms, whether indicatives or participles, have been printed with “ed” rather than “t”, participial adjectives and substantives, such as ‘past,’ alone excepted. In the case of ‘leap,’ which has two preterite-forms, both employed by Shelley2 — one with the long vowel of the present-form, the other with a vowel-change3 like that of ‘crept’ from ‘creep’— I have not hesitated to print the longer form ‘leaped,’ and the shorter (after Mr. Henry Sweet’s example) ‘lept,’ in order clearly to indicate the pronunciation intended by Shelley. In the editions the two vowel-sounds are confounded under the one spelling, ‘leapt.’ In a few cases Shelley’s spelling, though unusual or obsolete, has been retained. Thus in ‘aethereal,’ ‘paean,’ and one or two more words the “ae” will be found, and ‘airy’ still appears as ‘aery’. Shelley seems to have uniformly written ‘lightening’: here the word is so printed whenever it is employed as a trisyllable; elsewhere the ordinary spelling has been adopted.4

1 I adapt a phrase or two from the preface to “The Revolt of Islam”.

2 See for an example of the longer form, the “Hymn to Mercury”, 18 5, where ‘leaped’ rhymes with ‘heaped’ (line 1). The shorter form, rhyming to ‘wept,’ ‘adapt,’ etc., occurs more frequently.

3 Of course, wherever this vowel-shortening takes place, whether indicated by a corresponding change in the spelling or not, “t”, not “ed” is properly used —‘cleave,’ ‘cleft,’; ‘deal,’ ‘dealt’; etc. The forms discarded under the general rule laid down above are such as ‘wrackt,’ ‘prankt,’ ‘snatcht,’ ‘kist,’ ‘opprest,’ etc.

4 Not a little has been written about ‘uprest’ (“Revolt of Islam”, 3 21 5), which has been described as a nonce-word deliberately coined by Shelley ‘on no better warrant than the exigency of the rhyme.’ There can be little doubt that ‘uprest’ is simply an overlooked misprint for ‘uprist’— not by any means a nonce-word, but a genuine English verbal substantive of regular formation, familiar to many from its employment by Chaucer. True, the corresponding rhyme-words in the passage above referred to are ‘nest,’ ‘possessed,’ ‘breast’; but a laxity such as ‘nest’—‘uprist’ is quite in Shelley’s manner. Thus in this very poem we find ‘midst’—‘shed’st’ (6 16), ‘mist’—‘rest’—‘blest’ (5 58), ‘loveliest’—‘mist’— kissed’—‘dressed’ (5 53). Shelley may have first seen the word in “The Ancient Mariner”; but he employs it more correctly than Coleridge, who seems to have mistaken it for a preterite-form (=‘uprose’) whereas in truth it serves either as the third person singular of the present (=‘upriseth’), or, as here, for the verbal substantive (=‘uprising’).

The editor of Shelley to-day enters upon a goodly heritage, the accumulated gains of a series of distinguished predecessors. Mrs. Shelley’s two editions of 1839 form the nucleus of the present volume, and her notes are here reprinted in full; but the arrangement of the poems differs to some extent from that followed by her — chiefly in respect of “Queen Mab”, which is here placed at the head of the “Juvenilia”, instead of at the forefront of the poems of Shelley’s maturity. In 1862 a slender volume of poems and fragments, entitled “Relics of Shelley”, was published by Dr. Richard Garnett, C.B. — a precious sheaf gleaned from the manuscripts preserved at Boscombe Manor. The “Relics” constitute a salvage second only in value to the “Posthumous Poems” of 1824. To the growing mass of Shelley’s verse yet more material was added in 1870 by Mr. William Michael Rossetti, who edited for Moxon the “Complete Poetical Works” published in that year. To him we owe in particular a revised and greatly enlarged version of the fragmentary drama of “Charles I”. But though not seldom successful in restoring the text, Mr. Rossetti pushed revision beyond the bounds of prudence, freely correcting grammatical errors, rectifying small inconsistencies in the sense, and too lightly adopting conjectural emendations on the grounds of rhyme or metre. In the course of an article published in the “Westminster Review” for July, 1870, Miss Mathilde Blind, with the aid of material furnished by Dr. Garnett, ‘was enabled,’ in the words of Mr. Buxton Forman, ‘to supply omissions, make authoritative emendations, and controvert erroneous changes’ in Mr. Rossetti’s work; and in the more cautiously edited text of his later edition, published by Moxon in 1878, may be traced the influence of her strictures.

Six years later appeared a variorum edition in which for the first time Shelley’s text was edited with scientific exactness of method, and with a due respect for the authority of the original editions. It would be difficult indeed to over-estimate the gains which have accrued to the lovers of Shelley from the strenuous labours of Mr. Harry Buxton Forman, C.B. He too has enlarged the body of Shelley’s poetry 1; but, important as his editions undoubtedly are, it may safely be affirmed that his services in this direction constitute the least part of what we owe him. He has vindicated the authenticity of the text in many places, while in many others he has succeeded, with the aid of manuscripts, in restoring it. His untiring industry in research, his wide bibliographical knowledge and experience, above all, his accuracy, as invariable as it is minute, have combined to make him, in the words of Professor Dowden, ‘our chief living authority on all that relates to Shelley’s writings.’ His name stands securely linked for all time to Shelley’s by a long series of notable words, including three successive editions (1876, 1882, 1892) of the Poems, an edition of the Prose Remains, as well as many minor publications — a Bibliography (“The Shelley Library”, 1886)and several Facsimile Reprints of the early issues, edited for the Shelley Society.

1 Mr. Forman’s most notable addition is the second part of “The Daemon of the World”, which he printed privately in 1876, and included in his Library Edition of the “Poetical Works” published in the same year. See the “List of Editions”, etc. at the end of Volume 3.

To Professor Dowden, whose authoritative Biography of the poet, published in 1886, was followed in 1890 by an edition of the Poems (Macmillans), is due the addition of several pieces belonging to the juvenile period, incorporated by him in the pages of the “Life of Shelley”. Professor Dowden has also been enabled, with the aid of the manuscripts placed in his hands, to correct the text of the “Juvenilia” in many places. In 1893 Professor George E. Woodberry edited a “Centenary Edition of the Complete Poetical Works”, in which, to quote his own words, an attempt is made ‘to summarize the labours of more than half a century on Shelley’s text, and on his biography so far as the biography is bound up with the text.’ In this Centenary edition the textual variations found in the Harvard College manuscripts, as well as those in the manuscripts belonging to Mr. Frederickson of Brooklyn, are fully recorded. Professor Woodberry’s text is conservative on the whole, but his revision of the punctuation is drastic, and occasionally sacrifices melody to perspicuity.

In 1903 Mr. C.D. Locock published, in a quarto volume of seventy-five pages, the fruits of a careful scrutiny of the Shelley manuscripts now lodged in the Bodleian Library. Mr. Locock succeeded in recovering several inedited fragments of verse and prose. Amongst the poems chiefly concerned in the results of his “Examination” may be named “Marenghi”, “Prince Athanase”, “The Witch of Atlas”, “To Constantia”, the “Ode to Naples”, and (last, not least) “Prometheus Unbound”. Full use has been made in this edition of Mr. Locock’s collations, and the fragments recovered and printed by him are included in the text. Variants derived from the Bodleian manuscripts are marked “B.” in the footnotes.

On the state of the text generally, and the various quarters in which it lies open to conjectural emendation, I cannot do better than quote the following succinct and luminous account from a “Causerie” on the Shelley manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, contributed by Dr. Richard Garnett, C.B., to the columns of “The Speaker” of December 19, 1903:—

‘From the textual point of view, Shelley’s works may be divided into three classes — those published in his lifetime under his own direction; those also published in his lifetime, but in his absence from the press; and those published after his death. The first class includes “Queen Mab”, “The Revolt of Islam”, and “Alastor” with its appendages, published in England before his final departure for the continent; and “The Cenci” and “Adonais”, printed under his own eye at Leghorn and Pisa respectively. Except for some provoking but corrigible misprints in “The Revolt of Islam” and one crucial passage in “Alastor”, these poems afford little material for conjectural emendation; for the Alexandrines now and then left in the middle of stanzas in “The Revolt of Islam” must remain untouched, as proceeding not from the printer’s carelessness but the author’s. The second class, poems printed during Shelley’s lifetime, but not under his immediate inspection, comprise “Prometheus Unbound” and “Rosalind and Helen”, together with the pieces which accompanied them, “Epipsychidion”, “Hellas”, and “Swellfoot the Tyrant”. The correction of the most important of these, the “Prometheus”, was the least satisfactory. Shelley, though speaking plainly to the publisher, rather hints than expresses his dissatisfaction when writing to Gisborne, the corrector, but there is a pretty clear hint when on a subsequent occasion he says to him, “I have received ‘Hellas’, which is prettily printed, and with fewer mistakes than any poem I ever published.” This also was probably not without influence on his determination to have “The Cenci” and “Adonais” printed in Italy . . . Of the third class of Shelley’s writings — those which were first published after his death — sufficient facsimiles have been published to prove that Trelawny’s graphic description of the chaotic state of most of them was really in no respect exaggerated . . . The difficulty is much augmented by the fact that these pieces are rarely consecutive, but literally disiecti membra poetae, scattered through various notebooks in a way to require piecing together as well as deciphering. The editors of the Posthumous Poems, moreover, though diligent according to their light, were neither endowed with remarkable acumen nor possessed of the wide knowledge requisite for the full intelligence of so erudite a poet as Shelley, hence the perpetration of numerous mistakes. Some few of the manuscripts, indeed, such as those of “The Witch of Atlas”, “Julian and Maddalo”, and the “Lines at Naples”, were beautifully written out for the press in Shelley’s best hand, but their very value and beauty necessitated the ordeal of transcription, with disastrous results in several instances. An entire line dropped out of the “Lines at Naples”, and although “Julian and Maddalo” was extant in more than one very clear copy, the printed text had several such sense-destroying errors as “least” for “lead”.

‘The corrupt state of the text has stimulated the ingenuity of numerous correctors, who have suggested many acute and convincing emendations, and some very specious ones which sustained scrutiny has proved untenable. It should be needless to remark that success has in general been proportionate to the facilities of access to the manuscripts, which have only of late become generally available. If Shelley is less fortunate than most modern poets in the purity of his text, he is more fortunate than many in the preservation of his manuscripts. These have not, as regards a fair proportion, been destroyed or dispersed at auctions, but were protected from either fate by their very character as confused memoranda. As such they remained in the possession of Shelley’s widow, and passed from her to her son and daughter-in-law. After Sir Percy Shelley’s death, Lady Shelley took the occasion of the erection of the monument to Shelley at University College, Oxford, to present [certain of] the manuscripts to the Bodleian Library, and verse and sculpture form an imperishable memorial of his connection with the University where his residence was so brief and troubled.’1

1 Dr. Garnett proceeds:—‘The most important of the Bodleian manuscripts is that of “Prometheus Unbound”, which, says Mr. Locock, has the appearance of being an intermediate draft, and also the first copy made. This should confer considerable authority on its variations from the accepted text, as this appears to have been printed from a copy not made by Shelley himself. “My ‘Prometheus’,” he writes to Ollier on September 6, 1819, “is now being transcribed,” an expression which he would hardly have used if he had himself been the copyist. He wished the proofs to be sent to him in Italy for correction, but to this Ollier objected, and on May 14, 1820, Shelley signifies his acquiescence, adding, however, “In this case I shall repose trust in your care respecting the correction of the press; Mr. Gisborne will revise it; he heard it recited, and will therefore more readily seize any error.” This confidence in the accuracy of Gisborne’s verbal memory is touching! From a letter to Gisborne on May 26 following it appears that the offer to correct came from him, and that Shelley sent him “two little papers of corrections and additions,” which were probably made use of, or the fact would have been made known. In the case of additions this may satisfactorily account for apparent omissions in the Bodleian manuscript. Gisborne, after all, did not prove fully up to the mark. “It is to be regretted,” writes Shelley to Ollier on November 20, “that the errors of the press are so numerous,” adding, “I shall send you the list of errata in a day or two.” This was probably “the list of errata written by Shelley himself,” from which Mrs. Shelley corrected the edition of 1839.’

In placing “Queen Mab” at the head of the “Juvenilia” I have followed the arrangement adopted by Mr. Buxton Forman in his Library Edition of 1876. I have excluded “The Wandering Jew”, having failed to satisfy myself of the sufficiency of the grounds on which, in certain quarters, it is accepted as the work of Shelley. The shorter fragments are printed, as in Professor Dowden’s edition of 1890, along with the miscellaneous poems of the years to which they severally belong, under titles which are sometimes borrowed from Mr. Buxton Forman, sometimes of my own choosing. I have added a few brief Editor’s Notes, mainly on textual questions, at the end of the book. Of the poverty of my work in this direction I am painfully aware; but in the present edition the ordinary reader will, it is hoped, find an authentic, complete, and accurately printed text, and, if this be so, the principal end and aim of the OXFORD SHELLEY will have been attained.

I desire cordially to acknowledge the courtesy of Mr. H. Buxton Forman, C.B., by whose kind sanction the second part of “The Daemon the World” appears in this volume. And I would fain express my deep sense of obligation for manifold information and guidance, derived from Mr. Buxton Forman’s various editions, reprints and other publications — especially from the monumental Library Edition of 1876. Acknowledgements are also due to the poet’s grandson, Charles E.J. Esdaile, Esq., for permission to include the early poems first printed in Professor Dowden’s “Life of Shelley”; and to Mr. C.D. Locock, for leave to make full use of the material contained in his interesting and stimulating volume. To Dr. Richard Garnett, C.B., and to Professor Dowden, cordial thanks are hereby tendered for good counsel cheerfully bestowed. To two of the editors of the Shelley Society Reprints, Mr. Thomas J. Wise and Mr. Robert A. Potts — both generously communicative collectors — I am deeply indebted for the gift or loan of scarce volumes, as well as for many kind offices in other ways. Lastly, to the staff of the Oxford University Press my heartiest thanks are owing, for their unremitting care in all that relates to the printing and correcting of the sheets.


December, 1904.


In a valuable paper, ‘Notes on Passages in Shelley,’ contributed to “The Modern Language Review” (October, 1905), Mr. A.C. Bradley discussed, amongst other things, some fifty places in the text of Shelley’s verse, and indicated certain errors and omissions in this edition. With the aid of these “Notes” the editor has now carefully revised the text, and has in many places adopted the suggestions or conclusions of their accomplished author.

June, 1913.

Preface by Mrs. Shelley to First Collected Edition, 1839

Obstacles have long existed to my presenting the public with a perfect edition of Shelley’s Poems. These being at last happily removed, I hasten to fulfil an important duty — that of giving the productions of a sublime genius to the world, with all the correctness possible, and of, at the same time, detailing the history of those productions, as they sprang, living and warm, from his heart and brain. I abstain from any remark on the occurrences of his private life, except inasmuch as the passions which they engendered inspired his poetry. This is not the time to relate the truth; and I should reject any colouring of the truth. No account of these events has ever been given at all approaching reality in their details, either as regards himself or others; nor shall I further allude to them than to remark that the errors of action committed by a man as noble and generous as Shelley, may, as far as he only is concerned, be fearlessly avowed by those who loved him, in the firm conviction that, were they judged impartially, his character would stand in fairer and brighter light than that of any contemporary. Whatever faults he had ought to find extenuation among his fellows, since they prove him to be human; without them, the exalted nature of his soul would have raised him into something divine.

The qualities that struck any one newly introduced to Shelley were — First, a gentle and cordial goodness that animated his intercourse with warm affection and helpful sympathy. The other, the eagerness and ardour with which he was attached to the cause of human happiness and improvement; and the fervent eloquence with which he discussed such subjects. His conversation was marked by its happy abundance, and the beautiful language in which he clothed his poetic ideas and philosophical notions. To defecate life of its misery and its evil was the ruling passion of his soul; he dedicated to it every power of his mind, every pulsation of his heart. He looked on political freedom as the direct agent to effect the happiness of mankind; and thus any new-sprung hope of liberty inspired a joy and an exultation more intense and wild than he could have felt for any personal advantage. Those who have never experienced the workings of passion on general and unselfish subjects cannot understand this; and it must be difficult of comprehension to the younger generation rising around, since they cannot remember the scorn and hatred with which the partisans of reform were regarded some few years ago, nor the persecutions to which they were exposed. He had been from youth the victim of the state of feeling inspired by the reaction of the French Revolution; and believing firmly in the justice and excellence of his views, it cannot be wondered that a nature as sensitive, as impetuous, and as generous as his, should put its whole force into the attempt to alleviate for others the evils of those systems from which he had himself suffered. Many advantages attended his birth; he spurned them all when balanced with what he considered his duties. He was generous to imprudence, devoted to heroism.

These characteristics breathe throughout his poetry. The struggle for human weal; the resolution firm to martyrdom; the impetuous pursuit, the glad triumph in good; the determination not to despair; — such were the features that marked those of his works which he regarded with most complacency, as sustained by a lofty subject and useful aim.

In addition to these, his poems may be divided into two classes — the purely imaginative, and those which sprang from the emotions of his heart. Among the former may be classed the “Witch of Atlas”, “Adonais”, and his latest composition, left imperfect, the “Triumph of Life”. In the first of these particularly he gave the reins to his fancy, and luxuriated in every idea as it rose; in all there is that sense of mystery which formed an essential portion of his perception of life — a clinging to the subtler inner spirit, rather than to the outward form — a curious and metaphysical anatomy of human passion and perception.

The second class is, of course, the more popular, as appealing at once to emotions common to us all; some of these rest on the passion of love; others on grief and despondency; others on the sentiments inspired by natural objects. Shelley’s conception of love was exalted, absorbing, allied to all that is purest and noblest in our nature, and warmed by earnest passion; such it appears when he gave it a voice in verse. Yet he was usually averse to expressing these feelings, except when highly idealized; and many of his more beautiful effusions he had cast aside unfinished, and they were never seen by me till after I had lost him. Others, as for instance “Rosalind and Helen” and “Lines written among the Euganean Hills”, I found among his papers by chance; and with some difficulty urged him to complete them. There are others, such as the “Ode to the Skylark and The Cloud”, which, in the opinion of many critics, bear a purer poetical stamp than any other of his productions. They were written as his mind prompted: listening to the carolling of the bird, aloft in the azure sky of Italy; or marking the cloud as it sped across the heavens, while he floated in his boat on the Thames.

No poet was ever warmed by a more genuine and unforced inspiration. His extreme sensibility gave the intensity of passion to his intellectual pursuits; and rendered his mind keenly alive to every perception of outward objects, as well as to his internal sensations. Such a gift is, among the sad vicissitudes of human life, the disappointments we meet, and the galling sense of our own mistakes and errors, fraught with pain; to escape from such, he delivered up his soul to poetry, and felt happy when he sheltered himself, from the influence of human sympathies, in the wildest regions of fancy. His imagination has been termed too brilliant, his thoughts too subtle. He loved to idealize reality; and this is a taste shared by few. We are willing to have our passing whims exalted into passions, for this gratifies our vanity; but few of us understand or sympathize with the endeavour to ally the love of abstract beauty, and adoration of abstract good, the to agathon kai to kalon of the Socratic philosophers, with our sympathies with our kind. In this, Shelley resembled Plato; both taking more delight in the abstract and the ideal than in the special and tangible. This did not result from imitation; for it was not till Shelley resided in Italy that he made Plato his study. He then translated his “Symposium” and his “Ion”; and the English language boasts of no more brilliant composition than Plato’s Praise of Love translated by Shelley. To return to his own poetry. The luxury of imagination, which sought nothing beyond itself (as a child burdens itself with spring flowers, thinking of no use beyond the enjoyment of gathering them), often showed itself in his verses: they will be only appreciated by minds which have resemblance to his own; and the mystic subtlety of many of his thoughts will share the same fate. The metaphysical strain that characterizes much of what he has written was, indeed, the portion of his works to which, apart from those whose scope was to awaken mankind to aspirations for what he considered the true and good, he was himself particularly attached. There is much, however, that speaks to the many. When he would consent to dismiss these huntings after the obscure (which, entwined with his nature as they were, he did with difficulty), no poet ever expressed in sweeter, more heart-reaching, or more passionate verse, the gentler or more forcible emotions of the soul.

A wise friend once wrote to Shelley: ‘You are still very young, and in certain essential respects you do not yet sufficiently perceive that you are so.’ It is seldom that the young know what youth is, till they have got beyond its period; and time was not given him to attain this knowledge. It must be remembered that there is the stamp of such inexperience on all he wrote; he had not completed his nine-and-twentieth year when he died. The calm of middle life did not add the seal of the virtues which adorn maturity to those generated by the vehement spirit of youth. Through life also he was a martyr to ill-health, and constant pain wound up his nerves to a pitch of susceptibility that rendered his views of life different from those of a man in the enjoyment of healthy sensations. Perfectly gentle and forbearing in manner, he suffered a good deal of internal irritability, or rather excitement, and his fortitude to bear was almost always on the stretch; and thus, during a short life, he had gone through more experience of sensation than many whose existence is protracted. ‘If I die to-morrow,’ he said, on the eve of his unanticipated death, ‘I have lived to be older than my father.’ The weight of thought and feeling burdened him heavily; you read his sufferings in his attenuated frame, while you perceived the mastery he held over them in his animated countenance and brilliant eyes.

He died, and the world showed no outward sign. But his influence over mankind, though slow in growth, is fast augmenting; and, in the ameliorations that have taken place in the political state of his country, we may trace in part the operation of his arduous struggles. His spirit gathers peace in its new state from the sense that, though late, his exertions were not made in vain, and in the progress of the liberty he so fondly loved.

He died, and his place, among those who knew him intimately, has never been filled up. He walked beside them like a spirit of good to comfort and benefit — to enlighten the darkness of life with irradiations of genius, to cheer it with his sympathy and love. Any one, once attached to Shelley, must feel all other affections, however true and fond, as wasted on barren soil in comparison. It is our best consolation to know that such a pure-minded and exalted being was once among us, and now exists where we hope one day to join him; — although the intolerant, in their blindness, poured down anathemas, the Spirit of Good, who can judge the heart, never rejected him.

In the notes appended to the poems I have endeavoured to narrate the origin and history of each. The loss of nearly all letters and papers which refer to his early life renders the execution more imperfect than it would otherwise have been. I have, however, the liveliest recollection of all that was done and said during the period of my knowing him. Every impression is as clear as if stamped yesterday, and I have no apprehension of any mistake in my statements as far as they go. In other respects I am indeed incompetent: but I feel the importance of the task, and regard it as my most sacred duty. I endeavour to fulfil it in a manner he would himself approve; and hope, in this publication, to lay the first stone of a monument due to Shelley’s genius, his sufferings, and his virtues:—

Se al seguir son tarda,

Forse avverra che ‘l bel nome gentile

Consacrero con questa stanca penna.

Postscript in Second Edition of 1839

In revising this new edition, and carefully consulting Shelley’s scattered and confused papers, I found a few fragments which had hitherto escaped me, and was enabled to complete a few poems hitherto left unfinished. What at one time escapes the searching eye, dimmed by its own earnestness, becomes clear at a future period. By the aid of a friend, I also present some poems complete and correct which hitherto have been defaced by various mistakes and omissions. It was suggested that the poem “To the Queen of my Heart” was falsely attributed to Shelley. I certainly find no trace of it among his papers; and, as those of his intimate friends whom I have consulted never heard of it, I omit it.

Two poems are added of some length, “Swellfoot the Tyrant” and “Peter Bell the Third”. I have mentioned the circumstances under which they were written in the notes; and need only add that they are conceived in a very different spirit from Shelley’s usual compositions. They are specimens of the burlesque and fanciful; but, although they adopt a familiar style and homely imagery, there shine through the radiance of the poet’s imagination the earnest views and opinions of the politician and the moralist.

At my request the publisher has restored the omitted passages of “Queen Mab”. I now present this edition as a complete collection of my husband’s poetical works, and I do not foresee that I can hereafter add to or take away a word or line.

Putney, November 6, 1839.

Preface by Mrs. Shelley to the Volume of Posthumous Poems Published in 1824

In nobil sangue vita umile e queta,

Ed in alto intelletto un puro core

Frutto senile in sul giovenil fibre,

E in aspetto pensoso anima lieta.


It had been my wish, on presenting the public with the Posthumous Poems of Mr. Shelley, to have accompanied them by a biographical notice; as it appeared to me that at this moment a narration of the events of my husband’s life would come more gracefully from other hands than mine, I applied to Mr. Leigh Hunt. The distinguished friendship that Mr. Shelley felt for him, and the enthusiastic affection with which Mr. Leigh Hunt clings to his friend’s memory, seemed to point him out as the person best calculated for such an undertaking. His absence from this country, which prevented our mutual explanation, has unfortunately rendered my scheme abortive. I do not doubt but that on some other occasion he will pay this tribute to his lost friend, and sincerely regret that the volume which I edit has not been honoured by its insertion.

The comparative solitude in which Mr. Shelley lived was the occasion that he was personally known to few; and his fearless enthusiasm in the cause which he considered the most sacred upon earth, the improvement of the moral and physical state of mankind, was the chief reason why he, like other illustrious reformers, was pursued by hatred and calumny. No man was ever more devoted than he to the endeavour of making those around him happy; no man ever possessed friends more unfeignedly attached to him. The ungrateful world did not feel his loss, and the gap it made seemed to close as quickly over his memory as the murderous sea above his living frame. Hereafter men will lament that his transcendent powers of intellect were extinguished before they had bestowed on them their choicest treasures. To his friends his loss is irremediable: the wise, the brave, the gentle, is gone for ever! He is to them as a bright vision, whose radiant track, left behind in the memory, is worth all the realities that society can afford. Before the critics contradict me, let them appeal to any one who had ever known him. To see him was to love him: and his presence, like Ithuriel’s spear, was alone sufficient to disclose the falsehood of the tale which his enemies whispered in the ear of the ignorant world.

His life was spent in the contemplation of Nature, in arduous study, or in acts of kindness and affection. He was an elegant scholar and a profound metaphysician; without possessing much scientific knowledge, he was unrivalled in the justness and extent of his observations on natural objects; he knew every plant by its name, and was familiar with the history and habits of every production of the earth; he could interpret without a fault each appearance in the sky; and the varied phenomena of heaven and earth filled him with deep emotion. He made his study and reading-room of the shadowed copse, the stream, the lake, and the waterfall. Ill health and continual pain preyed upon his powers; and the solitude in which we lived, particularly on our first arrival in Italy, although congenial to his feelings, must frequently have weighed upon his spirits; those beautiful and affecting “Lines written in Dejection near Naples” were composed at such an interval; but, when in health, his spirits were buoyant and youthful to an extraordinary degree.

Such was his love for Nature that every page of his poetry is associated, in the minds of his friends, with the loveliest scenes of the countries which he inhabited. In early life he visited the most beautiful parts of this country and Ireland. Afterwards the Alps of Switzerland became his inspirers. “Prometheus Unbound” was written among the deserted and flower-grown ruins of Rome; and, when he made his home under the Pisan hills, their roofless recesses harboured him as he composed the “Witch of Atlas”, “Adonais”, and “Hellas”. In the wild but beautiful Bay of Spezzia, the winds and waves which he loved became his playmates. His days were chiefly spent on the water; the management of his boat, its alterations and improvements, were his principal occupation. At night, when the unclouded moon shone on the calm sea, he often went alone in his little shallop to the rocky caves that bordered it, and, sitting beneath their shelter, wrote the “Triumph of Life”, the last of his productions. The beauty but strangeness of this lonely place, the refined pleasure which he felt in the companionship of a few selected friends, our entire sequestration from the rest of the world, all contributed to render this period of his life one of continued enjoyment. I am convinced that the two months we passed there were the happiest which he had ever known: his health even rapidly improved, and he was never better than when I last saw him, full of spirits and joy, embark for Leghorn, that he might there welcome Leigh Hunt to Italy. I was to have accompanied him; but illness confined me to my room, and thus put the seal on my misfortune. His vessel bore out of sight with a favourable wind, and I remained awaiting his return by the breakers of that sea which was about to engulf him.

He spent a week at Pisa, employed in kind offices toward his friend, and enjoying with keen delight the renewal of their intercourse. He then embarked with Mr. Williams, the chosen and beloved sharer of his pleasures and of his fate, to return to us. We waited for them in vain; the sea by its restless moaning seemed to desire to inform us of what we would not learn:— but a veil may well be drawn over such misery. The real anguish of those moments transcended all the fictions that the most glowing imagination ever portrayed; our seclusion, the savage nature of the inhabitants of the surrounding villages, and our immediate vicinity to the troubled sea, combined to imbue with strange horror our days of uncertainty. The truth was at last known — a truth that made our loved and lovely Italy appear a tomb, its sky a pall. Every heart echoed the deep lament, and my only consolation was in the praise and earnest love that each voice bestowed and each countenance demonstrated for him we had lost — not, I fondly hope, for ever; his unearthly and elevated nature is a pledge of the continuation of his being, although in an altered form. Rome received his ashes; they are deposited beneath its weed-grown wall, and ‘the world’s sole monument’ is enriched by his remains.

I must add a few words concerning the contents of this volume. “Julian and Maddalo”, the “Witch of Atlas”, and most of the “Translations”, were written some years ago; and, with the exception of the “Cyclops”, and the Scenes from the “Magico Prodigioso”, may be considered as having received the author’s ultimate corrections. The “Triumph of Life” was his last work, and was left in so unfinished a state that I arranged it in its present form with great difficulty. All his poems which were scattered in periodical works are collected in this volume, and I have added a reprint of “Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude”: the difficulty with which a copy can be obtained is the cause of its republication. Many of the Miscellaneous Poems, written on the spur of the occasion, and never retouched, I found among his manuscript books, and have carefully copied. I have subjoined, whenever I have been able, the date of their composition.

I do not know whether the critics will reprehend the insertion of some of the most imperfect among them; but I frankly own that I have been more actuated by the fear lest any monument of his genius should escape me than the wish of presenting nothing but what was complete to the fastidious reader. I feel secure that the lovers of Shelley’s poetry (who know how, more than any poet of the present day, every line and word he wrote is instinct with peculiar beauty) will pardon and thank me: I consecrate this volume to them.

The size of this collection has prevented the insertion of any prose pieces. They will hereafter appear in a separate publication.


London, June 1, 1824.

The Daemon of the World. a Fragment.

Part 1.

[Sections 1 and 2 of “Queen Mab” rehandled, and published by Shelley in the “Alastor” volume, 1816. See “Bibliographical List”, and the Editor’s Introductory Note to “Queen Mab”.]

Nec tantum prodere vati,

Quantum scire licet. Venit aetas omnis in unam

Congeriem, miserumque premunt tot saecula pectus.

— LUCAN, Phars. v. 176.

How wonderful is Death,

Death and his brother Sleep!

One pale as yonder wan and horned moon,

With lips of lurid blue,


The other glowing like the vital morn,

When throned on ocean’s wave

It breathes over the world:

Yet both so passing strange and wonderful!

Hath then the iron-sceptred Skeleton,


Whose reign is in the tainted sepulchres,

To the hell dogs that couch beneath his throne

Cast that fair prey? Must that divinest form,

Which love and admiration cannot view

Without a beating heart, whose azure veins


Steal like dark streams along a field of snow,

Whose outline is as fair as marble clothed

In light of some sublimest mind, decay?

Nor putrefaction’s breath

Leave aught of this pure spectacle


But loathsomeness and ruin? —

Spare aught but a dark theme,

On which the lightest heart might moralize?

Or is it but that downy-winged slumbers

Have charmed their nurse coy Silence near her lids


To watch their own repose?

Will they, when morning’s beam

Flows through those wells of light,

Seek far from noise and day some western cave,

Where woods and streams with soft and pausing winds


A lulling murmur weave? —

Ianthe doth not sleep

The dreamless sleep of death:

Nor in her moonlight chamber silently

Doth Henry hear her regular pulses throb,


Or mark her delicate cheek

With interchange of hues mock the broad moon,

Outwatching weary night,

Without assured reward.

Her dewy eyes are closed;


On their translucent lids, whose texture fine

Scarce hides the dark blue orbs that burn below

With unapparent fire,

The baby Sleep is pillowed:

Her golden tresses shade


The bosom’s stainless pride,

Twining like tendrils of the parasite

Around a marble column.

Hark! whence that rushing sound?

’Tis like a wondrous strain that sweeps


Around a lonely ruin

When west winds sigh and evening waves respond

In whispers from the shore:

’Tis wilder than the unmeasured notes

Which from the unseen lyres of dells and groves


The genii of the breezes sweep.

Floating on waves of music and of light,

The chariot of the Daemon of the World

Descends in silent power:

Its shape reposed within: slight as some cloud


That catches but the palest tinge of day

When evening yields to night,

Bright as that fibrous woof when stars indue

Its transitory robe.

Four shapeless shadows bright and beautiful


Draw that strange car of glory, reins of light

Check their unearthly speed; they stop and fold

Their wings of braided air:

The Daemon leaning from the ethereal car

Gazed on the slumbering maid.


Human eye hath ne’er beheld

A shape so wild, so bright, so beautiful,

As that which o’er the maiden’s charmed sleep

Waving a starry wand,

Hung like a mist of light.


Such sounds as breathed around like odorous winds

Of wakening spring arose,

Filling the chamber and the moonlight sky.

Maiden, the world’s supremest spirit

Beneath the shadow of her wings


Folds all thy memory doth inherit

From ruin of divinest things,

Feelings that lure thee to betray,

And light of thoughts that pass away.

For thou hast earned a mighty boon,


The truths which wisest poets see

Dimly, thy mind may make its own,

Rewarding its own majesty,

Entranced in some diviner mood

Of self-oblivious solitude.


Custom, and Faith, and Power thou spurnest;

From hate and awe thy heart is free;

Ardent and pure as day thou burnest,

For dark and cold mortality

A living light, to cheer it long,


The watch-fires of the world among.

Therefore from nature’s inner shrine,

Where gods and fiends in worship bend,

Majestic spirit, be it thine

The flame to seize, the veil to rend,


Where the vast snake Eternity

In charmed sleep doth ever lie.

All that inspires thy voice of love,

Or speaks in thy unclosing eyes,

Or through thy frame doth burn or move,


Or think or feel, awake, arise!

Spirit, leave for mine and me

Earth’s unsubstantial mimicry!

It ceased, and from the mute and moveless frame

A radiant spirit arose,


All beautiful in naked purity.

Robed in its human hues it did ascend,

Disparting as it went the silver clouds,

It moved towards the car, and took its seat

Beside the Daemon shape.


Obedient to the sweep of aery song,

The mighty ministers

Unfurled their prismy wings.

The magic car moved on;

The night was fair, innumerable stars


Studded heaven’s dark blue vault;

The eastern wave grew pale

With the first smile of morn.

The magic car moved on.

From the swift sweep of wings


The atmosphere in flaming sparkles flew;

And where the burning wheels

Eddied above the mountain’s loftiest peak

Was traced a line of lightning.

Now far above a rock the utmost verge


Of the wide earth it flew,

The rival of the Andes, whose dark brow

Frowned o’er the silver sea.

Far, far below the chariot’s stormy path,

Calm as a slumbering babe,


Tremendous ocean lay.

Its broad and silent mirror gave to view

The pale and waning stars,

The chariot’s fiery track,

And the grey light of morn


Tingeing those fleecy clouds

That cradled in their folds the infant dawn.

The chariot seemed to fly

Through the abyss of an immense concave,

Radiant with million constellations, tinged


With shades of infinite colour,

And semicircled with a belt

Flashing incessant meteors.

As they approached their goal,

The winged shadows seemed to gather speed.


The sea no longer was distinguished; earth

Appeared a vast and shadowy sphere, suspended

In the black concave of heaven

With the sun’s cloudless orb,

Whose rays of rapid light


Parted around the chariot’s swifter course,

And fell like ocean’s feathery spray

Dashed from the boiling surge

Before a vessel’s prow.

The magic car moved on.


Earth’s distant orb appeared

The smallest light that twinkles in the heavens,

Whilst round the chariot’s way

Innumerable systems widely rolled,

And countless spheres diffused


An ever varying glory.

It was a sight of wonder! Some were horned,

And like the moon’s argentine crescent hung

In the dark dome of heaven; some did shed

A clear mild beam like Hesperus, while the sea


Yet glows with fading sunlight; others dashed

Athwart the night with trains of bickering fire,

Like sphered worlds to death and ruin driven;

Some shone like stars, and as the chariot passed

Bedimmed all other light.


Spirit of Nature! here

In this interminable wilderness

Of worlds, at whose involved immensity

Even soaring fancy staggers,

Here is thy fitting temple.


Yet not the lightest leaf

That quivers to the passing breeze

Is less instinct with thee —

Yet not the meanest worm.

That lurks in graves and fattens on the dead,


Less shares thy eternal breath.

Spirit of Nature! thou

Imperishable as this glorious scene,

Here is thy fitting temple.

If solitude hath ever led thy steps


To the shore of the immeasurable sea,

And thou hast lingered there

Until the sun’s broad orb

Seemed resting on the fiery line of ocean,

Thou must have marked the braided webs of gold


That without motion hang

Over the sinking sphere:

Thou must have marked the billowy mountain clouds,

Edged with intolerable radiancy,

Towering like rocks of jet


Above the burning deep:

And yet there is a moment

When the sun’s highest point

Peers like a star o’er ocean’s western edge,

When those far clouds of feathery purple gleam


Like fairy lands girt by some heavenly sea:

Then has thy rapt imagination soared

Where in the midst of all existing things

The temple of the mightiest Daemon stands.

Yet not the golden islands


That gleam amid yon flood of purple light,

Nor the feathery curtains

That canopy the sun’s resplendent couch,

Nor the burnished ocean waves

Paving that gorgeous dome,


So fair, so wonderful a sight

As the eternal temple could afford.

The elements of all that human thought

Can frame of lovely or sublime, did join

To rear the fabric of the fane, nor aught


Of earth may image forth its majesty.

Yet likest evening’s vault that faery hall,

As heaven low resting on the wave it spread

Its floors of flashing light,

Its vast and azure dome;


And on the verge of that obscure abyss

Where crystal battlements o’erhang the gulf

Of the dark world, ten thousand spheres diffuse

Their lustre through its adamantine gates.

The magic car no longer moved;


The Daemon and the Spirit

Entered the eternal gates.

Those clouds of aery gold

That slept in glittering billows

Beneath the azure canopy,


With the ethereal footsteps trembled not;

While slight and odorous mists

Floated to strains of thrilling melody

Through the vast columns and the pearly shrines.

The Daemon and the Spirit


Approached the overhanging battlement,

Below lay stretched the boundless universe!

There, far as the remotest line

That limits swift imagination’s flight.

Unending orbs mingled in mazy motion,


Immutably fulfilling

Eternal Nature’s law.

Above, below, around,

The circling systems formed

A wilderness of harmony.


Each with undeviating aim

In eloquent silence through the depths of space

Pursued its wondrous way. —

Awhile the Spirit paused in ecstasy.

Yet soon she saw, as the vast spheres swept by,


Strange things within their belted orbs appear.

Like animated frenzies, dimly moved

Shadows, and skeletons, and fiendly shapes,

Thronging round human graves, and o’er the dead

Sculpturing records for each memory


In verse, such as malignant gods pronounce,

Blasting the hopes of men, when heaven and hell

Confounded burst in ruin o’er the world:

And they did build vast trophies, instruments

Of murder, human bones, barbaric gold,


Skins torn from living men, and towers of skulls

With sightless holes gazing on blinder heaven,

Mitres, and crowns, and brazen chariots stained

With blood, and scrolls of mystic wickedness,

The sanguine codes of venerable crime.


The likeness of a throned king came by.

When these had passed, bearing upon his brow

A threefold crown; his countenance was calm.

His eye severe and cold; but his right hand

Was charged with bloody coin, and he did gnaw


By fits, with secret smiles, a human heart

Concealed beneath his robe; and motley shapes,

A multitudinous throng, around him knelt.

With bosoms bare, and bowed heads, and false looks

Of true submission, as the sphere rolled by.


Brooking no eye to witness their foul shame,

Which human hearts must feel, while human tongues

Tremble to speak, they did rage horribly,

Breathing in self-contempt fierce blasphemies

Against the Daemon of the World, and high


Hurling their armed hands where the pure Spirit,

Serene and inaccessibly secure,

Stood on an isolated pinnacle.

The flood of ages combating below,

The depth of the unbounded universe


Above, and all around

Necessity’s unchanging harmony.

Part 2.

[Sections 8 and 9 of “Queen Mab” rehandled by Shelley. First printed in 1876 by Mr. H. Buxton Forman, C.B., by whose kind permission it is here reproduced. See Editor’s Introductory Note to “Queen Mab”.]

O happy Earth! reality of Heaven!

To which those restless powers that ceaselessly

Throng through the human universe aspire;


Thou consummation of all mortal hope!

Thou glorious prize of blindly-working will!

Whose rays, diffused throughout all space and time,

Verge to one point and blend for ever there:

Of purest spirits thou pure dwelling-place!


Where care and sorrow, impotence and crime,

Languor, disease, and ignorance dare not come:

O happy Earth, reality of Heaven!

Genius has seen thee in her passionate dreams,

And dim forebodings of thy loveliness,


Haunting the human heart, have there entwined

Those rooted hopes, that the proud Power of Evil

Shall not for ever on this fairest world

Shake pestilence and war, or that his slaves

With blasphemy for prayer, and human blood


For sacrifice, before his shrine for ever

In adoration bend, or Erebus

With all its banded fiends shall not uprise

To overwhelm in envy and revenge

The dauntless and the good, who dare to hurl


Defiance at his throne, girt tho’ it be

With Death’s omnipotence. Thou hast beheld

His empire, o’er the present and the past;

It was a desolate sight — now gaze on mine,

Futurity. Thou hoary giant Time,


Render thou up thy half-devoured babes —

And from the cradles of eternity,

Where millions lie lulled to their portioned sleep

By the deep murmuring stream of passing things,

Tear thou that gloomy shroud. — Spirit, behold

Thy glorious destiny!


The Spirit saw

The vast frame of the renovated world

Smile in the lap of Chaos, and the sense

Of hope thro’ her fine texture did suffuse

Such varying glow, as summer evening casts


On undulating clouds and deepening lakes.

Like the vague sighings of a wind at even,

That wakes the wavelets of the slumbering sea

And dies on the creation of its breath,

And sinks and rises, fails and swells by fits,


Was the sweet stream of thought that with wild motion

Flowed o’er the Spirit’s human sympathies.

The mighty tide of thought had paused awhile,

Which from the Daemon now like Ocean’s stream

Again began to pour. —

To me is given


The wonders of the human world to keep —

Space, matter, time and mind — let the sight

Renew and strengthen all thy failing hope.

All things are recreated, and the flame

Of consentaneous love inspires all life:


The fertile bosom of the earth gives suck

To myriads, who still grow beneath her care,

Rewarding her with their pure perfectness:

The balmy breathings of the wind inhale

Her virtues, and diffuse them all abroad:


Health floats amid the gentle atmosphere,

Glows in the fruits, and mantles on the stream;

No storms deform the beaming brow of heaven,

Nor scatter in the freshness of its pride

The foliage of the undecaying trees;


But fruits are ever ripe, flowers ever fair,

And Autumn proudly bears her matron grace,

Kindling a flush on the fair cheek of Spring,

Whose virgin bloom beneath the ruddy fruit

Reflects its tint and blushes into love.


The habitable earth is full of bliss;

Those wastes of frozen billows that were hurled

By everlasting snow-storms round the poles,

Where matter dared not vegetate nor live,

But ceaseless frost round the vast solitude


Bound its broad zone of stillness, are unloosed;

And fragrant zephyrs there from spicy isles

Ruffle the placid ocean-deep, that rolls

Its broad, bright surges to the sloping sand,

Whose roar is wakened into echoings sweet


To murmur through the heaven-breathing groves

And melodise with man’s blest nature there.

The vast tract of the parched and sandy waste

Now teems with countless rills and shady woods,

Corn-fields and pastures and white cottages;


And where the startled wilderness did hear

A savage conqueror stained in kindred blood,

Hymmng his victory, or the milder snake

Crushing the bones of some frail antelope

Within his brazen folds — the dewy lawn,


Offering sweet incense to the sunrise, smiles

To see a babe before his mother’s door,

Share with the green and golden basilisk

That comes to lick his feet, his morning’s meal.

Those trackless deeps, where many a weary sail


Has seen, above the illimitable plain,

Morning on night and night on morning rise,

Whilst still no land to greet the wanderer spread

Its shadowy mountains on the sunbright sea,

Where the loud roarings of the tempest-waves


So long have mingled with the gusty wind

In melancholy loneliness, and swept

The desert of those ocean solitudes,

But vocal to the sea-bird’s harrowing shriek,

The bellowing monster, and the rushing storm,


Now to the sweet and many-mingling sounds

Of kindliest human impulses respond:

Those lonely realms bright garden-isles begem,

With lightsome clouds and shining seas between,

And fertile valleys resonant with bliss,


Whilst green woods overcanopy the wave,

Which like a toil-worn labourer leaps to shore,

To meet the kisses of the flowerets there.

Man chief perceives the change, his being notes

The gradual renovation, and defines


Each movement of its progress on his mind.

Man, where the gloom of the long polar night

Lowered o’er the snow-clad rocks and frozen soil,

Where scarce the hardiest herb that braves the frost

Basked in the moonlight’s ineffectual glow,


Shrank with the plants, and darkened with the night;

Nor where the tropics bound the realms of day

With a broad belt of mingling cloud and flame,

Where blue mists through the unmoving atmosphere

Scattered the seeds of pestilence, and fed


Unnatural vegetation, where the land

Teemed with all earthquake, tempest and disease,

Was man a nobler being; slavery

Had crushed him to his country’s blood-stained dust.

Even where the milder zone afforded man


A seeming shelter, yet contagion there,

Blighting his being with unnumbered ills,

Spread like a quenchless fire; nor truth availed

Till late to arrest its progress, or create

That peace which first in bloodless victory waved


Her snowy standard o’er this favoured clime:

There man was long the train-bearer of slaves,

The mimic of surrounding misery,

The jackal of ambition’s lion-rage,

The bloodhound of religion’s hungry zeal.


Here now the human being stands adorning

This loveliest earth with taintless body and mind;

Blest from his birth with all bland impulses,

Which gently in his noble bosom wake

All kindly passions and all pure desires.


Him, still from hope to hope the bliss pursuing,

Which from the exhaustless lore of human weal

Dawns on the virtuous mind, the thoughts that rise

In time-destroying infiniteness gift

With self-enshrined eternity, that mocks


The unprevailing hoariness of age,

And man, once fleeting o’er the transient scene

Swift as an unremembered vision, stands

Immortal upon earth: no longer now

He slays the beast that sports around his dwelling


And horribly devours its mangled flesh,

Or drinks its vital blood, which like a stream

Of poison thro’ his fevered veins did flow

Feeding a plague that secretly consumed

His feeble frame, and kindling in his mind


Hatred, despair, and fear and vain belief,

The germs of misery, death, disease and crime.

No longer now the winged habitants,

That in the woods their sweet lives sing away,

Flee from the form of man; but gather round,


And prune their sunny feathers on the hands

Which little children stretch in friendly sport

Towards these dreadless partners of their play.

All things are void of terror: man has lost

His desolating privilege, and stands


An equal amidst equals: happiness

And science dawn though late upon the earth;

Peace cheers the mind, health renovates the frame;

Disease and pleasure cease to mingle here,

Reason and passion cease to combat there;


Whilst mind unfettered o’er the earth extends

Its all-subduing energies, and wields

The sceptre of a vast dominion there.

Mild is the slow necessity of death:

The tranquil spirit fails beneath its grasp,


Without a groan, almost without a fear,

Resigned in peace to the necessity,

Calm as a voyager to some distant land,

And full of wonder, full of hope as he.

The deadly germs of languor and disease


Waste in the human frame, and Nature gifts

With choicest boons her human worshippers.

How vigorous now the athletic form of age!

How clear its open and unwrinkled brow!

Where neither avarice, cunning, pride, or care,


Had stamped the seal of grey deformity

On all the mingling lineaments of time.

How lovely the intrepid front of youth!

How sweet the smiles of taintless infancy.

Within the massy prison’s mouldering courts,


Fearless and free the ruddy children play,

Weaving gay chaplets for their innocent brows

With the green ivy and the red wall-flower,

That mock the dungeon’s unavailing gloom;

The ponderous chains, and gratings of strong iron,


There rust amid the accumulated ruins

Now mingling slowly with their native earth:

There the broad beam of day, which feebly once

Lighted the cheek of lean captivity

With a pale and sickly glare, now freely shines


On the pure smiles of infant playfulness:

No more the shuddering voice of hoarse despair

Peals through the echoing vaults, but soothing notes

Of ivy-fingered winds and gladsome birds

And merriment are resonant around.


The fanes of Fear and Falsehood hear no more

The voice that once waked multitudes to war

Thundering thro’ all their aisles: but now respond

To the death dirge of the melancholy wind:

It were a sight of awfulness to see


The works of faith and slavery, so vast,

So sumptuous, yet withal so perishing!

Even as the corpse that rests beneath their wall.

A thousand mourners deck the pomp of death

To-day, the breathing marble glows above


To decorate its memory, and tongues

Are busy of its life: to-morrow, worms

In silence and in darkness seize their prey.

These ruins soon leave not a wreck behind:

Their elements, wide-scattered o’er the globe,


To happier shapes are moulded, and become

Ministrant to all blissful impulses:

Thus human things are perfected, and earth,

Even as a child beneath its mother’s love,

Is strengthened in all excellence, and grows


Fairer and nobler with each passing year.

Now Time his dusky pennons o’er the scene

Closes in steadfast darkness, and the past

Fades from our charmed sight. My task is done:

Thy lore is learned. Earth’s wonders are thine own,


With all the fear and all the hope they bring.

My spells are past: the present now recurs.

Ah me! a pathless wilderness remains

Yet unsubdued by man’s reclaiming hand.

Yet, human Spirit, bravely hold thy course,


Let virtue teach thee firmly to pursue

The gradual paths of an aspiring change:

For birth and life and death, and that strange state

Before the naked powers that thro’ the world

Wander like winds have found a human home,


All tend to perfect happiness, and urge

The restless wheels of being on their way,

Whose flashing spokes, instinct with infinite life,

Bicker and burn to gain their destined goal:

For birth but wakes the universal mind


Whose mighty streams might else in silence flow

Thro’ the vast world, to individual sense

Of outward shows, whose unexperienced shape

New modes of passion to its frame may lend;

Life is its state of action, and the store


Of all events is aggregated there

That variegate the eternal universe;

Death is a gate of dreariness and gloom,

That leads to azure isles and beaming skies

And happy regions of eternal hope.


Therefore, O Spirit! fearlessly bear on:

Though storms may break the primrose on its stalk,

Though frosts may blight the freshness of its bloom,

Yet spring’s awakening breath will woo the earth,

To feed with kindliest dews its favourite flower,


That blooms in mossy banks and darksome glens,

Lighting the green wood with its sunny smile.

Fear not then, Spirit, death’s disrobing hand,

So welcome when the tyrant is awake,

So welcome when the bigot’s hell-torch flares;


’Tis but the voyage of a darksome hour,

The transient gulf-dream of a startling sleep.

For what thou art shall perish utterly,

But what is thine may never cease to be;

Death is no foe to virtue: earth has seen


Love’s brightest roses on the scaffold bloom,

Mingling with freedom’s fadeless laurels there,

And presaging the truth of visioned bliss.

Are there not hopes within thee, which this scene

Of linked and gradual being has confirmed?


Hopes that not vainly thou, and living fires

Of mind as radiant and as pure as thou,

Have shone upon the paths of men — return,

Surpassing Spirit, to that world, where thou

Art destined an eternal war to wage


With tyranny and falsehood, and uproot

The germs of misery from the human heart.

Thine is the hand whose piety would soothe

The thorny pillow of unhappy crime,

Whose impotence an easy pardon gains,


Watching its wanderings as a friend’s disease:

Thine is the brow whose mildness would defy

Its fiercest rage, and brave its sternest will,

When fenced by power and master of the world.

Thou art sincere and good; of resolute mind,


Free from heart-withering custom’s cold control,

Of passion lofty, pure and unsubdued.

Earth’s pride and meanness could not vanquish thee,

And therefore art thou worthy of the boon

Which thou hast now received: virtue shall keep


Thy footsteps in the path that thou hast trod,

And many days of beaming hope shall bless

Thy spotless life of sweet and sacred love.

Go, happy one, and give that bosom joy

Whose sleepless spirit waits to catch


Light, life and rapture from thy smile.

The Daemon called its winged ministers.

Speechless with bliss the Spirit mounts the car,

That rolled beside the crystal battlement,

Bending her beamy eyes in thankfulness.


The burning wheels inflame

The steep descent of Heaven’s untrodden way.

Fast and far the chariot flew:

The mighty globes that rolled

Around the gate of the Eternal Fane


Lessened by slow degrees, and soon appeared

Such tiny twinklers as the planet orbs

That ministering on the solar power

With borrowed light pursued their narrower way.

Earth floated then below:


The chariot paused a moment;

The Spirit then descended:

And from the earth departing

The shadows with swift wings

Speeded like thought upon the light of Heaven.


The Body and the Soul united then,

A gentle start convulsed Ianthe’s frame:

Her veiny eyelids quietly unclosed;

Moveless awhile the dark blue orbs remained:

She looked around in wonder and beheld


Henry, who kneeled in silence by her couch,

Watching her sleep with looks of speechless love,

And the bright beaming stars

That through the casement shone.

_87 Regarding cj. A.C. Bradley.)



The Spirit of Solitude

[Composed at Bishopsgate Heath, near Windsor Park, 1815 (autumn); published, as the title-piece of a slender volume containing other poems (see “Biographical List”, by Baldwin, Cradock and Joy, London, 1816 (March). Reprinted — the first edition being sold out — amongst the “Posthumous Poems”, 1824. Sources of the text are (1) the editio princeps, 1816; (2) “Posthumous Poems”, 1824; (3) “Poetical Works”, 1839, editions 1st and 2nd. For (2) and (3) Mrs. Shelley is responsible.]

Table of Contents


Alastor: or, the Spirit of Solitude.

Note on Alastor, by Mrs. Shelley.


The poem entitled “Alastor” may be considered as allegorical of one of the most interesting situations of the human mind. It represents a youth of uncorrupted feelings and adventurous genius led forth by an imagination inflamed and purified through familiarity with all that is excellent and majestic, to the contemplation of the universe. He drinks deep of the fountains of knowledge, and is still insatiate. The magnificence and beauty of the external world sinks profoundly into the frame of his conceptions, and affords to their modifications at variety not to be exhausted. so long as it is possible for his desires to point towards objects thus infinite and unmeasured, he is joyous, and tranquil, and self-possessed. But the period arrives when these objects cease to suffice. His mind is at length suddenly awakened and thirsts for intercourse with an intelligence similar to itself. He images to himself the Being whom he loves. Conversant with speculations of the sublimest and most perfect natures, the vision in which he embodies his own imaginations unites all of wonderful, or wise, or beautiful, which the poet, the philosopher, or the lover could depicture. The intellectual faculties, the imagination, the functions of sense, have their respective requisitions on the sympathy of corresponding powers in other human beings. The Poet is represented as uniting these requisitions, and attaching them to a single image. He seeks in vain for a prototype of his conception. Blasted by his disappointment, he descends to an untimely grave.

The picture is not barren of instruction to actual men. The Poet’s self-centred seclusion was avenged by the furies of an irresistible passion pursuing him to speedy ruin. But that Power which strikes the luminaries of the world with sudden darkness and extinction, by awakening them to too exquisite a perception of its influences, dooms to a slow and poisonous decay those manner spirits that dare to abjure its dominion. Their destiny is more abject and inglorious as their delinquency is more contemptible and pernicious. They who, deluded by no generous error, instigated by no sacred thirst of doubtful knowledge, duped by no illustrious superstition, loving nothing on this earth, and cherishing no hopes beyond, yet keep aloof from sympathies with their kind, rejoicing neither in human joy nor mourning with human grief; these, and such as they, have their apportioned curse. They languish, because none feel with them their common nature. They are morally dead. They are neither friends, nor lovers, nor fathers, nor citizens of the world, nor benefactors of their country. Among those who attempt to exist without human sympathy, the pure and tender-hearted perish through the intensity and passion of their search after its communities, when the vacancy of their spirit suddenly makes itself felt. All else, selfish, blind, and torpid, are those unforeseeing multitudes who constitute, together with their own, the lasting misery and loneliness of the world. Those who love not their fellow-beings live unfruitful lives, and prepare for their old age a miserable grave.

‘The good die first,

And those whose hearts are dry as summer dust,

Burn to the socket!’

Alastor: or, the Spirit of Solitude.

Earth, Ocean, Air, beloved brotherhood!

If our great Mother has imbued my soul

With aught of natural piety to feel

Your love, and recompense the boon with mine;


If dewy morn, and odorous noon, and even,

With sunset and its gorgeous ministers,

And solemn midnight’s tingling silentness;

If autumn’s hollow sighs in the sere wood,

And winter robing with pure snow and crowns


Of starry ice the grey grass and bare boughs;

If spring’s voluptuous pantings when she breathes

Her first sweet kisses, have been dear to me;

If no bright bird, insect, or gentle beast

I consciously have injured, but still loved


And cherished these my kindred; then forgive

This boast, beloved brethren, and withdraw

No portion of your wonted favour now!

Mother of this unfathomable world!

Favour my solemn song, for I have loved


Thee ever, and thee only; I have watched

Thy shadow, and the darkness of thy steps,

And my heart ever gazes on the depth

Of thy deep mysteries. I have made my bed

In charnels and on coffins, where black death


Keeps record of the trophies won from thee,

Hoping to still these obstinate questionings

Of thee and thine, by forcing some lone ghost,

Thy messenger, to render up the tale

Of what we are. In lone and silent hours,


When night makes a weird sound of its own stillness,

Like an inspired and desperate alchymist

Staking his very life on some dark hope,

Have I mixed awful talk and asking looks

With my most innocent love, until strange tears,


Uniting with those breathless kisses, made

Such magic as compels the charmed night

To render up thy charge: . . . and, though ne’er yet

Thou hast unveiled thy inmost sanctuary,

Enough from incommunicable dream,


And twilight phantasms, and deep noon-day thought,

Has shone within me, that serenely now

And moveless, as a long-forgotten lyre

Suspended in the solitary dome

Of some mysterious and deserted fane,


I wait thy breath, Great Parent, that my strain

May modulate with murmurs of the air,

And motions of the forests and the sea,

And voice of living beings, and woven hymns

Of night and day, and the deep heart of man.


There was a Poet whose untimely tomb

No human hands with pious reverence reared,

But the charmed eddies of autumnal winds

Built o’er his mouldering bones a pyramid

Of mouldering leaves in the waste wilderness:—


A lovely youth — no mourning maiden decked

With weeping flowers, or votive cypress wreath,

The lone couch of his everlasting sleep:—

Gentle, and brave, and generous — no lorn bard

Breathed o’er his dark fate one melodious sigh:


He lived, he died, he sung in solitude.

Strangers have wept to hear his passionate notes,

And virgins, as unknown he passed, have pined

And wasted for fond love of his wild eyes.

The fire of those soft orbs has ceased to burn,


And Silence, too enamoured of that voice,

Locks its mute music in her rugged cell.

By solemn vision, and bright silver dream

His infancy was nurtured. Every sight

And sound from the vast earth and ambient air,


Sent to his heart its choicest impulses.

The fountains of divine philosophy

Fled not his thirsting lips, and all of great,

Or good, or lovely, which the sacred past

In truth or fable consecrates, he felt


And knew. When early youth had passed, he left

His cold fireside and alienated home

To seek strange truths in undiscovered lands.

Many a wide waste and tangled wilderness

Has lured his fearless steps; and he has bought


With his sweet voice and eyes, from savage men,

His rest and food. Nature’s most secret steps

He like her shadow has pursued, where’er

The red volcano overcanopies

Its fields of snow and pinnacles of ice


With burning smoke, or where bitumen lakes

On black bare pointed islets ever beat

With sluggish surge, or where the secret caves,

Rugged and dark, winding among the springs

Of fire and poison, inaccessible


To avarice or pride, their starry domes

Of diamond and of gold expand above

Numberless and immeasurable halls,

Frequent with crystal column, and clear shrines

Of pearl, and thrones radiant with chrysolite.


Nor had that scene of ampler majesty

Than gems or gold, the varying roof of heaven

And the green earth lost in his heart its claims

To love and wonder; he would linger long

In lonesome vales, making the wild his home,


Until the doves and squirrels would partake

From his innocuous hand his bloodless food,

Lured by the gentle meaning of his looks,

And the wild antelope, that starts whene’er

The dry leaf rustles in the brake, suspend

Her timid steps, to gaze upon a form


More graceful than her own.

His wandering step,

Obedient to high thoughts, has visited

The awful ruins of the days of old:

Athens, and Tyre, and Balbec, and the waste


Where stood Jerusalem, the fallen towers

Of Babylon, the eternal pyramids,

Memphis and Thebes, and whatsoe’er of strange,

Sculptured on alabaster obelisk,

Or jasper tomb, or mutilated sphynx,


Dark Aethiopia in her desert hills

Conceals. Among the ruined temples there,

Stupendous columns, and wild images

Of more than man, where marble daemons watch

The Zodiac’s brazen mystery, and dead men


Hang their mute thoughts on the mute walls around,

He lingered, poring on memorials

Of the world’s youth: through the long burning day

Gazed on those speechless shapes; nor, when the moon

Filled the mysterious halls with floating shades


Suspended he that task, but ever gazed

And gazed, till meaning on his vacant mind

Flashed like strong inspiration, and he saw

The thrilling secrets of the birth of time.

Meanwhile an Arab maiden brought his food,


Her daily portion, from her father’s tent,

And spread her matting for his couch, and stole

From duties and repose to tend his steps,

Enamoured, yet not daring for deep awe

To speak her love:— and watched his nightly sleep,


Sleepless herself, to gaze upon his lips

Parted in slumber, whence the regular breath

Of innocent dreams arose; then, when red morn

Made paler the pale moon, to her cold home

Wildered, and wan, and panting, she returned.


The Poet, wandering on, through Arabie,

And Persia, and the wild Carmanian waste,

And o’er the aerial mountains which pour down

Indus and Oxus from their icy caves,

In joy and exultation held his way;


Till in the vale of Cashmire, far within

Its loneliest dell, where odorous plants entwine

Beneath the hollow rocks a natural bower,

Beside a sparkling rivulet he stretched

His languid limbs. A vision on his sleep


There came, a dream of hopes that never yet

Had flushed his cheek. He dreamed a veiled maid

Sate near him, talking in low solemn tones.

Her voice was like the voice of his own soul

Heard in the calm of thought; its music long,


Like woven sounds of streams and breezes, held

His inmost sense suspended in its web

Of many-coloured woof and shifting hues.

Knowledge and truth and virtue were her theme,

And lofty hopes of divine liberty,


Thoughts the most dear to him, and poesy,

Herself a poet. Soon the solemn mood

Of her pure mind kindled through all her frame

A permeating fire; wild numbers then

She raised, with voice stifled in tremulous sobs


Subdued by its own pathos; her fair hands

Were bare alone, sweeping from some strange harp

Strange symphony, and in their branching veins

The eloquent blood told an ineffable tale.

The beating of her heart was heard to fill


The pauses of her music, and her breath

Tumultuously accorded with those fits

Of intermitted song. Sudden she rose,

As if her heart impatiently endured

Its bursting burthen: at the sound he turned,


And saw by the warm light of their own life

Her glowing limbs beneath the sinuous veil

Of woven wind, her outspread arms now bare,

Her dark locks floating in the breath of night,

Her beamy bending eyes, her parted lips


Outstretched, and pale, and quivering eagerly.

His strong heart sunk and sickened with excess

Of love. He reared his shuddering limbs and quelled

His gasping breath, and spread his arms to meet

Her panting bosom: . . . she drew back a while,


Then, yielding to the irresistible joy,

With frantic gesture and short breathless cry

Folded his frame in her dissolving arms.

Now blackness veiled his dizzy eyes, and night

Involved and swallowed up the vision; sleep,


Like a dark flood suspended in its course,

Rolled back its impulse on his vacant brain.

Roused by the shock he started from his trance —

The cold white light of morning, the blue moon

Low in the west, the clear and garish hills,


The distinct valley and the vacant woods,

Spread round him where he stood. Whither have fled

The hues of heaven that canopied his bower

Of yesternight? The sounds that soothed his sleep,

The mystery and the majesty of Earth,


The joy, the exultation? His wan eyes

Gaze on the empty scene as vacantly

As ocean’s moon looks on the moon in heaven.

The spirit of sweet human love has sent

A vision to the sleep of him who spurned


Her choicest gifts. He eagerly pursues

Beyond the realms of dream that fleeting shade;

He overleaps the bounds. Alas! Alas!

Were limbs, and breath, and being intertwined

Thus treacherously? Lost, lost, for ever lost


In the wide pathless desert of dim sleep,

That beautiful shape! Does the dark gate of death

Conduct to thy mysterious paradise,

O Sleep? Does the bright arch of rainbow clouds

And pendent mountains seen in the calm lake,


Lead only to a black and watery depth,

While death’s blue vault, with loathliest vapours hung,

Where every shade which the foul grave exhales

Hides its dead eye from the detested day,

Conducts, O Sleep, to thy delightful realms?


This doubt with sudden tide flowed on his heart;

The insatiate hope which it awakened, stung

His brain even like despair.

While daylight held

The sky, the Poet kept mute conference

With his still soul. At night the passion came,


Like the fierce fiend of a distempered dream,

And shook him from his rest, and led him forth

Into the darkness. — As an eagle, grasped

In folds of the green serpent, feels her breast

Burn with the poison, and precipitates


Through night and day, tempest, and calm, and cloud,

Frantic with dizzying anguish, her blind flight

O’er the wide aery wilderness: thus driven

By the bright shadow of that lovely dream,

Beneath the cold glare of the desolate night,


Through tangled swamps and deep precipitous dells,

Startling with careless step the moonlight snake,

He fled. Red morning dawned upon his flight,

Shedding the mockery of its vital hues

Upon his cheek of death. He wandered on


Till vast Aornos seen from Petra’s steep

Hung o’er the low horizon like a cloud;

Through Balk, and where the desolated tombs

Of Parthian kings scatter to every wind

Their wasting dust, wildly he wandered on,


Day after day a weary waste of hours,

Bearing within his life the brooding care

That ever fed on its decaying flame.

And now his limbs were lean; his scattered hair,

Sered by the autumn of strange suffering


Sung dirges in the wind; his listless hand

Hung like dead bone within its withered skin;

Life, and the lustre that consumed it, shone

As in a furnace burning secretly

From his dark eyes alone. The cottagers,


Who ministered with human charity

His human wants, beheld with wondering awe

Their fleeting visitant. The mountaineer,

Encountering on some dizzy precipice

That spectral form, deemed that the Spirit of wind


With lightning eyes, and eager breath, and feet

Disturbing not the drifted snow, had paused

In its career: the infant would conceal

His troubled visage in his mother’s robe

In terror at the glare of those wild eyes,


To remember their strange light in many a dream

Of after-times; but youthful maidens, taught

By nature, would interpret half the woe

That wasted him, would call him with false names

Brother and friend, would press his pallid hand


At parting, and watch, dim through tears, the path

Of his departure from their father’s door.

At length upon the lone Chorasmian shore

He paused, a wide and melancholy waste

Of putrid marshes. A strong impulse urged


His steps to the sea-shore. A swan was there,

Beside a sluggish stream among the reeds.

It rose as he approached, and, with strong wings

Scaling the upward sky, bent its bright course

High over the immeasurable main.


His eyes pursued its flight:—‘Thou hast a home,

Beautiful bird; thou voyagest to thine home,

Where thy sweet mate will twine her downy neck

With thine, and welcome thy return with eyes

Bright in the lustre of their own fond joy.


And what am I that I should linger here,

With voice far sweeter than thy dying notes,

Spirit more vast than thine, frame more attuned

To beauty, wasting these surpassing powers

In the deaf air, to the blind earth, and heaven


That echoes not my thoughts?’ A gloomy smile

Of desperate hope wrinkled his quivering lips.

For sleep, he knew, kept most relentlessly

Its precious charge, and silent death exposed,

Faithless perhaps as sleep, a shadowy lure,


With doubtful smile mocking its own strange charms.

Startled by his own thoughts he looked around.

There was no fair fiend near him, not a sight

Or sound of awe but in his own deep mind.

A little shallop floating near the shore


Caught the impatient wandering of his gaze.

It had been long abandoned, for its sides

Gaped wide with many a rift, and its frail joints

Swayed with the undulations of the tide.

A restless impulse urged him to embark


And meet lone Death on the drear ocean’s waste;

For well he knew that mighty Shadow loves

The slimy caverns of the populous deep.

The day was fair and sunny; sea and sky

Drank its inspiring radiance, and the wind


Swept strongly from the shore, blackening the waves.

Following his eager soul, the wanderer

Leaped in the boat, he spread his cloak aloft

On the bare mast, and took his lonely seat,

And felt the boat speed o’er the tranquil sea


Like a torn cloud before the hurricane.

As one that in a silver vision floats

Obedient to the sweep of odorous winds

Upon resplendent clouds, so rapidly

Along the dark and ruffled waters fled


The straining boat. — A whirlwind swept it on,

With fierce gusts and precipitating force,

Through the white ridges of the chafed sea.

The waves arose. Higher and higher still

Their fierce necks writhed beneath the tempest’s scourge


Like serpents struggling in a vulture’s grasp.

Calm and rejoicing in the fearful war

Of wave ruining on wave, and blast on blast

Descending, and black flood on whirlpool driven

With dark obliterating course, he sate:


As if their genii were the ministers

Appointed to conduct him to the light

Of those beloved eyes, the Poet sate,

Holding the steady helm. Evening came on,

The beams of sunset hung their rainbow hues


High ‘mid the shifting domes of sheeted spray

That canopied his path o’er the waste deep;

Twilight, ascending slowly from the east,

Entwined in duskier wreaths her braided locks

O’er the fair front and radiant eyes of day;


Night followed, clad with stars. On every side

More horribly the multitudinous streams

Of ocean’s mountainous waste to mutual war

Rushed in dark tumult thundering, as to mock

The calm and spangled sky. The little boat


Still fled before the storm; still fled, like foam

Down the steep cataract of a wintry river;

Now pausing on the edge of the riven wave;

Now leaving far behind the bursting mass

That fell, convulsing ocean: safely fled —


As if that frail and wasted human form,

Had been an elemental god.

At midnight

The moon arose; and lo! the ethereal cliffs

Of Caucasus, whose icy summits shone

Among the stars like sunlight, and around


Whose caverned base the whirlpools and the waves

Bursting and eddying irresistibly

Rage and resound forever. — Who shall save? —

The boat fled on — the boiling torrent drove —

The crags closed round with black and jagged arms,


The shattered mountain overhung the sea,

And faster still, beyond all human speed,

Suspended on the sweep of the smooth wave,

The little boat was driven. A cavern there

Yawned, and amid its slant and winding depths


Ingulfed the rushing sea. The boat fled on

With unrelaxing speed. —‘Vision and Love!’

The Poet cried aloud, ‘I have beheld

The path of thy departure. Sleep and death

Shall not divide us long.’

The boat pursued


The windings of the cavern. Daylight shone

At length upon that gloomy river’s flow;

Now, where the fiercest war among the waves

Is calm, on the unfathomable stream

The boat moved slowly. Where the mountain, riven,


Exposed those black depths to the azure sky,

Ere yet the flood’s enormous volume fell

Even to the base of Caucasus, with sound

That shook the everlasting rocks, the mass

Filled with one whirlpool all that ample chasm:


Stair above stair the eddying waters rose,

Circling immeasurably fast, and laved

With alternating dash the gnarled roots

Of mighty trees, that stretched their giant arms

In darkness over it. I’ the midst was left,


Reflecting, yet distorting every cloud,

A pool of treacherous and tremendous calm.

Seized by the sway of the ascending stream,

With dizzy swiftness, round, and round, and round,

Ridge after ridge the straining boat arose,


Till on the verge of the extremest curve,

Where, through an opening of the rocky bank,

The waters overflow, and a smooth spot

Of glassy quiet mid those battling tides

Is left, the boat paused shuddering. — Shall it sink


Down the abyss? Shall the reverting stress

Of that resistless gulf embosom it?

Now shall it fall? — A wandering stream of wind,

Breathed from the west, has caught the expanded sail,

And, lo! with gentle motion, between banks


Of mossy slope, and on a placid stream,

Beneath a woven grove it sails, and, hark!

The ghastly torrent mingles its far roar,

With the breeze murmuring in the musical woods.

Where the embowering trees recede, and leave


A little space of green expanse, the cove

Is closed by meeting banks, whose yellow flowers

For ever gaze on their own drooping eyes,

Reflected in the crystal calm. The wave

Of the boat’s motion marred their pensive task,


Which naught but vagrant bird, or wanton wind,

Or falling spear-grass, or their own decay

Had e’er disturbed before. The Poet longed

To deck with their bright hues his withered hair,

But on his heart its solitude returned,


And he forbore. Not the strong impulse hid

In those flushed cheeks, bent eyes, and shadowy frame

Had yet performed its ministry: it hung

Upon his life, as lightning in a cloud

Gleams, hovering ere it vanish, ere the floods

Of night close over it.


The noonday sun

Now shone upon the forest, one vast mass

Of mingling shade, whose brown magnificence

A narrow vale embosoms. There, huge caves,

Scooped in the dark base of their aery rocks,


Mocking its moans, respond and roar for ever.

The meeting boughs and implicated leaves

Wove twilight o’er the Poet’s path, as led

By love, or dream, or god, or mightier Death,

He sought in Nature’s dearest haunt some bank,


Her cradle, and his sepulchre. More dark

And dark the shades accumulate. The oak,

Expanding its immense and knotty arms,

Embraces the light beech. The pyramids

Of the tall cedar overarching frame


Most solemn domes within, and far below,

Like clouds suspended in an emerald sky,

The ash and the acacia floating hang

Tremulous and pale. Like restless serpents, clothed

In rainbow and in fire, the parasites,


Starred with ten thousand blossoms, flow around

The grey trunks, and, as gamesome infants’ eyes,

With gentle meanings, and most innocent wiles,

Fold their beams round the hearts of those that love,

These twine their tendrils with the wedded boughs


Uniting their close union; the woven leaves

Make net-work of the dark blue light of day,

And the night’s noontide clearness, mutable

As shapes in the weird clouds. Soft mossy lawns

Beneath these canopies extend their swells,


Fragrant with perfumed herbs, and eyed with blooms

Minute yet beautiful. One darkest glen

Sends from its woods of musk-rose, twined with jasmine,

A soul-dissolving odour to invite

To some more lovely mystery. Through the dell,


Silence and Twilight here, twin-sisters, keep

Their noonday watch, and sail among the shades,

Like vaporous shapes half-seen; beyond, a well,

Dark, gleaming, and of most translucent wave,

Images all the woven boughs above,


And each depending leaf, and every speck

Of azure sky, darting between their chasms;

Nor aught else in the liquid mirror laves

Its portraiture, but some inconstant star

Between one foliaged lattice twinkling fair,


Or painted bird, sleeping beneath the moon,

Or gorgeous insect floating motionless,

Unconscious of the day, ere yet his wings

Have spread their glories to the gaze of noon.

Hither the Poet came. His eyes beheld


Their own wan light through the reflected lines

Of his thin hair, distinct in the dark depth

Of that still fountain; as the human heart,

Gazing in dreams over the gloomy grave,

Sees its own treacherous likeness there. He heard


The motion of the leaves, the grass that sprung

Startled and glanced and trembled even to feel

An unaccustomed presence, and the sound

Of the sweet brook that from the secret springs

Of that dark fountain rose. A Spirit seemed


To stand beside him — clothed in no bright robes

Of shadowy silver or enshrining light,

Borrowed from aught the visible world affords

Of grace, or majesty, or mystery; —

But, undulating woods, and silent well,


And leaping rivulet, and evening gloom

Now deepening the dark shades, for speech assuming,

Held commune with him, as if he and it

Were all that was — only . . . when his regard

Was raised by intense pensiveness, . . . two eyes,


Two starry eyes, hung in the gloom of thought,

And seemed with their serene and azure smiles

To beckon him.

Obedient to the light

That shone within his soul, he went, pursuing

The windings of the dell. — The rivulet,


Wanton and wild, through many a green ravine

Beneath the forest flowed. Sometimes it fell

Among the moss with hollow harmony

Dark and profound. Now on the polished stones

It danced; like childhood laughing as it went:


Then, through the plain in tranquil wanderings crept,

Reflecting every herb and drooping bud

That overhung its quietness. —‘O stream!

Whose source is inaccessibly profound,

Whither do thy mysterious waters tend?


Thou imagest my life. Thy darksome stillness,

Thy dazzling waves, thy loud and hollow gulfs,

Thy searchless fountain, and invisible course

Have each their type in me; and the wide sky.

And measureless ocean may declare as soon


What oozy cavern or what wandering cloud

Contains thy waters, as the universe

Tell where these living thoughts reside, when stretched

Upon thy flowers my bloodless limbs shall waste

I’ the passing wind!’

Beside the grassy shore


Of the small stream he went; he did impress

On the green moss his tremulous step, that caught

Strong shuddering from his burning limbs. As one

Roused by some joyous madness from the couch

Of fever, he did move; yet, not like him,


Forgetful of the grave, where, when the flame

Of his frail exultation shall be spent,

He must descend. With rapid steps he went

Beneath the shade of trees, beside the flow

Of the wild babbling rivulet; and now


The forest’s solemn canopies were changed

For the uniform and lightsome evening sky.

Grey rocks did peep from the spare moss, and stemmed

The struggling brook; tall spires of windlestrae

Threw their thin shadows down the rugged slope,


And nought but gnarled roots of ancient pines

Branchless and blasted, clenched with grasping roots

The unwilling soil. A gradual change was here,

Yet ghastly. For, as fast years flow away,

The smooth brow gathers, and the hair grows thin


And white, and where irradiate dewy eyes

Had shone, gleam stony orbs:— so from his steps

Bright flowers departed, and the beautiful shade

Of the green groves, with all their odorous winds

And musical motions. Calm, he still pursued


The stream, that with a larger volume now

Rolled through the labyrinthine dell; and there

Fretted a path through its descending curves

With its wintry speed. On every side now rose

Rocks, which, in unimaginable forms,


Lifted their black and barren pinnacles

In the light of evening, and its precipice

Obscuring the ravine, disclosed above,

Mid toppling stones, black gulfs and yawning caves,

Whose windings gave ten thousand various tongues


To the loud stream. Lo! where the pass expands

Its stony jaws, the abrupt mountain breaks,

And seems, with its accumulated crags,

To overhang the world: for wide expand

Beneath the wan stars and descending moon


Islanded seas, blue mountains, mighty streams,

Dim tracts and vast, robed in the lustrous gloom

Of leaden-coloured even, and fiery hills

Mingling their flames with twilight, on the verge

Of the remote horizon. The near scene,


In naked and severe simplicity,

Made contrast with the universe. A pine,

Rock-rooted, stretched athwart the vacancy

Its swinging boughs, to each inconstant blast

Yielding one only response, at each pause


In most familiar cadence, with the howl

The thunder and the hiss of homeless streams

Mingling its solemn song, whilst the broad river

Foaming and hurrying o’er its rugged path,

Fell into that immeasurable void


Scattering its waters to the passing winds.

Yet the grey precipice and solemn pine

And torrent were not all; — one silent nook

Was there. Even on the edge of that vast mountain,

Upheld by knotty roots and fallen rocks,


It overlooked in its serenity

The dark earth, and the bending vault of stars.

It was a tranquil spot, that seemed to smile

Even in the lap of horror. Ivy clasped

The fissured stones with its entwining arms,


And did embower with leaves for ever green,

And berries dark, the smooth and even space

Of its inviolated floor, and here

The children of the autumnal whirlwind bore,

In wanton sport, those bright leaves, whose decay,


Red, yellow, or ethereally pale,

Rivals the pride of summer. ’Tis the haunt

Of every gentle wind, whose breath can teach

The wilds to love tranquillity. One step,

One human step alone, has ever broken


The stillness of its solitude:— one voice

Alone inspired its echoes; — even that voice

Which hither came, floating among the winds,

And led the loveliest among human forms

To make their wild haunts the depository


Of all the grace and beauty that endued

Its motions, render up its majesty,

Scatter its music on the unfeeling storm,

And to the damp leaves and blue cavern mould,

Nurses of rainbow flowers and branching moss,


Commit the colours of that varying cheek,

That snowy breast, those dark and drooping eyes.

The dim and horned moon hung low, and poured

A sea of lustre on the horizon’s verge

That overflowed its mountains. Yellow mist


Filled the unbounded atmosphere, and drank

Wan moonlight even to fulness; not a star

Shone, not a sound was heard; the very winds,

Danger’s grim playmates, on that precipice

Slept, clasped in his embrace. — O, storm of death!

Whose sightless speed divides this sullen night: 610

And thou, colossal Skeleton, that, still

Guiding its irresistible career

In thy devastating omnipotence,

Art king of this frail world, from the red field


Of slaughter, from the reeking hospital,

The patriot’s sacred couch, the snowy bed

Of innocence, the scaffold and the throne,

A mighty voice invokes thee. Ruin calls

His brother Death. A rare and regal prey


He hath prepared, prowling around the world;

Glutted with which thou mayst repose, and men

Go to their graves like flowers or creeping worms,

Nor ever more offer at thy dark shrine

The unheeded tribute of a broken heart.


When on the threshold of the green recess

The wanderer’s footsteps fell, he knew that death

Was on him. Yet a little, ere it fled,

Did he resign his high and holy soul

To images of the majestic past,


That paused within his passive being now,

Like winds that bear sweet music, when they breathe

Through some dim latticed chamber. He did place

His pale lean hand upon the rugged trunk

Of the old pine. Upon an ivied stone


Reclined his languid head, his limbs did rest,

Diffused and motionless, on the smooth brink

Of that obscurest chasm; — and thus he lay,

Surrendering to their final impulses

The hovering powers of life. Hope and despair,


The torturers, slept; no mortal pain or fear

Marred his repose; the influxes of sense,

And his own being unalloyed by pain,

Yet feebler and more feeble, calmly fed

The stream of thought, till he lay breathing there


At peace, and faintly smiling:— his last sight

Was the great moon, which o’er the western line

Of the wide world her mighty horn suspended,

With whose dun beams inwoven darkness seemed

To mingle. Now upon the jagged hills


It rests; and still as the divided frame

Of the vast meteor sunk, the Poet’s blood,

That ever beat in mystic sympathy

With nature’s ebb and flow, grew feebler still:

And when two lessening points of light alone


Gleamed through the darkness, the alternate gasp

Of his faint respiration scarce did stir

The stagnate night:— till the minutest ray

Was quenched, the pulse yet lingered in his heart.

It paused — it fluttered. But when heaven remained


Utterly black, the murky shades involved

An image, silent, cold, and motionless,

As their own voiceless earth and vacant air.

Even as a vapour fed with golden beams

That ministered on sunlight, ere the west


Eclipses it, was now that wondrous frame —

No sense, no motion, no divinity —

A fragile lute, on whose harmonious strings

The breath of heaven did wander — a bright stream

Once fed with many-voiced waves — a dream


Of youth, which night and time have quenched for ever,

Still, dark, and dry, and unremembered now.

Oh, for Medea’s wondrous alchemy,

Which wheresoe’er it fell made the earth gleam

With bright flowers, and the wintry boughs exhale


From vernal blooms fresh fragrance! O, that God,

Profuse of poisons, would concede the chalice

Which but one living man has drained, who now,

Vessel of deathless wrath, a slave that feels

No proud exemption in the blighting curse


He bears, over the world wanders for ever,

Lone as incarnate death! O, that the dream

Of dark magician in his visioned cave,

Raking the cinders of a crucible

For life and power, even when his feeble hand


Shakes in its last decay, were the true law

Of this so lovely world! But thou art fled,

Like some frail exhalation; which the dawn

Robes in its golden beams — ah! thou hast fled!

The brave, the gentle and the beautiful,


The child of grace and genius. Heartless things

Are done and said i’ the world, and many worms

And beasts and men live on, and mighty Earth

From sea and mountain, city and wilderness,

In vesper low or joyous orison,


Lifts still its solemn voice:— but thou art fled —

Thou canst no longer know or love the shapes

Of this phantasmal scene, who have to thee

Been purest ministers, who are, alas!

Now thou art not. Upon those pallid lips


So sweet even in their silence, on those eyes

That image sleep in death, upon that form

Yet safe from the worm’s outrage, let no tear

Be shed — not even in thought. Nor, when those hues

Are gone, and those divinest lineaments,


Worn by the senseless wind, shall live alone

In the frail pauses of this simple strain,

Let not high verse, mourning the memory

Of that which is no more, or painting’s woe

Or sculpture, speak in feeble imagery


Their own cold powers. Art and eloquence,

And all the shows o’ the world are frail and vain

To weep a loss that turns their lights to shade.

It is a woe “too deep for tears,” when all

Is reft at once, when some surpassing Spirit,


Whose light adorned the world around it, leaves

Those who remain behind, not sobs or groans,

The passionate tumult of a clinging hope;

But pale despair and cold tranquillity,

Nature’s vast frame, the web of human things,


Birth and the grave, that are not as they were.

_219 Conduct edition 1816. See “Editor’s Notes”.

_530 roots edition 1816: query stumps or trunks. See “Editor’s Notes”.

Note on Alastor, by Mrs. Shelley.

“Alastor” is written in a very different tone from “Queen Mab”. In the latter, Shelley poured out all the cherished speculations of his youth — all the irrepressible emotions of sympathy, censure, and hope, to which the present suffering, and what he considers the proper destiny of his fellow-creatures, gave birth. “Alastor”, on the contrary, contains an individual interest only. A very few years, with their attendant events, had checked the ardour of Shelley’s hopes, though he still thought them well-grounded, and that to advance their fulfilment was the noblest task man could achieve.

This is neither the time nor place to speak of the misfortunes that chequered his life. It will be sufficient to say that, in all he did, he at the time of doing it believed himself justified to his own conscience; while the various ills of poverty and loss of friends brought home to him the sad realities of life. Physical suffering had also considerable influence in causing him to turn his eyes inward; inclining him rather to brood over the thoughts and emotions of his own soul than to glance abroad, and to make, as in “Queen Mab”, the whole universe the object and subject of his song. In the Spring of 1815, an eminent physician pronounced that he was dying rapidly of a consumption; abscesses were formed on his lungs, and he suffered acute spasms. Suddenly a complete change took place; and though through life he was a martyr to pain and debility, every symptom of pulmonary disease vanished. His nerves, which nature had formed sensitive to an unexampled degree, were rendered still more susceptible by the state of his health.

As soon as the peace of 1814 had opened the Continent, he went abroad. He visited some of the more magnificent scenes of Switzerland, and returned to England from Lucerne, by the Reuss and the Rhine. This river-navigation enchanted him. In his favourite poem of “Thalaba”, his imagination had been excited by a description of such a voyage. In the summer of 1815, after a tour along the southern coast of Devonshire and a visit to Clifton, he rented a house on Bishopgate Heath, on the borders of Windsor Forest, where he enjoyed several months of comparative health and tranquil happiness. The later summer months were warm and dry. Accompanied by a few friends, he visited the source of the Thames, making a voyage in a wherry from Windsor to Crichlade. His beautiful stanzas in the churchyard of Lechlade were written on that occasion. “Alastor” was composed on his return. He spent his days under the oak-shades of Windsor Great Park; and the magnificent woodland was a fitting study to inspire the various descriptions of forest scenery we find in the poem.

None of Shelley’s poems is more characteristic than this. The solemn spirit that reigns throughout, the worship of the majesty of nature, the broodings of a poet’s heart in solitude — the mingling of the exulting joy which the various aspects of the visible universe inspires with the sad and struggling pangs which human passion imparts — give a touching interest to the whole. The death which he had often contemplated during the last months as certain and near he here represented in such colours as had, in his lonely musings, soothed his soul to peace. The versification sustains the solemn spirit which breathes throughout: it is peculiarly melodious. The poem ought rather to be considered didactic than narrative: it was the outpouring of his own emotions, embodied in the purest form he could conceive, painted in the ideal hues which his brilliant imagination inspired, and softened by the recent anticipation of death.

The Revolt of Islam

A Poem in Twelve Cantos.

Osais de Broton ethnos aglaiais aptomestha

perainei pros eschaton

ploon nausi d oute pezos ion an eurois

es Uperboreon agona thaumatan odon.

Pind. Pyth. x.

[Composed in the neighbourhood of Bisham Wood, near Great Marlow, Bucks, 1817 (April-September 23); printed, with title (dated 1818), “Laon and Cythna; or, The Revolution of the Golden City: A Vision of the Nineteenth Century”, October, November, 1817, but suppressed, pending revision, by the publishers, C & J. Ollier. (A few copies had got out, but these were recalled, and some recovered.) Published, with a fresh title-page and twenty-seven cancel-leaves, as “The Revolt of Islam”, January 10, 1818. Sources of the text are (1) “Laon and Cythna”, 1818; (2) “The Revolt of Islam”, 1818; (3) “Poetical Works”, 1839, editions 1st and 2nd — both edited by Mrs. Shelley. A copy, with several pages missing, of the “Preface”, the Dedication”, and “Canto 1” of “Laon and Cythna” is amongst the Shelley manuscripts at the Bodleian. For a full collation of this manuscript see Mr. C.D. Locock’s “Examination of the Shelley Manuscripts at the Bodleian Library”. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1903. Two manuscript fragments from the Hunt papers are also extant: one (twenty-four lines) in the possession of Mr. W.M. Rossetti, another (9 23 9 to 29 6) in that of Mr. H. Buxton Forman, C.B. See “The Shelley Library”, pages 83-86, for an account of the copy of “Laon” upon which Shelley worked in revising for publication.]

Table of Contents

Author’s Preface.


To Mary ——.

Canto 1.

Canto 2.

Canto 3.

Canto 4.

Canto 5.

Canto 6.

Canto 7.

Canto 8.

Canto 9.

Canto 10.

Canto 11.

Canto 12.

Note on the “Revolt of Islam”, By Mrs. Shelley.

Author’s Preface.

The Poem which I now present to the world is an attempt from which I scarcely dare to expect success, and in which a writer of established fame might fail without disgrace. It is an experiment on the temper of the public mind, as to how far a thirst for a happier condition of moral and political society survives, among the enlightened and refined, the tempests which have shaken the age in which we live. I have sought to enlist the harmony of metrical language, the ethereal combinations of the fancy, the rapid and subtle transitions of human passion, all those elements which essentially compose a Poem, in the cause of a liberal and comprehensive morality; and in the view of kindling within the bosoms of my readers a virtuous enthusiasm for those doctrines of liberty and justice, that faith and hope in something good, which neither violence nor misrepresentation nor prejudice can ever totally extinguish among mankind.

For this purpose I have chosen a story of human passion in its most universal character, diversified with moving and romantic adventures, and appealing, in contempt of all artificial opinions or institutions, to the common sympathies of every human breast. I have made no attempt to recommend the motives which I would substitute for those at present governing mankind, by methodical and systematic argument. I would only awaken the feelings, so that the reader should see the beauty of true virtue, and be incited to those inquiries which have led to my moral and political creed, and that of some of the sublimest intellects in the world. The Poem therefore (with the exception of the first canto, which is purely introductory) is narrative, not didactic. It is a succession of pictures illustrating the growth and progress of individual mind aspiring after excellence, and devoted to the love of mankind; its influence in refining and making pure the most daring and uncommon impulses of the imagination, the understanding, and the senses; its impatience at ‘all the oppressions which are done under the sun;’ its tendency to awaken public hope, and to enlighten and improve mankind; the rapid effects of the application of that tendency; the awakening of an immense nation from their slavery and degradation to a true sense of moral dignity and freedom; the bloodless dethronement of their oppressors, and the unveiling of the religious frauds by which they had been deluded into submission; the tranquillity of successful patriotism, and the universal toleration and benevolence of true philanthropy; the treachery and barbarity of hired soldiers; vice not the object of punishment and hatred, but kindness and pity; the faithlessness of tyrants; the confederacy of the Rulers of the World and the restoration of the expelled Dynasty by foreign arms; the massacre and extermination of the Patriots, and the victory of established power; the consequences of legitimate despotism — civil war, famine, plague, superstition, and an utter extinction of the domestic affections; the judicial murder of the advocates of Liberty; the temporary triumph of oppression, that secure earnest of its final and inevitable fall; the transient nature of ignorance and error and the eternity of genius and virtue. Such is the series of delineations of which the Poem consists. And, if the lofty passions with which it has been my scope to distinguish this story shall not excite in the reader a generous impulse, an ardent thirst for excellence, an interest profound and strong such as belongs to no meaner desires, let not the failure be imputed to a natural unfitness for human sympathy in these sublime and animating themes. It is the business of the Poet to communicate to others the pleasure and the enthusiasm arising out of those images and feelings in the vivid presence of which within his own mind consists at once his inspiration and his reward.

The panic which, like an epidemic transport, seized upon all classes of men during the excesses consequent upon the French Revolution, is gradually giving place to sanity. It has ceased to be believed that whole generations of mankind ought to consign themselves to a hopeless inheritance of ignorance and misery, because a nation of men who had been dupes and slaves for centuries were incapable of conducting themselves with the wisdom and tranquillity of freemen so soon as some of their fetters were partially loosened. That their conduct could not have been marked by any other characters than ferocity and thoughtlessness is the historical fact from which liberty derives all its recommendations, and falsehood the worst features of its deformity. There is a reflux in the tide of human things which bears the shipwrecked hopes of men into a secure haven after the storms are past. Methinks, those who now live have survived an age of despair.

The French Revolution may be considered as one of those manifestations of a general state of feeling among civilised mankind produced by a defect of correspondence between the knowledge existing in society and the improvement or gradual abolition of political institutions. The year 1788 may be assumed as the epoch of one of the most important crises produced by this feeling. The sympathies connected with that event extended to every bosom. The most generous and amiable natures were those which participated the most extensively in these sympathies. But such a degree of unmingled good was expected as it was impossible to realise. If the Revolution had been in every respect prosperous, then misrule and superstition would lose half their claims to our abhorrence, as fetters which the captive can unlock with the slightest motion of his fingers, and which do not eat with poisonous rust into the soul. The revulsion occasioned by the atrocities of the demagogues, and the re-establishment of successive tyrannies in France, was terrible, and felt in the remotest corner of the civilised world. Could they listen to the plea of reason who had groaned under the calamities of a social state according to the provisions of which one man riots in luxury whilst another famishes for want of bread? Can he who the day before was a trampled slave suddenly become liberal-minded, forbearing, and independent? This is the consequence of the habits of a state of society to be produced by resolute perseverance and indefatigable hope, and long-suffering and long-believing courage, and the systematic efforts of generations of men of intellect and virtue. Such is the lesson which experience teaches now. But, on the first reverses of hope in the progress of French liberty, the sanguine eagerness for good overleaped the solution of these questions, and for a time extinguished itself in the unexpectedness of their result. Thus, many of the most ardent and tender-hearted of the worshippers of public good have been morally ruined by what a partial glimpse of the events they deplored appeared to show as the melancholy desolation of all their cherished hopes. Hence gloom and misanthropy have become the characteristics of the age in which we live, the solace of a disappointment that unconsciously finds relief only in the wilful exaggeration of its own despair. This influence has tainted the literature of the age with the hopelessness of the minds from which it flows. Metaphysics (I ought to except sir W. Drummond’s “Academical Questions”; a volume of very acute and powerful metaphysical criticism.), and inquiries into moral and political science, have become little else than vain attempts to revive exploded superstitions, or sophisms like those of Mr. Malthus (It is remarkable, as a symptom of the revival of public hope, that Mr. Malthus has assigned, in the later editions of his work, an indefinite dominion to moral restraint over the principle of population. This concession answers all the inferences from his doctrine unfavourable to human improvement, and reduces the “Essay on Population” to a commentary illustrative of the unanswerableness of “Political Justice”.), calculated to lull the oppressors of mankind into a security of everlasting triumph. Our works of fiction and poetry have been overshadowed by the same infectious gloom. But mankind appear to me to be emerging from their trance. I am aware, methinks, of a slow, gradual, silent change. In that belief I have composed the following Poem.

I do not presume to enter into competition with our greatest contemporary Poets. Yet I am unwilling to tread in the footsteps of any who have preceded me. I have sought to avoid the imitation of any style of language or versification peculiar to the original minds of which it is the character; designing that, even if what I have produced be worthless, it should still be properly my own. Nor have I permitted any system relating to mere words to divert the attention of the reader, from whatever interest I may have succeeded in creating, to my own ingenuity in contriving to disgust them according to the rules of criticism. I have simply clothed my thoughts in what appeared to me the most obvious and appropriate language. A person familiar with nature, and with the most celebrated productions of the human mind, can scarcely err in following the instinct, with respect to selection of language, produced by that familiarity.

There is an education peculiarly fitted for a Poet, without which genius and sensibility can hardly fill the circle of their capacities. No education, indeed, can entitle to this appellation a dull and unobservant mind, or one, though neither dull nor unobservant, in which the channels of communication between thought and expression have been obstructed or closed. How far it is my fortune to belong to either of the latter classes I cannot know. I aspire to be something better. The circumstances of my accidental education have been favourable to this ambition. I have been familiar from boyhood with mountains and lakes and the sea, and the solitude of forests: Danger, which sports upon the brink of precipices, has been my playmate. I have trodden the glaciers of the Alps, and lived under the eye of Mont Blanc. I have been a wanderer among distant fields. I have sailed down mighty rivers, and seen the sun rise and set, and the stars come forth, whilst I have sailed night and day down a rapid stream among mountains. I have seen populous cities, and have watched the passions which rise and spread, and sink and change, amongst assembled multitudes of men. I have seen the theatre of the more visible ravages of tyranny and war, cities and villages reduced to scattered groups of black and roofless houses, and the naked inhabitants sitting famished upon their desolated thresholds. I have conversed with living men of genius. The poetry of ancient Greece and Rome, and modern Italy, and our own country, has been to me, like external nature, a passion and an enjoyment. Such are the sources from which the materials for the imagery of my Poem have been drawn. I have considered Poetry in its most comprehensive sense; and have read the Poets and the Historians and the Metaphysicians (In this sense there may be such a thing as perfectibility in works of fiction, notwithstanding the concession often made by the advocates of human improvement, that perfectibility is a term applicable only to science.) whose writings have been accessible to me, and have looked upon the beautiful and majestic scenery of the earth, as common sources of those elements which it is the province of the Poet to embody and combine. Yet the experience and the feelings to which I refer do not in themselves constitute men Poets, but only prepares them to be the auditors of those who are. How far I shall be found to possess that more essential attribute of Poetry, the power of awakening in others sensations like those which animate my own bosom, is that which, to speak sincerely, I know not; and which, with an acquiescent and contented spirit, I expect to be taught by the effect which I shall produce upon those whom I now address.

I have avoided, as I have said before, the imitation of any contemporary style. But there must be a resemblance, which does not depend upon their own will, between all the writers of any particular age. They cannot escape from subjection to a common influence which arises out of an infinite combination of circumstances belonging to the times in which they live; though each is in a degree the author of the very influence by which his being is thus pervaded. Thus, the tragic poets of the age of Pericles; the Italian revivers of ancient learning; those mighty intellects of our own country that succeeded the Reformation, the translators of the Bible, Shakespeare, Spenser, the Dramatists of the reign of Elizabeth, and Lord Bacon (Milton stands alone in the age which he illumined.); the colder spirits of the interval that succeeded; — all resemble each other, and differ from every other in their several classes. In this view of things, Ford can no more be called the imitator of Shakespeare than Shakespeare the imitator of Ford. There were perhaps few other points of resemblance between these two men than that which the universal and inevitable influence of their age produced. And this is an influence which neither the meanest scribbler nor the sublimest genius of any era can escape; and which I have not attempted to escape.

I have adopted the stanza of Spenser (a measure inexpressibly beautiful), not because I consider it a finer model of poetical harmony than the blank verse of Shakespeare and Milton, but because in the latter there is no shelter for mediocrity; you must either succeed or fail. This perhaps an aspiring spirit should desire. But I was enticed also by the brilliancy and magnificence of sound which a mind that has been nourished upon musical thoughts can produce by a just and harmonious arrangement of the pauses of this measure. Yet there will be found some instances where I have completely failed in this attempt, and one, which I here request the reader to consider as an erratum, where there is left, most inadvertently, an alexandrine in the middle of a stanza.

But in this, as in every other respect, I have written fearlessly. It is the misfortune of this age that its Writers, too thoughtless of immortality, are exquisitely sensible to temporary praise or blame. They write with the fear of Reviews before their eyes. This system of criticism sprang up in that torpid interval when Poetry was not. Poetry, and the art which professes to regulate and limit its powers, cannot subsist together. Longinus could not have been the contemporary of Homer, nor Boileau of Horace. Yet this species of criticism never presumed to assert an understanding of its own; it has always, unlike true science, followed, not preceded, the opinion of mankind, and would even now bribe with worthless adulation some of our greatest Poets to impose gratuitous fetters on their own imaginations, and become unconscious accomplices in the daily murder of all genius either not so aspiring or not so fortunate as their own. I have sought therefore to write, as I believe that Homer, Shakespeare, and Milton wrote, with an utter disregard of anonymous censure. I am certain that calumny and misrepresentation, though it may move me to compassion, cannot disturb my peace. I shall understand the expressive silence of those sagacious enemies who dare not trust themselves to speak. I shall endeavour to extract, from the midst of insult and contempt and maledictions, those admonitions which may tend to correct whatever imperfections such censurers may discover in this my first serious appeal to the Public. If certain Critics were as clear-sighted as they are malignant, how great would be the benefit to be derived from their virulent writings! As it is, I fear I shall be malicious enough to be amused with their paltry tricks and lame invectives. Should the Public judge that my composition is worthless, I shall indeed bow before the tribunal from which Milton received his crown of immortality, and shall seek to gather, if I live, strength from that defeat, which may nerve me to some new enterprise of thought which may not be worthless. I cannot conceive that Lucretius, when he meditated that poem whose doctrines are yet the basis of our metaphysical knowledge, and whose eloquence has been the wonder of mankind, wrote in awe of such censure as the hired sophists of the impure and superstitious noblemen of Rome might affix to what he should produce. It was at the period when Greece was led captive and Asia made tributary to the Republic, fast verging itself to slavery and ruin, that a multitude of Syrian captives, bigoted to the worship of their obscene Ashtaroth, and the unworthy successors of Socrates and Zeno, found there a precarious subsistence by administering, under the name of freedmen, to the vices and vanities of the great. These wretched men were skilled to plead, with a superficial but plausible set of sophisms, in favour of that contempt for virtue which is the portion of slaves, and that faith in portents, the most fatal substitute for benevolence in the imaginations of men, which, arising from the enslaved communities of the East, then first began to overwhelm the western nations in its stream. Were these the kind of men whose disapprobation the wise and lofty-minded Lucretius should have regarded with a salutary awe? The latest and perhaps the meanest of those who follow in his footsteps would disdain to hold life on such conditions.

The Poem now presented to the Public occupied little more than six months in the composition. That period has been devoted to the task with unremitting ardour and enthusiasm. I have exercised a watchful and earnest criticism on my work as it grew under my hands. I would willingly have sent it forth to the world with that perfection which long labour and revision is said to bestow. But I found that, if I should gain something in exactness by this method, I might lose much of the newness and energy of imagery and language as it flowed fresh from my mind. And, although the mere composition occupied no more than six months, the thoughts thus arranged were slowly gathered in as many years.

I trust that the reader will carefully distinguish between those opinions which have a dramatic propriety in reference to the characters which they are designed to elucidate, and such as are properly my own. The erroneous and degrading idea which men have conceived of a Supreme Being, for instance, is spoken against, but not the Supreme Being itself. The belief which some superstitious persons whom I have brought upon the stage entertain of the Deity, as injurious to the character of his benevolence, is widely different from my own. In recommending also a great and important change in the spirit which animates the social institutions of mankind, I have avoided all flattery to those violent and malignant passions of our nature which are ever on the watch to mingle with and to alloy the most beneficial innovations. There is no quarter given to Revenge, or Envy, or Prejudice. Love is celebrated everywhere as the sole law which should govern the moral world.


There is no danger to a man that knows

What life and death is: there’s not any law

Exceeds his knowledge; neither is it lawful

That he should stoop to any other law.


To Mary ——.


So now my summer-task is ended, Mary,

And I return to thee, mine own heart’s home;

As to his Queen some victor Knight of Faery,

Earning bright spoils for her enchanted dome;


Nor thou disdain, that ere my fame become

A star among the stars of mortal night,

If it indeed may cleave its natal gloom,

Its doubtful promise thus I would unite

With thy beloved name, thou Child of love and light.


The toil which stole from thee so many an hour,

Is ended — and the fruit is at thy feet!

No longer where the woods to frame a bower

With interlaced branches mix and meet,

Or where with sound like many voices sweet,


Waterfalls leap among wild islands green,

Which framed for my lone boat a lone retreat

Of moss-grown trees and weeds, shall I be seen;

But beside thee, where still my heart has ever been.


Thoughts of great deeds were mine, dear Friend, when first


The clouds which wrap this world from youth did pass.

I do remember well the hour which burst

My spirit’s sleep. A fresh May-dawn it was,

When I walked forth upon the glittering grass,

And wept, I knew not why; until there rose


From the near schoolroom, voices that, alas!

Were but one echo from a world of woes —

The harsh and grating strife of tyrants and of foes.


And then I clasped my hands and looked around —

— But none was near to mock my streaming eyes,


Which poured their warm drops on the sunny ground —

So without shame I spake:—‘I will be wise,

And just, and free, and mild, if in me lies

Such power, for I grow weary to behold

The selfish and the strong still tyrannise


Without reproach or check.’ I then controlled

My tears, my heart grew calm, and I was meek and bold.


And from that hour did I with earnest thought

Heap knowledge from forbidden mines of lore;

Yet nothing that my tyrants knew or taught


I cared to learn, but from that secret store

Wrought linked armour for my soul, before

It might walk forth to war among mankind;

Thus power and hope were strengthened more and more

Within me, till there came upon my mind


A sense of loneliness, a thirst with which I pined.


Alas, that love should be a blight and snare

To those who seek all sympathies in one! —

Such once I sought in vain; then black despair,

The shadow of a starless night, was thrown


Over the world in which I moved alone:—

Yet never found I one not false to me,

Hard hearts, and cold, like weights of icy stone

Which crushed and withered mine, that could not be

Aught but a lifeless clod, until revived by thee.


Thou Friend, whose presence on my wintry heart

Fell, like bright Spring upon some herbless plain;

How beautiful and calm and free thou wert

In thy young wisdom, when the mortal chain

Of Custom thou didst burst and rend in twain,


And walked as free as light the clouds among,

Which many an envious slave then breathed in vain

From his dim dungeon, and my spirit sprung

To meet thee from the woes which had begirt it long!


No more alone through the world’s wilderness,


Although I trod the paths of high intent,

I journeyed now: no more companionless,

Where solitude is like despair, I went. —

There is the wisdom of a stern content

When Poverty can blight the just and good,


When Infamy dares mock the innocent,

And cherished friends turn with the multitude

To trample: this was ours, and we unshaken stood!


Now has descended a serener hour,

And with inconstant fortune, friends return;


Though suffering leaves the knowledge and the power

Which says:— Let scorn be not repaid with scorn.

And from thy side two gentle babes are born

To fill our home with smiles, and thus are we

Most fortunate beneath life’s beaming morn;


And these delights, and thou, have been to me

The parents of the Song I consecrate to thee.


Is it that now my inexperienced fingers

But strike the prelude of a loftier strain?

Or, must the lyre on which my spirit lingers


Soon pause in silence, ne’er to sound again,

Though it might shake the Anarch Custom’s reign,

And charm the minds of men to Truth’s own sway

Holier than was Amphion’s? I would fain

Reply in hope — but I am worn away,


And Death and Love are yet contending for their prey.


And what art thou? I know, but dare not speak:

Time may interpret to his silent years.

Yet in the paleness of thy thoughtful cheek,

And in the light thine ample forehead wears,


And in thy sweetest smiles, and in thy tears,

And in thy gentle speech, a prophecy

Is whispered, to subdue my fondest fears:

And through thine eyes, even in thy soul I see

A lamp of vestal fire burning internally.


They say that thou wert lovely from thy birth,

Of glorious parents thou aspiring Child.

I wonder not — for One then left this earth

Whose life was like a setting planet mild,

Which clothed thee in the radiance undefiled


Of its departing glory; still her fame

Shines on thee, through the tempests dark and wild

Which shake these latter days; and thou canst claim

The shelter, from thy Sire, of an immortal name.


One voice came forth from many a mighty spirit,


Which was the echo of three thousand years;

And the tumultuous world stood mute to hear it,

As some lone man who in a desert hears

The music of his home:— unwonted fears

Fell on the pale oppressors of our race,


And Faith, and Custom, and low-thoughted cares,

Like thunder-stricken dragons, for a space

Left the torn human heart, their food and dwelling-place.


Truth’s deathless voice pauses among mankind!

If there must be no response to my cry —


If men must rise and stamp with fury blind

On his pure name who loves them — thou and I,

Sweet friend! can look from our tranquillity

Like lamps into the world’s tempestuous night —

Two tranquil stars, while clouds are passing by


Which wrap them from the foundering seaman’s sight,

That burn from year to year with unextinguished light.

_54 cloaking edition 1818. See notes at end.

Canto 1.


When the last hope of trampled France had failed

Like a brief dream of unremaining glory,

From visions of despair I rose, and scaled


The peak of an aerial promontory,

Whose caverned base with the vexed surge was hoary;

And saw the golden dawn break forth, and waken

Each cloud, and every wave:— but transitory

The calm; for sudden, the firm earth was shaken,


As if by the last wreck its frame were overtaken.


So as I stood, one blast of muttering thunder

Burst in far peals along the waveless deep,

When, gathering fast, around, above, and under,

Long trains of tremulous mist began to creep,


Until their complicating lines did steep

The orient sun in shadow:— not a sound

Was heard; one horrible repose did keep

The forests and the floods, and all around

Darkness more dread than night was poured upon the ground.


Hark! ’tis the rushing of a wind that sweeps

Earth and the ocean. See! the lightnings yawn

Deluging Heaven with fire, and the lashed deeps

Glitter and boil beneath: it rages on,

One mighty stream, whirlwind and waves upthrown,


Lightning, and hail, and darkness eddying by.

There is a pause — the sea-birds, that were gone

Into their caves to shriek, come forth, to spy

What calm has fall’n on earth, what light is in the sky.


For, where the irresistible storm had cloven


That fearful darkness, the blue sky was seen

Fretted with many a fair cloud interwoven

Most delicately, and the ocean green,

Beneath that opening spot of blue serene,

Quivered like burning emerald; calm was spread


On all below; but far on high, between

Earth and the upper air, the vast clouds fled,

Countless and swift as leaves on autumn’s tempest shed.


For ever, as the war became more fierce

Between the whirlwinds and the rack on high,


That spot grew more serene; blue light did pierce

The woof of those white clouds, which seem to lie

Far, deep, and motionless; while through the sky

The pallid semicircle of the moon

Passed on, in slow and moving majesty;


Its upper horn arrayed in mists, which soon

But slowly fled, like dew beneath the beams of noon.


I could not choose but gaze; a fascination

Dwelt in that moon, and sky, and clouds, which drew

My fancy thither, and in expectation


Of what I knew not, I remained:— the hue

Of the white moon, amid that heaven so blue,

Suddenly stained with shadow did appear;

A speck, a cloud, a shape, approaching grew,

Like a great ship in the sun’s sinking sphere


Beheld afar at sea, and swift it came anear.


Even like a bark, which from a chasm of mountains,

Dark, vast and overhanging, on a river

Which there collects the strength of all its fountains,

Comes forth, whilst with the speed its frame doth quiver,


Sails, oars and stream, tending to one endeavour;

So, from that chasm of light a winged Form

On all the winds of heaven approaching ever

Floated, dilating as it came; the storm

Pursued it with fierce blasts, and lightnings swift and warm.


A course precipitous, of dizzy speed,

Suspending thought and breath; a monstrous sight!

For in the air do I behold indeed

An Eagle and a Serpent wreathed in fight:—

And now, relaxing its impetuous flight,


Before the aerial rock on which I stood,

The Eagle, hovering, wheeled to left and right,

And hung with lingering wings over the flood,

And startled with its yells the wide air’s solitude.


A shaft of light upon its wings descended,


And every golden feather gleamed therein —

Feather and scale, inextricably blended.

The Serpent’s mailed and many-coloured skin

Shone through the plumes its coils were twined within

By many a swoln and knotted fold, and high


And far, the neck, receding lithe and thin,

Sustained a crested head, which warily

Shifted and glanced before the Eagle’s steadfast eye.


Around, around, in ceaseless circles wheeling

With clang of wings and scream, the Eagle sailed


Incessantly — sometimes on high concealing

Its lessening orbs, sometimes as if it failed,

Drooped through the air; and still it shrieked and wailed,

And casting back its eager head, with beak

And talon unremittingly assailed


The wreathed Serpent, who did ever seek

Upon his enemy’s heart a mortal wound to wreak.


What life, what power, was kindled and arose

Within the sphere of that appalling fray!

For, from the encounter of those wondrous foes,


A vapour like the sea’s suspended spray

Hung gathered; in the void air, far away,

Floated the shattered plumes; bright scales did leap,

Where’er the Eagle’s talons made their way,

Like sparks into the darkness; — as they sweep,


Blood stains the snowy foam of the tumultuous deep.


Swift chances in that combat — many a check,

And many a change, a dark and wild turmoil;

Sometimes the Snake around his enemy’s neck

Locked in stiff rings his adamantine coil,


Until the Eagle, faint with pain and toil,

Remitted his strong flight, and near the sea

Languidly fluttered, hopeless so to foil

His adversary, who then reared on high

His red and burning crest, radiant with victory.


Then on the white edge of the bursting surge,

Where they had sunk together, would the Snake

Relax his suffocating grasp, and scourge

The wind with his wild writhings; for to break

That chain of torment, the vast bird would shake


The strength of his unconquerable wings

As in despair, and with his sinewy neck,

Dissolve in sudden shock those linked rings —

Then soar, as swift as smoke from a volcano springs.


Wile baffled wile, and strength encountered strength,


Thus long, but unprevailing:— the event

Of that portentous fight appeared at length:

Until the lamp of day was almost spent

It had endured, when lifeless, stark, and rent,

Hung high that mighty Serpent, and at last


Fell to the sea, while o’er the continent

With clang of wings and scream the Eagle passed,

Heavily borne away on the exhausted blast.


And with it fled the tempest, so that ocean

And earth and sky shone through the atmosphere —


Only, ’twas strange to see the red commotion

Of waves like mountains o’er the sinking sphere

Of sunset sweep, and their fierce roar to hear

Amid the calm: down the steep path I wound

To the sea-shore — the evening was most clear


And beautiful, and there the sea I found

Calm as a cradled child in dreamless slumber bound.


There was a Woman, beautiful as morning,

Sitting beneath the rocks, upon the sand

Of the waste sea — fair as one flower adorning


An icy wilderness; each delicate hand

Lay crossed upon her bosom, and the band

Of her dark hair had fall’n, and so she sate

Looking upon the waves; on the bare strand

Upon the sea-mark a small boat did wait,


Fair as herself, like Love by Hope left desolate.


It seemed that this fair Shape had looked upon

That unimaginable fight, and now

That her sweet eyes were weary of the sun,

As brightly it illustrated her woe;


For in the tears which silently to flow

Paused not, its lustre hung: she watching aye

The foam-wreaths which the faint tide wove below

Upon the spangled sands, groaned heavily,

And after every groan looked up over the sea.


And when she saw the wounded Serpent make

His path between the waves, her lips grew pale,

Parted, and quivered; the tears ceased to break

From her immovable eyes; no voice of wail

Escaped her; but she rose, and on the gale


Loosening her star-bright robe and shadowy hair

Poured forth her voice; the caverns of the vale

That opened to the ocean, caught it there,

And filled with silver sounds the overflowing air.


She spake in language whose strange melody


Might not belong to earth. I heard alone,

What made its music more melodious be,

The pity and the love of every tone;

But to the Snake those accents sweet were known

His native tongue and hers; nor did he beat


The hoar spray idly then, but winding on

Through the green shadows of the waves that meet

Near to the shore, did pause beside her snowy feet.


Then on the sands the Woman sate again,

And wept and clasped her hands, and all between,


Renewed the unintelligible strain

Of her melodious voice and eloquent mien;

And she unveiled her bosom, and the green

And glancing shadows of the sea did play

O’er its marmoreal depth:— one moment seen,


For ere the next, the Serpent did obey

Her voice, and, coiled in rest in her embrace it lay.


Then she arose, and smiled on me with eyes

Serene yet sorrowing, like that planet fair,

While yet the daylight lingereth in the skies


Which cleaves with arrowy beams the dark-red air,

And said: ‘To grieve is wise, but the despair

Was weak and vain which led thee here from sleep:

This shalt thou know, and more, if thou dost dare

With me and with this Serpent, o’er the deep,


A voyage divine and strange, companionship to keep.’


Her voice was like the wildest, saddest tone,

Yet sweet, of some loved voice heard long ago.

I wept. ‘Shall this fair woman all alone,

Over the sea with that fierce Serpent go?


His head is on her heart, and who can know

How soon he may devour his feeble prey?’—

Such were my thoughts, when the tide gan to flow;

And that strange boat like the moon’s shade did sway

Amid reflected stars that in the waters lay:—


A boat of rare device, which had no sail

But its own curved prow of thin moonstone,

Wrought like a web of texture fine and frail,

To catch those gentlest winds which are not known

To breathe, but by the steady speed alone


With which it cleaves the sparkling sea; and now

We are embarked — the mountains hang and frown

Over the starry deep that gleams below,

A vast and dim expanse, as o’er the waves we go.


And as we sailed, a strange and awful tale


That Woman told, like such mysterious dream

As makes the slumberer’s cheek with wonder pale!

’Twas midnight, and around, a shoreless stream,

Wide ocean rolled, when that majestic theme

Shrined in her heart found utterance, and she bent


Her looks on mine; those eyes a kindling beam

Of love divine into my spirit sent,

And ere her lips could move, made the air eloquent.


‘Speak not to me, but hear! Much shalt thou learn,

Much must remain unthought, and more untold,


In the dark Future’s ever-flowing urn:

Know then, that from the depth of ages old

Two Powers o’er mortal things dominion hold,

Ruling the world with a divided lot,

Immortal, all-pervading, manifold,


Twin Genii, equal Gods — when life and thought

Sprang forth, they burst the womb of inessential Nought.


‘The earliest dweller of the world, alone,

Stood on the verge of chaos. Lo! afar

O’er the wide wild abyss two meteors shone,


Sprung from the depth of its tempestuous jar:

A blood-red Comet and the Morning Star

Mingling their beams in combat — as he stood,

All thoughts within his mind waged mutual war,

In dreadful sympathy — when to the flood


That fair Star fell, he turned and shed his brother’s blood.


‘Thus evil triumphed, and the Spirit of evil,

One Power of many shapes which none may know,

One Shape of many names; the Fiend did revel

In victory, reigning o’er a world of woe,


For the new race of man went to and fro,

Famished and homeless, loathed and loathing, wild,

And hating good — for his immortal foe,

He changed from starry shape, beauteous and mild,

To a dire Snake, with man and beast unreconciled.


‘The darkness lingering o’er the dawn of things,

Was Evil’s breath and life; this made him strong

To soar aloft with overshadowing wings;

And the great Spirit of Good did creep among

The nations of mankind, and every tongue


Cursed and blasphemed him as he passed; for none

Knew good from evil, though their names were hung

In mockery o’er the fane where many a groan,

As King, and Lord, and God, the conquering Fiend did own —


‘The Fiend, whose name was Legion: Death, Decay,


Earthquake and Blight, and Want, and Madness pale,

Winged and wan diseases, an array

Numerous as leaves that strew the autumnal gale;

Poison, a snake in flowers, beneath the veil

Of food and mirth, hiding his mortal head;


And, without whom all these might nought avail,

Fear, Hatred, Faith, and Tyranny, who spread

Those subtle nets which snare the living and the dead.


‘His spirit is their power, and they his slaves

In air, and light, and thought, and language, dwell;


And keep their state from palaces to graves,

In all resorts of men — invisible,

But when, in ebon mirror, Nightmare fell

To tyrant or impostor bids them rise,

Black winged demon forms — whom, from the hell,


His reign and dwelling beneath nether skies,

He loosens to their dark and blasting ministries.


‘In the world’s youth his empire was as firm

As its foundations . . . Soon the Spirit of Good,

Though in the likeness of a loathsome worm,


Sprang from the billows of the formless flood,

Which shrank and fled; and with that Fiend of blood

Renewed the doubtful war . . . Thrones then first shook,

And earth’s immense and trampled multitude

In hope on their own powers began to look,


And Fear, the demon pale, his sanguine shrine forsook.


‘Then Greece arose, and to its bards and sages,

In dream, the golden-pinioned Genii came,

Even where they slept amid the night of ages,

Steeping their hearts in the divinest flame


Which thy breath kindled, Power of holiest name!

And oft in cycles since, when darkness gave

New weapons to thy foe, their sunlike fame

Upon the combat shone — a light to save,

Like Paradise spread forth beyond the shadowy grave.


‘Such is this conflict — when mankind doth strive

With its oppressors in a strife of blood,

Or when free thoughts, like lightnings, are alive,

And in each bosom of the multitude

Justice and truth with Custom’s hydra brood


Wage silent war; when Priests and Kings dissemble

In smiles or frowns their fierce disquietude,

When round pure hearts a host of hopes assemble,

The Snake and Eagle meet — the world’s foundations tremble!


‘Thou hast beheld that fight — when to thy home


Thou dost return, steep not its hearth in tears;

Though thou may’st hear that earth is now become

The tyrant’s garbage, which to his compeers,

The vile reward of their dishonoured years,

He will dividing give. — The victor Fiend,


Omnipotent of yore, now quails, and fears

His triumph dearly won, which soon will lend

An impulse swift and sure to his approaching end.


‘List, stranger, list, mine is an human form,

Like that thou wearest — touch me — shrink not now!


My hand thou feel’st is not a ghost’s, but warm

With human blood. —’Twas many years ago,

Since first my thirsting soul aspired to know

The secrets of this wondrous world, when deep

My heart was pierced with sympathy, for woe


Which could not be mine own, and thought did keep,

In dream, unnatural watch beside an infant’s sleep.


‘Woe could not be mine own, since far from men

I dwelt, a free and happy orphan child,

By the sea-shore, in a deep mountain glen;


And near the waves, and through the forests wild,

I roamed, to storm and darkness reconciled:

For I was calm while tempest shook the sky:

But when the breathless heavens in beauty smiled,

I wept, sweet tears, yet too tumultuously


For peace, and clasped my hands aloft in ecstasy.


‘These were forebodings of my fate — before

A woman’s heart beat in my virgin breast,

It had been nurtured in divinest lore:

A dying poet gave me books, and blessed


With wild but holy talk the sweet unrest

In which I watched him as he died away —

A youth with hoary hair — a fleeting guest

Of our lone mountains: and this lore did sway

My spirit like a storm, contending there alway.


‘Thus the dark tale which history doth unfold

I knew, but not, methinks, as others know,

For they weep not; and Wisdom had unrolled

The clouds which hide the gulf of mortal woe —

To few can she that warning vision show —


For I loved all things with intense devotion;

So that when Hope’s deep source in fullest flow,

Like earthquake did uplift the stagnant ocean

Of human thoughts — mine shook beneath the wide emotion.


‘When first the living blood through all these veins


Kindled a thought in sense, great France sprang forth,

And seized, as if to break, the ponderous chains

Which bind in woe the nations of the earth.

I saw, and started from my cottage-hearth;

And to the clouds and waves in tameless gladness


Shrieked, till they caught immeasurable mirth —

And laughed in light and music: soon, sweet madness

Was poured upon my heart, a soft and thrilling sadness.


‘Deep slumber fell on me:— my dreams were fire —

Soft and delightful thoughts did rest and hover


Like shadows o’er my brain; and strange desire,

The tempest of a passion, raging over

My tranquil soul, its depths with light did cover,

Which passed; and calm, and darkness, sweeter far,

Came — then I loved; but not a human lover!


For when I rose from sleep, the Morning Star

Shone through the woodbine-wreaths which round my casement were.


‘’Twas like an eye which seemed to smile on me.

I watched, till by the sun made pale, it sank

Under the billows of the heaving sea;


But from its beams deep love my spirit drank,

And to my brain the boundless world now shrank

Into one thought — one image — yes, for ever!

Even like the dayspring, poured on vapours dank,

The beams of that one Star did shoot and quiver


Through my benighted mind — and were extinguished never.


‘The day passed thus: at night, methought, in dream

A shape of speechless beauty did appear:

It stood like light on a careering stream

Of golden clouds which shook the atmosphere;


A winged youth, his radiant brow did wear

The Morning Star: a wild dissolving bliss

Over my frame he breathed, approaching near,

And bent his eyes of kindling tenderness

Near mine, and on my lips impressed a lingering kiss —


‘And said: “A Spirit loves thee, mortal maiden,

How wilt thou prove thy worth?” Then joy and sleep

Together fled; my soul was deeply laden,

And to the shore I went to muse and weep;

But as I moved, over my heart did creep


A joy less soft, but more profound and strong

Than my sweet dream; and it forbade to keep

The path of the sea-shore: that Spirit’s tongue

Seemed whispering in my heart, and bore my steps along.


‘How, to that vast and peopled city led,


Which was a field of holy warfare then,

I walked among the dying and the dead,

And shared in fearless deeds with evil men,

Calm as an angel in the dragon’s den —

How I braved death for liberty and truth,


And spurned at peace, and power, and fame — and when

Those hopes had lost the glory of their youth,

How sadly I returned — might move the hearer’s ruth:


‘Warm tears throng fast! the tale may not be said —

Know then, that when this grief had been subdued,


I was not left, like others, cold and dead;

The Spirit whom I loved, in solitude

Sustained his child: the tempest-shaken wood,

The waves, the fountains, and the hush of night —

These were his voice, and well I understood


His smile divine, when the calm sea was bright

With silent stars, and Heaven was breathless with delight.


‘In lonely glens, amid the roar of rivers,

When the dim nights were moonless, have I known

Joys which no tongue can tell; my pale lip quivers


When thought revisits them:— know thou alone,

That after many wondrous years were flown,

I was awakened by a shriek of woe;

And over me a mystic robe was thrown,

By viewless hands, and a bright Star did glow


Before my steps — the Snake then met his mortal foe.’


‘Thou fearest not then the Serpent on thy heart?’

‘Fear it!’ she said, with brief and passionate cry,

And spake no more: that silence made me start —

I looked, and we were sailing pleasantly,


Swift as a cloud between the sea and sky;

Beneath the rising moon seen far away,

Mountains of ice, like sapphire, piled on high,

Hemming the horizon round, in silence lay

On the still waters — these we did approach alway.


And swift and swifter grew the vessel’s motion,

So that a dizzy trance fell on my brain —

Wild music woke me; we had passed the ocean

Which girds the pole, Nature’s remotest reign —

And we glode fast o’er a pellucid plain


Of waters, azure with the noontide day.

Ethereal mountains shone around — a Fane

Stood in the midst, girt by green isles which lay

On the blue sunny deep, resplendent far away.


It was a Temple, such as mortal hand


Has never built, nor ecstasy, nor dream

Reared in the cities of enchanted land:

’Twas likest Heaven, ere yet day’s purple stream

Ebbs o’er the western forest, while the gleam

Of the unrisen moon among the clouds


Is gathering — when with many a golden beam

The thronging constellations rush in crowds,

Paving with fire the sky and the marmoreal floods.


Like what may be conceived of this vast dome,

When from the depths which thought can seldom pierce


Genius beholds it rise, his native home,

Girt by the deserts of the Universe;

Yet, nor in painting’s light, or mightier verse,

Or sculpture’s marble language, can invest

That shape to mortal sense — such glooms immerse


That incommunicable sight, and rest

Upon the labouring brain and overburdened breast.


Winding among the lawny islands fair,

Whose blosmy forests starred the shadowy deep,

The wingless boat paused where an ivory stair


Its fretwork in the crystal sea did steep,

Encircling that vast Fane’s aerial heap:

We disembarked, and through a portal wide

We passed — whose roof of moonstone carved, did keep

A glimmering o’er the forms on every side,


Sculptures like life and thought, immovable, deep-eyed.


We came to a vast hall, whose glorious roof

Was diamond, which had drunk the lightning’s sheen

In darkness, and now poured it through the woof

Of spell-inwoven clouds hung there to screen


Its blinding splendour — through such veil was seen

That work of subtlest power, divine and rare;

Orb above orb, with starry shapes between,

And horned moons, and meteors strange and fair,

On night-black columns poised — one hollow hemisphere!


Ten thousand columns in that quivering light

Distinct — between whose shafts wound far away

The long and labyrinthine aisles — more bright

With their own radiance than the Heaven of Day;

And on the jasper walls around, there lay


Paintings, the poesy of mightiest thought,

Which did the Spirit’s history display;

A tale of passionate change, divinely taught,

Which, in their winged dance, unconscious Genii wrought.


Beneath, there sate on many a sapphire throne,


The Great, who had departed from mankind,

A mighty Senate; — some, whose white hair shone

Like mountain snow, mild, beautiful, and blind;

Some, female forms, whose gestures beamed with mind;

And ardent youths, and children bright and fair;


And some had lyres whose strings were intertwined

With pale and clinging flames, which ever there

Waked faint yet thrilling sounds that pierced the crystal air.


One seat was vacant in the midst, a throne,

Reared on a pyramid like sculptured flame,


Distinct with circling steps which rested on

Their own deep fire — soon as the Woman came

Into that hall, she shrieked the Spirit’s name

And fell; and vanished slowly from the sight.

Darkness arose from her dissolving frame,


Which gathering, filled that dome of woven light,

Blotting its sphered stars with supernatural night.


Then first, two glittering lights were seen to glide

In circles on the amethystine floor,

Small serpent eyes trailing from side to side,


Like meteors on a river’s grassy shore,

They round each other rolled, dilating more

And more — then rose, commingling into one,

One clear and mighty planet hanging o’er

A cloud of deepest shadow, which was thrown


Athwart the glowing steps and the crystalline throne.


The cloud which rested on that cone of flame

Was cloven; beneath the planet sate a Form,

Fairer than tongue can speak or thought may frame,

The radiance of whose limbs rose-like and warm


Flowed forth, and did with softest light inform

The shadowy dome, the sculptures, and the state

Of those assembled shapes — with clinging charm

Sinking upon their hearts and mine. He sate

Majestic, yet most mild — calm, yet compassionate.


Wonder and joy a passing faintness threw

Over my brow — a hand supported me,

Whose touch was magic strength; an eye of blue

Looked into mine, like moonlight, soothingly;

And a voice said:—‘Thou must a listener be


This day — two mighty Spirits now return,

Like birds of calm, from the world’s raging sea,

They pour fresh light from Hope’s immortal urn;

A tale of human power — despair not — list and learn!


I looked, and lo! one stood forth eloquently.


His eyes were dark and deep, and the clear brow

Which shadowed them was like the morning sky,

The cloudless Heaven of Spring, when in their flow

Through the bright air, the soft winds as they blow

Wake the green world — his gestures did obey


The oracular mind that made his features glow,

And where his curved lips half-open lay,

Passion’s divinest stream had made impetuous way.


Beneath the darkness of his outspread hair

He stood thus beautiful; but there was One


Who sate beside him like his shadow there,

And held his hand — far lovelier; she was known

To be thus fair, by the few lines alone

Which through her floating locks and gathered cloak,

Glances of soul-dissolving glory, shone:—


None else beheld her eyes — in him they woke

Memories which found a tongue as thus he silence broke.

Canto 2.


The starlight smile of children, the sweet looks

Of women, the fair breast from which I fed,

The murmur of the unreposing brooks,


And the green light which, shifting overhead,

Some tangled bower of vines around me shed,

The shells on the sea-sand, and the wild flowers,

The lamp-light through the rafters cheerly spread,

And on the twining flax — in life’s young hours


These sights and sounds did nurse my spirit’s folded powers.


In Argolis, beside the echoing sea,

Such impulses within my mortal frame

Arose, and they were dear to memory,

Like tokens of the dead:— but others came


Soon, in another shape: the wondrous fame

Of the past world, the vital words and deeds

Of minds whom neither time nor change can tame,

Traditions dark and old, whence evil creeds

Start forth, and whose dim shade a stream of poison feeds.


I heard, as all have heard, the various story

Of human life, and wept unwilling tears.

Feeble historians of its shame and glory,

False disputants on all its hopes and fears,

Victims who worshipped ruin, chroniclers


Of daily scorn, and slaves who loathed their state

Yet, flattering power, had given its ministers

A throne of judgement in the grave:—’twas fate,

That among such as these my youth should seek its mate.


The land in which I lived, by a fell bane


Was withered up. Tyrants dwelt side by side,

And stabled in our homes — until the chain

Stifled the captive’s cry, and to abide

That blasting curse men had no shame — all vied

In evil, slave and despot; fear with lust


Strange fellowship through mutual hate had tied,

Like two dark serpents tangled in the dust,

Which on the paths of men their mingling poison thrust.


Earth, our bright home, its mountains and its waters,

And the ethereal shapes which are suspended


Over its green expanse, and those fair daughters,

The clouds, of Sun and Ocean, who have blended

The colours of the air since first extended

It cradled the young world, none wandered forth

To see or feel; a darkness had descended


On every heart; the light which shows its worth,

Must among gentle thoughts and fearless take its birth.


This vital world, this home of happy spirits,

Was as a dungeon to my blasted kind;

All that despair from murdered hope inherits


They sought, and in their helpless misery blind,

A deeper prison and heavier chains did find,

And stronger tyrants:— a dark gulf before,

The realm of a stern Ruler, yawned; behind,

Terror and Time conflicting drove, and bore


On their tempestuous flood the shrieking wretch from shore.


Out of that Ocean’s wrecks had Guilt and Woe

Framed a dark dwelling for their homeless thought,

And, starting at the ghosts which to and fro

Glide o’er its dim and gloomy strand, had brought


The worship thence which they each other taught.

Well might men loathe their life, well might they turn

Even to the ills again from which they sought

Such refuge after death! — well might they learn

To gaze on this fair world with hopeless unconcern!


For they all pined in bondage; body and soul,

Tyrant and slave, victim and torturer, bent

Before one Power, to which supreme control

Over their will by their own weakness lent,

Made all its many names omnipotent;


All symbols of things evil, all divine;

And hymns of blood or mockery, which rent

The air from all its fanes, did intertwine

Imposture’s impious toils round each discordant shrine.


I heard, as all have heard, life’s various story,


And in no careless heart transcribed the tale;

But, from the sneers of men who had grown hoary

In shame and scorn, from groans of crowds made pale

By famine, from a mother’s desolate wail

O’er her polluted child, from innocent blood


Poured on the earth, and brows anxious and pale

With the heart’s warfare, did I gather food

To feed my many thoughts — a tameless multitude!


I wandered through the wrecks of days departed

Far by the desolated shore, when even


O’er the still sea and jagged islets darted

The light of moonrise; in the northern Heaven,

Among the clouds near the horizon driven,

The mountains lay beneath one planet pale;

Around me, broken tombs and columns riven


Looked vast in twilight, and the sorrowing gale

Waked in those ruins gray its everlasting wail!


I knew not who had framed these wonders then,

Nor had I heard the story of their deeds;

But dwellings of a race of mightier men,


And monuments of less ungentle creeds

Tell their own tale to him who wisely heeds

The language which they speak; and now, to me

The moonlight making pale the blooming weeds,

The bright stars shining in the breathless sea,


Interpreted those scrolls of mortal mystery.


Such man has been, and such may yet become!

Ay, wiser, greater, gentler even than they

Who on the fragments of yon shattered dome

Have stamped the sign of power — I felt the sway


Of the vast stream of ages bear away

My floating thoughts — my heart beat loud and fast —

Even as a storm let loose beneath the ray

Of the still moon, my spirit onward passed

Beneath truth’s steady beams upon its tumult cast.


It shall be thus no more! too long, too long,

Sons of the glorious dead, have ye lain bound

In darkness and in ruin! — Hope is strong,

Justice and Truth their winged child have found —

Awake! arise! until the mighty sound


Of your career shall scatter in its gust

The thrones of the oppressor, and the ground

Hide the last altar’s unregarded dust,

Whose Idol has so long betrayed your impious trust!


It must be so — I will arise and waken


The multitude, and like a sulphurous hill,

Which on a sudden from its snows has shaken

The swoon of ages, it shall burst and fill

The world with cleansing fire; it must, it will —

It may not be restrained! — and who shall stand


Amid the rocking earthquake steadfast still,

But Laon? on high Freedom’s desert land

A tower whose marble walls the leagued storms withstand!


One summer night, in commune with the hope

Thus deeply fed, amid those ruins gray


I watched, beneath the dark sky’s starry cope;

And ever from that hour upon me lay

The burden of this hope, and night or day,

In vision or in dream, clove to my breast:

Among mankind, or when gone far away


To the lone shores and mountains, ’twas a guest

Which followed where I fled, and watched when I did rest.


These hopes found words through which my spirit sought

To weave a bondage of such sympathy,

As might create some response to the thought


Which ruled me now — and as the vapours lie

Bright in the outspread morning’s radiancy,

So were these thoughts invested with the light

Of language: and all bosoms made reply

On which its lustre streamed, whene’er it might


Through darkness wide and deep those tranced spirits smite.


Yes, many an eye with dizzy tears was dim,

And oft I thought to clasp my own heart’s brother,

When I could feel the listener’s senses swim,

And hear his breath its own swift gaspings smother


Even as my words evoked them — and another,

And yet another, I did fondly deem,

Felt that we all were sons of one great mother;

And the cold truth such sad reverse did seem

As to awake in grief from some delightful dream.


Yes, oft beside the ruined labyrinth

Which skirts the hoary caves of the green deep,

Did Laon and his friend, on one gray plinth,

Round whose worn base the wild waves hiss and leap,

Resting at eve, a lofty converse keep:


And that this friend was false, may now be said

Calmly — that he like other men could weep

Tears which are lies, and could betray and spread

Snares for that guileless heart which for his own had bled.


Then, had no great aim recompensed my sorrow,


I must have sought dark respite from its stress

In dreamless rest, in sleep that sees no morrow —

For to tread life’s dismaying wilderness

Without one smile to cheer, one voice to bless,

Amid the snares and scoffs of human kind,


Is hard — but I betrayed it not, nor less

With love that scorned return sought to unbind

The interwoven clouds which make its wisdom blind.


With deathless minds which leave where they have passed

A path of light, my soul communion knew;


Till from that glorious intercourse, at last,

As from a mine of magic store, I drew

Words which were weapons; — round my heart there grew

The adamantine armour of their power;

And from my fancy wings of golden hue


Sprang forth — yet not alone from wisdom’s tower,

A minister of truth, these plumes young Laon bore.


An orphan with my parents lived, whose eyes

Were lodestars of delight, which drew me home

When I might wander forth; nor did I prize


Aught human thing beneath Heaven’s mighty dome

Beyond this child; so when sad hours were come,

And baffled hope like ice still clung to me,

Since kin were cold, and friends had now become

Heartless and false, I turned from all, to be,


Cythna, the only source of tears and smiles to thee.


What wert thou then? A child most infantine,

Yet wandering far beyond that innocent age

In all but its sweet looks and mien divine;

Even then, methought, with the world’s tyrant rage


A patient warfare thy young heart did wage,

When those soft eyes of scarcely conscious thought

Some tale, or thine own fancies, would engage

To overflow with tears, or converse fraught

With passion, o’er their depths its fleeting light had wrought.


She moved upon this earth a shape of brightness,

A power, that from its objects scarcely drew

One impulse of her being — in her lightness

Most like some radiant cloud of morning dew,

Which wanders through the waste air’s pathless blue,


To nourish some far desert; she did seem

Beside me, gathering beauty as she grew,

Like the bright shade of some immortal dream

Which walks, when tempest sleeps, the wave of life’s dark stream.


As mine own shadow was this child to me,


A second self, far dearer and more fair;

Which clothed in undissolving radiancy

All those steep paths which languor and despair

Of human things, had made so dark and bare,

But which I trod alone — nor, till bereft


Of friends, and overcome by lonely care,

Knew I what solace for that loss was left,

Though by a bitter wound my trusting heart was cleft.


Once she was dear, now she was all I had

To love in human life — this playmate sweet,


This child of twelve years old — so she was made

My sole associate, and her willing feet

Wandered with mine where earth and ocean meet,

Beyond the aereal mountains whose vast cells

The unreposing billows ever beat,


Through forests wild and old, and lawny dells

Where boughs of incense droop over the emerald wells.


And warm and light I felt her clasping hand

When twined in mine; she followed where I went,

Through the lone paths of our immortal land.


It had no waste but some memorial lent

Which strung me to my toil — some monument

Vital with mind; then Cythna by my side,

Until the bright and beaming day were spent,

Would rest, with looks entreating to abide,


Too earnest and too sweet ever to be denied.


And soon I could not have refused her — thus

For ever, day and night, we two were ne’er

Parted, but when brief sleep divided us:

And when the pauses of the lulling air


Of noon beside the sea had made a lair

For her soothed senses, in my arms she slept,

And I kept watch over her slumbers there,

While, as the shifting visions over her swept,

Amid her innocent rest by turns she smiled and wept.


And, in the murmur of her dreams was heard

Sometimes the name of Laon:— suddenly

She would arise, and, like the secret bird

Whom sunset wakens, fill the shore and sky

With her sweet accents, a wild melody!


Hymns which my soul had woven to Freedom, strong

The source of passion, whence they rose, to be;

Triumphant strains, which, like a spirit’s tongue,

To the enchanted waves that child of glory sung —


Her white arms lifted through the shadowy stream


Of her loose hair. Oh, excellently great

Seemed to me then my purpose, the vast theme

Of those impassioned songs, when Cythna sate

Amid the calm which rapture doth create

After its tumult, her heart vibrating,


Her spirit o’er the Ocean’s floating state

From her deep eyes far wandering, on the wing

Of visions that were mine, beyond its utmost spring!


For, before Cythna loved it, had my song

Peopled with thoughts the boundless universe,


A mighty congregation, which were strong

Where’er they trod the darkness to disperse

The cloud of that unutterable curse

Which clings upon mankind:— all things became

Slaves to my holy and heroic verse,


Earth, sea and sky, the planets, life and fame

And fate, or whate’er else binds the world’s wondrous frame.


And this beloved child thus felt the sway

Of my conceptions, gathering like a cloud

The very wind on which it rolls away:


Hers too were all my thoughts, ere yet, endowed

With music and with light, their fountains flowed

In poesy; and her still and earnest face,

Pallid with feelings which intensely glowed

Within, was turned on mine with speechless grace,


Watching the hopes which there her heart had learned to trace.


In me, communion with this purest being

Kindled intenser zeal, and made me wise

In knowledge, which, in hers mine own mind seeing,

Left in the human world few mysteries:


How without fear of evil or disguise

Was Cythna! — what a spirit strong and mild,

Which death, or pain or peril could despise,

Yet melt in tenderness! what genius wild

Yet mighty, was enclosed within one simple child!


New lore was this — old age with its gray hair,

And wrinkled legends of unworthy things,

And icy sneers, is nought: it cannot dare

To burst the chains which life for ever flings

On the entangled soul’s aspiring wings,


So is it cold and cruel, and is made

The careless slave of that dark power which brings

Evil, like blight, on man, who, still betrayed,

Laughs o’er the grave in which his living hopes are laid.


Nor are the strong and the severe to keep


The empire of the world: thus Cythna taught

Even in the visions of her eloquent sleep,

Unconscious of the power through which she wrought

The woof of such intelligible thought,

As from the tranquil strength which cradled lay


In her smile-peopled rest, my spirit sought

Why the deceiver and the slave has sway

O’er heralds so divine of truth’s arising day.


Within that fairest form, the female mind,

Untainted by the poison clouds which rest


On the dark world, a sacred home did find:

But else, from the wide earth’s maternal breast,

Victorious Evil, which had dispossessed

All native power, had those fair children torn,

And made them slaves to soothe his vile unrest,


And minister to lust its joys forlorn,

Till they had learned to breathe the atmosphere of scorn.


This misery was but coldly felt, till she

Became my only friend, who had endued

My purpose with a wider sympathy;


Thus, Cythna mourned with me the servitude

In which the half of humankind were mewed

Victims of lust and hate, the slaves of slaves,

She mourned that grace and power were thrown as food

To the hyena lust, who, among graves,


Over his loathed meal, laughing in agony, raves.


And I, still gazing on that glorious child,

Even as these thoughts flushed o’er her:—‘Cythna sweet,

Well with the world art thou unreconciled;

Never will peace and human nature meet


Till free and equal man and woman greet

Domestic peace; and ere this power can make

In human hearts its calm and holy seat,

This slavery must be broken’— as I spake,

From Cythna’s eyes a light of exultation brake.


She replied earnestly:—‘It shall be mine,

This task — mine, Laon! — thou hast much to gain;

Nor wilt thou at poor Cythna’s pride repine,

If she should lead a happy female train

To meet thee over the rejoicing plain,


When myriads at thy call shall throng around

The Golden City.’— Then the child did strain

My arm upon her tremulous heart, and wound

Her own about my neck, till some reply she found.


I smiled, and spake not. —‘Wherefore dost thou smile


At what I say? Laon, I am not weak,

And, though my cheek might become pale the while,

With thee, if thou desirest, will I seek

Through their array of banded slaves to wreak

Ruin upon the tyrants. I had thought


It was more hard to turn my unpractised cheek

To scorn and shame, and this beloved spot

And thee, O dearest friend, to leave and murmur not.


‘Whence came I what I am? Thou, Laon, knowest

How a young child should thus undaunted be;


Methinks, it is a power which thou bestowest,

Through which I seek, by most resembling thee,

So to become most good and great and free;

Yet far beyond this Ocean’s utmost roar,

In towers and huts are many like to me,


Who, could they see thine eyes, or feel such lore

As I have learnt from them, like me would fear no more.


‘Think’st thou that I shall speak unskilfully,

And none will heed me? I remember now,

How once, a slave in tortures doomed to die,


Was saved, because in accents sweet and low

He sung a song his Judge loved long ago,

As he was led to death. — All shall relent

Who hear me — tears, as mine have flowed, shall flow,

Hearts beat as mine now beats, with such intent


As renovates the world; a will omnipotent!


‘Yes, I will tread Pride’s golden palaces,

Through Penury’s roofless huts and squalid cells

Will I descend, where’er in abjectness

Woman with some vile slave her tyrant dwells,


There with the music of thine own sweet spells

Will disenchant the captives, and will pour

For the despairing, from the crystal wells

Of thy deep spirit, reason’s mighty lore,

And power shall then abound, and hope arise once more.


‘Can man be free if woman be a slave?

Chain one who lives, and breathes this boundless air,

To the corruption of a closed grave!

Can they whose mates are beasts, condemned to bear

Scorn, heavier far than toil or anguish, dare


To trample their oppressors? in their home

Among their babes, thou knowest a curse would wear

The shape of woman — hoary Crime would come

Behind, and Fraud rebuild religion’s tottering dome.


‘I am a child:— I would not yet depart.


When I go forth alone, bearing the lamp

Aloft which thou hast kindled in my heart,

Millions of slaves from many a dungeon damp

Shall leap in joy, as the benumbing cramp

Of ages leaves their limbs — no ill may harm


Thy Cythna ever — truth its radiant stamp

Has fixed, as an invulnerable charm,

Upon her children’s brow, dark Falsehood to disarm.


‘Wait yet awhile for the appointed day —

Thou wilt depart, and I with tears shall stand


Watching thy dim sail skirt the ocean gray;

Amid the dwellers of this lonely land

I shall remain alone — and thy command

Shall then dissolve the world’s unquiet trance,

And, multitudinous as the desert sand


Borne on the storm, its millions shall advance,

Thronging round thee, the light of their deliverance.


‘Then, like the forests of some pathless mountain,

Which from remotest glens two warring winds

Involve in fire which not the loosened fountain


Of broadest floods might quench, shall all the kinds

Of evil, catch from our uniting minds

The spark which must consume them; — Cythna then

Will have cast off the impotence that binds

Her childhood now, and through the paths of men


Will pass, as the charmed bird that haunts the serpent’s den.


‘We part! — O Laon, I must dare nor tremble,

To meet those looks no more! — Oh, heavy stroke!

Sweet brother of my soul! can I dissemble

The agony of this thought?’— As thus she spoke


The gathered sobs her quivering accents broke,

And in my arms she hid her beating breast.

I remained still for tears — sudden she woke

As one awakes from sleep, and wildly pressed

My bosom, her whole frame impetuously possessed.


‘We part to meet again — but yon blue waste,

Yon desert wide and deep, holds no recess,

Within whose happy silence, thus embraced

We might survive all ills in one caress:

Nor doth the grave — I fear ’tis passionless —


Nor yon cold vacant Heaven:— we meet again

Within the minds of men, whose lips shall bless

Our memory, and whose hopes its light retain

When these dissevered bones are trodden in the plain.’


I could not speak, though she had ceased, for now


The fountains of her feeling, swift and deep,

Seemed to suspend the tumult of their flow;

So we arose, and by the starlight steep

Went homeward — neither did we speak nor weep,

But, pale, were calm with passion — thus subdued


Like evening shades that o’er the mountains creep,

We moved towards our home; where, in this mood,

Each from the other sought refuge in solitude.

Canto 3.


What thoughts had sway o’er Cythna’s lonely slumber

That night, I know not; but my own did seem


As if they might ten thousand years outnumber

Of waking life, the visions of a dream

Which hid in one dim gulf the troubled stream

Of mind; a boundless chaos wild and vast,

Whose limits yet were never memory’s theme:


And I lay struggling as its whirlwinds passed,

Sometimes for rapture sick, sometimes for pain aghast.


Two hours, whose mighty circle did embrace

More time than might make gray the infant world,

Rolled thus, a weary and tumultuous space:


When the third came, like mist on breezes curled,

From my dim sleep a shadow was unfurled:

Methought, upon the threshold of a cave

I sate with Cythna; drooping briony, pearled

With dew from the wild streamlet’s shattered wave,


Hung, where we sate to taste the joys which Nature gave.


We lived a day as we were wont to live,

But Nature had a robe of glory on,

And the bright air o’er every shape did weave

Intenser hues, so that the herbless stone,


The leafless bough among the leaves alone,

Had being clearer than its own could be,

And Cythna’s pure and radiant self was shown,

In this strange vision, so divine to me,

That if I loved before, now love was agony.


Morn fled, noon came, evening, then night descended,

And we prolonged calm talk beneath the sphere

Of the calm moon — when suddenly was blended

With our repose a nameless sense of fear;

And from the cave behind I seemed to hear


Sounds gathering upwards! — accents incomplete,

And stifled shrieks — and now, more near and near,

A tumult and a rush of thronging feet

The cavern’s secret depths beneath the earth did beat.


The scene was changed, and away, away, away!


Through the air and over the sea we sped,

And Cythna in my sheltering bosom lay,

And the winds bore me — through the darkness spread

Around, the gaping earth then vomited

Legions of foul and ghastly shapes, which hung


Upon my flight; and ever, as we fled,

They plucked at Cythna — soon to me then clung

A sense of actual things those monstrous dreams among.


And I lay struggling in the impotence

Of sleep, while outward life had burst its bound,


Though, still deluded, strove the tortured sense

To its dire wanderings to adapt the sound

Which in the light of morn was poured around

Our dwelling; breathless, pale and unaware

I rose, and all the cottage crowded found


With armed men, whose glittering swords were bare,

And whose degraded limbs the tyrant’s garb did wear.


And, ere with rapid lips and gathered brow

I could demand the cause — a feeble shriek —

It was a feeble shriek, faint, far and low,


Arrested me — my mien grew calm and meek,

And grasping a small knife, I went to seek

That voice among the crowd —’twas Cythna’s cry!

Beneath most calm resolve did agony wreak

Its whirlwind rage:— so I passed quietly


Till I beheld, where bound, that dearest child did lie.


I started to behold her, for delight

And exultation, and a joyance free,

Solemn, serene and lofty, filled the light

Of the calm smile with which she looked on me:


So that I feared some brainless ecstasy,

Wrought from that bitter woe, had wildered her —

‘Farewell! farewell!’ she said, as I drew nigh;

‘At first my peace was marred by this strange stir,

Now I am calm as truth — its chosen minister.


‘Look not so, Laon — say farewell in hope,

These bloody men are but the slaves who bear

Their mistress to her task — it was my scope

The slavery where they drag me now, to share,

And among captives willing chains to wear


Awhile — the rest thou knowest — return, dear friend!

Let our first triumph trample the despair

Which would ensnare us now, for in the end,

In victory or in death our hopes and fears must blend.’


These words had fallen on my unheeding ear,


Whilst I had watched the motions of the crew

With seeming-careless glance; not many were

Around her, for their comrades just withdrew

To guard some other victim — so I drew

My knife, and with one impulse, suddenly


All unaware three of their number slew,

And grasped a fourth by the throat, and with loud cry

My countrymen invoked to death or liberty!


What followed then, I know not — for a stroke

On my raised arm and naked head, came down,


Filling my eyes with blood. — When I awoke,

I felt that they had bound me in my swoon,

And up a rock which overhangs the town,

By the steep path were bearing me; below,

The plain was filled with slaughter — overthrown


The vineyards and the harvests, and the glow

Of blazing roofs shone far o’er the white Ocean’s flow.


Upon that rock a mighty column stood,

Whose capital seemed sculptured in the sky,

Which to the wanderers o’er the solitude


Of distant seas, from ages long gone by,

Had made a landmark; o’er its height to fly

Scarcely the cloud, the vulture, or the blast,

Has power — and when the shades of evening lie

On Earth and Ocean, its carved summits cast


The sunken daylight far through the aerial waste.


They bore me to a cavern in the hill

Beneath that column, and unbound me there;

And one did strip me stark; and one did fill

A vessel from the putrid pool; one bare


A lighted torch, and four with friendless care

Guided my steps the cavern-paths along,

Then up a steep and dark and narrow stair

We wound, until the torch’s fiery tongue

Amid the gushing day beamless and pallid hung.


They raised me to the platform of the pile,

That column’s dizzy height:— the grate of brass

Through which they thrust me, open stood the while,

As to its ponderous and suspended mass,

With chains which eat into the flesh, alas!


With brazen links, my naked limbs they bound:

The grate, as they departed to repass,

With horrid clangour fell, and the far sound

Of their retiring steps in the dense gloom was drowned.


The noon was calm and bright:— around that column


The overhanging sky and circling sea

Spread forth in silentness profound and solemn

The darkness of brief frenzy cast on me,

So that I knew not my own misery:

The islands and the mountains in the day


Like clouds reposed afar; and I could see

The town among the woods below that lay,

And the dark rocks which bound the bright and glassy bay.


It was so calm, that scarce the feathery weed

Sown by some eagle on the topmost stone


Swayed in the air:— so bright, that noon did breed

No shadow in the sky beside mine own —

Mine, and the shadow of my chain alone.

Below, the smoke of roofs involved in flame

Rested like night, all else was clearly shown


In that broad glare; yet sound to me none came,

But of the living blood that ran within my frame.


The peace of madness fled, and ah, too soon!

A ship was lying on the sunny main,

Its sails were flagging in the breathless noon —


Its shadow lay beyond — that sight again

Waked, with its presence, in my tranced brain

The stings of a known sorrow, keen and cold:

I knew that ship bore Cythna o’er the plain

Of waters, to her blighting slavery sold,


And watched it with such thoughts as must remain untold.


I watched until the shades of evening wrapped

Earth like an exhalation — then the bark

Moved, for that calm was by the sunset snapped.

It moved a speck upon the Ocean dark:


Soon the wan stars came forth, and I could mark

Its path no more! — I sought to close mine eyes,

But like the balls, their lids were stiff and stark;

I would have risen, but ere that I could rise,

My parched skin was split with piercing agonies.


I gnawed my brazen chain, and sought to sever

Its adamantine links, that I might die:

O Liberty! forgive the base endeavour,

Forgive me, if, reserved for victory,

The Champion of thy faith e’er sought to fly. —


That starry night, with its clear silence, sent

Tameless resolve which laughed at misery

Into my soul — linked remembrance lent

To that such power, to me such a severe content.


To breathe, to be, to hope, or to despair


And die, I questioned not; nor, though the Sun

Its shafts of agony kindling through the air

Moved over me, nor though in evening dun,

Or when the stars their visible courses run,

Or morning, the wide universe was spread


In dreary calmness round me, did I shun

Its presence, nor seek refuge with the dead

From one faint hope whose flower a dropping poison shed.


Two days thus passed — I neither raved nor died —

Thirst raged within me, like a scorpion’s nest


Built in mine entrails; I had spurned aside

The water-vessel, while despair possessed

My thoughts, and now no drop remained! The uprest

Of the third sun brought hunger — but the crust

Which had been left, was to my craving breast


Fuel, not food. I chewed the bitter dust,

And bit my bloodless arm, and licked the brazen rust.


My brain began to fail when the fourth morn

Burst o’er the golden isles — a fearful sleep,

Which through the caverns dreary and forlorn


Of the riven soul, sent its foul dreams to sweep

With whirlwind swiftness — a fall far and deep —

A gulf, a void, a sense of senselessness —

These things dwelt in me, even as shadows keep

Their watch in some dim charnel’s loneliness,


A shoreless sea, a sky sunless and planetless!


The forms which peopled this terrific trance

I well remember — like a choir of devils,

Around me they involved a giddy dance;

Legions seemed gathering from the misty levels


Of Ocean, to supply those ceaseless revels,

Foul, ceaseless shadows:— thought could not divide

The actual world from these entangling evils,

Which so bemocked themselves, that I descried

All shapes like mine own self, hideously multiplied.


The sense of day and night, of false and true,

Was dead within me. Yet two visions burst

That darkness — one, as since that hour I knew,

Was not a phantom of the realms accursed,

Where then my spirit dwelt — but of the first


I know not yet, was it a dream or no.

But both, though not distincter, were immersed

In hues which, when through memory’s waste they flow,

Make their divided streams more bright and rapid now.


Methought that grate was lifted, and the seven


Who brought me thither four stiff corpses bare,

And from the frieze to the four winds of Heaven

Hung them on high by the entangled hair;

Swarthy were three — the fourth was very fair;

As they retired, the golden moon upsprung,


And eagerly, out in the giddy air,

Leaning that I might eat, I stretched and clung

Over the shapeless depth in which those corpses hung.


A woman’s shape, now lank and cold and blue,

The dwelling of the many-coloured worm,


Hung there; the white and hollow cheek I drew

To my dry lips — what radiance did inform

Those horny eyes? whose was that withered form?

Alas, alas! it seemed that Cythna’s ghost

Laughed in those looks, and that the flesh was warm


Within my teeth! — a whirlwind keen as frost

Then in its sinking gulfs my sickening spirit tossed.


Then seemed it that a tameless hurricane

Arose, and bore me in its dark career

Beyond the sun, beyond the stars that wane


On the verge of formless space — it languished there,

And dying, left a silence lone and drear,

More horrible than famine:— in the deep

The shape of an old man did then appear,

Stately and beautiful; that dreadful sleep


His heavenly smiles dispersed, and I could wake and weep.


And, when the blinding tears had fallen, I saw

That column, and those corpses, and the moon,

And felt the poisonous tooth of hunger gnaw

My vitals, I rejoiced, as if the boon


Of senseless death would be accorded soon; —

When from that stony gloom a voice arose,

Solemn and sweet as when low winds attune

The midnight pines; the grate did then unclose,

And on that reverend form the moonlight did repose.


He struck my chains, and gently spake and smiled;

As they were loosened by that Hermit old,

Mine eyes were of their madness half beguiled,

To answer those kind looks; he did enfold

His giant arms around me, to uphold


My wretched frame; my scorched limbs he wound

In linen moist and balmy, and as cold

As dew to drooping leaves; — the chain, with sound

Like earthquake, through the chasm of that steep stair did bound,


As, lifting me, it fell! — What next I heard,


Were billows leaping on the harbour-bar,

And the shrill sea-wind, whose breath idly stirred

My hair; — I looked abroad, and saw a star

Shining beside a sail, and distant far

That mountain and its column, the known mark


Of those who in the wide deep wandering are,

So that I feared some Spirit, fell and dark,

In trance had lain me thus within a fiendish bark.


For now indeed, over the salt sea-billow

I sailed: yet dared not look upon the shape


Of him who ruled the helm, although the pillow

For my light head was hollowed in his lap,

And my bare limbs his mantle did enwrap,

Fearing it was a fiend: at last, he bent

O’er me his aged face; as if to snap


Those dreadful thoughts the gentle grandsire bent,

And to my inmost soul his soothing looks he sent.


A soft and healing potion to my lips

At intervals he raised — now looked on high,

To mark if yet the starry giant dips


His zone in the dim sea — now cheeringly,

Though he said little, did he speak to me.

‘It is a friend beside thee — take good cheer,

Poor victim, thou art now at liberty!’

I joyed as those a human tone to hear,


Who in cells deep and lone have languished many a year.


A dim and feeble joy, whose glimpses oft

Were quenched in a relapse of wildering dreams;

Yet still methought we sailed, until aloft

The stars of night grew pallid, and the beams


Of morn descended on the ocean-streams,

And still that aged man, so grand and mild,

Tended me, even as some sick mother seems

To hang in hope over a dying child,

Till in the azure East darkness again was piled.


And then the night-wind steaming from the shore,

Sent odours dying sweet across the sea,

And the swift boat the little waves which bore,

Were cut by its keen keel, though slantingly;

Soon I could hear the leaves sigh, and could see


The myrtle-blossoms starring the dim grove,

As past the pebbly beach the boat did flee

On sidelong wing, into a silent cove,

Where ebon pines a shade under the starlight wove.

_1223 torches’ editions 1818, 1839.

_1385 bent]meant cj. J. Nettleship.

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.

Canto 5.


Over the utmost hill at length I sped,

A snowy steep:— the moon was hanging low

Over the Asian mountains, and outspread

The plain, the City, and the Camp below,

Skirted the midnight Ocean’s glimmering flow;


The City’s moonlit spires and myriad lamps,

Like stars in a sublunar sky did glow,

And fires blazed far amid the scattered camps,

Like springs of flame, which burst where’er swift Earthquake stamps.


All slept but those in watchful arms who stood,


And those who sate tending the beacon’s light,

And the few sounds from that vast multitude

Made silence more profound. — Oh, what a might

Of human thought was cradled in that night!

How many hearts impenetrably veiled


Beat underneath its shade, what secret fight

Evil and good, in woven passions mailed,

Waged through that silent throng — a war that never failed!


And now the Power of Good held victory.

So, through the labyrinth of many a tent,


Among the silent millions who did lie

In innocent sleep, exultingly I went;

The moon had left Heaven desert now, but lent

From eastern morn the first faint lustre showed

An armed youth — over his spear he bent


His downward face. —‘A friend!’ I cried aloud,

And quickly common hopes made freemen understood.


I sate beside him while the morning beam

Crept slowly over Heaven, and talked with him

Of those immortal hopes, a glorious theme!


Which led us forth, until the stars grew dim:

And all the while, methought, his voice did swim

As if it drowned in remembrance were

Of thoughts which make the moist eyes overbrim:

At last, when daylight ‘gan to fill the air,


He looked on me, and cried in wonder —‘Thou art here!’


Then, suddenly, I knew it was the youth

In whom its earliest hopes my spirit found;

But envious tongues had stained his spotless truth,

And thoughtless pride his love in silence bound,


And shame and sorrow mine in toils had wound,

Whilst he was innocent, and I deluded;

The truth now came upon me, on the ground

Tears of repenting joy, which fast intruded,

Fell fast, and o’er its peace our mingling spirits brooded.


Thus, while with rapid lips and earnest eyes

We talked, a sound of sweeping conflict spread

As from the earth did suddenly arise;

From every tent roused by that clamour dread,

Our bands outsprung and seized their arms — we sped


Towards the sound: our tribes were gathering far.

Those sanguine slaves amid ten thousand dead

Stabbed in their sleep, trampled in treacherous war

The gentle hearts whose power their lives had sought to spare.


Like rabid snakes, that sting some gentle child


Who brings them food, when winter false and fair

Allures them forth with its cold smiles, so wild

They rage among the camp; — they overbear

The patriot hosts — confusion, then despair,

Descends like night — when ‘Laon!’ one did cry;


Like a bright ghost from Heaven that shout did scare

The slaves, and widening through the vaulted sky,

Seemed sent from Earth to Heaven in sign of victory.


In sudden panic those false murderers fled,

Like insect tribes before the northern gale:


But swifter still, our hosts encompassed

Their shattered ranks, and in a craggy vale,

Where even their fierce despair might nought avail,

Hemmed them around! — and then revenge and fear

Made the high virtue of the patriots fail:


One pointed on his foe the mortal spear —

I rushed before its point, and cried ‘Forbear, forbear!’


The spear transfixed my arm that was uplifted

In swift expostulation, and the blood

Gushed round its point: I smiled, and —‘Oh! thou gifted


With eloquence which shall not be withstood,

Flow thus!’ I cried in joy, ‘thou vital flood,

Until my heart be dry, ere thus the cause

For which thou wert aught worthy be subdued —

Ah, ye are pale — ye weep — your passions pause —


’Tis well! ye feel the truth of love’s benignant laws.


‘Soldiers, our brethren and our friends are slain.

Ye murdered them, I think, as they did sleep!

Alas, what have ye done? the slightest pain

Which ye might suffer, there were eyes to weep,


But ye have quenched them — there were smiles to steep

Your hearts in balm, but they are lost in woe;

And those whom love did set his watch to keep

Around your tents, truth’s freedom to bestow,

Ye stabbed as they did sleep — but they forgive ye now.


‘Oh wherefore should ill ever flow from ill,

And pain still keener pain for ever breed?

We all are brethren — even the slaves who kill

For hire, are men; and to avenge misdeed

On the misdoer, doth but Misery feed


With her own broken heart! O Earth, O Heaven!

And thou, dread Nature, which to every deed

And all that lives, or is, to be hath given,

Even as to thee have these done ill, and are forgiven!


‘Join then your hands and hearts, and let the past


Be as a grave which gives not up its dead

To evil thoughts.’— A film then overcast

My sense with dimness, for the wound, which bled

Freshly, swift shadows o’er mine eyes had shed.

When I awoke, I lay mid friends and foes,


And earnest countenances on me shed

The light of questioning looks, whilst one did close

My wound with balmiest herbs, and soothed me to repose;


And one whose spear had pierced me, leaned beside

With quivering lips and humid eyes; — and all


Seemed like some brothers on a journey wide

Gone forth, whom now strange meeting did befall

In a strange land, round one whom they might call

Their friend, their chief, their father, for assay

Of peril, which had saved them from the thrall


Of death, now suffering. Thus the vast array

Of those fraternal bands were reconciled that day.


Lifting the thunder of their acclamation,

Towards the City then the multitude,

And I among them, went in joy — a nation


Made free by love; — a mighty brotherhood

Linked by a jealous interchange of good;

A glorious pageant, more magnificent

Than kingly slaves arrayed in gold and blood,

When they return from carnage, and are sent


In triumph bright beneath the populous battlement.


Afar, the city-walls were thronged on high,

And myriads on each giddy turret clung,

And to each spire far lessening in the sky

Bright pennons on the idle winds were hung;


As we approached, a shout of joyance sprung

At once from all the crowd, as if the vast

And peopled Earth its boundless skies among

The sudden clamour of delight had cast,

When from before its face some general wreck had passed.


Our armies through the City’s hundred gates

Were poured, like brooks which to the rocky lair

Of some deep lake, whose silence them awaits,

Throng from the mountains when the storms are there

And, as we passed through the calm sunny air


A thousand flower-inwoven crowns were shed,

The token flowers of truth and freedom fair,

And fairest hands bound them on many a head,

Those angels of love’s heaven that over all was spread.


I trod as one tranced in some rapturous vision:


Those bloody bands so lately reconciled,

Were, ever as they went, by the contrition

Of anger turned to love, from ill beguiled,

And every one on them more gently smiled,

Because they had done evil:— the sweet awe


Of such mild looks made their own hearts grow mild,

And did with soft attraction ever draw

Their spirits to the love of freedom’s equal law.


And they, and all, in one loud symphony

My name with Liberty commingling, lifted,


‘The friend and the preserver of the free!

The parent of this joy!’ and fair eyes gifted

With feelings, caught from one who had uplifted

The light of a great spirit, round me shone;

And all the shapes of this grand scenery shifted


Like restless clouds before the steadfast sun —

Where was that Maid? I asked, but it was known of none.


Laone was the name her love had chosen,

For she was nameless, and her birth none knew:

Where was Laone now? — The words were frozen


Within my lips with fear; but to subdue

Such dreadful hope, to my great task was due,

And when at length one brought reply, that she

To-morrow would appear, I then withdrew

To judge what need for that great throng might be,


For now the stars came thick over the twilight sea.


Yet need was none for rest or food to care,

Even though that multitude was passing great,

Since each one for the other did prepare

All kindly succour — Therefore to the gate


Of the Imperial House, now desolate,

I passed, and there was found aghast, alone,

The fallen Tyrant! — Silently he sate

Upon the footstool of his golden throne,

Which, starred with sunny gems, in its own lustre shone.


Alone, but for one child, who led before him

A graceful dance: the only living thing

Of all the crowd, which thither to adore him

Flocked yesterday, who solace sought to bring

In his abandonment! — She knew the King


Had praised her dance of yore, and now she wove

Its circles, aye weeping and murmuring

Mid her sad task of unregarded love,

That to no smiles it might his speechless sadness move.


She fled to him, and wildly clasped his feet


When human steps were heard:— he moved nor spoke,

Nor changed his hue, nor raised his looks to meet

The gaze of strangers — our loud entrance woke

The echoes of the hall, which circling broke

The calm of its recesses — like a tomb


Its sculptured walls vacantly to the stroke

Of footfalls answered, and the twilight’s gloom

Lay like a charnel’s mist within the radiant dome.


The little child stood up when we came nigh;

Her lips and cheeks seemed very pale and wan,


But on her forehead, and within her eye

Lay beauty, which makes hearts that feed thereon

Sick with excess of sweetness; on the throne

She leaned; — the King, with gathered brow, and lips

Wreathed by long scorn, did inly sneer and frown


With hue like that when some great painter dips

His pencil in the gloom of earthquake and eclipse.


She stood beside him like a rainbow braided

Within some storm, when scarce its shadows vast

From the blue paths of the swift sun have faded;


A sweet and solemn smile, like Cythna’s, cast

One moment’s light, which made my heart beat fast,

O’er that child’s parted lips — a gleam of bliss,

A shade of vanished days — as the tears passed

Which wrapped it, even as with a father’s kiss


I pressed those softest eyes in trembling tenderness.


The sceptred wretch then from that solitude

I drew, and, of his change compassionate,

With words of sadness soothed his rugged mood.

But he, while pride and fear held deep debate,


With sullen guile of ill-dissembled hate

Glared on me as a toothless snake might glare:

Pity, not scorn I felt, though desolate

The desolator now, and unaware

The curses which he mocked had caught him by the hair.


I led him forth from that which now might seem

A gorgeous grave: through portals sculptured deep

With imagery beautiful as dream

We went, and left the shades which tend on sleep

Over its unregarded gold to keep


Their silent watch. — The child trod faintingly,

And as she went, the tears which she did weep

Glanced in the starlight; wildered seemed she,

And, when I spake, for sobs she could not answer me.


At last the tyrant cried, ‘She hungers, slave!


Stab her, or give her bread!’— It was a tone

Such as sick fancies in a new-made grave

Might hear. I trembled, for the truth was known;

He with this child had thus been left alone,

And neither had gone forth for food — but he


In mingled pride and awe cowered near his throne,

And she a nursling of captivity

Knew nought beyond those walls, nor what such change might be.


And he was troubled at a charm withdrawn

Thus suddenly; that sceptres ruled no more —


That even from gold the dreadful strength was gone,

Which once made all things subject to its power —

Such wonder seized him, as if hour by hour

The past had come again; and the swift fall

Of one so great and terrible of yore,


To desolateness, in the hearts of all

Like wonder stirred, who saw such awful change befall.


A mighty crowd, such as the wide land pours

Once in a thousand years, now gathered round

The fallen tyrant; — like the rush of showers


Of hail in spring, pattering along the ground,

Their many footsteps fell, else came no sound

From the wide multitude: that lonely man

Then knew the burden of his change, and found,

Concealing in the dust his visage wan,


Refuge from the keen looks which through his bosom ran.


And he was faint withal: I sate beside him

Upon the earth, and took that child so fair

From his weak arms, that ill might none betide him

Or her; — when food was brought to them, her share


To his averted lips the child did bear,

But, when she saw he had enough, she ate

And wept the while; — the lonely man’s despair

Hunger then overcame, and of his state

Forgetful, on the dust as in a trance he sate.


Slowly the silence of the multitudes

Passed, as when far is heard in some lone dell

The gathering of a wind among the woods —

‘And he is fallen!’ they cry, ‘he who did dwell

Like famine or the plague, or aught more fell


Among our homes, is fallen! the murderer

Who slaked his thirsting soul as from a well

Of blood and tears with ruin! he is here!

Sunk in a gulf of scorn from which none may him rear!’


Then was heard —‘He who judged let him be brought


To judgement! blood for blood cries from the soil

On which his crimes have deep pollution wrought!

Shall Othman only unavenged despoil?

Shall they who by the stress of grinding toil

Wrest from the unwilling earth his luxuries,


Perish for crime, while his foul blood may boil,

Or creep within his veins at will? — Arise!

And to high justice make her chosen sacrifice!’


‘What do ye seek? what fear ye,’ then I cried,

Suddenly starting forth, ‘that ye should shed


The blood of Othman? — if your hearts are tried

In the true love of freedom, cease to dread

This one poor lonely man — beneath Heaven spread

In purest light above us all, through earth —

Maternal earth, who doth her sweet smiles shed


For all, let him go free; until the worth

Of human nature win from these a second birth.


‘What call ye “justice”? Is there one who ne’er

In secret thought has wished another’s ill? —

Are ye all pure? Let those stand forth who hear


And tremble not. Shall they insult and kill,

If such they be? their mild eyes can they fill

With the false anger of the hypocrite?

Alas, such were not pure! — the chastened will

Of virtue sees that justice is the light


Of love, and not revenge, and terror and despite.’


The murmur of the people, slowly dying,

Paused as I spake, then those who near me were,

Cast gentle looks where the lone man was lying

Shrouding his head, which now that infant fair


Clasped on her lap in silence; — through the air

Sobs were then heard, and many kissed my feet

In pity’s madness, and to the despair

Of him whom late they cursed, a solace sweet

His very victims brought — soft looks and speeches meet.


Then to a home for his repose assigned,

Accompanied by the still throng, he went

In silence, where, to soothe his rankling mind,

Some likeness of his ancient state was lent;

And if his heart could have been innocent


As those who pardoned him, he might have ended

His days in peace; but his straight lips were bent,

Men said, into a smile which guile portended,

A sight with which that child like hope with fear was blended.


’Twas midnight now, the eve of that great day


Whereon the many nations at whose call

The chains of earth like mist melted away,

Decreed to hold a sacred Festival,

A rite to attest the equality of all

Who live. So to their homes, to dream or wake


All went. The sleepless silence did recall

Laone to my thoughts, with hopes that make

The flood recede from which their thirst they seek to slake.


The dawn flowed forth, and from its purple fountains

I drank those hopes which make the spirit quail,


As to the plain between the misty mountains

And the great City, with a countenance pale,

I went:— it was a sight which might avail

To make men weep exulting tears, for whom

Now first from human power the reverend veil


Was torn, to see Earth from her general womb

Pour forth her swarming sons to a fraternal doom:


To see, far glancing in the misty morning,

The signs of that innumerable host;

To hear one sound of many made, the warning


Of Earth to Heaven from its free children tossed,

While the eternal hills, and the sea lost

In wavering light, and, starring the blue sky

The city’s myriad spires of gold, almost

With human joy made mute society —


Its witnesses with men who must hereafter be.


To see, like some vast island from the Ocean,

The Altar of the Federation rear

Its pile i’ the midst; a work, which the devotion

Of millions in one night created there,


Sudden as when the moonrise makes appear

Strange clouds in the east; a marble pyramid

Distinct with steps: that mighty shape did wear

The light of genius; its still shadow hid

Far ships: to know its height the morning mists forbid!


To hear the restless multitudes for ever

Around the base of that great Altar flow,

As on some mountain-islet burst and shiver

Atlantic waves; and solemnly and slow

As the wind bore that tumult to and fro,


To feel the dreamlike music, which did swim

Like beams through floating clouds on waves below

Falling in pauses, from that Altar dim,

As silver-sounding tongues breathed an aerial hymn.


To hear, to see, to live, was on that morn


Lethean joy! so that all those assembled

Cast off their memories of the past outworn;

Two only bosoms with their own life trembled,

And mine was one — and we had both dissembled;

So with a beating heart I went, and one,


Who having much, covets yet more, resembled;

A lost and dear possession, which not won,

He walks in lonely gloom beneath the noonday sun.


To the great Pyramid I came: its stair

With female choirs was thronged: the loveliest


Among the free, grouped with its sculptures rare;

As I approached, the morning’s golden mist,

Which now the wonder-stricken breezes kissed

With their cold lips, fled, and the summit shone

Like Athos seen from Samothracia, dressed


In earliest light, by vintagers, and one

Sate there, a female Shape upon an ivory throne:


A Form most like the imagined habitant

Of silver exhalations sprung from dawn,

By winds which feed on sunrise woven, to enchant


The faiths of men: all mortal eyes were drawn,

As famished mariners through strange seas gone

Gaze on a burning watch-tower, by the light

Of those divinest lineaments — alone

With thoughts which none could share, from that fair sight


I turned in sickness, for a veil shrouded her countenance bright.


And neither did I hear the acclamations,

Which from brief silence bursting, filled the air

With her strange name and mine, from all the nations

Which we, they said, in strength had gathered there


From the sleep of bondage; nor the vision fair

Of that bright pageantry beheld — but blind

And silent, as a breathing corpse did fare,

Leaning upon my friend, till like a wind

To fevered cheeks, a voice flowed o’er my troubled mind.


Like music of some minstrel heavenly gifted,

To one whom fiends enthral, this voice to me;

Scarce did I wish her veil to be uplifted,

I was so calm and joyous. — I could see

The platform where we stood, the statues three


Which kept their marble watch on that high shrine,

The multitudes, the mountains, and the sea;

As when eclipse hath passed, things sudden shine

To men’s astonished eyes most clear and crystalline.


At first Laone spoke most tremulously:


But soon her voice the calmness which it shed

Gathered, and —‘Thou art whom I sought to see,

And thou art our first votary here,’ she said:

‘I had a dear friend once, but he is dead! —

And of all those on the wide earth who breathe,


Thou dost resemble him alone — I spread

This veil between us two that thou beneath

Shouldst image one who may have been long lost in death.


‘For this wilt thou not henceforth pardon me?

Yes, but those joys which silence well requite


Forbid reply; — why men have chosen me

To be the Priestess of this holiest rite

I scarcely know, but that the floods of light

Which flow over the world, have borne me hither

To meet thee, long most dear; and now unite


Thine hand with mine, and may all comfort wither

From both the hearts whose pulse in joy now beat together,


‘If our own will as others’ law we bind,

If the foul worship trampled here we fear;

If as ourselves we cease to love our kind!’—


She paused, and pointed upwards — sculptured there

Three shapes around her ivory throne appear;

One was a Giant, like a child asleep

On a loose rock, whose grasp crushed, as it were

In dream, sceptres and crowns; and one did keep


Its watchful eyes in doubt whether to smile or weep;


A Woman sitting on the sculptured disk

Of the broad earth, and feeding from one breast

A human babe and a young basilisk;

Her looks were sweet as Heaven’s when loveliest


In Autumn eves. The third Image was dressed

In white wings swift as clouds in winter skies;

Beneath his feet, ‘mongst ghastliest forms, repressed

Lay Faith, an obscene worm, who sought to rise,

While calmly on the Sun he turned his diamond eyes.


Beside that Image then I sate, while she

Stood, mid the throngs which ever ebbed and flowed,

Like light amid the shadows of the sea

Cast from one cloudless star, and on the crowd

That touch which none who feels forgets, bestowed;


And whilst the sun returned the steadfast gaze

Of the great Image, as o’er Heaven it glode,

That rite had place; it ceased when sunset’s blaze

Burned o’er the isles. All stood in joy and deep amaze —

— When in the silence of all spirits there


Laone’s voice was felt, and through the air

Her thrilling gestures spoke, most eloquently fair:—


‘Calm art thou as yon sunset! swift and strong

As new-fledged Eagles, beautiful and young,

That float among the blinding beams of morning;


And underneath thy feet writhe Faith, and Folly,

Custom, and Hell, and mortal Melancholy —

Hark! the Earth starts to hear the mighty warning

Of thy voice sublime and holy;

Its free spirits here assembled


See thee, feel thee, know thee now —

To thy voice their hearts have trembled

Like ten thousand clouds which flow

With one wide wind as it flies! —

Wisdom! thy irresistible children rise


To hail thee, and the elements they chain

And their own will, to swell the glory of thy train.


‘O Spirit vast and deep as Night and Heaven!

Mother and soul of all to which is given

The light of life, the loveliness of being,


Lo! thou dost re-ascend the human heart,

Thy throne of power, almighty as thou wert

In dreams of Poets old grown pale by seeing

The shade of thee; — now, millions start

To feel thy lightnings through them burning:


Nature, or God, or Love, or Pleasure,

Or Sympathy the sad tears turning

To mutual smiles, a drainless treasure,

Descends amidst us; — Scorn and Hate,

Revenge and Selfishness are desolate —


A hundred nations swear that there shall be

Pity and Peace and Love, among the good and free!


‘Eldest of things, divine Equality!

Wisdom and Love are but the slaves of thee,

The Angels of thy sway, who pour around thee


Treasures from all the cells of human thought,

And from the Stars, and from the Ocean brought,

And the last living heart whose beatings bound thee:

The powerful and the wise had sought

Thy coming, thou in light descending


O’er the wide land which is thine own

Like the Spring whose breath is blending

All blasts of fragrance into one,

Comest upon the paths of men! —

Earth bares her general bosom to thy ken,


And all her children here in glory meet

To feed upon thy smiles, and clasp thy sacred feet.


‘My brethren, we are free! the plains and mountains,

The gray sea-shore, the forests and the fountains,

Are haunts of happiest dwellers; — man and woman,


Their common bondage burst, may freely borrow

From lawless love a solace for their sorrow;

For oft we still must weep, since we are human.

A stormy night’s serenest morrow,

Whose showers are pity’s gentle tears,


Whose clouds are smiles of those that die

Like infants without hopes or fears,

And whose beams are joys that lie

In blended hearts, now holds dominion;

The dawn of mind, which upwards on a pinion


Borne, swift as sunrise, far illumines space,

And clasps this barren world in its own bright embrace!


‘My brethren, we are free! The fruits are glowing

Beneath the stars, and the night-winds are flowing

O’er the ripe corn, the birds and beasts are dreaming —


Never again may blood of bird or beast

Stain with its venomous stream a human feast,

To the pure skies in accusation steaming;

Avenging poisons shall have ceased

To feed disease and fear and madness,


The dwellers of the earth and air

Shall throng around our steps in gladness,

Seeking their food or refuge there.

Our toil from thought all glorious forms shall cull,

To make this Earth, our home, more beautiful,


And Science, and her sister Poesy,

Shall clothe in light the fields and cities of the free!


‘Victory, Victory to the prostrate nations!

Bear witness Night, and ye mute Constellations

Who gaze on us from your crystalline cars!


Thoughts have gone forth whose powers can sleep no more!

Victory! Victory! Earth’s remotest shore,

Regions which groan beneath the Antarctic stars,

The green lands cradled in the roar

Of western waves, and wildernesses


Peopled and vast, which skirt the oceans

Where morning dyes her golden tresses,

Shall soon partake our high emotions:

Kings shall turn pale! Almighty Fear,

The Fiend-God, when our charmed name he hear,


Shall fade like shadow from his thousand fanes,

While Truth with Joy enthroned o’er his lost empire reigns!’


Ere she had ceased, the mists of night entwining

Their dim woof, floated o’er the infinite throng;

She, like a spirit through the darkness shining,


In tones whose sweetness silence did prolong,

As if to lingering winds they did belong,

Poured forth her inmost soul: a passionate speech

With wild and thrilling pauses woven among,

Which whoso heard was mute, for it could teach


To rapture like her own all listening hearts to reach.


Her voice was as a mountain stream which sweeps

The withered leaves of Autumn to the lake,

And in some deep and narrow bay then sleeps

In the shadow of the shores; as dead leaves wake,


Under the wave, in flowers and herbs which make

Those green depths beautiful when skies are blue,

The multitude so moveless did partake

Such living change, and kindling murmurs flew

As o’er that speechless calm delight and wonder grew.


Over the plain the throngs were scattered then

In groups around the fires, which from the sea

Even to the gorge of the first mountain-glen

Blazed wide and far: the banquet of the free

Was spread beneath many a dark cypress-tree,


Beneath whose spires, which swayed in the red flame,

Reclining, as they ate, of Liberty,

And Hope, and Justice, and Laone’s name,

Earth’s children did a woof of happy converse frame.


Their feast was such as Earth, the general mother,


Pours from her fairest bosom, when she smiles

In the embrace of Autumn; — to each other

As when some parent fondly reconciles

Her warring children, she their wrath beguiles

With her own sustenance, they relenting weep:


Such was this Festival, which from their isles

And continents, and winds, and oceans deep,

All shapes might throng to share, that fly, or walk or creep —


Might share in peace and innocence, for gore

Or poison none this festal did pollute,


But, piled on high, an overflowing store

Of pomegranates and citrons, fairest fruit,

Melons, and dates, and figs, and many a root

Sweet and sustaining, and bright grapes ere yet

Accursed fire their mild juice could transmute


Into a mortal bane, and brown corn set

In baskets; with pure streams their thirsting lips they wet.


Laone had descended from the shrine,

And every deepest look and holiest mind

Fed on her form, though now those tones divine


Were silent as she passed; she did unwind

Her veil, as with the crowds of her own kind

She mixed; some impulse made my heart refrain

From seeking her that night, so I reclined

Amidst a group, where on the utmost plain


A festal watchfire burned beside the dusky main.


And joyous was our feast; pathetic talk,

And wit, and harmony of choral strains,

While far Orion o’er the waves did walk

That flow among the isles, held us in chains


Of sweet captivity which none disdains

Who feels; but when his zone grew dim in mist

Which clothes the Ocean’s bosom, o’er the plains

The multitudes went homeward, to their rest,

Which that delightful day with its own shadow blessed.

_2295 flame]light edition 1818.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Canto 10.


Was there a human spirit in the steed,

That thus with his proud voice, ere night was gone,


He broke our linked rest? or do indeed

All living things a common nature own,

And thought erect an universal throne,

Where many shapes one tribute ever bear?

And Earth, their mutual mother, does she groan


To see her sons contend? and makes she bare

Her breast, that all in peace its drainless stores may share?


I have heard friendly sounds from many a tongue

Which was not human — the lone nightingale

Has answered me with her most soothing song,


Out of her ivy bower, when I sate pale

With grief, and sighed beneath; from many a dale

The antelopes who flocked for food have spoken

With happy sounds, and motions, that avail

Like man’s own speech; and such was now the token


Of waning night, whose calm by that proud neigh was broken.


Each night, that mighty steed bore me abroad,

And I returned with food to our retreat,

And dark intelligence; the blood which flowed

Over the fields, had stained the courser’s feet;


Soon the dust drinks that bitter dew — then meet

The vulture, and the wild dog, and the snake,

The wolf, and the hyaena gray, and eat

The dead in horrid truce: their throngs did make

Behind the steed, a chasm like waves in a ship’s wake.


For, from the utmost realms of earth came pouring

The banded slaves whom every despot sent

At that throned traitor’s summons; like the roaring

Of fire, whose floods the wild deer circumvent

In the scorched pastures of the South; so bent


The armies of the leagued Kings around

Their files of steel and flame; — the continent

Trembled, as with a zone of ruin bound,

Beneath their feet, the sea shook with their Navies’ sound.


From every nation of the earth they came,


The multitude of moving heartless things,

Whom slaves call men: obediently they came,

Like sheep whom from the fold the shepherd brings

To the stall, red with blood; their many kings

Led them, thus erring, from their native land;


Tartar and Frank, and millions whom the wings

Of Indian breezes lull, and many a band

The Arctic Anarch sent, and Idumea’s sand,


Fertile in prodigies and lies; — so there

Strange natures made a brotherhood of ill.


The desert savage ceased to grasp in fear

His Asian shield and bow, when, at the will

Of Europe’s subtler son, the bolt would kill

Some shepherd sitting on a rock secure;

But smiles of wondering joy his face would fill,


And savage sympathy: those slaves impure,

Each one the other thus from ill to ill did lure.


For traitorously did that foul Tyrant robe

His countenance in lies — even at the hour

When he was snatched from death, then o’er the globe,


With secret signs from many a mountain-tower,

With smoke by day, and fire by night, the power

Of Kings and Priests, those dark conspirators,

He called:— they knew his cause their own, and swore

Like wolves and serpents to their mutual wars


Strange truce, with many a rite which Earth and Heaven abhors.


Myriads had come — millions were on their way;

The Tyrant passed, surrounded by the steel

Of hired assassins, through the public way,

Choked with his country’s dead:— his footsteps reel


On the fresh blood — he smiles. ‘Ay, now I feel

I am a King in truth!’ he said, and took

His royal seat, and bade the torturing wheel

Be brought, and fire, and pincers, and the hook,

And scorpions, that his soul on its revenge might look.


‘But first, go slay the rebels — why return

The victor bands?’ he said, ‘millions yet live,

Of whom the weakest with one word might turn

The scales of victory yet; — let none survive

But those within the walls — each fifth shall give


The expiation for his brethren here. —

Go forth, and waste and kill!’—‘O king, forgive

My speech,’ a soldier answered —‘but we fear

The spirits of the night, and morn is drawing near;


‘For we were slaying still without remorse,


And now that dreadful chief beneath my hand

Defenceless lay, when on a hell-black horse,

An Angel bright as day, waving a brand

Which flashed among the stars, passed.’—‘Dost thou stand

Parleying with me, thou wretch?’ the king replied;


‘Slaves, bind him to the wheel; and of this band,

Whoso will drag that woman to his side

That scared him thus, may burn his dearest foe beside;


‘And gold and glory shall be his. — Go forth!’

They rushed into the plain. — Loud was the roar


Of their career: the horsemen shook the earth;

The wheeled artillery’s speed the pavement tore;

The infantry, file after file, did pour

Their clouds on the utmost hills. Five days they slew

Among the wasted fields; the sixth saw gore


Stream through the city; on the seventh, the dew

Of slaughter became stiff, and there was peace anew:


Peace in the desert fields and villages,

Between the glutted beasts and mangled dead!

Peace in the silent streets! save when the cries


Of victims to their fiery judgement led,

Made pale their voiceless lips who seemed to dread

Even in their dearest kindred, lest some tongue

Be faithless to the fear yet unbetrayed;

Peace in the Tyrant’s palace, where the throng


Waste the triumphal hours in festival and song!


Day after day the burning sun rolled on

Over the death-polluted land — it came

Out of the east like fire, and fiercely shone

A lamp of Autumn, ripening with its flame


The few lone ears of corn; — the sky became

Stagnate with heat, so that each cloud and blast

Languished and died — the thirsting air did claim

All moisture, and a rotting vapour passed

From the unburied dead, invisible and fast.


First Want, then Plague came on the beasts; their food

Failed, and they drew the breath of its decay.

Millions on millions, whom the scent of blood

Had lured, or who, from regions far away,

Had tracked the hosts in festival array,


From their dark deserts; gaunt and wasting now,

Stalked like fell shades among their perished prey;

In their green eyes a strange disease did glow,

They sank in hideous spasm, or pains severe and slow.


The fish were poisoned in the streams; the birds


In the green woods perished; the insect race

Was withered up; the scattered flocks and herds

Who had survived the wild beasts’ hungry chase

Died moaning, each upon the other’s face

In helpless agony gazing; round the City


All night, the lean hyaenas their sad case

Like starving infants wailed; a woeful ditty!

And many a mother wept, pierced with unnatural pity.


Amid the aereal minarets on high,

The Ethiopian vultures fluttering fell


From their long line of brethren in the sky,

Startling the concourse of mankind. — Too well

These signs the coming mischief did foretell:—

Strange panic first, a deep and sickening dread

Within each heart, like ice, did sink and dwell,


A voiceless thought of evil, which did spread

With the quick glance of eyes, like withering lightnings shed.


Day after day, when the year wanes, the frosts

Strip its green crown of leaves, till all is bare;

So on those strange and congregated hosts


Came Famine, a swift shadow, and the air

Groaned with the burden of a new despair;

Famine, than whom Misrule no deadlier daughter

Feeds from her thousand breasts, though sleeping there

With lidless eyes, lie Faith, and Plague, and Slaughter,


A ghastly brood; conceived of Lethe’s sullen water.


There was no food, the corn was trampled down,

The flocks and herds had perished; on the shore

The dead and putrid fish were ever thrown;

The deeps were foodless, and the winds no more


Creaked with the weight of birds, but, as before

Those winged things sprang forth, were void of shade;

The vines and orchards, Autumn’s golden store,

Were burned; — so that the meanest food was weighed

With gold, and Avarice died before the god it made.


There was no corn — in the wide market-place

All loathliest things, even human flesh, was sold;

They weighed it in small scales — and many a face

Was fixed in eager horror then: his gold

The miser brought; the tender maid, grown bold


Through hunger, bared her scorned charms in vain;

The mother brought her eldest born, controlled

By instinct blind as love, but turned again

And bade her infant suck, and died in silent pain.


Then fell blue Plague upon the race of man.


‘O, for the sheathed steel, so late which gave

Oblivion to the dead, when the streets ran

With brothers’ blood! O, that the earthquake’s grave

Would gape, or Ocean lift its stifling wave!’

Vain cries — throughout the streets thousands pursued


Each by his fiery torture howl and rave,

Or sit in frenzy’s unimagined mood,

Upon fresh heaps of dead; a ghastly multitude.


It was not hunger now, but thirst. Each well

Was choked with rotting corpses, and became


A cauldron of green mist made visible

At sunrise. Thither still the myriads came,

Seeking to quench the agony of the flame,

Which raged like poison through their bursting veins;

Naked they were from torture, without shame,


Spotted with nameless scars and lurid blains,

Childhood, and youth, and age, writhing in savage pains.


It was not thirst, but madness! Many saw

Their own lean image everywhere, it went

A ghastlier self beside them, till the awe


Of that dread sight to self-destruction sent

Those shrieking victims; some, ere life was spent,

Sought, with a horrid sympathy, to shed

Contagion on the sound; and others rent

Their matted hair, and cried aloud, ‘We tread


On fire! the avenging Power his hell on earth has spread!’


Sometimes the living by the dead were hid.

Near the great fountain in the public square,

Where corpses made a crumbling pyramid

Under the sun, was heard one stifled prayer


For life, in the hot silence of the air;

And strange ’twas, amid that hideous heap to see

Some shrouded in their long and golden hair,

As if not dead, but slumbering quietly

Like forms which sculptors carve, then love to agony.


Famine had spared the palace of the king:—

He rioted in festival the while,

He and his guards and priests; but Plague did fling

One shadow upon all. Famine can smile

On him who brings it food, and pass, with guile


Of thankful falsehood, like a courtier gray,

The house-dog of the throne; but many a mile

Comes Plague, a winged wolf, who loathes alway

The garbage and the scum that strangers make her prey.


So, near the throne, amid the gorgeous feast,


Sheathed in resplendent arms, or loosely dight

To luxury, ere the mockery yet had ceased

That lingered on his lips, the warrior’s might

Was loosened, and a new and ghastlier night

In dreams of frenzy lapped his eyes; he fell


Headlong, or with stiff eyeballs sate upright

Among the guests, or raving mad did tell

Strange truths; a dying seer of dark oppression’s hell.


The Princes and the Priests were pale with terror;

That monstrous faith wherewith they ruled mankind,


Fell, like a shaft loosed by the bowman’s error,

On their own hearts: they sought and they could find

No refuge —’twas the blind who led the blind!

So, through the desolate streets to the high fane,

The many-tongued and endless armies wind


In sad procession: each among the train

To his own Idol lifts his supplications vain.


‘O God!’ they cried, ‘we know our secret pride

Has scorned thee, and thy worship, and thy name;

Secure in human power we have defied


Thy fearful might; we bend in fear and shame

Before thy presence; with the dust we claim

Kindred; be merciful, O King of Heaven!

Most justly have we suffered for thy fame

Made dim, but be at length our sins forgiven,


Ere to despair and death thy worshippers be driven.


‘O King of Glory! thou alone hast power!

Who can resist thy will? who can restrain

Thy wrath, when on the guilty thou dost shower

The shafts of thy revenge, a blistering rain?


Greatest and best, be merciful again!

Have we not stabbed thine enemies, and made

The Earth an altar, and the Heavens a fane,

Where thou wert worshipped with their blood, and laid

Those hearts in dust which would thy searchless works have weighed?


‘Well didst thou loosen on this impious City

Thine angels of revenge: recall them now;

Thy worshippers, abased, here kneel for pity,

And bind their souls by an immortal vow:

We swear by thee! and to our oath do thou


Give sanction, from thine hell of fiends and flame,

That we will kill with fire and torments slow,

The last of those who mocked thy holy name,

And scorned the sacred laws thy prophets did proclaim.’


Thus they with trembling limbs and pallid lips


Worshipped their own hearts’ image, dim and vast,

Scared by the shade wherewith they would eclipse

The light of other minds; — troubled they passed

From the great Temple; — fiercely still and fast

The arrows of the plague among them fell,


And they on one another gazed aghast,

And through the hosts contention wild befell,

As each of his own god the wondrous works did tell.


And Oromaze, Joshua, and Mahomet,

Moses, and Buddh, Zerdusht, and Brahm, and Foh,


A tumult of strange names, which never met

Before, as watchwords of a single woe,

Arose; each raging votary ‘gan to throw

Aloft his armed hands, and each did howl

‘Our God alone is God!’— and slaughter now


Would have gone forth, when from beneath a cowl

A voice came forth, which pierced like ice through every soul.


’Twas an Iberian Priest from whom it came,

A zealous man, who led the legioned West,

With words which faith and pride had steeped in flame,


To quell the unbelievers; a dire guest

Even to his friends was he, for in his breast

Did hate and guile lie watchful, intertwined,

Twin serpents in one deep and winding nest;

He loathed all faith beside his own, and pined


To wreak his fear of Heaven in vengeance on mankind.


But more he loathed and hated the clear light

Of wisdom and free thought, and more did fear,

Lest, kindled once, its beams might pierce the night,

Even where his Idol stood; for, far and near


Did many a heart in Europe leap to hear

That faith and tyranny were trampled down;

Many a pale victim, doomed for truth to share

The murderer’s cell, or see, with helpless groan,

The priests his children drag for slaves to serve their own.


He dared not kill the infidels with fire

Or steel, in Europe; the slow agonies

Of legal torture mocked his keen desire:

So he made truce with those who did despise

The expiation, and the sacrifice,


That, though detested, Islam’s kindred creed

Might crush for him those deadlier enemies;

For fear of God did in his bosom breed

A jealous hate of man, an unreposing need.


‘Peace! Peace!’ he cried, ‘when we are dead, the Day


Of Judgement comes, and all shall surely know

Whose God is God, each fearfully shall pay

The errors of his faith in endless woe!

But there is sent a mortal vengeance now

On earth, because an impious race had spurned


Him whom we all adore — a subtle foe,

By whom for ye this dread reward was earned,

And kingly thrones, which rest on faith, nigh overturned.


‘Think ye, because ye weep, and kneel, and pray,

That God will lull the pestilence? It rose


Even from beneath his throne, where, many a day,

His mercy soothed it to a dark repose:

It walks upon the earth to judge his foes;

And what are thou and I, that he should deign

To curb his ghastly minister, or close


The gates of death, ere they receive the twain

Who shook with mortal spells his undefended reign?


‘Ay, there is famine in the gulf of hell,

Its giant worms of fire for ever yawn. —

Their lurid eyes are on us! those who fell


By the swift shafts of pestilence ere dawn,

Are in their jaws! they hunger for the spawn

Of Satan, their own brethren, who were sent

To make our souls their spoil. See! see! they fawn

Like dogs, and they will sleep with luxury spent,


When those detested hearts their iron fangs have rent!


‘Our God may then lull Pestilence to sleep:—

Pile high the pyre of expiation now,

A forest’s spoil of boughs, and on the heap

Pour venomous gums, which sullenly and slow,


When touched by flame, shall burn, and melt, and flow,

A stream of clinging fire — and fix on high

A net of iron, and spread forth below

A couch of snakes, and scorpions, and the fry

Of centipedes and worms, earth’s hellish progeny!


‘Let Laon and Laone on that pyre,

Linked tight with burning brass, perish! — then pray

That, with this sacrifice, the withering ire

Of Heaven may be appeased.’ He ceased, and they

A space stood silent, as far, far away


The echoes of his voice among them died;

And he knelt down upon the dust, alway

Muttering the curses of his speechless pride,

Whilst shame, and fear, and awe, the armies did divide.


His voice was like a blast that burst the portal


Of fabled hell; and as he spake, each one

Saw gape beneath the chasms of fire immortal,

And Heaven above seemed cloven, where, on a throne

Girt round with storms and shadows, sate alone

Their King and Judge — fear killed in every breast


All natural pity then, a fear unknown

Before, and with an inward fire possessed,

They raged like homeless beasts whom burning woods invest.


’Twas morn. — At noon the public crier went forth,

Proclaiming through the living and the dead,


‘The Monarch saith, that his great Empire’s worth

Is set on Laon and Laone’s head:

He who but one yet living here can lead,

Or who the life from both their hearts can wring,

Shall be the kingdom’s heir — a glorious meed!


But he who both alive can hither bring,

The Princess shall espouse, and reign an equal King.’


Ere night the pyre was piled, the net of iron

Was spread above, the fearful couch below;

It overtopped the towers that did environ


That spacious square; for Fear is never slow

To build the thrones of Hate, her mate and foe;

So, she scourged forth the maniac multitude

To rear this pyramid — tottering and slow,

Plague-stricken, foodless, like lean herds pursued


By gadflies, they have piled the heath, and gums, and wood.


Night came, a starless and a moonless gloom.

Until the dawn, those hosts of many a nation

Stood round that pile, as near one lover’s tomb

Two gentle sisters mourn their desolation;


And in the silence of that expectation,

Was heard on high the reptiles’ hiss and crawl —

It was so deep — save when the devastation

Of the swift pest, with fearful interval,

Marking its path with shrieks, among the crowd would fall.


Morn came — among those sleepless multitudes,

Madness, and Fear, and Plague, and Famine still

Heaped corpse on corpse, as in autumnal woods

The frosts of many a wind with dead leaves fill

Earth’s cold and sullen brooks; in silence, still


The pale survivors stood; ere noon, the fear

Of Hell became a panic, which did kill

Like hunger or disease, with whispers drear,

As ‘Hush! hark! Come they yet? — Just Heaven! thine hour is near!’


And Priests rushed through their ranks, some counterfeiting


The rage they did inspire, some mad indeed

With their own lies; they said their god was waiting

To see his enemies writhe, and burn, and bleed —

And that, till then, the snakes of Hell had need

Of human souls:— three hundred furnaces


Soon blazed through the wide City, where, with speed,

Men brought their infidel kindred to appease

God’s wrath, and, while they burned, knelt round on quivering knees.


The noontide sun was darkened with that smoke,

The winds of eve dispersed those ashes gray.


The madness which these rites had lulled, awoke

Again at sunset. — Who shall dare to say

The deeds which night and fear brought forth, or weigh

In balance just the good and evil there?

He might man’s deep and searchless heart display,


And cast a light on those dim labyrinths, where

Hope, near imagined chasms, is struggling with despair.


’Tis said, a mother dragged three children then,

To those fierce flames which roast the eyes in the head,

And laughed, and died; and that unholy men,


Feasting like fiends upon the infidel dead,

Looked from their meal, and saw an Angel tread

The visible floor of Heaven, and it was she!

And, on that night, one without doubt or dread

Came to the fire, and said, ‘Stop, I am he!


Kill me!’— They burned them both with hellish mockery.


And, one by one, that night, young maidens came,

Beauteous and calm, like shapes of living stone

Clothed in the light of dreams, and by the flame

Which shrank as overgorged, they laid them down,


And sung a low sweet song, of which alone

One word was heard, and that was Liberty;

And that some kissed their marble feet, with moan

Like love, and died; and then that they did die

With happy smiles, which sunk in white tranquillity.

_3834 native home edition 1818.

_3967 earthquakes edition 1818.

_4176 reptiles’]reptiles edition 1818.

Canto 11.


She saw me not — she heard me not — alone

Upon the mountain’s dizzy brink she stood;

She spake not, breathed not, moved not — there was thrown

Over her look, the shadow of a mood

Which only clothes the heart in solitude,


A thought of voiceless depth; — she stood alone,

Above, the Heavens were spread; — below, the flood

Was murmuring in its caves; — the wind had blown

Her hair apart, through which her eyes and forehead shone.


A cloud was hanging o’er the western mountains;


Before its blue and moveless depth were flying

Gray mists poured forth from the unresting fountains

Of darkness in the North:— the day was dying:—

Sudden, the sun shone forth, its beams were lying

Like boiling gold on Ocean, strange to see,


And on the shattered vapours, which defying

The power of light in vain, tossed restlessly

In the red Heaven, like wrecks in a tempestuous sea.


It was a stream of living beams, whose bank

On either side by the cloud’s cleft was made;


And where its chasms that flood of glory drank,

Its waves gushed forth like fire, and as if swayed

By some mute tempest, rolled on HER; the shade

Of her bright image floated on the river

Of liquid light, which then did end and fade —


Her radiant shape upon its verge did shiver;

Aloft, her flowing hair like strings of flame did quiver.


I stood beside her, but she saw me not —

She looked upon the sea, and skies, and earth;

Rapture, and love, and admiration wrought


A passion deeper far than tears, or mirth,

Or speech, or gesture, or whate’er has birth

From common joy; which with the speechless feeling

That led her there united, and shot forth

From her far eyes a light of deep revealing,


All but her dearest self from my regard concealing.


Her lips were parted, and the measured breath

Was now heard there; — her dark and intricate eyes

Orb within orb, deeper than sleep or death,

Absorbed the glories of the burning skies,


Which, mingling with her heart’s deep ecstasies,

Burst from her looks and gestures; — and a light

Of liquid tenderness, like love, did rise

From her whole frame, an atmosphere which quite

Arrayed her in its beams, tremulous and soft and bright.


She would have clasped me to her glowing frame;

Those warm and odorous lips might soon have shed

On mine the fragrance and the invisible flame

Which now the cold winds stole; — she would have laid

Upon my languid heart her dearest head;


I might have heard her voice, tender and sweet;

Her eyes, mingling with mine, might soon have fed

My soul with their own joy. — One moment yet

I gazed — we parted then, never again to meet!


Never but once to meet on Earth again!


She heard me as I fled — her eager tone

Sunk on my heart, and almost wove a chain

Around my will to link it with her own,

So that my stern resolve was almost gone.

‘I cannot reach thee! whither dost thou fly?


My steps are faint — Come back, thou dearest one —

Return, ah me! return!’— The wind passed by

On which those accents died, faint, far, and lingeringly.


Woe! Woe! that moonless midnight! — Want and Pest

Were horrible, but one more fell doth rear,


As in a hydra’s swarming lair, its crest

Eminent among those victims — even the Fear

Of Hell: each girt by the hot atmosphere

Of his blind agony, like a scorpion stung

By his own rage upon his burning bier


Of circling coals of fire; but still there clung

One hope, like a keen sword on starting threads uphung:


Not death — death was no more refuge or rest;

Not life — it was despair to be! — not sleep,

For fiends and chasms of fire had dispossessed


All natural dreams: to wake was not to weep,

But to gaze mad and pallid, at the leap

To which the Future, like a snaky scourge,

Or like some tyrant’s eye, which aye doth keep

Its withering beam upon his slaves, did urge


Their steps; they heard the roar of Hell’s sulphureous surge.


Each of that multitude, alone, and lost

To sense of outward things, one hope yet knew;

As on a foam-girt crag some seaman tossed

Stares at the rising tide, or like the crew


Whilst now the ship is splitting through and through;

Each, if the tramp of a far steed was heard,

Started from sick despair, or if there flew

One murmur on the wind, or if some word

Which none can gather yet, the distant crowd has stirred.


Why became cheeks, wan with the kiss of death,

Paler from hope? they had sustained despair.

Why watched those myriads with suspended breath

Sleepless a second night? they are not here,

The victims, and hour by hour, a vision drear,


Warm corpses fall upon the clay-cold dead;

And even in death their lips are wreathed with fear. —

The crowd is mute and moveless — overhead

Silent Arcturus shines —‘Ha! hear’st thou not the tread


‘Of rushing feet? laughter? the shout, the scream,


Of triumph not to be contained? See! hark!

They come, they come! give way!’ Alas, ye deem

Falsely —’tis but a crowd of maniacs stark

Driven, like a troop of spectres, through the dark,

From the choked well, whence a bright death-fire sprung,


A lurid earth-star, which dropped many a spark

From its blue train, and spreading widely, clung

To their wild hair, like mist the topmost pines among.


And many, from the crowd collected there,

Joined that strange dance in fearful sympathies;


There was the silence of a long despair,

When the last echo of those terrible cries

Came from a distant street, like agonies

Stifled afar. — Before the Tyrant’s throne

All night his aged Senate sate, their eyes


In stony expectation fixed; when one

Sudden before them stood, a Stranger and alone.


Dark Priests and haughty Warriors gazed on him

With baffled wonder, for a hermit’s vest

Concealed his face; but when he spake, his tone,


Ere yet the matter did their thoughts arrest —

Earnest, benignant, calm, as from a breast

Void of all hate or terror — made them start;

For as with gentle accents he addressed

His speech to them, on each unwilling heart


Unusual awe did fall — a spirit-quelling dart.


‘Ye Princes of the Earth, ye sit aghast

Amid the ruin which yourselves have made,

Yes, Desolation heard your trumpet’s blast,

And sprang from sleep! — dark Terror has obeyed


Your bidding — O, that I whom ye have made

Your foe, could set my dearest enemy free

From pain and fear! but evil casts a shade,

Which cannot pass so soon, and Hate must be

The nurse and parent still of an ill progeny.


‘Ye turn to Heaven for aid in your distress;

Alas, that ye, the mighty and the wise,

Who, if ye dared, might not aspire to less

Than ye conceive of power, should fear the lies

Which thou, and thou, didst frame for mysteries


To blind your slaves:— consider your own thought,

An empty and a cruel sacrifice

Ye now prepare, for a vain idol wrought

Out of the fears and hate which vain desires have brought.


‘Ye seek for happiness — alas, the day!


Ye find it not in luxury nor in gold,

Nor in the fame, nor in the envied sway

For which, O willing slaves to Custom old,

Severe taskmistress! ye your hearts have sold.

Ye seek for peace, and when ye die, to dream


No evil dreams: all mortal things are cold

And senseless then; if aught survive, I deem

It must be love and joy, for they immortal seem.


‘Fear not the future, weep not for the past.

Oh, could I win your ears to dare be now


Glorious, and great, and calm! that ye would cast

Into the dust those symbols of your woe,

Purple, and gold, and steel! that ye would go

Proclaiming to the nations whence ye came,

That Want, and Plague, and Fear, from slavery flow;


And that mankind is free, and that the shame

Of royalty and faith is lost in freedom’s fame!


‘If thus, ’tis well — if not, I come to say

That Laon —’ while the Stranger spoke, among

The Council sudden tumult and affray


Arose, for many of those warriors young,

Had on his eloquent accents fed and hung

Like bees on mountain-flowers; they knew the truth,

And from their thrones in vindication sprung;

The men of faith and law then without ruth


Drew forth their secret steel, and stabbed each ardent youth.


They stabbed them in the back and sneered — a slave

Who stood behind the throne, those corpses drew

Each to its bloody, dark, and secret grave;

And one more daring raised his steel anew


To pierce the Stranger. ‘What hast thou to do

With me, poor wretch?’— Calm, solemn and severe,

That voice unstrung his sinews, and he threw

His dagger on the ground, and pale with fear,

Sate silently — his voice then did the Stranger rear.


‘It doth avail not that I weep for ye —

Ye cannot change, since ye are old and gray,

And ye have chosen your lot — your fame must be

A book of blood, whence in a milder day

Men shall learn truth, when ye are wrapped in clay:


Now ye shall triumph. I am Laon’s friend,

And him to your revenge will I betray,

So ye concede one easy boon. Attend!

For now I speak of things which ye can apprehend.


‘There is a People mighty in its youth,


A land beyond the Oceans of the West,

Where, though with rudest rites, Freedom and Truth

Are worshipped; from a glorious Mother’s breast,

Who, since high Athens fell, among the rest

Sate like the Queen of Nations, but in woe,


By inbred monsters outraged and oppressed,

Turns to her chainless child for succour now,

It draws the milk of Power in Wisdom’s fullest flow.


‘That land is like an Eagle, whose young gaze

Feeds on the noontide beam, whose golden plume


Floats moveless on the storm, and in the blaze

Of sunrise gleams when Earth is wrapped in gloom;

An epitaph of glory for the tomb

Of murdered Europe may thy fame be made,

Great People! as the sands shalt thou become;


Thy growth is swift as morn, when night must fade;

The multitudinous Earth shall sleep beneath thy shade.


‘Yes, in the desert there is built a home

For Freedom. Genius is made strong to rear

The monuments of man beneath the dome


Of a new Heaven; myriads assemble there,

Whom the proud lords of man, in rage or fear,

Drive from their wasted homes: the boon I pray

Is this — that Cythna shall be convoyed there —

Nay, start not at the name — America!


And then to you this night Laon will I betray.


‘With me do what ye will. I am your foe!’

The light of such a joy as makes the stare

Of hungry snakes like living emeralds glow,

Shone in a hundred human eyes —‘Where, where


Is Laon? Haste! fly! drag him swiftly here!

We grant thy boon.’—‘I put no trust in ye,

Swear by the Power ye dread.’—‘We swear, we swear!’

The Stranger threw his vest back suddenly,

And smiled in gentle pride, and said, ‘Lo! I am he!’

_4321 wreathed]writhed. “Poetical Works” 1839. 1st edition.

_4361 the mighty]tho’ mighty edition 1818.

_4362 ye]he edition 1818.

_4432 there]then edition 1818.

Canto 12.


The transport of a fierce and monstrous gladness

Spread through the multitudinous streets, fast flying

Upon the winds of fear; from his dull madness

The starveling waked, and died in joy; the dying,

Among the corpses in stark agony lying,


Just heard the happy tidings, and in hope

Closed their faint eyes; from house to house replying

With loud acclaim, the living shook Heaven’s cope,

And filled the startled Earth with echoes: morn did ope


Its pale eyes then; and lo! the long array


Of guards in golden arms, and Priests beside,

Singing their bloody hymns, whose garbs betray

The blackness of the faith it seems to hide;

And see, the Tyrant’s gem-wrought chariot glide

Among the gloomy cowls and glittering spears —


A Shape of light is sitting by his side,

A child most beautiful. I’ the midst appears

Laon — exempt alone from mortal hopes and fears.


His head and feet are bare, his hands are bound

Behind with heavy chains, yet none do wreak


Their scoffs on him, though myriads throng around;

There are no sneers upon his lip which speak

That scorn or hate has made him bold; his cheek

Resolve has not turned pale — his eyes are mild

And calm, and, like the morn about to break,


Smile on mankind — his heart seems reconciled

To all things and itself, like a reposing child.


Tumult was in the soul of all beside,

Ill joy, or doubt, or fear; but those who saw

Their tranquil victim pass, felt wonder glide


Into their brain, and became calm with awe. —

See, the slow pageant near the pile doth draw.

A thousand torches in the spacious square,

Borne by the ready slaves of ruthless law,

Await the signal round: the morning fair


Is changed to a dim night by that unnatural glare.


And see! beneath a sun-bright canopy,

Upon a platform level with the pile,

The anxious Tyrant sit, enthroned on high,

Girt by the chieftains of the host; all smile


In expectation, but one child: the while

I, Laon, led by mutes, ascend my bier

Of fire, and look around: each distant isle

Is dark in the bright dawn; towers far and near,

Pierce like reposing flames the tremulous atmosphere.


There was such silence through the host, as when

An earthquake trampling on some populous town,

Has crushed ten thousand with one tread, and men

Expect the second; all were mute but one,

That fairest child, who, bold with love, alone


Stood up before the King, without avail,

Pleading for Laon’s life — her stifled groan

Was heard — she trembled like one aspen pale

Among the gloomy pines of a Norwegian vale.


What were his thoughts linked in the morning sun,


Among those reptiles, stingless with delay,

Even like a tyrant’s wrath? — The signal-gun

Roared — hark, again! In that dread pause he lay

As in a quiet dream — the slaves obey —

A thousand torches drop — and hark, the last


Bursts on that awful silence; far away,

Millions, with hearts that beat both loud and fast,

Watch for the springing flame expectant and aghast.


They fly — the torches fall — a cry of fear

Has startled the triumphant! — they recede!


For, ere the cannon’s roar has died, they hear

The tramp of hoofs like earthquake, and a steed

Dark and gigantic, with the tempest’s speed,

Bursts through their ranks: a woman sits thereon,

Fairer, it seems, than aught that earth can breed,


Calm, radiant, like the phantom of the dawn,

A spirit from the caves of daylight wandering gone.


All thought it was God’s Angel come to sweep

The lingering guilty to their fiery grave;

The Tyrant from his throne in dread did leap —


Her innocence his child from fear did save;

Scared by the faith they feigned, each priestly slave

Knelt for his mercy whom they served with blood,

And, like the refluence of a mighty wave

Sucked into the loud sea, the multitude


With crushing panic, fled in terror’s altered mood.


They pause, they blush, they gaze — a gathering shout

Bursts like one sound from the ten thousand streams

Of a tempestuous sea:— that sudden rout

One checked, who, never in his mildest dreams


Felt awe from grace or loveliness, the seams

Of his rent heart so hard and cold a creed

Had seared with blistering ice — but he misdeems

That he is wise, whose wounds do only bleed

Inly for self — thus thought the Iberian Priest indeed,


And others, too, thought he was wise to see,

In pain, and fear, and hate, something divine;

In love and beauty, no divinity. —

Now with a bitter smile, whose light did shine

Like a fiend’s hope upon his lips and eyne,


He said, and the persuasion of that sneer

Rallied his trembling comrades —‘Is it mine

To stand alone, when kings and soldiers fear

A woman? Heaven has sent its other victim here.’


‘Were it not impious,’ said the King, ‘to break


Our holy oath?’—‘Impious to keep it, say!’

Shrieked the exulting Priest:—‘Slaves, to the stake

Bind her, and on my head the burden lay

Of her just torments:— at the Judgement Day

Will I stand up before the golden throne


Of Heaven, and cry, “To Thee did I betray

An infidel; but for me she would have known

Another moment’s joy! the glory be thine own.”’


They trembled, but replied not, nor obeyed,

Pausing in breathless silence. Cythna sprung


From her gigantic steed, who, like a shade

Chased by the winds, those vacant streets among

Fled tameless, as the brazen rein she flung

Upon his neck, and kissed his mooned brow.

A piteous sight, that one so fair and young,


The clasp of such a fearful death should woo

With smiles of tender joy as beamed from Cythna now.


The warm tears burst in spite of faith and fear

From many a tremulous eye, but like soft dews

Which feed Spring’s earliest buds, hung gathered there,


Frozen by doubt — alas! they could not choose

But weep; for when her faint limbs did refuse

To climb the pyre, upon the mutes she smiled;

And with her eloquent gestures, and the hues

Of her quick lips, even as a weary child


Wins sleep from some fond nurse with its caresses mild,


She won them, though unwilling, her to bind

Near me, among the snakes. When there had fled

One soft reproach that was most thrilling kind,

She smiled on me, and nothing then we said,


But each upon the other’s countenance fed

Looks of insatiate love; the mighty veil

Which doth divide the living and the dead

Was almost rent, the world grew dim and pale —

All light in Heaven or Earth beside our love did fail. —


Yet — yet — one brief relapse, like the last beam

Of dying flames, the stainless air around

Hung silent and serene — a blood-red gleam

Burst upwards, hurling fiercely from the ground

The globed smoke — I heard the mighty sound


Of its uprise, like a tempestuous ocean;

And through its chasms I saw, as in a swound,

The tyrant’s child fall without life or motion

Before his throne, subdued by some unseen emotion. —


And is this death? — The pyre has disappeared,


The Pestilence, the Tyrant, and the throng;

The flames grow silent — slowly there is heard

The music of a breath-suspending song,

Which, like the kiss of love when life is young,

Steeps the faint eyes in darkness sweet and deep;


With ever-changing notes it floats along,

Till on my passive soul there seemed to creep

A melody, like waves on wrinkled sands that leap.


The warm touch of a soft and tremulous hand

Wakened me then; lo! Cythna sate reclined


Beside me, on the waved and golden sand

Of a clear pool, upon a bank o’ertwined

With strange and star-bright flowers, which to the wind

Breathed divine odour; high above, was spread

The emerald heaven of trees of unknown kind,


Whose moonlike blooms and bright fruit overhead

A shadow, which was light, upon the waters shed.


And round about sloped many a lawny mountain

With incense-bearing forests and vast caves

Of marble radiance, to that mighty fountain;


And where the flood its own bright margin laves,

Their echoes talk with its eternal waves,

Which, from the depths whose jagged caverns breed

Their unreposing strife, it lifts and heaves —

Till through a chasm of hills they roll, and feed


A river deep, which flies with smooth but arrowy speed.


As we sate gazing in a trance of wonder,

A boat approached, borne by the musical air

Along the waves which sung and sparkled under

Its rapid keel — a winged shape sate there,


A child with silver-shining wings, so fair,

That as her bark did through the waters glide,

The shadow of the lingering waves did wear

Light, as from starry beams; from side to side,

While veering to the wind her plumes the bark did guide.


The boat was one curved shell of hollow pearl,

Almost translucent with the light divine

Of her within; the prow and stern did curl

Horned on high, like the young moon supine,

When o’er dim twilight mountains dark with pine,


It floats upon the sunset’s sea of beams,

Whose golden waves in many a purple line

Fade fast, till borne on sunlight’s ebbing streams,

Dilating, on earth’s verge the sunken meteor gleams.


Its keel has struck the sands beside our feet; —


Then Cythna turned to me, and from her eyes

Which swam with unshed tears, a look more sweet

Than happy love, a wild and glad surprise,

Glanced as she spake: ‘Ay, this is Paradise

And not a dream, and we are all united!


Lo, that is mine own child, who in the guise

Of madness came, like day to one benighted

In lonesome woods: my heart is now too well requited!’


And then she wept aloud, and in her arms

Clasped that bright Shape, less marvellously fair


Than her own human hues and living charms;

Which, as she leaned in passion’s silence there,

Breathed warmth on the cold bosom of the air,

Which seemed to blush and tremble with delight;

The glossy darkness of her streaming hair


Fell o’er that snowy child, and wrapped from sight

The fond and long embrace which did their hearts unite.


Then the bright child, the plumed Seraph came,

And fixed its blue and beaming eyes on mine,

And said, ‘I was disturbed by tremulous shame


When once we met, yet knew that I was thine

From the same hour in which thy lips divine

Kindled a clinging dream within my brain,

Which ever waked when I might sleep, to twine

Thine image with HER memory dear — again


We meet; exempted now from mortal fear or pain.


‘When the consuming flames had wrapped ye round,

The hope which I had cherished went away;

I fell in agony on the senseless ground,

And hid mine eyes in dust, and far astray


My mind was gone, when bright, like dawning day,

The Spectre of the Plague before me flew,

And breathed upon my lips, and seemed to say,

“They wait for thee, beloved!”— then I knew

The death-mark on my breast, and became calm anew.


‘It was the calm of love — for I was dying.

I saw the black and half-extinguished pyre

In its own gray and shrunken ashes lying;

The pitchy smoke of the departed fire

Still hung in many a hollow dome and spire


Above the towers, like night — beneath whose shade

Awed by the ending of their own desire

The armies stood; a vacancy was made

In expectation’s depth, and so they stood dismayed.


‘The frightful silence of that altered mood,


The tortures of the dying clove alone,

Till one uprose among the multitude,

And said —“The flood of time is rolling on;

We stand upon its brink, whilst THEY are gone

To glide in peace down death’s mysterious stream.


Have ye done well? They moulder, flesh and bone,

Who might have made this life’s envenomed dream

A sweeter draught than ye will ever taste, I deem.


‘“These perish as the good and great of yore

Have perished, and their murderers will repent —


Yes, vain and barren tears shall flow before

Yon smoke has faded from the firmament

Even for this cause, that ye who must lament

The death of those that made this world so fair,

Cannot recall them now; but there is lent


To man the wisdom of a high despair,

When such can die, and he live on and linger here.


‘“Ay, ye may fear not now the Pestilence,

From fabled hell as by a charm withdrawn;

All power and faith must pass, since calmly hence


In pain and fire have unbelievers gone;

And ye must sadly turn away, and moan

In secret, to his home each one returning;

And to long ages shall this hour be known;

And slowly shall its memory, ever burning,


Fill this dark night of things with an eternal morning.


‘“For me that world is grown too void and cold,

Since Hope pursues immortal Destiny

With steps thus slow — therefore shall ye behold

How those who love, yet fear not, dare to die;


Tell to your children this!” Then suddenly

He sheathed a dagger in his heart and fell;

My brain grew dark in death, and yet to me

There came a murmur from the crowd, to tell

Of deep and mighty change which suddenly befell.


‘Then suddenly I stood, a winged Thought,

Before the immortal Senate, and the seat

Of that star-shining spirit, whence is wrought

The strength of its dominion, good and great,

The better Genius of this world’s estate.


His realm around one mighty Fane is spread,

Elysian islands bright and fortunate,

Calm dwellings of the free and happy dead,

Where I am sent to lead!’ These winged words she said,


And with the silence of her eloquent smile,


Bade us embark in her divine canoe;

Then at the helm we took our seat, the while

Above her head those plumes of dazzling hue

Into the winds’ invisible stream she threw,

Sitting beside the prow: like gossamer


On the swift breath of morn, the vessel flew

O’er the bright whirlpools of that fountain fair,

Whose shores receded fast, while we seemed lingering there;


Till down that mighty stream, dark, calm, and fleet,

Between a chasm of cedarn mountains riven,


Chased by the thronging winds whose viewless feet

As swift as twinkling beams, had, under Heaven,

From woods and waves wild sounds and odours driven,

The boat fled visibly — three nights and days,

Borne like a cloud through morn, and noon, and even,


We sailed along the winding watery ways

Of the vast stream, a long and labyrinthine maze.


A scene of joy and wonder to behold

That river’s shapes and shadows changing ever,

Where the broad sunrise filled with deepening gold


Its whirlpools, where all hues did spread and quiver;

And where melodious falls did burst and shiver

Among rocks clad with flowers, the foam and spray

Sparkled like stars upon the sunny river,

Or when the moonlight poured a holier day,


One vast and glittering lake around green islands lay.


Morn, noon, and even, that boat of pearl outran

The streams which bore it, like the arrowy cloud

Of tempest, or the speedier thought of man,

Which flieth forth and cannot make abode;


Sometimes through forests, deep like night, we glode,

Between the walls of mighty mountains crowned

With Cyclopean piles, whose turrets proud,

The homes of the departed, dimly frowned

O’er the bright waves which girt their dark foundations round.


Sometimes between the wide and flowering meadows,

Mile after mile we sailed, and ’twas delight

To see far off the sunbeams chase the shadows

Over the grass; sometimes beneath the night

Of wide and vaulted caves, whose roofs were bright


With starry gems, we fled, whilst from their deep

And dark-green chasms, shades beautiful and white,

Amid sweet sounds across our path would sweep,

Like swift and lovely dreams that walk the waves of sleep.


And ever as we sailed, our minds were full


Of love and wisdom, which would overflow

In converse wild, and sweet, and wonderful,

And in quick smiles whose light would come and go

Like music o’er wide waves, and in the flow

Of sudden tears, and in the mute caress —


For a deep shade was cleft, and we did know,

That virtue, though obscured on Earth, not less

Survives all mortal change in lasting loveliness.


Three days and nights we sailed, as thought and feeling

Number delightful hours — for through the sky


The sphered lamps of day and night, revealing

New changes and new glories, rolled on high,

Sun, Moon and moonlike lamps, the progeny

Of a diviner Heaven, serene and fair:

On the fourth day, wild as a windwrought sea


The stream became, and fast and faster bare

The spirit-winged boat, steadily speeding there.


Steady and swift, where the waves rolled like mountains

Within the vast ravine, whose rifts did pour

Tumultuous floods from their ten thousand fountains,


The thunder of whose earth-uplifting roar

Made the air sweep in whirlwinds from the shore,

Calm as a shade, the boat of that fair child

Securely fled, that rapid stress before,

Amid the topmost spray, and sunbows wild,


Wreathed in the silver mist: in joy and pride we smiled.


The torrent of that wide and raging river

Is passed, and our aereal speed suspended.

We look behind; a golden mist did quiver

When its wild surges with the lake were blended —


Our bark hung there, as on a line suspended

Between two heavens — that windless waveless lake

Which four great cataracts from four vales, attended

By mists, aye feed; from rocks and clouds they break,

And of that azure sea a silent refuge make.


Motionless resting on the lake awhile,

I saw its marge of snow-bright mountains rear

Their peaks aloft, I saw each radiant isle,

And in the midst, afar, even like a sphere

Hung in one hollow sky, did there appear


The Temple of the Spirit; on the sound

Which issued thence, drawn nearer and more near,

Like the swift moon this glorious earth around,

The charmed boat approached, and there its haven found.

_4577 there]then edition 1818.

_4699 there]then edition 1818.

_4749 When]Where edition 1818.

_4804 Where]When edition 1818.

_4805 on a line]one line edition 1818.

Note on the “Revolt of Islam”, By Mrs. Shelley.

Shelley possessed two remarkable qualities of intellect — a brilliant imagination, and a logical exactness of reason. His inclinations led him (he fancied) almost alike to poetry and metaphysical discussions. I say ‘he fancied,’ because I believe the former to have been paramount, and that it would have gained the mastery even had he struggled against it. However, he said that he deliberated at one time whether he should dedicate himself to poetry or metaphysics; and, resolving on the former, he educated himself for it, discarding in a great measure his philosophical pursuits, and engaging himself in the study of the poets of Greece, Italy, and England. To these may be added a constant perusal of portions of the old Testament — the Psalms, the Book of Job, the Prophet Isaiah, and others, the sublime poetry of which filled him with delight.

As a poet, his intellect and compositions were powerfully influenced by exterior circumstances, and especially by his place of abode. He was very fond of travelling, and ill-health increased this restlessness. The sufferings occasioned by a cold English winter made him pine, especially when our colder spring arrived, for a more genial climate. In 1816 he again visited Switzerland, and rented a house on the banks of the Lake of Geneva; and many a day, in cloud or sunshine, was passed alone in his boat — sailing as the wind listed, or weltering on the calm waters. The majestic aspect of Nature ministered such thoughts as he afterwards enwove in verse. His lines on the Bridge of the Arve, and his “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty”, were written at this time. Perhaps during this summer his genius was checked by association with another poet whose nature was utterly dissimilar to his own, yet who, in the poem he wrote at that time, gave tokens that he shared for a period the more abstract and etherealised inspiration of Shelley. The saddest events awaited his return to England; but such was his fear to wound the feelings of others that he never expressed the anguish he felt, and seldom gave vent to the indignation roused by the persecutions he underwent; while the course of deep unexpressed passion, and the sense of injury, engendered the desire to embody themselves in forms defecated of all the weakness and evil which cling to real life.

He chose therefore for his hero a youth nourished in dreams of liberty, some of whose actions are in direct opposition to the opinions of the world; but who is animated throughout by an ardent love of virtue, and a resolution to confer the boons of political and intellectual freedom on his fellow-creatures. He created for this youth a woman such as he delighted to imagine — full of enthusiasm for the same objects; and they both, with will unvanquished, and the deepest sense of the justice of their cause, met adversity and death. There exists in this poem a memorial of a friend of his youth. The character of the old man who liberates Laon from his tower prison, and tends on him in sickness, is founded on that of Doctor Lind, who, when Shelley was at Eton, had often stood by to befriend and support him, and whose name he never mentioned without love and veneration.

During the year 1817 we were established at Marlow in Buckinghamshire. Shelley’s choice of abode was fixed chiefly by this town being at no great distance from London, and its neighbourhood to the Thames. The poem was written in his boat, as it floated under the beech groves of Bisham, or during wanderings in the neighbouring country, which is distinguished for peculiar beauty. The chalk hills break into cliffs that overhang the Thames, or form valleys clothed with beech; the wilder portion of the country is rendered beautiful by exuberant vegetation; and the cultivated part is peculiarly fertile. With all this wealth of Nature which, either in the form of gentlemen’s parks or soil dedicated to agriculture, flourishes around, Marlow was inhabited (I hope it is altered now) by a very poor population. The women are lacemakers, and lose their health by sedentary labour, for which they were very ill paid. The Poor-laws ground to the dust not only the paupers, but those who had risen just above that state, and were obliged to pay poor-rates. The changes produced by peace following a long war, and a bad harvest, brought with them the most heart-rending evils to the poor. Shelley afforded what alleviation he could. In the winter, while bringing out his poem, he had a severe attack of ophthalmia, caught while visiting the poor cottages. I mention these things — for this minute and active sympathy with his fellow-creatures gives a thousandfold interest to his speculations, and stamps with reality his pleadings for the human race.

The poem, bold in its opinions and uncompromising in their expression, met with many censurers, not only among those who allow of no virtue but such as supports the cause they espouse, but even among those whose opinions were similar to his own. I extract a portion of a letter written in answer to one of these friends. It best details the impulses of Shelley’s mind, and his motives: it was written with entire unreserve; and is therefore a precious monument of his own opinion of his powers, of the purity of his designs, and the ardour with which he clung, in adversity and through the valley of the shadow of death, to views from which he believed the permanent happiness of mankind must eventually spring.

‘Marlowe, December 11, 1817.

‘I have read and considered all that you say about my general powers, and the particular instance of the poem in which I have attempted to develop them. Nothing can be more satisfactory to me than the interest which your admonitions express. But I think you are mistaken in some points with regard to the peculiar nature of my powers, whatever be their amount. I listened with deference and self-suspicion to your censures of “The Revolt of Islam”; but the productions of mine which you commend hold a very low place in my own esteem; and this reassures me, in some degree at least. The poem was produced by a series of thoughts which filled my mind with unbounded and sustained enthusiasm. I felt the precariousness of my life, and I engaged in this task, resolved to leave some record of myself. Much of what the volume contains was written with the same feeling — as real, though not so prophetic — as the communications of a dying man. I never presumed indeed to consider it anything approaching to faultless; but, when I consider contemporary productions of the same apparent pretensions, I own I was filled with confidence. I felt that it was in many respects a genuine picture of my own mind. I felt that the sentiments were true, not assumed. And in this have I long believed that my power consists; in sympathy, and that part of the imagination which relates to sentiment and contemplation. I am formed, if for anything not in common with the herd of mankind, to apprehend minute and remote distinctions of feeling, whether relative to external nature or the living beings which surround us, and to communicate the conceptions which result from considering either the moral or the material universe as a whole. Of course, I believe these faculties, which perhaps comprehend all that is sublime in man, to exist very imperfectly in my own mind. But, when you advert to my Chancery-paper, a cold, forced, unimpassioned, insignificant piece of cramped and cautious argument, and to the little scrap about “Mandeville”, which expressed my feelings indeed, but cost scarcely two minutes’ thought to express, as specimens of my powers more favourable than that which grew as it were from “the agony and bloody sweat” of intellectual travail; surely I must feel that, in some manner, either I am mistaken in believing that I have any talent at all, or you in the selection of the specimens of it. Yet, after all, I cannot but be conscious, in much of what I write, of an absence of that tranquillity which is the attribute and accompaniment of power. This feeling alone would make your most kind and wise admonitions, on the subject of the economy of intellectual force, valuable to me. And, if I live, or if I see any trust in coming years, doubt not but that I shall do something, whatever it may be, which a serious and earnest estimate of my powers will suggest to me, and which will be in every respect accommodated to their utmost limits.

[Shelley to Godwin.]

Prince Athanase

A Fragment

The idea Shelley had formed of Prince Athanase was a good deal modelled on “Alastor”. In the first sketch of the poem, he named it “Pandemos and Urania”. Athanase seeks through the world the One whom he may love. He meets, in the ship in which he is embarked, a lady who appears to him to embody his ideal of love and beauty. But she proves to be Pandemos, or the earthly and unworthy Venus; who, after disappointing his cherished dreams and hopes, deserts him. Athanase, crushed by sorrow, pines and dies. ‘On his deathbed, the lady who can really reply to his soul comes and kisses his lips’ (“The Deathbed of Athanase”). The poet describes her [in the words of the final fragment, page 164]. This slender note is all we have to aid our imagination in shaping out the form of the poem, such as its author imagined.

[Mrs. Shelley’s Note.]

Part 1.

There was a youth, who, as with toil and travel,

Had grown quite weak and gray before his time;

Nor any could the restless griefs unravel

Which burned within him, withering up his prime


And goading him, like fiends, from land to land.

Not his the load of any secret crime,

For nought of ill his heart could understand,

But pity and wild sorrow for the same; —

Not his the thirst for glory or command,


Baffled with blast of hope-consuming shame;

Nor evil joys which fire the vulgar breast,

And quench in speedy smoke its feeble flame,

Had left within his soul their dark unrest:

Nor what religion fables of the grave


Feared he — Philosophy’s accepted guest.

For none than he a purer heart could have,

Or that loved good more for itself alone;

Of nought in heaven or earth was he the slave.

What sorrow, strange, and shadowy, and unknown,


Sent him, a hopeless wanderer, through mankind? —

If with a human sadness he did groan,

He had a gentle yet aspiring mind;

Just, innocent, with varied learning fed;

And such a glorious consolation find


In others’ joy, when all their own is dead:

He loved, and laboured for his kind in grief,

And yet, unlike all others, it is said

That from such toil he never found relief.

Although a child of fortune and of power,


Of an ancestral name the orphan chief,

His soul had wedded Wisdom, and her dower

Is love and justice, clothed in which he sate

Apart from men, as in a lonely tower,

Pitying the tumult of their dark estate. —


Yet even in youth did he not e’er abuse

The strength of wealth or thought, to consecrate

Those false opinions which the harsh rich use

To blind the world they famish for their pride;

Nor did he hold from any man his dues,


But, like a steward in honest dealings tried,

With those who toiled and wept, the poor and wise,

His riches and his cares he did divide.

Fearless he was, and scorning all disguise,

What he dared do or think, though men might start,


He spoke with mild yet unaverted eyes;

Liberal he was of soul, and frank of heart,

And to his many friends — all loved him well —

Whate’er he knew or felt he would impart,

If words he found those inmost thoughts to tell;


If not, he smiled or wept; and his weak foes

He neither spurned nor hated — though with fell

And mortal hate their thousand voices rose,

They passed like aimless arrows from his ear —

Nor did his heart or mind its portal close


To those, or them, or any, whom life’s sphere

May comprehend within its wide array.

What sadness made that vernal spirit sere? —

He knew not. Though his life, day after day,

Was failing like an unreplenished stream,


Though in his eyes a cloud and burthen lay,

Through which his soul, like Vesper’s serene beam

Piercing the chasms of ever rising clouds,

Shone, softly burning; though his lips did seem

Like reeds which quiver in impetuous floods;


And through his sleep, and o’er each waking hour,

Thoughts after thoughts, unresting multitudes,

Were driven within him by some secret power,

Which bade them blaze, and live, and roll afar,

Like lights and sounds, from haunted tower to tower


O’er castled mountains borne, when tempest’s war

Is levied by the night-contending winds,

And the pale dalesmen watch with eager ear; —

Though such were in his spirit, as the fiends

Which wake and feed an everliving woe —


What was this grief, which ne’er in other minds

A mirror found — he knew not — none could know;

But on whoe’er might question him he turned

The light of his frank eyes, as if to show

He knew not of the grief within that burned,


But asked forbearance with a mournful look;

Or spoke in words from which none ever learned

The cause of his disquietude; or shook

With spasms of silent passion; or turned pale:

So that his friends soon rarely undertook


To stir his secret pain without avail; —

For all who knew and loved him then perceived

That there was drawn an adamantine veil

Between his heart and mind — both unrelieved

Wrought in his brain and bosom separate strife.


Some said that he was mad, others believed

That memories of an antenatal life

Made this, where now he dwelt, a penal hell;

And others said that such mysterious grief

From God’s displeasure, like a darkness, fell


On souls like his, which owned no higher law

Than love; love calm, steadfast, invincible

By mortal fear or supernatural awe;

And others — ’’Tis the shadow of a dream

Which the veiled eye of Memory never saw,


‘But through the soul’s abyss, like some dark stream

Through shattered mines and caverns underground,

Rolls, shaking its foundations; and no beam

‘Of joy may rise, but it is quenched and drowned

In the dim whirlpools of this dream obscure;


Soon its exhausted waters will have found

‘A lair of rest beneath thy spirit pure,

O Athanase! — in one so good and great,

Evil or tumult cannot long endure.

So spake they: idly of another’s state


Babbling vain words and fond philosophy;

This was their consolation; such debate

Men held with one another; nor did he,

Like one who labours with a human woe,

Decline this talk: as if its theme might be


Another, not himself, he to and fro

Questioned and canvassed it with subtlest wit;

And none but those who loved him best could know

That which he knew not, how it galled and bit

His weary mind, this converse vain and cold;


For like an eyeless nightmare grief did sit

Upon his being; a snake which fold by fold

Pressed out the life of life, a clinging fiend

Which clenched him if he stirred with deadlier hold; —

And so his grief remained — let it remain — untold. [1]

Part 2.

Fragment 1.


Prince Athanase had one beloved friend,

An old, old man, with hair of silver white,

And lips where heavenly smiles would hang and blend

With his wise words; and eyes whose arrowy light

Shone like the reflex of a thousand minds.


He was the last whom superstition’s blight

Had spared in Greece — the blight that cramps and blinds —

And in his olive bower at Oenoe

Had sate from earliest youth. Like one who finds

A fertile island in the barren sea,


One mariner who has survived his mates

Many a drear month in a great ship — so he

With soul-sustaining songs, and sweet debates

Of ancient lore, there fed his lonely being:—

‘The mind becomes that which it contemplates,’—


And thus Zonoras, by for ever seeing

Their bright creations, grew like wisest men;

And when he heard the crash of nations fleeing

A bloodier power than ruled thy ruins then,

O sacred Hellas! many weary years


He wandered, till the path of Laian’s glen

Was grass-grown — and the unremembered tears

Were dry in Laian for their honoured chief,

Who fell in Byzant, pierced by Moslem spears:—

And as the lady looked with faithful grief


From her high lattice o’er the rugged path,

Where she once saw that horseman toil, with brief

And blighting hope, who with the news of death

Struck body and soul as with a mortal blight,

She saw between the chestnuts, far beneath,


An old man toiling up, a weary wight;

And soon within her hospitable hall

She saw his white hairs glittering in the light

Of the wood fire, and round his shoulders fall;

And his wan visage and his withered mien,


Yet calm and gentle and majestical.

And Athanase, her child, who must have been

Then three years old, sate opposite and gazed

In patient silence.

Fragment 2.

Such was Zonoras; and as daylight finds


One amaranth glittering on the path of frost,

When autumn nights have nipped all weaker kinds,

Thus through his age, dark, cold, and tempest-tossed,

Shone truth upon Zonoras; and he filled

From fountains pure, nigh overgrown and lost,


The spirit of Prince Athanase, a child,

With soul-sustaining songs of ancient lore

And philosophic wisdom, clear and mild.

And sweet and subtle talk they evermore,

The pupil and the master, shared; until,


Sharing that undiminishable store,

The youth, as shadows on a grassy hill

Outrun the winds that chase them, soon outran

His teacher, and did teach with native skill

Strange truths and new to that experienced man;


Still they were friends, as few have ever been

Who mark the extremes of life’s discordant span.

So in the caverns of the forest green,

Or on the rocks of echoing ocean hoar,

Zonoras and Prince Athanase were seen


By summer woodmen; and when winter’s roar

Sounded o’er earth and sea its blast of war,

The Balearic fisher, driven from shore,

Hanging upon the peaked wave afar,

Then saw their lamp from Laian’s turret gleam,


Piercing the stormy darkness, like a star

Which pours beyond the sea one steadfast beam,

Whilst all the constellations of the sky

Seemed reeling through the storm . . . They did but seem —

For, lo! the wintry clouds are all gone by,


And bright Arcturus through yon pines is glowing,

And far o’er southern waves, immovably

Belted Orion hangs — warm light is flowing

From the young moon into the sunset’s chasm. —

‘O, summer eve! with power divine, bestowing


‘On thine own bird the sweet enthusiasm

Which overflows in notes of liquid gladness,

Filling the sky like light! How many a spasm

‘Of fevered brains, oppressed with grief and madness,

Were lulled by thee, delightful nightingale —


And these soft waves, murmuring a gentle sadness —

‘And the far sighings of yon piny dale

Made vocal by some wind we feel not here. —

I bear alone what nothing may avail

‘To lighten — a strange load!’— No human ear


Heard this lament; but o’er the visage wan

Of Athanase, a ruffling atmosphere

Of dark emotion, a swift shadow, ran,

Like wind upon some forest-bosomed lake,

Glassy and dark. — And that divine old man


Beheld his mystic friend’s whole being shake,

Even where its inmost depths were gloomiest —

And with a calm and measured voice he spake,

And, with a soft and equal pressure, pressed

That cold lean hand:—‘Dost thou remember yet


When the curved moon then lingering in the west

‘Paused, in yon waves her mighty horns to wet,

How in those beams we walked, half resting on the sea?

’Tis just one year — sure thou dost not forget —

‘Then Plato’s words of light in thee and me


Lingered like moonlight in the moonless east,

For we had just then read — thy memory

‘Is faithful now — the story of the feast;

And Agathon and Diotima seemed

From death and dark forgetfulness released . . . ’

Fragment 3.

And when the old man saw that on the green


Leaves of his opening . . . a blight had lighted

He said: ‘My friend, one grief alone can wean

A gentle mind from all that once delighted:—

Thou lovest, and thy secret heart is laden


With feelings which should not be unrequited.’

And Athanase . . . then smiled, as one o’erladen

With iron chains might smile to talk (?) of bands

Twined round her lover’s neck by some blithe maiden,

And said . . .

Fragment 4.


’Twas at the season when the Earth upsprings

From slumber, as a sphered angel’s child,

Shadowing its eyes with green and golden wings,

Stands up before its mother bright and mild,

Of whose soft voice the air expectant seems —


So stood before the sun, which shone and smiled

To see it rise thus joyous from its dreams,

The fresh and radiant Earth. The hoary grove

Waxed green — and flowers burst forth like starry beams; —

The grass in the warm sun did start and move,


And sea-buds burst under the waves serene:—

How many a one, though none be near to love,

Loves then the shade of his own soul, half seen

In any mirror — or the spring’s young minions,

The winged leaves amid the copses green; —


How many a spirit then puts on the pinions

Of fancy, and outstrips the lagging blast,

And his own steps — and over wide dominions

Sweeps in his dream-drawn chariot, far and fast,

More fleet than storms — the wide world shrinks below,


When winter and despondency are past.

Fragment 5.

’Twas at this season that Prince Athanase

Passed the white Alps — those eagle-baffling mountains

Slept in their shrouds of snow; — beside the ways

The waterfalls were voiceless — for their fountains


Were changed to mines of sunless crystal now,

Or by the curdling winds — like brazen wings

Which clanged along the mountain’s marble brow —

Warped into adamantine fretwork, hung

And filled with frozen light the chasms below.


Vexed by the blast, the great pines groaned and swung

Under their load of [snow]—

. . .

. . .

Such as the eagle sees, when he dives down


From the gray deserts of wide air, [beheld]

[Prince] Athanase; and o’er his mien (?) was thrown

The shadow of that scene, field after field,

Purple and dim and wide . . .

Fragment 6.

Thou art the wine whose drunkenness is all


We can desire, O Love! and happy souls,

Ere from thy vine the leaves of autumn fall,

Catch thee, and feed from their o’erflowing bowls

Thousands who thirst for thine ambrosial dew; —

Thou art the radiance which where ocean rolls


Investeth it; and when the heavens are blue

Thou fillest them; and when the earth is fair

The shadow of thy moving wings imbue

Its deserts and its mountains, till they wear

Beauty like some light robe; — thou ever soarest


Among the towers of men, and as soft air

In spring, which moves the unawakened forest,

Clothing with leaves its branches bare and bleak,

Thou floatest among men; and aye implorest

That which from thee they should implore:— the weak


Alone kneel to thee, offering up the hearts

The strong have broken — yet where shall any seek

A garment whom thou clothest not? the darts

Of the keen winter storm, barbed with frost,

Which, from the everlasting snow that parts


The Alps from Heaven, pierce some traveller lost

In the wide waved interminable snow

Ungarmented, . . .

Another Fragment (A)

Yes, often when the eyes are cold and dry,

And the lips calm, the Spirit weeps within


Tears bitterer than the blood of agony

Trembling in drops on the discoloured skin

Of those who love their kind and therefore perish

In ghastly torture — a sweet medicine

Of peace and sleep are tears, and quietly


Them soothe from whose uplifted eyes they fall

But . . .

Another Fragment (B)

Her hair was brown, her sphered eyes were brown,

And in their dark and liquid moisture swam,

Like the dim orb of the eclipsed moon;


Yet when the spirit flashed beneath, there came

The light from them, as when tears of delight

Double the western planet’s serene flame.

[Written at Marlow in 1817, towards the close of the year; first published in “Posthumous Poems”, 1824. Part 1 is dated by Mrs. Shelley, ‘December, 1817,’ the remainder, ‘Marlow, 1817.’ The verses were probably rehandled in Italy during the following year. Sources of the text are (1) “Posthumous Poems”, 1824; (2) “Poetical Works” 1839, editions 1st and 2nd; (3) a much-tortured draft amongst the Bodleian manuscripts, collated by Mr. C.D. Locock. For (1) and (2) Mrs. Shelley is responsible. Our text (enlarged by about thirty lines fro the Bodleian manuscript) follows for the most part the “Poetical Works”, 1839; verbal exceptions are pointed out in the footnotes. See also the Editor’s Notes at the end of this volume, and Mr. Locock’s “Examination of Shelley Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library”, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1903.]

_19 strange edition 1839; deep edition 1824.

_74 feed an Bodleian manuscript; feed on editions 1824, 1839.

_124 [1. The Author was pursuing a fuller development of the ideal character of Athanase, when it struck him that in an attempt at extreme refinement and analysis, his conceptions might be betrayed into the assuming a morbid character. The reader will judge whether he is a loser or gainer by this diffidence. [Shelley’s Note.] Footnote diffidence cj. Rossetti (1878); difference editions 1824, 1839.]

_154 beneath editions 1824, 1839; between Bodleian manuscript.

_165 One Bodleian manuscript edition 1839; An edition 1824.

_167 Thus thro’ Bodleian manuscript (?) edition 1839; Thus had edition 1824.

_173 talk they edition 1824, Bodleian manuscript; talk now edition 1839.

_175 that edition 1839; the edition 1824.

_182 So edition 1839; And edition 1824.

_183 Or on Bodleian manuscript; Or by editions 1824, 1839.

_199 eve Bodleian manuscript edition 1839; night edition 1824.

_212 emotion, a swift editions 1824, 1839; emotion with swift Bodleian manuscript.

_250 under edition 1824, Bodleian manuscript; beneath edition 1839.

_256 outstrips editions 1824, 1839; outrides Bodleian manuscript.

_259 Exulting, while the wide Bodleian manuscript.

_262 mountains editions 1824, 1839; crags Bodleian manuscript.

_264 fountains editions 1824, 1839; springs Bodleian manuscript.

_269 chasms Bodleian manuscript; chasm editions 1824, 1839.

_283 thine Bodleian manuscript; thy editions 1824, 1839.

_285 Investeth Bodleian manuscript; Investest editions 1824, 1839.

_289 light Bodleian manuscript; bright editions 1824, 1839.

Rosalind and Helen

A Modern Eclogue.

[Begun at Marlow, 1817 (summer); already in the press, March, 1818; finished at the Baths of Lucca, August, 1818; published with other poems, as the title-piece of a slender volume, by C. & J. Ollier, London, 1819 (spring). See “Biographical List”. Sources of the text are (1) editio princeps, 1819; (2) “Poetical Works”, edition Mrs. Shelley, 1839, editions 1st and 2nd. A fragment of the text is amongst the Boscombe manuscripts. The poem is reprinted here from the editio princeps; verbal alterations are recorded in the footnotes, punctual in the Editor’s Notes at the end of Volume 3.]

Table of Contents


Rosalind, Helen, and Her Child.

Note by Mrs. Shelley.


The story of “Rosalind and Helen” is, undoubtedly, not an attempt in the highest style of poetry. It is in no degree calculated to excite profound meditation; and if, by interesting the affections and amusing the imagination, it awakens a certain ideal melancholy favourable to the reception of more important impressions, it will produce in the reader all that the writer experienced in the composition. I resigned myself, as I wrote, to the impulses of the feelings which moulded the conception of the story; and this impulse determined the pauses of a measure, which only pretends to be regular inasmuch as it corresponds with, and expresses, the irregularity of the imaginations which inspired it.

I do not know which of the few scattered poems I left in England will be selected by my bookseller to add to this collection. One (“Lines written among the Euganean Hills”. — Editor.), which I sent from Italy, was written after a day’s excursion among those lovely mountains which surround what was once the retreat, and where is now the sepulchre, of Petrarch. If any one is inclined to condemn the insertion of the introductory lines, which image forth the sudden relief of a state of deep despondency by the radiant visions disclosed by the sudden burst of an Italian sunrise in autumn on the highest peak of those delightful mountains, I can only offer as my excuse, that they were not erased at the request of a dear friend, with whom added years of intercourse only add to my apprehension of its value, and who would have had more right than any one to complain, that she has not been able to extinguish in me the very power of delineating sadness.

Rosalind, Helen, and Her Child.


HELEN: Come hither, my sweet Rosalind.
’Tis long since thou and I have met;
And yet methinks it were unkind
Those moments to forget.
Come, sit by me. I see thee stand 5
By this lone lake, in this far land,
Thy loose hair in the light wind flying,
Thy sweet voice to each tone of even
United, and thine eyes replying
To the hues of yon fair heaven. 10
Come, gentle friend: wilt sit by me?
And be as thou wert wont to be
Ere we were disunited?
None doth behold us now; the power
That led us forth at this lone hour 15
Will be but ill requited
If thou depart in scorn: oh! come,
And talk of our abandoned home.
Remember, this is Italy,
And we are exiles. Talk with me 20
Of that our land, whose wilds and floods,
Barren and dark although they be,
Were dearer than these chestnut woods:
Those heathy paths, that inland stream,
And the blue mountains, shapes which seem 25
Like wrecks of childhood’s sunny dream:
Which that we have abandoned now,
Weighs on the heart like that remorse
Which altered friendship leaves. I seek
No more our youthful intercourse. 30
That cannot be! Rosalind, speak.
Speak to me. Leave me not. — When morn did come,
When evening fell upon our common home,
When for one hour we parted — do not frown:
I would not chide thee, though thy faith is broken: 35
But turn to me. Oh! by this cherished token,
Of woven hair, which thou wilt not disown,
Turn, as ’twere but the memory of me,
And not my scorned self who prayed to thee.



Is it a dream, or do I see
And hear frail Helen? I would flee
Thy tainting touch; but former years
Arise, and bring forbidden tears;
And my o’erburthened memory
Seeks yet its lost repose in thee. 45
I share thy crime. I cannot choose
But weep for thee: mine own strange grief
But seldom stoops to such relief:
Nor ever did I love thee less,
Though mourning o’er thy wickedness 50
Even with a sister’s woe. I knew
What to the evil world is due,
And therefore sternly did refuse
To link me with the infamy
Of one so lost as Helen. Now 55
Bewildered by my dire despair,
Wondering I blush, and weep that thou
Should’st love me still — thou only! — There,
Let us sit on that gray stone
Till our mournful talk be done. 60

HELEN: Alas! not there; I cannot bear
The murmur of this lake to hear.
A sound from there, Rosalind dear,
Which never yet I heard elsewhere
But in our native land, recurs, 65
Even here where now we meet. It stirs
Too much of suffocating sorrow!
In the dell of yon dark chestnutwood
Is a stone seat, a solitude
Less like our own. The ghost of Peace 70
Will not desert this spot. To-morrow,
If thy kind feelings should not cease,
We may sit here.

ROSALIND: Thou lead, my sweet,
And I will follow.

HENRY: ’Tis Fenici’s seat
Where you are going? This is not the way, 75
Mamma; it leads behind those trees that grow
Close to the little river.

HELEN: Yes: I know;
I was bewildered. Kiss me and be gay,
Dear boy: why do you sob?

HENRY: I do not know:
But it might break any one’s heart to see 80
You and the lady cry so bitterly.

HELEN: It is a gentle child, my friend. Go home,
Henry, and play with Lilla till I come.
We only cried with joy to see each other;
We are quite merry now: Good-night.


The boy
Lifted a sudden look upon his mother,
And in the gleam of forced and hollow joy
Which lightened o’er her face, laughed with the glee
Of light and unsuspecting infancy,
And whispered in her ear, ‘Bring home with you 90
That sweet strange lady-friend.’ Then off he flew,
But stopped, and beckoned with a meaning smile,
Where the road turned. Pale Rosalind the while,
Hiding her face, stood weeping silently.


In silence then they took the way
Beneath the forest’s solitude.
It was a vast and antique wood,
Thro’ which they took their way;
And the gray shades of evening
O’er that green wilderness did fling 100
Still deeper solitude.
Pursuing still the path that wound
The vast and knotted trees around
Through which slow shades were wandering,
To a deep lawny dell they came, 105
To a stone seat beside a spring,
O’er which the columned wood did frame
A roofless temple, like the fane
Where, ere new creeds could faith obtain,
Man’s early race once knelt beneath 110
The overhanging deity.
O’er this fair fountain hung the sky,
Now spangled with rare stars. The snake,
The pale snake, that with eager breath
Creeps here his noontide thirst to slake, 115
Is beaming with many a mingled hue,
Shed from yon dome’s eternal blue,
When he floats on that dark and lucid flood
In the light of his own loveliness;
And the birds that in the fountain dip 120
Their plumes, with fearless fellowship
Above and round him wheel and hover.
The fitful wind is heard to stir
One solitary leaf on high;
The chirping of the grasshopper 125
Fills every pause. There is emotion
In all that dwells at noontide here;
Then, through the intricate wild wood,
A maze of life and light and motion
Is woven. But there is stillness now: 130
Gloom, and the trance of Nature now:
The snake is in his cave asleep;
The birds are on the branches dreaming:
Only the shadows creep:
Only the glow-worm is gleaming: 135
Only the owls and the nightingales
Wake in this dell when daylight fails,
And gray shades gather in the woods:
And the owls have all fled far away
In a merrier glen to hoot and play, 140
For the moon is veiled and sleeping now.
The accustomed nightingale still broods
On her accustomed bough,
But she is mute; for her false mate
Has fled and left her desolate. 145

This silent spot tradition old
Had peopled with the spectral dead.
For the roots of the speaker’s hair felt cold
And stiff, as with tremulous lips he told
That a hellish shape at midnight led 150
The ghost of a youth with hoary hair,
And sate on the seat beside him there,
Till a naked child came wandering by,
When the fiend would change to a lady fair!
A fearful tale! The truth was worse: 155
For here a sister and a brother
Had solemnized a monstrous curse,
Meeting in this fair solitude:
For beneath yon very sky,
Had they resigned to one another 160
Body and soul. The multitude:
Tracking them to the secret wood,
Tore limb from limb their innocent child,
And stabbed and trampled on its mother;
But the youth, for God’s most holy grace, 165
A priest saved to burn in the market-place.

Duly at evening Helen came
To this lone silent spot,
From the wrecks of a tale of wilder sorrow
So much of sympathy to borrow 170
As soothed her own dark lot.
Duly each evening from her home,
With her fair child would Helen come
To sit upon that antique seat,
While the hues of day were pale; 175
And the bright boy beside her feet
Now lay, lifting at intervals
His broad blue eyes on her;
Now, where some sudden impulse calls
Following. He was a gentle boy 180
And in all gentle sorts took joy;
Oft in a dry leaf for a boat,
With a small feather for a sail,
His fancy on that spring would float,
If some invisible breeze might stir 185
Its marble calm: and Helen smiled
Through tears of awe on the gay child,
To think that a boy as fair as he,
In years which never more may be,
By that same fount, in that same wood, 190
The like sweet fancies had pursued;
And that a mother, lost like her,
Had mournfully sate watching him.
Then all the scene was wont to swim
Through the mist of a burning tear. 195

For many months had Helen known
This scene; and now she thither turned
Her footsteps, not alone.
The friend whose falsehood she had mourned,
Sate with her on that seat of stone. 200
Silent they sate; for evening,
And the power its glimpses bring
Had, with one awful shadow, quelled
The passion of their grief. They sate
With linked hands, for unrepelled 205
Had Helen taken Rosalind’s.
Like the autumn wind, when it unbinds
The tangled locks of the nightshade’s hair,
Which is twined in the sultry summer air
Round the walls of an outworn sepulchre, 210
Did the voice of Helen, sad and sweet,
And the sound of her heart that ever beat,
As with sighs and words she breathed on her,
Unbind the knots of her friend’s despair,
Till her thoughts were free to float and flow; 215
And from her labouring bosom now,
Like the bursting of a prisoned flame,
The voice of a long pent sorrow came.

ROSALIND: I saw the dark earth fall upon
The coffin; and I saw the stone 220
Laid over him whom this cold breast
Had pillowed to his nightly rest!
Thou knowest not, thou canst not know
My agony. Oh! I could not weep:
The sources whence such blessings flow 225
Were not to be approached by me!
But I could smile, and I could sleep,
Though with a self-accusing heart.
In morning’s light, in evening’s gloom,
I watched — and would not thence depart — 230
My husband’s unlamented tomb.
My children knew their sire was gone,
But when I told them — ‘He is dead,’—
They laughed aloud in frantic glee,
They clapped their hands and leaped about, 235
Answering each other’s ecstasy
With many a prank and merry shout.
But I sate silent and alone,
Wrapped in the mock of mourning weed.


They laughed, for he was dead: but I
Sate with a hard and tearless eye,
And with a heart which would deny
The secret joy it could not quell,
Low muttering o’er his loathed name;
Till from that self-contention came 245
Remorse where sin was none; a hell
Which in pure spirits should not dwell.

I’ll tell thee truth. He was a man
Hard, selfish, loving only gold,
Yet full of guile; his pale eyes ran 250
With tears, which each some falsehood told,
And oft his smooth and bridled tongue
Would give the lie to his flushing cheek;
He was a coward to the strong:
He was a tyrant to the weak, 255
On whom his vengeance he would wreak:
For scorn, whose arrows search the heart,
From many a stranger’s eye would dart,
And on his memory cling, and follow
His soul to its home so cold and hollow. 260
He was a tyrant to the weak,
And we were such, alas the day!
Oft, when my little ones at play,
Were in youth’s natural lightness gay,
Or if they listened to some tale 265
Of travellers, or of fairy land —
When the light from the wood-fire’s dying brand
Flashed on their faces — if they heard
Or thought they heard upon the stair
His footstep, the suspended word 270
Died on my lips: we all grew pale:
The babe at my bosom was hushed with fear
If it thought it heard its father near;
And my two wild boys would near my knee
Cling, cowed and cowering fearfully. 275

I’ll tell thee truth: I loved another.
His name in my ear was ever ringing,
His form to my brain was ever clinging:
Yet if some stranger breathed that name,
My lips turned white, and my heart beat fast: 280
My nights were once haunted by dreams of flame,
My days were dim in the shadow cast
By the memory of the same!
Day and night, day and night,
He was my breath and life and light, 285
For three short years, which soon were passed.
On the fourth, my gentle mother
Led me to the shrine, to be
His sworn bride eternally.
And now we stood on the altar stair, 290
When my father came from a distant land,
And with a loud and fearful cry
Rushed between us suddenly.
I saw the stream of his thin gray hair,
I saw his lean and lifted hand, 295
And heard his words — and live! Oh God!
Wherefore do I live? —‘Hold, hold!’
He cried, ‘I tell thee ’tis her brother!
Thy mother, boy, beneath the sod
Of yon churchyard rests in her shroud so cold: 300
I am now weak, and pale, and old:
We were once dear to one another,
I and that corpse! Thou art our child!’
Then with a laugh both long and wild
The youth upon the pavement fell: 305
They found him dead! All looked on me,
The spasms of my despair to see:
But I was calm. I went away:
I was clammy-cold like clay!
I did not weep: I did not speak: 310
But day by day, week after week,
I walked about like a corpse alive!
Alas! sweet friend, you must believe
This heart is stone: it did not break.
My father lived a little while, 315
But all might see that he was dying,
He smiled with such a woeful smile!
When he was in the churchyard lying
Among the worms, we grew quite poor,
So that no one would give us bread: 320
My mother looked at me, and said
Faint words of cheer, which only meant
That she could die and be content;
So I went forth from the same church door
To another husband’s bed. 325
And this was he who died at last,
When weeks and months and years had passed,
Through which I firmly did fulfil
My duties, a devoted wife,
With the stern step of vanquished will, 330
Walking beneath the night of life,
Whose hours extinguished, like slow rain
Falling for ever, pain by pain,
The very hope of death’s dear rest;
Which, since the heart within my breast 335
Of natural life was dispossessed,
Its strange sustainer there had been.

When flowers were dead, and grass was green
Upon my mother’s grave — that mother
Whom to outlive, and cheer, and make 340
My wan eyes glitter for her sake,
Was my vowed task, the single care
Which once gave life to my despair —
When she was a thing that did not stir
And the crawling worms were cradling her 345
To a sleep more deep and so more sweet
Than a baby’s rocked on its nurse’s knee,
I lived: a living pulse then beat
Beneath my heart that awakened me.
What was this pulse so warm and free? 350
Alas! I knew it could not be
My own dull blood: ’twas like a thought
Of liquid love, that spread and wrought
Under my bosom and in my brain,
And crept with the blood through every vein; 355
And hour by hour, day after day,
The wonder could not charm away,
But laid in sleep, my wakeful pain,
Until I knew it was a child,
And then I wept. For long, long years 360
These frozen eyes had shed no tears:
But now —’twas the season fair and mild
When April has wept itself to May:
I sate through the sweet sunny day
By my window bowered round with leaves, 365
And down my cheeks the quick tears fell
Like twinkling rain-drops from the eaves,
When warm spring showers are passing o’er.
O Helen, none can ever tell
The joy it was to weep once more! 370

I wept to think how hard it were
To kill my babe, and take from it
The sense of light, and the warm air,
And my own fond and tender care,
And love and smiles; ere I knew yet 375
That these for it might, as for me,
Be the masks of a grinning mockery.
And haply, I would dream, ’twere sweet
To feed it from my faded breast,
Or mark my own heart’s restless beat 380
Rock it to its untroubled rest,
And watch the growing soul beneath
Dawn in faint smiles; and hear its breath,
Half interrupted by calm sighs,
And search the depth of its fair eyes 385
For long departed memories!
And so I lived till that sweet load
Was lightened. Darkly forward flowed
The stream of years, and on it bore
Two shapes of gladness to my sight; 390
Two other babes, delightful more
In my lost soul’s abandoned night,
Than their own country ships may be
Sailing towards wrecked mariners,
Who cling to the rock of a wintry sea. 395
For each, as it came, brought soothing tears;
And a loosening warmth, as each one lay
Sucking the sullen milk away
About my frozen heart, did play,
And weaned it, oh how painfully — 400
As they themselves were weaned each one
From that sweet food — even from the thirst
Of death, and nothingness, and rest,
Strange inmate of a living breast!
Which all that I had undergone 405
Of grief and shame, since she, who first
The gates of that dark refuge closed,
Came to my sight, and almost burst
The seal of that Lethean spring;
But these fair shadows interposed: 410
For all delights are shadows now!
And from my brain to my dull brow
The heavy tears gather and flow:
I cannot speak: Oh, let me weep!


The tears which fell from her wan eyes
Glimmered among the moonlight dew:
Her deep hard sobs and heavy sighs
Their echoes in the darkness threw.
When she grew calm, she thus did keep
The tenor of her tale:
He died: 420
I know not how: he was not old,
If age be numbered by its years:
But he was bowed and bent with fears,
Pale with the quenchless thirst of gold,
Which, like fierce fever, left him weak; 425
And his strait lip and bloated cheek
Were warped in spasms by hollow sneers;
And selfish cares with barren plough,
Not age, had lined his narrow brow,
And foul and cruel thoughts, which feed 430
Upon the withering life within,
Like vipers on some poisonous weed.
Whether his ill were death or sin
None knew, until he died indeed,
And then men owned they were the same. 435

Seven days within my chamber lay
That corse, and my babes made holiday:
At last, I told them what is death:
The eldest, with a kind of shame,
Came to my knees with silent breath, 440
And sate awe-stricken at my feet;
And soon the others left their play,
And sate there too. It is unmeet
To shed on the brief flower of youth
The withering knowledge of the grave; 445
From me remorse then wrung that truth.
I could not bear the joy which gave
Too just a response to mine own.
In vain. I dared not feign a groan,
And in their artless looks I saw, 450
Between the mists of fear and awe,
That my own thought was theirs, and they
Expressed it not in words, but said,
Each in its heart, how every day
Will pass in happy work and play, 455
Now he is dead and gone away.

After the funeral all our kin
Assembled, and the will was read.
My friend, I tell thee, even the dead
Have strength, their putrid shrouds within, 460
To blast and torture. Those who live
Still fear the living, but a corse
Is merciless, and power doth give
To such pale tyrants half the spoil
He rends from those who groan and toil, 465
Because they blush not with remorse
Among their crawling worms. Behold,
I have no child! my tale grows old
With grief, and staggers: let it reach
The limits of my feeble speech, 470
And languidly at length recline
On the brink of its own grave and mine.

Thou knowest what a thing is Poverty
Among the fallen on evil days:
’Tis Crime, and Fear, and Infamy, 475
And houseless Want in frozen ways
Wandering ungarmented, and Pain,
And, worse than all, that inward stain
Foul Self-contempt, which drowns in sneers
Youth’s starlight smile, and makes its tears 480
First like hot gall, then dry for ever!
And well thou knowest a mother never
Could doom her children to this ill,
And well he knew the same. The will
Imported, that if e’er again 485
I sought my children to behold,
Or in my birthplace did remain
Beyond three days, whose hours were told,
They should inherit nought: and he,
To whom next came their patrimony, 490
A sallow lawyer, cruel and cold,
Aye watched me, as the will was read,
With eyes askance, which sought to see
The secrets of my agony;
And with close lips and anxious brow 495
Stood canvassing still to and fro
The chance of my resolve, and all
The dead man’s caution just did call;
For in that killing lie ’twas said —
‘She is adulterous, and doth hold 500
In secret that the Christian creed
Is false, and therefore is much need
That I should have a care to save
My children from eternal fire.’
Friend, he was sheltered by the grave, 505
And therefore dared to be a liar!
In truth, the Indian on the pyre
Of her dead husband, half consumed,
As well might there be false, as I
To those abhorred embraces doomed, 510
Far worse than fire’s brief agony
As to the Christian creed, if true
Or false, I never questioned it:
I took it as the vulgar do:
Nor my vexed soul had leisure yet 515
To doubt the things men say, or deem
That they are other than they seem.

All present who those crimes did hear,
In feigned or actual scorn and fear,
Men, women, children, slunk away, 520
Whispering with self-contented pride,
Which half suspects its own base lie.
I spoke to none, nor did abide,
But silently I went my way,
Nor noticed I where joyously 525
Sate my two younger babes at play,
In the court-yard through which I passed;
But went with footsteps firm and fast
Till I came to the brink of the ocean green,
And there, a woman with gray hairs, 530
Who had my mother’s servant been,
Kneeling, with many tears and prayers,
Made me accept a purse of gold,
Half of the earnings she had kept
To refuge her when weak and old. 535

With woe, which never sleeps or slept,
I wander now. ’Tis a vain thought —
But on yon alp, whose snowy head
‘Mid the azure air is islanded,
(We see it o’er the flood of cloud, 540
Which sunrise from its eastern caves
Drives, wrinkling into golden waves,
Hung with its precipices proud,
From that gray stone where first we met)
There now — who knows the dead feel nought? — 545
Should be my grave; for he who yet
Is my soul’s soul, once said: ‘’Twere sweet
‘Mid stars and lightnings to abide,
And winds and lulling snows, that beat
With their soft flakes the mountain wide, 550
Where weary meteor lamps repose,
And languid storms their pinions close:
And all things strong and bright and pure,
And ever during, aye endure:
Who knows, if one were buried there, 555
But these things might our spirits make,
Amid the all-surrounding air,
Their own eternity partake?’
Then ’twas a wild and playful saying
At which I laughed, or seemed to laugh: 560
They were his words: now heed my praying,
And let them be my epitaph.
Thy memory for a term may be
My monument. Wilt remember me?
I know thou wilt, and canst forgive 565
Whilst in this erring world to live
My soul disdained not, that I thought
Its lying forms were worthy aught
And much less thee.

HELEN: O speak not so,
But come to me and pour thy woe 570
Into this heart, full though it be,
Ay, overflowing with its own:
I thought that grief had severed me
From all beside who weep and groan;
Its likeness upon earth to be, 575
Its express image; but thou art
More wretched. Sweet! we will not part
Henceforth, if death be not division;
If so, the dead feel no contrition.
But wilt thou hear since last we parted 580
All that has left me broken hearted?

ROSALIND: Yes, speak. The faintest stars are scarcely shorn
Of their thin beams by that delusive morn
Which sinks again in darkness, like the light
Of early love, soon lost in total night. 585

HELEN: Alas! Italian winds are mild,
But my bosom is cold — wintry cold —
When the warm air weaves, among the fresh leaves,
Soft music, my poor brain is wild,
And I am weak like a nursling child, 590
Though my soul with grief is gray and old.

ROSALIND: Weep not at thine own words, though they must make
Me weep. What is thy tale?

HELEN: I fear ’twill shake
Thy gentle heart with tears. Thou well
Rememberest when we met no more, 595
And, though I dwelt with Lionel,
That friendless caution pierced me sore
With grief; a wound my spirit bore
Indignantly, but when he died,
With him lay dead both hope and pride. 600
Alas! all hope is buried now.
But then men dreamed the aged earth
Was labouring in that mighty birth,
Which many a poet and a sage
Has aye foreseen — the happy age 605
When truth and love shall dwell below
Among the works and ways of men;
Which on this world not power but will
Even now is wanting to fulfil.


Among mankind what thence befell
Of strife, how vain, is known too well;
When Liberty’s dear paean fell
‘Mid murderous howls. To Lionel,
Though of great wealth and lineage high,
Yet through those dungeon walls there came 615
Thy thrilling light, O Liberty!
And as the meteor’s midnight flame
Startles the dreamer, sun-like truth
Flashed on his visionary youth,
And filled him, not with love, but faith, 620
And hope, and courage mute in death;
For love and life in him were twins,
Born at one birth: in every other
First life then love its course begins,
Though they be children of one mother; 625
And so through this dark world they fleet
Divided, till in death they meet;
But he loved all things ever. Then
He passed amid the strife of men,
And stood at the throne of armed power 630
Pleading for a world of woe:
Secure as one on a rock-built tower
O’er the wrecks which the surge trails to and fro,
‘Mid the passions wild of human kind
He stood, like a spirit calming them; 635
For, it was said, his words could bind
Like music the lulled crowd, and stem
That torrent of unquiet dream
Which mortals truth and reason deem,
But is revenge and fear and pride. 640
Joyous he was; and hope and peace
On all who heard him did abide,
Raining like dew from his sweet talk,
As where the evening star may walk
Along the brink of the gloomy seas, 645
Liquid mists of splendour quiver.
His very gestures touched to tears
The unpersuaded tyrant, never
So moved before: his presence stung
The torturers with their victim’s pain, 650
And none knew how; and through their ears
The subtle witchcraft of his tongue
Unlocked the hearts of those who keep
Gold, the world’s bond of slavery.
Men wondered, and some sneered to see 655
One sow what he could never reap:
For he is rich, they said, and young,
And might drink from the depths of luxury.
If he seeks Fame, Fame never crowned
The champion of a trampled creed: 660
If he seeks Power, Power is enthroned
‘Mid ancient rights and wrongs, to feed
Which hungry wolves with praise and spoil,
Those who would sit near Power must toil;
And such, there sitting, all may see. 665
What seeks he? All that others seek
He casts away, like a vile weed
Which the sea casts unreturningly.
That poor and hungry men should break
The laws which wreak them toil and scorn, 670
We understand; but Lionel
We know, is rich and nobly born.
So wondered they: yet all men loved
Young Lionel, though few approved;
All but the priests, whose hatred fell 675
Like the unseen blight of a smiling day,
The withering honey dew, which clings
Under the bright green buds of May,
Whilst they unfold their emerald wings:
For he made verses wild and queer 680
On the strange creeds priests hold so dear,
Because they bring them land and gold.
Of devils and saints and all such gear,
He made tales which whoso heard or read
Would laugh till he were almost dead. 685
So this grew a proverb: ‘Don’t get old
Till Lionel’s “Banquet in Hell” you hear,
And then you will laugh yourself young again.’
So the priests hated him, and he
Repaid their hate with cheerful glee. 690

Ah, smiles and joyance quickly died,
For public hope grew pale and dim
In an altered time and tide,
And in its wasting withered him,
As a summer flower that blows too soon 695
Droops in the smile of the waning moon,
When it scatters through an April night
The frozen dews of wrinkling blight.
None now hoped more. Gray Power was seated
Safely on her ancestral throne; 700
And Faith, the Python, undefeated,
Even to its blood-stained steps dragged on
Her foul and wounded train, and men
Were trampled and deceived again,
And words and shows again could bind 705
The wailing tribes of human kind
In scorn and famine. Fire and blood
Raged round the raging multitude,
To fields remote by tyrants sent
To be the scorned instrument 710
With which they drag from mines of gore
The chains their slaves yet ever wore:
And in the streets men met each other,
And by old altars and in halls,
And smiled again at festivals. 715
But each man found in his heart’s brother
Cold cheer; for all, though half deceived,
The outworn creeds again believed,
And the same round anew began,
Which the weary world yet ever ran. 720

Many then wept, not tears, but gall
Within their hearts, like drops which fall
Wasting the fountain-stone away.
And in that dark and evil day
Did all desires and thoughts, that claim 725
Men’s care — ambition, friendship, fame,
Love, hope, though hope was now despair —
Indue the colours of this change,
As from the all-surrounding air
The earth takes hues obscure and strange, 730
When storm and earthquake linger there.

And so, my friend, it then befell
To many, most to Lionel,
Whose hope was like the life of youth
Within him, and when dead, became 735
A spirit of unresting flame,
Which goaded him in his distress
Over the world’s vast wilderness.
Three years he left his native land,
And on the fourth, when he returned, 740
None knew him: he was stricken deep
With some disease of mind, and turned
Into aught unlike Lionel.
On him, on whom, did he pause in sleep,
Serenest smiles were wont to keep, 745
And, did he wake, a winged band
Of bright persuasions, which had fed
On his sweet lips and liquid eyes,
Kept their swift pinions half outspread
To do on men his least command; 750
On him, whom once ’twas paradise
Even to behold, now misery lay:
In his own heart ’twas merciless,
To all things else none may express
Its innocence and tenderness. 755

’Twas said that he had refuge sought
In love from his unquiet thought
In distant lands, and been deceived
By some strange show; for there were found,
Blotted with tears as those relieved 760
By their own words are wont to do,
These mournful verses on the ground,
By all who read them blotted too.

‘How am I changed! my hopes were once like fire:
I loved, and I believed that life was love. 765
How am I lost! on wings of swift desire
Among Heaven’s winds my spirit once did move.
I slept, and silver dreams did aye inspire
My liquid sleep: I woke, and did approve
All nature to my heart, and thought to make 770
A paradise of earth for one sweet sake.

‘I love, but I believe in love no more.
I feel desire, but hope not. O, from sleep
Most vainly must my weary brain implore
Its long lost flattery now: I wake to weep, 775
And sit through the long day gnawing the core
Of my bitter heart, and, like a miser, keep,
Since none in what I feel take pain or pleasure,
To my own soul its self-consuming treasure.’


He dwelt beside me near the sea;
And oft in evening did we meet,
When the waves, beneath the starlight, flee
O’er the yellow sands with silver feet,
And talked: our talk was sad and sweet,
Till slowly from his mien there passed 785
The desolation which it spoke;
And smiles — as when the lightning’s blast
Has parched some heaven-delighting oak,
The next spring shows leaves pale and rare,
But like flowers delicate and fair, 790
On its rent boughs — again arrayed
His countenance in tender light:
His words grew subtile fire, which made
The air his hearers breathed delight:
His motions, like the winds, were free, 795
Which bend the bright grass gracefully,
Then fade away in circlets faint:
And winged Hope, on which upborne
His soul seemed hovering in his eyes,
Like some bright spirit newly born 800
Floating amid the sunny skies,
Sprang forth from his rent heart anew.
Yet o’er his talk, and looks, and mien,
Tempering their loveliness too keen,
Past woe its shadow backward threw, 805
Till like an exhalation, spread
From flowers half drunk with evening dew,
They did become infectious: sweet
And subtle mists of sense and thought:
Which wrapped us soon, when we might meet, 810
Almost from our own looks and aught
The wild world holds. And so, his mind
Was healed, while mine grew sick with fear:
For ever now his health declined,
Like some frail bark which cannot bear 815
The impulse of an altered wind,
Though prosperous: and my heart grew full
‘Mid its new joy of a new care:
For his cheek became, not pale, but fair,
As rose-o’ershadowed lilies are; 820
And soon his deep and sunny hair,
In this alone less beautiful,
Like grass in tombs grew wild and rare.
The blood in his translucent veins
Beat, not like animal life, but love 825
Seemed now its sullen springs to move,
When life had failed, and all its pains:
And sudden sleep would seize him oft
Like death, so calm, but that a tear,
His pointed eyelashes between, 830
Would gather in the light serene
Of smiles, whose lustre bright and soft
Beneath lay undulating there.
His breath was like inconstant flame,
As eagerly it went and came; 835
And I hung o’er him in his sleep,
Till, like an image in the lake
Which rains disturb, my tears would break
The shadow of that slumber deep:
Then he would bid me not to weep, 840
And say, with flattery false, yet sweet,
That death and he could never meet,
If I would never part with him.
And so we loved, and did unite
All that in us was yet divided: 845
For when he said, that many a rite,
By men to bind but once provided,
Could not be shared by him and me,
Or they would kill him in their glee,
I shuddered, and then laughing said — 850
‘We will have rites our faith to bind,
But our church shall be the starry night,
Our altar the grassy earth outspread,
And our priest the muttering wind.’


’Twas sunset as I spoke: one star
Had scarce burst forth, when from afar
The ministers of misrule sent,
Seized upon Lionel, and bore
His chained limbs to a dreary tower,
In the midst of a city vast and wide. 860
For he, they said, from his mind had bent
Against their gods keen blasphemy,
For which, though his soul must roasted be
In hell’s red lakes immortally,
Yet even on earth must he abide 865
The vengeance of their slaves: a trial,
I think, men call it. What avail
Are prayers and tears, which chase denial
From the fierce savage, nursed in hate?
What the knit soul that pleading and pale 870
Makes wan the quivering cheek, which late
It painted with its own delight?
We were divided. As I could,
I stilled the tingling of my blood,
And followed him in their despite, 875
As a widow follows, pale and wild,
The murderers and corse of her only child;
And when we came to the prison door
And I prayed to share his dungeon floor
With prayers which rarely have been spurned, 880
And when men drove me forth and I
Stared with blank frenzy on the sky,
A farewell look of love he turned,
Half calming me; then gazed awhile,
As if thro’ that black and massy pile, 885
And thro’ the crowd around him there,
And thro’ the dense and murky air,
And the thronged streets, he did espy
What poets know and prophesy;
And said, with voice that made them shiver 890
And clung like music in my brain,
And which the mute walls spoke again
Prolonging it with deepened strain:
‘Fear not the tyrants shall rule for ever,
Or the priests of the bloody faith; 895
They stand on the brink of that mighty river,
Whose waves they have tainted with death:
It is fed from the depths of a thousand dells,
Around them it foams, and rages, and swells,
And their swords and their sceptres I floating see, 900
Like wrecks in the surge of eternity.’

I dwelt beside the prison gate;
And the strange crowd that out and in
Passed, some, no doubt, with mine own fate,
Might have fretted me with its ceaseless din, 905
But the fever of care was louder within.
Soon, but too late, in penitence
Or fear, his foes released him thence:
I saw his thin and languid form,
As leaning on the jailor’s arm, 910
Whose hardened eyes grew moist the while,
To meet his mute and faded smile,
And hear his words of kind farewell,
He tottered forth from his damp cell.
Many had never wept before, 915
From whom fast tears then gushed and fell:
Many will relent no more,
Who sobbed like infants then; aye, all
Who thronged the prison’s stony hall,
The rulers or the slaves of law, 920
Felt with a new surprise and awe
That they were human, till strong shame
Made them again become the same.
The prison blood-hounds, huge and grim,
From human looks the infection caught, 925
And fondly crouched and fawned on him;
And men have heard the prisoners say,
Who in their rotting dungeons lay,
That from that hour, throughout one day,
The fierce despair and hate which kept 930
Their trampled bosoms almost slept:
Where, like twin vultures, they hung feeding
On each heart’s wound, wide torn and bleeding —
Because their jailors’ rule, they thought,
Grew merciful, like a parent’s sway. 935

I know not how, but we were free:
And Lionel sate alone with me,
As the carriage drove thro’ the streets apace;
And we looked upon each other’s face;
And the blood in our fingers intertwined 940
Ran like the thoughts of a single mind,
As the swift emotions went and came
Thro’ the veins of each united frame.
So thro’ the long long streets we passed
Of the million-peopled City vast; 945
Which is that desert, where each one
Seeks his mate yet is alone,
Beloved and sought and mourned of none;
Until the clear blue sky was seen,
And the grassy meadows bright and green, 950
And then I sunk in his embrace,
Enclosing there a mighty space
Of love: and so we travelled on
By woods, and fields of yellow flowers,
And towns, and villages, and towers, 955
Day after day of happy hours.
It was the azure time of June,
When the skies are deep in the stainless noon,
And the warm and fitful breezes shake
The fresh green leaves of the hedgerow briar, 960
And there were odours then to make
The very breath we did respire
A liquid element, whereon
Our spirits, like delighted things
That walk the air on subtle wings, 965
Floated and mingled far away,
‘Mid the warm winds of the sunny day.
And when the evening star came forth
Above the curve of the new bent moon,
And light and sound ebbed from the earth, 970
Like the tide of the full and the weary sea
To the depths of its own tranquillity,
Our natures to its own repose
Did the earth’s breathless sleep attune:
Like flowers, which on each other close 975
Their languid leaves when daylight’s gone,
We lay, till new emotions came,
Which seemed to make each mortal frame
One soul of interwoven flame,
A life in life, a second birth 980
In worlds diviner far than earth,
Which, like two strains of harmony
That mingle in the silent sky
Then slowly disunite, passed by
And left the tenderness of tears, 985
A soft oblivion of all fears,
A sweet sleep: so we travelled on
Till we came to the home of Lionel,
Among the mountains wild and lone,
Beside the hoary western sea, 990
Which near the verge of the echoing shore
The massy forest shadowed o’er.

The ancient steward, with hair all hoar,
As we alighted, wept to see
His master changed so fearfully; 995
And the old man’s sobs did waken me
From my dream of unremaining gladness;
The truth flashed o’er me like quick madness
When I looked, and saw that there was death
On Lionel: yet day by day 1000
He lived, till fear grew hope and faith,
And in my soul I dared to say,
Nothing so bright can pass away:
Death is dark, and foul, and dull,
But he is — O how beautiful! 1005
Yet day by day he grew more weak,
And his sweet voice, when he might speak,
Which ne’er was loud, became more low;
And the light which flashed through his waxen cheek
Grew faint, as the rose-like hues which flow 1010
From sunset o’er the Alpine snow:
And death seemed not like death in him,
For the spirit of life o’er every limb
Lingered, a mist of sense and thought.
When the summer wind faint odours brought 1015
From mountain flowers, even as it passed
His cheek would change, as the noonday sea
Which the dying breeze sweeps fitfully.
If but a cloud the sky o’ercast,
You might see his colour come and go, 1020
And the softest strain of music made
Sweet smiles, yet sad, arise and fade
Amid the dew of his tender eyes;
And the breath, with intermitting flow,
Made his pale lips quiver and part. 1025
You might hear the beatings of his heart,
Quick, but not strong; and with my tresses
When oft he playfully would bind
In the bowers of mossy lonelinesses
His neck, and win me so to mingle 1030
In the sweet depth of woven caresses,
And our faint limbs were intertwined,
Alas! the unquiet life did tingle
From mine own heart through every vein,
Like a captive in dreams of liberty, 1035
Who beats the walls of his stony cell.
But his, it seemed already free,
Like the shadow of fire surrounding me!
On my faint eyes and limbs did dwell
That spirit as it passed, till soon, 1040
As a frail cloud wandering o’er the moon,
Beneath its light invisible,
Is seen when it folds its gray wings again
To alight on midnight’s dusky plain,
I lived and saw, and the gathering soul 1045
Passed from beneath that strong control,
And I fell on a life which was sick with fear
Of all the woe that now I bear.

Amid a bloomless myrtle wood,
On a green and sea-girt promontory, 1050
Not far from where we dwelt, there stood
In record of a sweet sad story,
An altar and a temple bright
Circled by steps, and o’er the gate
Was sculptured, ‘To Fidelity;’ 1055
And in the shrine an image sate,
All veiled: but there was seen the light
Of smiles which faintly could express
A mingled pain and tenderness
Through that ethereal drapery. 1060
The left hand held the head, the right —
Beyond the veil, beneath the skin,
You might see the nerves quivering within —
Was forcing the point of a barbed dart
Into its side-convulsing heart. 1065
An unskilled hand, yet one informed
With genius, had the marble warmed
With that pathetic life. This tale
It told: A dog had from the sea,
When the tide was raging fearfully, 1070
Dragged Lionel’s mother, weak and pale,
Then died beside her on the sand,
And she that temple thence had planned;
But it was Lionel’s own hand
Had wrought the image. Each new moon 1075
That lady did, in this lone fane,
The rites of a religion sweet,
Whose god was in her heart and brain:
The seasons’ loveliest flowers were strewn
On the marble floor beneath her feet, 1080
And she brought crowns of sea-buds white
Whose odour is so sweet and faint,
And weeds, like branching chrysolite,
Woven in devices fine and quaint.
And tears from her brown eyes did stain 1085
The altar: need but look upon
That dying statue fair and wan,
If tears should cease, to weep again:
And rare Arabian odours came,
Through the myrtle copses steaming thence 1090
From the hissing frankincense,
Whose smoke, wool-white as ocean foam,
Hung in dense flocks beneath the dome —
That ivory dome, whose azure night
With golden stars, like heaven, was bright — 1095
O’er the split cedar’s pointed flame;
And the lady’s harp would kindle there
The melody of an old air,
Softer than sleep; the villagers
Mixed their religion up with hers, 1100
And, as they listened round, shed tears.

One eve he led me to this fane:
Daylight on its last purple cloud
Was lingering gray, and soon her strain
The nightingale began; now loud, 1105
Climbing in circles the windless sky,
Now dying music; suddenly
’Tis scattered in a thousand notes,
And now to the hushed ear it floats
Like field smells known in infancy, 1110
Then failing, soothes the air again.
We sate within that temple lone,
Pavilioned round with Parian stone:
His mother’s harp stood near, and oft
I had awakened music soft 1115
Amid its wires: the nightingale
Was pausing in her heaven-taught tale:
‘Now drain the cup,’ said Lionel,
‘Which the poet-bird has crowned so well
With the wine of her bright and liquid song! 1120
Heardst thou not sweet words among
That heaven-resounding minstrelsy?
Heard’st thou not that those who die
Awake in a world of ecstasy?
That love, when limbs are interwoven, 1125
And sleep, when the night of life is cloven,
And thought, to the world’s dim boundaries clinging,
And music, when one beloved is singing,
Is death? Let us drain right joyously
The cup which the sweet bird fills for me.’ 1130
He paused, and to my lips he bent
His own: like spirit his words went
Through all my limbs with the speed of fire;
And his keen eyes, glittering through mine,
Filled me with the flame divine, 1135
Which in their orbs was burning far,
Like the light of an unmeasured star,
In the sky of midnight dark and deep:
Yes, ’twas his soul that did inspire
Sounds, which my skill could ne’er awaken; 1140
And first, I felt my fingers sweep
The harp, and a long quivering cry
Burst from my lips in symphony:
The dusk and solid air was shaken,
As swift and swifter the notes came 1145
From my touch, that wandered like quick flame,
And from my bosom, labouring
With some unutterable thing:
The awful sound of my own voice made
My faint lips tremble; in some mood 1150
Of wordless thought Lionel stood
So pale, that even beside his cheek
The snowy column from its shade
Caught whiteness: yet his countenance,
Raised upward, burned with radiance 1155
Of spirit-piercing joy, whose light,
Like the moon struggling through the night
Of whirlwind-rifted clouds, did break
With beams that might not be confined.
I paused, but soon his gestures kindled 1160
New power, as by the moving wind
The waves are lifted, and my song
To low soft notes now changed and dwindled,
And from the twinkling wires among,
My languid fingers drew and flung 1165
Circles of life-dissolving sound,
Yet faint; in aery rings they bound
My Lionel, who, as every strain
Grew fainter but more sweet, his mien
Sunk with the sound relaxedly; 1170
And slowly now he turned to me,
As slowly faded from his face
That awful joy: with looks serene
He was soon drawn to my embrace,
And my wild song then died away 1175
In murmurs: words I dare not say
We mixed, and on his lips mine fed
Till they methought felt still and cold:
‘What is it with thee, love?’ I said:
No word, no look, no motion! yes, 1180
There was a change, but spare to guess,
Nor let that moment’s hope be told.
I looked, and knew that he was dead,
And fell, as the eagle on the plain
Falls when life deserts her brain, 1185
And the mortal lightning is veiled again.

O that I were now dead! but such
(Did they not, love, demand too much,
Those dying murmurs?) he forbade.
O that I once again were mad! 1190
And yet, dear Rosalind, not so,
For I would live to share thy woe.
Sweet boy! did I forget thee too?
Alas, we know not what we do
When we speak words.
No memory more 1195
Is in my mind of that sea shore.
Madness came on me, and a troop
Of misty shapes did seem to sit
Beside me, on a vessel’s poop,
And the clear north wind was driving it. 1200
Then I heard strange tongues, and saw strange flowers,
And the stars methought grew unlike ours,
And the azure sky and the stormless sea
Made me believe that I had died,
And waked in a world, which was to me 1205
Drear hell, though heaven to all beside:
Then a dead sleep fell on my mind,
Whilst animal life many long years
Had rescued from a chasm of tears;
And when I woke, I wept to find 1210
That the same lady, bright and wise,
With silver locks and quick brown eyes,
The mother of my Lionel,
Had tended me in my distress,
And died some months before. Nor less 1215
Wonder, but far more peace and joy,
Brought in that hour my lovely boy;
For through that trance my soul had well
The impress of thy being kept;
And if I waked, or if I slept, 1220
No doubt, though memory faithless be,
Thy image ever dwelt on me;
And thus, O Lionel, like thee
Is our sweet child. ’Tis sure most strange
I knew not of so great a change, 1225
As that which gave him birth, who now
Is all the solace of my woe.

That Lionel great wealth had left
By will to me, and that of all
The ready lies of law bereft 1230
My child and me, might well befall.
But let me think not of the scorn,
Which from the meanest I have borne,
When, for my child’s beloved sake,
I mixed with slaves, to vindicate 1235
The very laws themselves do make:
Let me not say scorn is my fate,
Lest I be proud, suffering the same
With those who live in deathless fame.


She ceased. —‘Lo, where red morning thro’ the woods
Is burning o’er the dew;’ said Rosalind.
And with these words they rose, and towards the flood
Of the blue lake, beneath the leaves now wind
With equal steps and fingers intertwined:
Thence to a lonely dwelling, where the shore 1245
Is shadowed with steep rocks, and cypresses
Cleave with their dark green cones the silent skies,
And with their shadows the clear depths below,
And where a little terrace from its bowers,
Of blooming myrtle and faint lemon-flowers, 1250
Scatters its sense-dissolving fragrance o’er
The liquid marble of the windless lake;
And where the aged forest’s limbs look hoar,
Under the leaves which their green garments make,
They come: ’Tis Helen’s home, and clean and white, 1255
Like one which tyrants spare on our own land
In some such solitude, its casements bright
Shone through their vine-leaves in the morning sun,
And even within ’twas scarce like Italy.
And when she saw how all things there were planned, 1260
As in an English home, dim memory
Disturbed poor Rosalind: she stood as one
Whose mind is where his body cannot be,
Till Helen led her where her child yet slept,
And said, ‘Observe, that brow was Lionel’s, 1265
Those lips were his, and so he ever kept
One arm in sleep, pillowing his head with it.
You cannot see his eyes — they are two wells
Of liquid love: let us not wake him yet.’
But Rosalind could bear no more, and wept 1270
A shower of burning tears, which fell upon
His face, and so his opening lashes shone
With tears unlike his own, as he did leap
In sudden wonder from his innocent sleep.


So Rosalind and Helen lived together
Thenceforth, changed in all else, yet friends again,
Such as they were, when o’er the mountain heather
They wandered in their youth, through sun and rain.
And after many years, for human things
Change even like the ocean and the wind, 1280
Her daughter was restored to Rosalind,
And in their circle thence some visitings
Of joy ‘mid their new calm would intervene:
A lovely child she was, of looks serene,
And motions which o’er things indifferent shed 1285
The grace and gentleness from whence they came.
And Helen’s boy grew with her, and they fed
From the same flowers of thought, until each mind
Like springs which mingle in one flood became,
And in their union soon their parents saw 1290
The shadow of the peace denied to them.
And Rosalind, for when the living stem
Is cankered in its heart, the tree must fall,
Died ere her time; and with deep grief and awe
The pale survivors followed her remains 1295
Beyond the region of dissolving rains,
Up the cold mountain she was wont to call
Her tomb; and on Chiavenna’s precipice
They raised a pyramid of lasting ice,
Whose polished sides, ere day had yet begun, 1300
Caught the first glow of the unrisen sun,
The last, when it had sunk; and thro’ the night
The charioteers of Arctos wheeled round
Its glittering point, as seen from Helen’s home,
Whose sad inhabitants each year would come, 1305
With willing steps climbing that rugged height,
And hang long locks of hair, and garlands bound
With amaranth flowers, which, in the clime’s despite,
Filled the frore air with unaccustomed light:
Such flowers, as in the wintry memory bloom 1310
Of one friend left, adorned that frozen tomb.

Helen, whose spirit was of softer mould,
Whose sufferings too were less, Death slowlier led
Into the peace of his dominion cold:
She died among her kindred, being old. 1315
And know, that if love die not in the dead
As in the living, none of mortal kind
Are blest, as now Helen and Rosalind.

_63 from there]from thee edition 1819.

_366 fell]ran edition 1819.

_405-_408 See Editor’s Note on this passage.

_551 Where]When edition 1819.

_572 Ay, overflowing]Aye overflowing edition 1819.

_612 dear]clear cj. Bradley.

_711 gore editions 1819, 1839. See Editor’s Note.

_932 Where]When edition 1819.

_1093-_1096 See Editor’s Note.

_1168-_1171] See Editor’s Note.

_1209 rescue]rescued edition 1819. See Editor’s Note.

Note by Mrs. Shelley.

“Rosalind and Helen” was begun at Marlow, and thrown aside — till I found it; and, at my request, it was completed. Shelley had no care for any of his poems that did not emanate from the depths of his mind, and develop some high or abstruse truth. When he does touch on human life and the human heart, no pictures can be more faithful, more delicate, more subtle, or more pathetic. He never mentioned Love but he shed a grace borrowed from his own nature, that scarcely any other poet has bestowed on that passion. When he spoke of it as the law of life, which inasmuch as we rebel against we err and injure ourselves and others, he promulgated that which he considered an irrefragable truth. In his eyes it was the essence of our being, and all woe and pain arose from the war made against it by selfishness, or insensibility, or mistake. By reverting in his mind to this first principle, he discovered the source of many emotions, and could disclose the secrets of all hearts, and his delineations of passion and emotion touch the finest chords of our nature.

“Rosalind and Helen” was finished during the summer of 1818, while we were at the Baths of Lucca.

Julian and Maddalo

A Conversation

[Composed at Este after Shelley’s first visit to Venice, 1818 (Autumn); first published in the “Posthumous Poems”, London, 1824 (edition Mrs. Shelley). Shelley’s original intention had been to print the poem in Leigh Hunt’s “Examiner”; but he changed his mind and, on August 15, 1819, sent the manuscript to Hunt to be published anonymously by Ollier. This manuscript, found by Mr. Townshend Mayer, and by him placed in the hands of Mr. H. Buxton Forman, C.B., is described at length in Mr. Forman’s Library Edition of the poems (volume 3 page 107). The date, ‘May, 1819,’ affixed to “Julian and Maddalo” in the “Posthumous Poems”, 1824, indicates the time when the text was finally revised by Shelley. Sources of the text are (1) “Posthumous Poems”, 1824; (2) the Hunt manuscript; (3) a fair draft of the poem amongst the Boscombe manuscripts; (4) “Poetical Works”, 1839, 1st and 2nd editions (Mrs. Shelley). Our text is that of the Hunt manuscript, as printed in Forman’s Library Edition of the Poems, 1876, volume 3, pages 103-30; variants of 1824 are indicated in the footnotes; questions of punctuation are dealt with in the notes at the end of the volume.]

Table of Contents


Julian and Maddalo.

Note by Mrs. Shelley.


The meadows with fresh streams, the bees with thyme,

The goats with the green leaves of budding Spring,

Are saturated not — nor Love with tears.

— VIRGIL’S “Gallus”.

Count Maddalo is a Venetian nobleman of ancient family and of great fortune, who, without mixing much in the society of his countrymen, resides chiefly at his magnificent palace in that city. He is a person of the most consummate genius, and capable, if he would direct his energies to such an end, of becoming the redeemer of his degraded country. But it is his weakness to be proud: he derives, from a comparison of his own extraordinary mind with the dwarfish intellects that surround him, an intense apprehension of the nothingness of human life. His passions and his powers are incomparably greater than those of other men; and, instead of the latter having been employed in curbing the former, they have mutually lent each other strength. His ambition preys upon itself, for want of objects which it can consider worthy of exertion. I say that Maddalo is proud, because I can find no other word to express the concentred and impatient feelings which consume him; but it is on his own hopes and affections only that he seems to trample, for in social life no human being can be more gentle, patient and unassuming than Maddalo. He is cheerful, frank and witty. His more serious conversation is a sort of intoxication; men are held by it as by a spell. He has travelled much; and there is an inexpressible charm in his relation of his adventures in different countries.

Julian is an Englishman of good family, passionately attached to those philosophical notions which assert the power of man over his own mind, and the immense improvements of which, by the extinction of certain moral superstitions, human society may be yet susceptible. Without concealing the evil in the world he is for ever speculating how good may be made superior. He is a complete infidel, and a scoffer at all things reputed holy; and Maddalo takes a wicked pleasure in drawing out his taunts against religion. What Maddalo thinks on these matters is not exactly known. Julian, in spite of his heterodox opinions, is conjectured by his friends to possess some good qualities. How far this is possible the pious reader will determine. Julian is rather serious.

Of the Maniac I can give no information. He seems, by his own account, to have been disappointed in love. He was evidently a very cultivated and amiable person when in his right senses. His story, told at length, might be like many other stories of the same kind: the unconnected exclamations of his agony will perhaps be found a sufficient comment for the text of every heart.

Julian and Maddalo.

A Conversation.

I rode one evening with Count Maddalo

Upon the bank of land which breaks the flow

Of Adria towards Venice: a bare strand

Of hillocks, heaped from ever-shifting sand,


Matted with thistles and amphibious weeds,

Such as from earth’s embrace the salt ooze breeds,

Is this; an uninhabited sea-side,

Which the lone fisher, when his nets are dried,

Abandons; and no other object breaks


The waste, but one dwarf tree and some few stakes

Broken and unrepaired, and the tide makes

A narrow space of level sand thereon,

Where ’twas our wont to ride while day went down.

This ride was my delight. I love all waste


And solitary places; where we taste

The pleasure of believing what we see

Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be:

And such was this wide ocean, and this shore

More barren than its billows; and yet more


Than all, with a remembered friend I love

To ride as then I rode; — for the winds drove

The living spray along the sunny air

Into our faces; the blue heavens were bare,

Stripped to their depths by the awakening north;


And, from the waves, sound like delight broke forth

Harmonising with solitude, and sent

Into our hearts aereal merriment.

So, as we rode, we talked; and the swift thought,

Winging itself with laughter, lingered not,


But flew from brain to brain — such glee was ours,

Charged with light memories of remembered hours,

None slow enough for sadness: till we came

Homeward, which always makes the spirit tame.

This day had been cheerful but cold, and now


The sun was sinking, and the wind also.

Our talk grew somewhat serious, as may be

Talk interrupted with such raillery

As mocks itself, because it cannot scorn

The thoughts it would extinguish:—’twas forlorn,


Yet pleasing, such as once, so poets tell,

The devils held within the dales of Hell

Concerning God, freewill and destiny:

Of all that earth has been or yet may be,

All that vain men imagine or believe,


Or hope can paint or suffering may achieve,

We descanted; and I (for ever still

Is it not wise to make the best of ill?)

Argued against despondency, but pride

Made my companion take the darker side.


The sense that he was greater than his kind

Had struck, methinks, his eagle spirit blind

By gazing on its own exceeding light.

Meanwhile the sun paused ere it should alight,

Over the horizon of the mountains; — Oh,


How beautiful is sunset, when the glow

Of Heaven descends upon a land like thee,

Thou Paradise of exiles, Italy!

Thy mountains, seas and vineyards, and the towers

Of cities they encircle! — it was ours


To stand on thee, beholding it: and then,

Just where we had dismounted, the Count’s men

Were waiting for us with the gondola. —

As those who pause on some delightful way

Though bent on pleasant pilgrimage, we stood


Looking upon the evening, and the flood

Which lay between the city and the shore,

Paved with the image of the sky . . . the hoar

And aery Alps towards the North appeared

Through mist, an heaven-sustaining bulwark reared


Between the East and West; and half the sky

Was roofed with clouds of rich emblazonry

Dark purple at the zenith, which still grew

Down the steep West into a wondrous hue

Brighter than burning gold, even to the rent


Where the swift sun yet paused in his descent

Among the many-folded hills: they were

Those famous Euganean hills, which bear,

As seen from Lido thro’ the harbour piles,

The likeness of a clump of peaked isles —


And then — as if the Earth and Sea had been

Dissolved into one lake of fire, were seen

Those mountains towering as from waves of flame

Around the vaporous sun, from which there came

The inmost purple spirit of light, and made


Their very peaks transparent. ‘Ere it fade,’

Said my companion, ‘I will show you soon

A better station’— so, o’er the lagune

We glided; and from that funereal bark

I leaned, and saw the city, and could mark


How from their many isles, in evening’s gleam,

Its temples and its palaces did seem

Like fabrics of enchantment piled to Heaven.

I was about to speak, when —‘We are even

Now at the point I meant,’ said Maddalo,


And bade the gondolieri cease to row.

‘Look, Julian, on the west, and listen well

If you hear not a deep and heavy bell.’

I looked, and saw between us and the sun

A building on an island; such a one


As age to age might add, for uses vile,

A windowless, deformed and dreary pile;

And on the top an open tower, where hung

A bell, which in the radiance swayed and swung;

We could just hear its hoarse and iron tongue:


The broad sun sunk behind it, and it tolled

In strong and black relief. —‘What we behold

Shall be the madhouse and its belfry tower,’

Said Maddalo, ‘and ever at this hour

Those who may cross the water, hear that bell


Which calls the maniacs, each one from his cell,

To vespers.’—‘As much skill as need to pray

In thanks or hope for their dark lot have they

To their stern maker,’ I replied. ‘O ho!

You talk as in years past,’ said Maddalo.


‘’Tis strange men change not. You were ever still

Among Christ’s flock a perilous infidel,

A wolf for the meek lambs — if you can’t swim

Beware of Providence.’ I looked on him,

But the gay smile had faded in his eye.


‘And such,’— he cried, ‘is our mortality,

And this must be the emblem and the sign

Of what should be eternal and divine! —

And like that black and dreary bell, the soul,

Hung in a heaven-illumined tower, must toll


Our thoughts and our desires to meet below

Round the rent heart and pray — as madmen do

For what? they know not — till the night of death

As sunset that strange vision, severeth

Our memory from itself, and us from all


We sought and yet were baffled.’ I recall

The sense of what he said, although I mar

The force of his expressions. The broad star

Of day meanwhile had sunk behind the hill,

And the black bell became invisible,


And the red tower looked gray, and all between

The churches, ships and palaces were seen

Huddled in gloom; — into the purple sea

The orange hues of heaven sunk silently.

We hardly spoke, and soon the gondola


Conveyed me to my lodging by the way.

The following morn was rainy, cold, and dim:

Ere Maddalo arose, I called on him,

And whilst I waited with his child I played;

A lovelier toy sweet Nature never made;


A serious, subtle, wild, yet gentle being,

Graceful without design and unforeseeing,

With eyes — Oh speak not of her eyes! — which seem

Twin mirrors of Italian Heaven, yet gleam

With such deep meaning, as we never see


But in the human countenance: with me

She was a special favourite: I had nursed

Her fine and feeble limbs when she came first

To this bleak world; and she yet seemed to know

On second sight her ancient playfellow,


Less changed than she was by six months or so;

For after her first shyness was worn out

We sate there, rolling billiard balls about,

When the Count entered. Salutations past —

‘The word you spoke last night might well have cast


A darkness on my spirit — if man be

The passive thing you say, I should not see

Much harm in the religions and old saws

(Tho’ I may never own such leaden laws)

Which break a teachless nature to the yoke:


Mine is another faith.’— thus much I spoke

And noting he replied not, added: ‘See

This lovely child, blithe, innocent and free;

She spends a happy time with little care,

While we to such sick thoughts subjected are


As came on you last night. It is our will

That thus enchains us to permitted ill —

We might be otherwise — we might be all

We dream of happy, high, majestical.

Where is the love, beauty, and truth we seek,


But in our mind? and if we were not weak

Should we be less in deed than in desire?’

‘Ay, if we were not weak — and we aspire

How vainly to be strong!’ said Maddalo:

‘You talk Utopia.’ ‘It remains to know,’


I then rejoined, ‘and those who try may find

How strong the chains are which our spirit bind;

Brittle perchance as straw . . . We are assured

Much may be conquered, much may be endured,

Of what degrades and crushes us. We know


That we have power over ourselves to do

And suffer — what, we know not till we try;

But something nobler than to live and die —

So taught those kings of old philosophy

Who reigned, before Religion made men blind;


And those who suffer with their suffering kind

Yet feel their faith, religion.’ ‘My dear friend,’

Said Maddalo, ‘my judgement will not bend

To your opinion, though I think you might

Make such a system refutation-tight


As far as words go. I knew one like you

Who to this city came some months ago,

With whom I argued in this sort, and he

Is now gone mad — and so he answered me —

Poor fellow! but if you would like to go,


We’ll visit him, and his wild talk will show

How vain are such aspiring theories.’

‘I hope to prove the induction otherwise,

And that a want of that true theory, still,

Which seeks a “soul of goodness” in things ill


Or in himself or others, has thus bowed

His being — there are some by nature proud,

Who patient in all else demand but this —

To love and be beloved with gentleness;

And being scorned, what wonder if they die


Some living death? this is not destiny

But man’s own wilful ill.’

As thus I spoke

Servants announced the gondola, and we

Through the fast-falling rain and high-wrought sea

Sailed to the island where the madhouse stands.


We disembarked. The clap of tortured hands,

Fierce yells and howlings and lamentings keen,

And laughter where complaint had merrier been,

Moans, shrieks, and curses, and blaspheming prayers

Accosted us. We climbed the oozy stairs


Into an old courtyard. I heard on high,

Then, fragments of most touching melody,

But looking up saw not the singer there —

Through the black bars in the tempestuous air

I saw, like weeds on a wrecked palace growing,


Long tangled locks flung wildly forth, and flowing,

Of those who on a sudden were beguiled

Into strange silence, and looked forth and smiled

Hearing sweet sounds. Then I: ‘Methinks there were

A cure of these with patience and kind care,


If music can thus move . . . but what is he

Whom we seek here?’ ‘Of his sad history

I know but this,’ said Maddalo: ‘he came

To Venice a dejected man, and fame

Said he was wealthy, or he had been so;


Some thought the loss of fortune wrought him woe;

But he was ever talking in such sort

As you do — far more sadly — he seemed hurt,

Even as a man with his peculiar wrong,

To hear but of the oppression of the strong,


Or those absurd deceits (I think with you

In some respects, you know) which carry through

The excellent impostors of this earth

When they outface detection — he had worth,

Poor fellow! but a humorist in his way’—


‘Alas, what drove him mad?’ ‘I cannot say:

A lady came with him from France, and when

She left him and returned, he wandered then

About yon lonely isles of desert sand

Till he grew wild — he had no cash or land


Remaining — the police had brought him here —

Some fancy took him and he would not bear

Removal; so I fitted up for him

Those rooms beside the sea, to please his whim,

And sent him busts and books and urns for flowers,


Which had adorned his life in happier hours,

And instruments of music — you may guess

A stranger could do little more or less

For one so gentle and unfortunate:

And those are his sweet strains which charm the weight


From madmen’s chains, and make this Hell appear

A heaven of sacred silence, hushed to hear.’—

‘Nay, this was kind of you — he had no claim,

As the world says’—‘None — but the very same

Which I on all mankind were I as he


Fallen to such deep reverse; — his melody

Is interrupted — now we hear the din

Of madmen, shriek on shriek, again begin;

Let us now visit him; after this strain

He ever communes with himself again,


And sees nor hears not any.’ Having said

These words, we called the keeper, and he led

To an apartment opening on the sea —

There the poor wretch was sitting mournfully

Near a piano, his pale fingers twined


One with the other, and the ooze and wind

Rushed through an open casement, and did sway

His hair, and starred it with the brackish spray;

His head was leaning on a music book,

And he was muttering, and his lean limbs shook;


His lips were pressed against a folded leaf

In hue too beautiful for health, and grief

Smiled in their motions as they lay apart —

As one who wrought from his own fervid heart

The eloquence of passion, soon he raised


His sad meek face and eyes lustrous and glazed

And spoke — sometimes as one who wrote, and thought

His words might move some heart that heeded not,

If sent to distant lands: and then as one

Reproaching deeds never to be undone


With wondering self-compassion; then his speech

Was lost in grief, and then his words came each

Unmodulated, cold, expressionless —

But that from one jarred accent you might guess

It was despair made them so uniform:


And all the while the loud and gusty storm

Hissed through the window, and we stood behind

Stealing his accents from the envious wind

Unseen. I yet remember what he said

Distinctly: such impression his words made.


‘Month after month,’ he cried, ‘to bear this load

And as a jade urged by the whip and goad

To drag life on, which like a heavy chain

Lengthens behind with many a link of pain! —

And not to speak my grief — O, not to dare


To give a human voice to my despair,

But live, and move, and, wretched thing! smile on

As if I never went aside to groan,

And wear this mask of falsehood even to those

Who are most dear — not for my own repose —


Alas! no scorn or pain or hate could be

So heavy as that falsehood is to me —

But that I cannot bear more altered faces

Than needs must be, more changed and cold embraces,

More misery, disappointment, and mistrust


To own me for their father . . . Would the dust

Were covered in upon my body now!

That the life ceased to toil within my brow!

And then these thoughts would at the least be fled;

Let us not fear such pain can vex the dead.


‘What Power delights to torture us? I know

That to myself I do not wholly owe

What now I suffer, though in part I may.

Alas! none strewed sweet flowers upon the way

Where wandering heedlessly, I met pale Pain


My shadow, which will leave me not again —

If I have erred, there was no joy in error,

But pain and insult and unrest and terror;

I have not as some do, bought penitence

With pleasure, and a dark yet sweet offence,


For then — if love and tenderness and truth

Had overlived hope’s momentary youth,

My creed should have redeemed me from repenting;

But loathed scorn and outrage unrelenting

Met love excited by far other seeming


Until the end was gained . . . as one from dreaming

Of sweetest peace, I woke, and found my state

Such as it is. —

‘O Thou, my spirit’s mate

Who, for thou art compassionate and wise,

Wouldst pity me from thy most gentle eyes


If this sad writing thou shouldst ever see —

My secret groans must be unheard by thee,

Thou wouldst weep tears bitter as blood to know

Thy lost friend’s incommunicable woe.

‘Ye few by whom my nature has been weighed


In friendship, let me not that name degrade

By placing on your hearts the secret load

Which crushes mine to dust. There is one road

To peace and that is truth, which follow ye!

Love sometimes leads astray to misery.


Yet think not though subdued — and I may well

Say that I am subdued — that the full Hell

Within me would infect the untainted breast

Of sacred nature with its own unrest;

As some perverted beings think to find


In scorn or hate a medicine for the mind

Which scorn or hate have wounded — O how vain!

The dagger heals not but may rend again . . .

Believe that I am ever still the same

In creed as in resolve, and what may tame


My heart, must leave the understanding free,

Or all would sink in this keen agony —

Nor dream that I will join the vulgar cry;

Or with my silence sanction tyranny;

Or seek a moment’s shelter from my pain


In any madness which the world calls gain,

Ambition or revenge or thoughts as stern

As those which make me what I am; or turn

To avarice or misanthropy or lust . . .

Heap on me soon, O grave, thy welcome dust!


Till then the dungeon may demand its prey,

And Poverty and Shame may meet and say —

Halting beside me on the public way —

“That love-devoted youth is ours — let’s sit

Beside him — he may live some six months yet.”


Or the red scaffold, as our country bends,

May ask some willing victim; or ye friends

May fall under some sorrow which this heart

Or hand may share or vanquish or avert;

I am prepared — in truth, with no proud joy —


To do or suffer aught, as when a boy

I did devote to justice and to love

My nature, worthless now! . . .

‘I must remove

A veil from my pent mind. ’Tis torn aside!

O, pallid as Death’s dedicated bride,


Thou mockery which art sitting by my side,

Am I not wan like thee? at the grave’s call

I haste, invited to thy wedding-ball

To greet the ghastly paramour, for whom

Thou hast deserted me . . . and made the tomb


Thy bridal bed . . . But I beside your feet

Will lie and watch ye from my winding-sheet —

Thus . . . wide awake tho’ dead . . . yet stay, O stay!

Go not so soon — I know not what I say —

Hear but my reasons . . . I am mad, I fear,


My fancy is o’erwrought . . . thou art not here . . .

Pale art thou, ’tis most true . . . but thou art gone,

Thy work is finished . . . I am left alone! —

. . .

‘Nay, was it I who wooed thee to this breast

Which, like a serpent, thou envenomest


As in repayment of the warmth it lent?

Didst thou not seek me for thine own content?

Did not thy love awaken mine? I thought

That thou wert she who said, “You kiss me not

Ever, I fear you do not love me now”—


In truth I loved even to my overthrow

Her, who would fain forget these words: but they

Cling to her mind, and cannot pass away.

. . .

‘You say that I am proud — that when I speak

My lip is tortured with the wrongs which break


The spirit it expresses . . . Never one

Humbled himself before, as I have done!

Even the instinctive worm on which we tread

Turns, though it wound not — then with prostrate head

Sinks in the dusk and writhes like me — and dies?


No: wears a living death of agonies!

As the slow shadows of the pointed grass

Mark the eternal periods, his pangs pass,

Slow, ever-moving — making moments be

As mine seem — each an immortality!

. . .


‘That you had never seen me — never heard

My voice, and more than all had ne’er endured

The deep pollution of my loathed embrace —

That your eyes ne’er had lied love in my face —

That, like some maniac monk, I had torn out


The nerves of manhood by their bleeding root

With mine own quivering fingers, so that ne’er

Our hearts had for a moment mingled there

To disunite in horror — these were not

With thee, like some suppressed and hideous thought


Which flits athwart our musings, but can find

No rest within a pure and gentle mind . . .

Thou sealedst them with many a bare broad word,

And searedst my memory o’er them — for I heard

And can forget not . . . they were ministered


One after one, those curses. Mix them up

Like self-destroying poisons in one cup,

And they will make one blessing which thou ne’er

Didst imprecate for, on me — death.

. . .

‘It were

A cruel punishment for one most cruel,


If such can love, to make that love the fuel

Of the mind’s hell; hate, scorn, remorse, despair:

But ME— whose heart a stranger’s tear might wear

As water-drops the sandy fountain-stone,

Who loved and pitied all things, and could moan


For woes which others hear not, and could see

The absent with the glance of phantasy,

And with the poor and trampled sit and weep,

Following the captive to his dungeon deep;

ME— who am as a nerve o’er which do creep


The else unfelt oppressions of this earth,

And was to thee the flame upon thy hearth,

When all beside was cold — that thou on me

Shouldst rain these plagues of blistering agony —

Such curses are from lips once eloquent


With love’s too partial praise — let none relent

Who intend deeds too dreadful for a name

Henceforth, if an example for the same

They seek . . . for thou on me lookedst so, and so —

And didst speak thus . . . and thus . . . I live to show

How much men bear and die not!

. . .


‘Thou wilt tell

With the grimace of hate, how horrible

It was to meet my love when thine grew less;

Thou wilt admire how I could e’er address

Such features to love’s work . . . this taunt, though true,


(For indeed Nature nor in form nor hue

Bestowed on me her choicest workmanship)

Shall not be thy defence . . . for since thy lip

Met mine first, years long past, since thine eye kindled

With soft fire under mine, I have not dwindled


Nor changed in mind or body, or in aught

But as love changes what it loveth not

After long years and many trials.

‘How vain

Are words! I thought never to speak again,

Not even in secret — not to mine own heart —


But from my lips the unwilling accents start,

And from my pen the words flow as I write,

Dazzling my eyes with scalding tears . . . my sight

Is dim to see that charactered in vain

On this unfeeling leaf which burns the brain


And eats into it . . . blotting all things fair

And wise and good which time had written there.

‘Those who inflict must suffer, for they see

The work of their own hearts, and this must be

Our chastisement or recompense — O child!


I would that thine were like to be more mild

For both our wretched sakes . . . for thine the most

Who feelest already all that thou hast lost

Without the power to wish it thine again;

And as slow years pass, a funereal train


Each with the ghost of some lost hope or friend

Following it like its shadow, wilt thou bend

No thought on my dead memory?

. . .

‘Alas, love!

Fear me not . . . against thee I would not move

A finger in despite. Do I not live


That thou mayst have less bitter cause to grieve?

I give thee tears for scorn and love for hate;

And that thy lot may be less desolate

Than his on whom thou tramplest, I refrain

From that sweet sleep which medicines all pain.


Then, when thou speakest of me, never say

“He could forgive not.” Here I cast away

All human passions, all revenge, all pride;

I think, speak, act no ill; I do but hide

Under these words, like embers, every spark


Of that which has consumed me — quick and dark

The grave is yawning . . . as its roof shall cover

My limbs with dust and worms under and over

So let Oblivion hide this grief . . . the air

Closes upon my accents, as despair


Upon my heart — let death upon despair!’

He ceased, and overcome leant back awhile,

Then rising, with a melancholy smile

Went to a sofa, and lay down, and slept

A heavy sleep, and in his dreams he wept


And muttered some familiar name, and we

Wept without shame in his society.

I think I never was impressed so much;

The man who were not, must have lacked a touch

Of human nature . . . then we lingered not,


Although our argument was quite forgot,

But calling the attendants, went to dine

At Maddalo’s; yet neither cheer nor wine

Could give us spirits, for we talked of him

And nothing else, till daylight made stars dim;


And we agreed his was some dreadful ill

Wrought on him boldly, yet unspeakable,

By a dear friend; some deadly change in love

Of one vowed deeply which he dreamed not of;

For whose sake he, it seemed, had fixed a blot


Of falsehood on his mind which flourished not

But in the light of all-beholding truth;

And having stamped this canker on his youth

She had abandoned him — and how much more

Might be his woe, we guessed not — he had store


Of friends and fortune once, as we could guess

From his nice habits and his gentleness;

These were now lost . . . it were a grief indeed

If he had changed one unsustaining reed

For all that such a man might else adorn.


The colours of his mind seemed yet unworn;

For the wild language of his grief was high,

Such as in measure were called poetry;

And I remember one remark which then

Maddalo made. He said: ‘Most wretched men


Are cradled into poetry by wrong,

They learn in suffering what they teach in song.’

If I had been an unconnected man,

I, from this moment, should have formed some plan

Never to leave sweet Venice — for to me


It was delight to ride by the lone sea;

And then, the town is silent — one may write

Or read in gondolas by day or night,

Having the little brazen lamp alight,

Unseen, uninterrupted; books are there,


Pictures, and casts from all those statues fair

Which were twin-born with poetry, and all

We seek in towns, with little to recall

Regrets for the green country. I might sit

In Maddalo’s great palace, and his wit


And subtle talk would cheer the winter night

And make me know myself, and the firelight

Would flash upon our faces, till the day

Might dawn and make me wonder at my stay:

But I had friends in London too: the chief


Attraction here, was that I sought relief

From the deep tenderness that maniac wrought

Within me —’twas perhaps an idle thought —

But I imagined that if day by day

I watched him, and but seldom went away,


And studied all the beatings of his heart

With zeal, as men study some stubborn art

For their own good, and could by patience find

An entrance to the caverns of his mind,

I might reclaim him from this dark estate:


In friendships I had been most fortunate —

Yet never saw I one whom I would call

More willingly my friend; and this was all

Accomplished not; such dreams of baseless good

Oft come and go in crowds or solitude


And leave no trace — but what I now designed

Made for long years impression on my mind.

The following morning, urged by my affairs,

I left bright Venice.

After many years

And many changes I returned; the name


Of Venice, and its aspect, was the same;

But Maddalo was travelling far away

Among the mountains of Armenia.

His dog was dead. His child had now become

A woman; such as it has been my doom


To meet with few — a wonder of this earth,

Where there is little of transcendent worth,

Like one of Shakespeare’s women: kindly she,

And, with a manner beyond courtesy,

Received her father’s friend; and when I asked


Of the lorn maniac, she her memory tasked,

And told as she had heard the mournful tale:

‘That the poor sufferer’s health began to fail

Two years from my departure, but that then

The lady who had left him, came again.


Her mien had been imperious, but she now

Looked meek — perhaps remorse had brought her low.

Her coming made him better, and they stayed

Together at my father’s — for I played,

As I remember, with the lady’s shawl —


I might be six years old — but after all

She left him.’ . . . ‘Why, her heart must have been tough:

How did it end?’ ‘And was not this enough?

They met — they parted.’—‘Child, is there no more?’

‘Something within that interval which bore


The stamp of WHY they parted, HOW they met:

Yet if thine aged eyes disdain to wet

Those wrinkled cheeks with youth’s remembered tears,

Ask me no more, but let the silent years

Be closed and cered over their memory


As yon mute marble where their corpses lie.’

I urged and questioned still, she told me how

All happened — but the cold world shall not know.

_45 may Hunt manuscript; can 1824.

_99 a one Hunt manuscript; an one 1824.

_105 sunk Hunt manuscript; sank 1824.

_108 ever Hunt manuscript; even 1824.

_119 in Hunt manuscript; from 1824.

_124 a Hunt manuscript; an 1824.

_171 That Hunt manuscript; Which 1824.

_175 mind Hunt manuscript; minds 1824.

_179 know 1824; see Hunt manuscript.

_188 those Hunt manuscript; the 1824.

_191 their Hunt manuscript; this 1824.

_218 Moons, etc., Hunt manuscript; The line is wanting in editions 1824 and 1839.

_237 far Hunt manuscript; but 1824.

_270 nor Hunt manuscript; and 1824.

_292 cold Hunt manuscript; and 1824.

_318 least Hunt manuscript; last 1824.

_323 sweet Hunt manuscript; fresh 1824.

_356 have Hunt manuscript; hath 1824.

_361 in this keen Hunt manuscript; under this 1824.

_362 cry Hunt manuscript; eye 1824.

_372 on Hunt manuscript; in 1824.

_388 greet Hunt manuscript; meet 1824.

_390 your Hunt manuscript; thy 1824.

_417 his Hunt manuscript; its 1824.

_446 glance Hunt manuscript; glass 1824.

_447 with Hunt manuscript; near 1824.

_467 lip Hunt manuscript; life 1824.

_483 this Hunt manuscript; that 1824.

_493 I would Hunt manuscript; I’d 1824.

_510 despair Hunt manuscript; my care 1839.

_511 leant] See Editor’s Note.

_518 were Hunt manuscript; was 1839.

_525 his Hunt manuscript; it 1824.

_530 on Hunt manuscript; in 1824.

_537 were now Hunt manuscript; now were 1824.

_588 regrets Hunt manuscript; regret 1824.

_569 but Hunt manuscript; wanting in editions 1824 and 1839.

_574 his 1824; this [?] Hunt manuscript.

Cancelled Fragments of Julian and Maddalo.

‘What think you the dead are?’ ‘Why, dust and clay,

What should they be?’ ‘’Tis the last hour of day.


Look on the west, how beautiful it is

Vaulted with radiant vapours! The deep bliss

Of that unutterable light has made

The edges of that cloud . . . fade

Into a hue, like some harmonious thought,


Wasting itself on that which it had wrought,

Till it dies . . . and . . . between

The light hues of the tender, pure, serene,

And infinite tranquillity of heaven.

Ay, beautiful! but when not . . . ’

. . .


‘Perhaps the only comfort which remains

Is the unheeded clanking of my chains,

The which I make, and call it melody.’

Note by Mrs. Shelley.

From the Baths of Lucca, in 1818, Shelley visited Venice; and, circumstances rendering it eligible that we should remain a few weeks in the neighbourhood of that city, he accepted the offer of Lord Byron, who lent him the use of a villa he rented near Este; and he sent for his family from Lucca to join him.

I Capuccini was a villa built on the site of a Capuchin convent, demolished when the French suppressed religious houses; it was situated on the very overhanging brow of a low hill at the foot of a range of higher ones. The house was cheerful and pleasant; a vine-trellised walk, a pergola, as it is called in Italian, led from the hall-door to a summer-house at the end of the garden, which Shelley made his study, and in which he began the “Prometheus”; and here also, as he mentions in a letter, he wrote “Julian and Maddalo”. A slight ravine, with a road in its depth, divided the garden from the hill, on which stood the ruins of the ancient castle of Este, whose dark massive wall gave forth an echo, and from whose ruined crevices owls and bats flitted forth at night, as the crescent moon sunk behind the black and heavy battlements. We looked from the garden over the wide plain of Lombardy, bounded to the west by the far Apennines, while to the east the horizon was lost in misty distance. After the picturesque but limited view of mountain, ravine, and chestnut-wood, at the Baths of Lucca, there was something infinitely gratifying to the eye in the wide range of prospect commanded by our new abode.

Our first misfortune, of the kind from which we soon suffered even more severely, happened here. Our little girl, an infant in whose small features I fancied that I traced great resemblance to her father, showed symptoms of suffering from the heat of the climate. Teething increased her illness and danger. We were at Este, and when we became alarmed, hastened to Venice for the best advice. When we arrived at Fusina, we found that we had forgotten our passport, and the soldiers on duty attempted to prevent our crossing the laguna; but they could not resist Shelley’s impetuosity at such a moment. We had scarcely arrived at Venice before life fled from the little sufferer, and we returned to Este to weep her loss.

After a few weeks spent in this retreat, which was interspersed by visits to Venice, we proceeded southward.

Prometheus Unbound.

A Lyrical Drama in Four Acts.


[Composed at Este, September, October, 1818 (Act 1); at Rome, March-April 6, 1819 (Acts 2, 3); at Florence, close of 1819 (Act 4). Published by C. and J. Ollier, London, summer of 1820. Sources of the text are (1) edition of 1820; (2) text in “Poetical Works”, 1839, prepared with the aid of a list of errata in (1) written out by Shelley; (3) a fair draft in Shelley’s autograph, now in the Bodleian. This has been carefully collated by Mr. C.D. Locock, who prints the result in his “Examination of the Shelley Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library”, Oxford (Clarendon Press), 1903. Our text is that of 1820, modified by edition 1839, and by the Bodleian fair copy. In the following notes B = the Bodleian manuscript; 1820 = the editio princeps, printed by Marchant for C. and J. Ollier, London; and 1839 = the text as edited by Mrs. Shelley in the “Poetical Works”, 1st and 2nd editions, 1839. The reader should consult the notes on the Play at the end of the volume.]

Table of Contents


Dramatis Personae.

Act 1.

Act 2.

Act 3.

Act 4.

Cancelled Fragments of “Prometheus Unbound”.

Note on “Prometheus Unbound”, By Mrs. Shelley.


The Greek tragic writers, in selecting as their subject any portion of their national history or mythology, employed in their treatment of it a certain arbitrary discretion. They by no means conceived themselves bound to adhere to the common interpretation or to imitate in story as in title their rivals and predecessors. Such a system would have amounted to a resignation of those claims to preference over their competitors which incited the composition. The Agamemnonian story was exhibited on the Athenian theatre with as many variations as dramas.

I have presumed to employ a similar license. The “Prometheus Unbound” of Aeschylus supposed the reconciliation of Jupiter with his victim as the price of the disclosure of the danger threatened to his empire by the consummation of his marriage with Thetis. Thetis, according to this view of the subject, was given in marriage to Peleus, and Prometheus, by the permission of Jupiter, delivered from his captivity by Hercules. Had I framed my story on this model, I should have done no more than have attempted to restore the lost drama of Aeschylus; an ambition which, if my preference to this mode of treating the subject had incited me to cherish, the recollection of the high comparison such an attempt would challenge might well abate. But, in truth, I was averse from a catastrophe so feeble as that of reconciling the Champion with the Oppressor of mankind. The moral interest of the fable, which is so powerfully sustained by the sufferings and endurance of Prometheus, would be annihilated if we could conceive of him as unsaying his high language and quailing before his successful and perfidious adversary. The only imaginary being resembling in any degree Prometheus, is Satan; and Prometheus is, in my judgement, a more poetical character than Satan, because, in addition to courage, and majesty, and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent force, he is susceptible of being described as exempt from the taints of ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandisement, which, in the Hero of “Paradise Lost”, interfere with the interest. The character of Satan engenders in the mind a pernicious casuistry which leads us to weigh his faults with his wrongs, and to excuse the former because the latter exceed all measure. In the minds of those who consider that magnificent fiction with a religious feeling it engenders something worse. But Prometheus is, as it were, the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature, impelled by the purest and the truest motives to the best and noblest ends.

This Poem was chiefly written upon the mountainous ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, among the flowery glades, and thickets of odoriferous blossoming trees, which are extended in ever winding labyrinths upon its immense platforms and dizzy arches suspended in the air. The bright blue sky of Rome, and the effect of the vigorous awakening spring in that divinest climate, and the new life with which it drenches the spirits even to intoxication, were the inspiration of this drama.

The imagery which I have employed will be found, in many instances, to have been drawn from the operations of the human mind, or from those external actions by which they are expressed. This is unusual in modern poetry, although Dante and Shakespeare are full of instances of the same kind: Dante indeed more than any other poet, and with greater success. But the Greek poets, as writers to whom no resource of awakening the sympathy of their contemporaries was unknown, were in the habitual use of this power; and it is the study of their works (since a higher merit would probably be denied me) to which I am willing that my readers should impute this singularity.

One word is due in candour to the degree in which the study of contemporary writings may have tinged my composition, for such has been a topic of censure with regard to poems far more popular, and indeed more deservedly popular, than mine. It is impossible that any one who inhabits the same age with such writers as those who stand in the foremost ranks of our own, can conscientiously assure himself that his language and tone of thought may not have been modified by the study of the productions of those extraordinary intellects. It is true, that, not the spirit of their genius, but the forms in which it has manifested itself, are due less to the peculiarities of their own minds than to the peculiarity of the moral and intellectual condition of the minds among which they have been produced. Thus a number of writers possess the form, whilst they want the spirit of those whom, it is alleged, they imitate; because the former is the endowment of the age in which they live, and the latter must be the uncommunicated lightning of their own mind.

The peculiar style of intense and comprehensive imagery which distinguishes the modern literature of England has not been, as a general power, the product of the imitation of any particular writer. The mass of capabilities remains at every period materially the same; the circumstances which awaken it to action perpetually change. If England were divided into forty republics, each equal in population and extent to Athens, there is no reason to suppose but that, under institutions not more perfect than those of Athens, each would produce philosophers and poets equal to those who (if we except Shakespeare) have never been surpassed. We owe the great writers of the golden age of our literature to that fervid awakening of the public mind which shook to dust the oldest and most oppressive form of the Christian religion. We owe Milton to the progress and development of the same spirit: the sacred Milton was, let it ever be remembered, a republican, and a bold inquirer into morals and religion. The great writers of our own age are, we have reason to suppose, the companions and forerunners of some unimagined change in our social condition or the opinions which cement it. The cloud of mind is discharging its collected lightning, and the equilibrium between institutions and opinions is now restoring, or is about to be restored.

As to imitation, poetry is a mimetic art. It creates, but it creates by combination and representation. Poetical abstractions are beautiful and new, not because the portions of which they are composed had no previous existence in the mind of man or in nature, but because the whole produced by their combination has some intelligible and beautiful analogy with those sources of emotion and thought, and with the contemporary condition of them: one great poet is a masterpiece of nature which another not only ought to study but must study. He might as wisely and as easily determine that his mind should no longer be the mirror of all that is lovely in the visible universe as exclude from his contemplation the beautiful which exists in the writings of a great contemporary. The pretence of doing it would be a presumption in any but the greatest; the effect, even in him, would be strained, unnatural and ineffectual. A poet is the combined product of such internal powers as modify the nature of others; and of such external influences as excite and sustain these powers; he is not one, but both. Every man’s mind is, in this respect, modified by all the objects of nature and art; by every word and every suggestion which he ever admitted to act upon his consciousness; it is the mirror upon which all forms are reflected, and in which they compose one form. Poets, not otherwise than philosophers, painters, sculptors and musicians, are, in one sense, the creators, and, in another, the creations, of their age. From this subjection the loftiest do not escape. There is a similarity between Homer and Hesiod, between Aeschylus and Euripides, between Virgil and Horace, between Dante and Petrarch, between Shakespeare and Fletcher, between Dryden and Pope; each has a generic resemblance under which their specific distinctions are arranged. If this similarity be the result of imitation, I am willing to confess that I have imitated.

Let this opportunity be conceded to me of acknowledging that I have, what a Scotch philosopher characteristically terms, ‘a passion for reforming the world:’ what passion incited him to write and publish his book, he omits to explain. For my part I had rather be damned with Plato and Lord Bacon, than go to Heaven with Paley and Malthus. But it is a mistake to suppose that I dedicate my poetical compositions solely to the direct enforcement of reform, or that I consider them in any degree as containing a reasoned system on the theory of human life. Didactic poetry is my abhorrence; nothing can be equally well expressed in prose that is not tedious and supererogatory in verse. My purpose has hitherto been simply to familiarise the highly refined imagination of the more select classes of poetical readers with beautiful idealisms of moral excellence; aware that until the mind can love, and admire, and trust, and hope, and endure, reasoned principles of moral conduct are seeds cast upon the highway of life which the unconscious passenger tramples into dust, although they would bear the harvest of his happiness. Should I live to accomplish what I purpose, that is, produce a systematical history of what appear to me to be the genuine elements of human society, let not the advocates of injustice and superstition flatter themselves that I should take Aeschylus rather than Plato as my model.

The having spoken of myself with unaffected freedom will need little apology with the candid; and let the uncandid consider that they injure me less than their own hearts and minds by misrepresentation. Whatever talents a person may possess to amuse and instruct others, be they ever so inconsiderable, he is yet bound to exert them: if his attempt be ineffectual, let the punishment of an unaccomplished purpose have been sufficient; let none trouble themselves to heap the dust of oblivion upon his efforts; the pile they raise will betray his grave which might otherwise have been unknown.

Prometheus Unbound.

Dramatis Personae.















Prometheus Unbound.

Act 1.

SCENE: A ravine of icy rocks in the Indian Caucasus. Prometheus is discovered bound to the precipice. Pantea and Ione are seated at his feet.

Time, night.

During the scene, morning slowly breaks.

PROMETHEUS: Monarch of Gods and DAEmons, and all Spirits
But One, who throng those bright and rolling worlds
Which Thou and I alone of living things
Behold with sleepless eyes! regard this Earth
Made multitudinous with thy slaves, whom thou 5
Requitest for knee-worship, prayer, and praise,
And toil, and hecatombs of broken hearts,
With fear and self-contempt and barren hope.
Whilst me, who am thy foe, eyeless in hate,
Hast thou made reign and triumph, to thy scorn, 10
O’er mine own misery and thy vain revenge.
Three thousand years of sleep-unsheltered hours,
And moments aye divided by keen pangs
Till they seemed years, torture and solitude,
Scorn and despair — these are mine empire:— 15
More glorious far than that which thou surveyest
From thine unenvied throne, O Mighty God!
Almighty, had I deigned to share the shame
Of thine ill tyranny, and hung not here
Nailed to this wall of eagle-baffling mountain, 20
Black, wintry, dead, unmeasured; without herb,
Insect, or beast, or shape or sound of life.
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, for ever!

No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt? 25
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven’s ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, for ever! 30

The crawling glaciers pierce me with the spears
Of their moon-freezing crystals; the bright chains
Eat with their burning cold into my bones.
Heaven’s winged hound, polluting from thy lips
His beak in poison not his own, tears up 35
My heart; and shapeless sights come wandering by,
The ghastly people of the realm of dream,
Mocking me: and the Earthquake-fiends are charged
To wrench the rivets from my quivering wounds
When the rocks split and close again behind: 40
While from their loud abysses howling throng
The genii of the storm, urging the rage
Of whirlwind, and afflict me with keen hail.
And yet to me welcome is day and night,
Whether one breaks the hoar-frost of the morn, 45
Or starry, dim, and slow, the other climbs
The leaden-coloured east; for then they lead
The wingless, crawling hours, one among whom
— As some dark Priest hales the reluctant victim —
Shall drag thee, cruel King, to kiss the blood 50
From these pale feet, which then might trample thee
If they disdained not such a prostrate slave.
Disdain! Ah, no! I pity thee. What ruin
Will hunt thee undefended through wide Heaven!
How will thy soul, cloven to its depth with terror, 55
Gape like a hell within! I speak in grief,
Not exultation, for I hate no more,
As then ere misery made me wise. The curse
Once breathed on thee I would recall. Ye Mountains,
Whose many-voiced Echoes, through the mist 60
Of cataracts, flung the thunder of that spell!
Ye icy Springs, stagnant with wrinkling frost,
Which vibrated to hear me, and then crept
Shuddering through India! Thou serenest Air,
Through which the Sun walks burning without beams! 65
And ye swift Whirlwinds, who on poised wings
Hung mute and moveless o’er yon hushed abyss,
As thunder, louder than your own, made rock
The orbed world! If then my words had power,
Though I am changed so that aught evil wish 70
Is dead within; although no memory be
Of what is hate, let them not lose it now!
What was that curse? for ye all heard me speak.

FIRST VOICE (FROM THE MOUNTAINS): Thrice three hundred thousand years
O’er the Earthquake’s couch we stood: 75
Oft, as men convulsed with fears,
We trembled in our multitude.

SECOND VOICE (FROM THE SPRINGS): Thunderbolts had parched our water,
We had been stained with bitter blood,
And had run mute, ‘mid shrieks of slaughter, 80
Thro’ a city and a solitude.

THIRD VOICE (FROM THE AIR): I had clothed, since Earth uprose,
Its wastes in colours not their own,
And oft had my serene repose
Been cloven by many a rending groan. 85

FOURTH VOICE (FROM THE WHIRLWINDS): We had soared beneath these mountains
Unresting ages; nor had thunder,
Nor yon volcano’s flaming fountains,
Nor any power above or under
Ever made us mute with wonder. 90

FIRST VOICE: But never bowed our snowy crest
As at the voice of thine unrest.

SECOND VOICE: Never such a sound before
To the Indian waves we bore.
A pilot asleep on the howling sea 95
Leaped up from the deck in agony,
And heard, and cried, ‘Ah, woe is me!’
And died as mad as the wild waves be.

THIRD VOICE: By such dread words from Earth to Heaven
My still realm was never riven: 100
When its wound was closed, there stood
Darkness o’er the day like blood.

FOURTH VOICE: And we shrank back: for dreams of ruin
To frozen caves our flight pursuing
Made us keep silence — thus — and thus — 105
Though silence is a hell to us.

THE EARTH: The tongueless caverns of the craggy hills
Cried, ‘Misery!’ then; the hollow Heaven replied,
‘Misery!’ And the Ocean’s purple waves,
Climbing the land, howled to the lashing winds, 110
And the pale nations heard it, ‘Misery!’

PROMETHEUS: I hear a sound of voices: not the voice
Which I gave forth. Mother, thy sons and thou
Scorn him, without whose all-enduring will
Beneath the fierce omnipotence of Jove, 115
Both they and thou had vanished, like thin mist
Unrolled on the morning wind. Know ye not me,
The Titan? He who made his agony
The barrier to your else all-conquering foe?
Oh, rock-embosomed lawns, and snow-fed streams, 120
Now seen athwart frore vapours, deep below,
Through whose o’ershadowing woods I wandered once
With Asia, drinking life from her loved eyes;
Why scorns the spirit which informs ye, now
To commune with me? me alone, who checked, 125
As one who checks a fiend-drawn charioteer,
The falsehood and the force of him who reigns
Supreme, and with the groans of pining slaves
Fills your dim glens and liquid wildernesses:
Why answer ye not, still? Brethren!



They dare not.

PROMETHEUS: Who dares? for I would hear that curse again.
Ha, what an awful whisper rises up!
’Tis scarce like sound: it tingles through the frame
As lightning tingles, hovering ere it strike.
Speak, Spirit! from thine inorganic voice 135
I only know that thou art moving near
And love. How cursed I him?

THE EARTH: How canst thou hear
Who knowest not the language of the dead?

PROMETHEUS: Thou art a living spirit; speak as they.



I dare not speak like life, lest Heaven’s fell King
Should hear, and link me to some wheel of pain
More torturing than the one whereon I roll.
Subtle thou art and good; and though the Gods
Hear not this voice, yet thou art more than God,
Being wise and kind: earnestly hearken now. 145

PROMETHEUS: Obscurely through my brain, like shadows dim,
Sweep awful thoughts, rapid and thick. I feel
Faint, like one mingled in entwining love;
Yet ’tis not pleasure.

THE EARTH: No, thou canst not hear:
Thou art immortal, and this tongue is known 150
Only to those who die.

PROMETHEUS: And what art thou,
O, melancholy Voice?

THE EARTH: I am the Earth,
Thy mother; she within whose stony veins,
To the last fibre of the loftiest tree
Whose thin leaves trembled in the frozen air, 155
Joy ran, as blood within a living frame,
When thou didst from her bosom, like a cloud
Of glory, arise, a spirit of keen joy!
And at thy voice her pining sons uplifted
Their prostrate brows from the polluting dust, 160
And our almighty Tyrant with fierce dread
Grew pale, until his thunder chained thee here.
Then, see those million worlds which burn and roll
Around us: their inhabitants beheld
My sphered light wane in wide Heaven; the sea 165
Was lifted by strange tempest, and new fire
From earthquake-rifted mountains of bright snow
Shook its portentous hair beneath Heaven’s frown;
Lightning and Inundation vexed the plains;
Blue thistles bloomed in cities; foodless toads 170
Within voluptuous chambers panting crawled:
When Plague had fallen on man, and beast, and worm,
And Famine; and black blight on herb and tree;
And in the corn, and vines, and meadow-grass,
Teemed ineradicable poisonous weeds 175
Draining their growth, for my wan breast was dry
With grief; and the thin air, my breath, was stained
With the contagion of a mother’s hate
Breathed on her child’s destroyer; ay, I heard
Thy curse, the which, if thou rememberest not, 180
Yet my innumerable seas and streams,
Mountains, and caves, and winds, and yon wide air,
And the inarticulate people of the dead,
Preserve, a treasured spell. We meditate
In secret joy and hope those dreadful words, 185
But dare not speak them.

PROMETHEUS: Venerable mother!
All else who live and suffer take from thee
Some comfort; flowers, and fruits, and happy sounds,
And love, though fleeting; these may not be mine.
But mine own words, I pray, deny me not. 190

THE EARTH: They shall be told. Ere Babylon was dust,
The Magus Zoroaster, my dead child,
Met his own image walking in the garden.
That apparition, sole of men, he saw.
For know there are two worlds of life and death: 195
One that which thou beholdest; but the other
Is underneath the grave, where do inhabit
The shadows of all forms that think and live
Till death unite them and they part no more;
Dreams and the light imaginings of men, 200
And all that faith creates or love desires,
Terrible, strange, sublime and beauteous shapes.
There thou art, and dost hang, a writhing shade,
‘Mid whirlwind-peopled mountains; all the gods
Are there, and all the powers of nameless worlds, 205
Vast, sceptred phantoms; heroes, men, and beasts;
And Demogorgon, a tremendous gloom;
And he, the supreme Tyrant, on his throne
Of burning gold. Son, one of these shall utter
The curse which all remember. Call at will 210
Thine own ghost, or the ghost of Jupiter,
Hades or Typhon, or what mightier Gods
From all-prolific Evil, since thy ruin,
Have sprung, and trampled on my prostrate sons.
Ask, and they must reply: so the revenge 215
Of the Supreme may sweep through vacant shades,
As rainy wind through the abandoned gate
Of a fallen palace.

PROMETHEUS: Mother, let not aught
Of that which may be evil, pass again
My lips, or those of aught resembling me. 220
Phantasm of Jupiter, arise, appear!

IONE: My wings are folded o’er mine ears:
My wings are crossed o’er mine eyes:
Yet through their silver shade appears,
And through their lulling plumes arise, 225
A Shape, a throng of sounds;
May it be no ill to thee
O thou of many wounds!
Near whom, for our sweet sister’s sake,
Ever thus we watch and wake. 230

PANTHEA: The sound is of whirlwind underground,
Earthquake, and fire, and mountains cloven;
The shape is awful like the sound,
Clothed in dark purple, star-inwoven.
A sceptre of pale gold 235
To stay steps proud, o’er the slow cloud
His veined hand doth hold.
Cruel he looks, but calm and strong,
Like one who does, not suffers wrong.



Why have the secret powers of this strange world
Driven me, a frail and empty phantom, hither
On direst storms? What unaccustomed sounds
Are hovering on my lips, unlike the voice
With which our pallid race hold ghastly talk
In darkness? And, proud sufferer, who art thou? 245

PROMETHEUS: Tremendous Image, as thou art must be
He whom thou shadowest forth. I am his foe,
The Titan. Speak the words which I would hear,
Although no thought inform thine empty voice.



Listen! And though your echoes must be mute,
Grey mountains, and old woods, and haunted springs,
Prophetic caves, and isle-surrounding streams,
Rejoice to hear what yet ye cannot speak.

PHANTASM: A spirit seizes me and speaks within:
It tears me as fire tears a thunder-cloud. 255

PANTHEA: See, how he lifts his mighty looks, the Heaven
Darkens above.

IONE: He speaks! O shelter me!

PROMETHEUS: I see the curse on gestures proud and cold,
And looks of firm defiance, and calm hate,
And such despair as mocks itself with smiles, 260
Written as on a scroll: yet speak! Oh, speak!

PHANTASM: Fiend, I defy thee! with a calm, fixed mind,
All that thou canst inflict I bid thee do;
Foul Tyrant both of Gods and Humankind,
One only being shalt thou not subdue. 265
Rain then thy plagues upon me here,
Ghastly disease, and frenzying fear;
And let alternate frost and fire
Eat into me, and be thine ire
Lightning, and cutting hail, and legioned forms 270
Of furies, driving by upon the wounding storms.

Ay, do thy worst. Thou art omnipotent.
O’er all things but thyself I gave thee power,
And my own will. Be thy swift mischiefs sent
To blast mankind, from yon ethereal tower. 275
Let thy malignant spirit move
In darkness over those I love:
On me and mine I imprecate
The utmost torture of thy hate;
And thus devote to sleepless agony, 280
This undeclining head while thou must reign on high.

But thou, who art the God and Lord: O, thou,
Who fillest with thy soul this world of woe,
To whom all things of Earth and Heaven do bow
In fear and worship: all-prevailing foe! 285
I curse thee! let a sufferer’s curse
Clasp thee, his torturer, like remorse;
Till thine Infinity shall be
A robe of envenomed agony;
And thine Omnipotence a crown of pain, 290
To cling like burning gold round thy dissolving brain.

Heap on thy soul, by virtue of this Curse,
Ill deeds, then be thou damned, beholding good;
Both infinite as is the universe,
And thou, and thy self-torturing solitude. 295
An awful image of calm power
Though now thou sittest, let the hour
Come, when thou must appear to be
That which thou art internally;
And after many a false and fruitless crime 300
Scorn track thy lagging fall through boundless space and time.

PROMETHEUS: Were these my words, O Parent?

THE EARTH: They were thine.

PROMETHEUS: It doth repent me: words are quick and vain;
Grief for awhile is blind, and so was mine.
I wish no living thing to suffer pain. 305

THE EARTH: Misery, Oh misery to me,
That Jove at length should vanquish thee.
Wail, howl aloud, Land and Sea,
The Earth’s rent heart shall answer ye.
Howl, Spirits of the living and the dead, 310
Your refuge, your defence, lies fallen and vanquished.

FIRST ECHO: Lies fallen and vanquished!

SECOND ECHO: Fallen and vanquished!

IONE: Fear not: ’tis but some passing spasm,
The Titan is unvanquished still. 315
But see, where through the azure chasm
Of yon forked and snowy hill
Trampling the slant winds on high
With golden-sandalled feet, that glow
Under plumes of purple dye, 320
Like rose-ensanguined ivory,
A Shape comes now,
Stretching on high from his right hand
A serpent-cinctured wand.



’Tis Jove’s world-wandering herald, Mercury.

IONE: And who are those with hydra tresses
And iron wings that climb the wind,
Whom the frowning God represses
Like vapours steaming up behind,
Clanging loud, an endless crowd — 330

PANTHEA: These are Jove’s tempest-walking hounds,
Whom he gluts with groans and blood,
When charioted on sulphurous cloud
He bursts Heaven’s bounds.



Are they now led, from the thin dead
On new pangs to be fed?

PANTHEA: The Titan looks as ever, firm, not proud.

FIRST FURY: Ha! I scent life!

SECOND FURY: Let me but look into his eyes!

THIRD FURY: The hope of torturing him smells like a heap
Of corpses, to a death-bird after battle. 340

FIRST FURY: Darest thou delay, O Herald! take cheer, Hounds
Of Hell: what if the Son of Maia soon
Should make us food and sport — who can please long
The Omnipotent?

MERCURY: Back to your towers of iron,
And gnash, beside the streams of fire and wail, 345
Your foodless teeth. Geryon, arise! and Gorgon,
Chimaera, and thou Sphinx, subtlest of fiends
Who ministered to Thebes Heaven’s poisoned wine,
Unnatural love, and more unnatural hate:
These shall perform your task.



Oh, mercy! mercy!
We die with our desire: drive us not back!

MERCURY: Crouch then in silence.
Awful Sufferer!
To thee unwilling, most unwillingly
I come, by the great Father’s will driven down,
To execute a doom of new revenge. 355
Alas! I pity thee, and hate myself
That I can do no more: aye from thy sight
Returning, for a season, Heaven seems Hell,
So thy worn form pursues me night and day,
Smiling reproach. Wise art thou, firm and good, 360
But vainly wouldst stand forth alone in strife
Against the Omnipotent; as yon clear lamps
That measure and divide the weary years
From which there is no refuge, long have taught
And long must teach. Even now thy Torturer arms 365
With the strange might of unimagined pains
The powers who scheme slow agonies in Hell,
And my commission is to lead them here,
Or what more subtle, foul, or savage fiends
People the abyss, and leave them to their task. 370
Be it not so! there is a secret known
To thee, and to none else of living things,
Which may transfer the sceptre of wide Heaven,
The fear of which perplexes the Supreme:
Clothe it in words, and bid it clasp his throne 375
In intercession; bend thy soul in prayer,
And like a suppliant in some gorgeous fane,
Let the will kneel within thy haughty heart:
For benefits and meek submission tame
The fiercest and the mightiest.



Evil minds
Change good to their own nature. I gave all
He has; and in return he chains me here
Years, ages, night and day: whether the Sun
Split my parched skin, or in the moony night
The crystal-winged snow cling round my hair: 385
Whilst my beloved race is trampled down
By his thought-executing ministers.
Such is the tyrant’s recompense: ’tis just:
He who is evil can receive no good;
And for a world bestowed, or a friend lost, 390
He can feel hate, fear, shame; not gratitude:
He but requites me for his own misdeed.
Kindness to such is keen reproach, which breaks
With bitter stings the light sleep of Revenge.
Submission, thou dost know I cannot try: 395
For what submission but that fatal word,
The death-seal of mankind’s captivity,
Like the Sicilian’s hair-suspended sword,
Which trembles o’er his crown, would he accept,
Or could I yield? Which yet I will not yield. 400
Let others flatter Crime, where it sits throned
In brief Omnipotence: secure are they:
For Justice, when triumphant, will weep down
Pity, not punishment, on her own wrongs,
Too much avenged by those who err. I wait, 405
Enduring thus, the retributive hour
Which since we spake is even nearer now.
But hark, the hell-hounds clamour: fear delay:
Behold! Heaven lowers under thy Father’s frown.



Oh, that we might be spared; I to inflict
And thou to suffer! Once more answer me:
Thou knowest not the period of Jove’s power?

PROMETHEUS: I know but this, that it must come.

Thou canst not count thy years to come of pain?



They last while Jove must reign: nor more, nor less
Do I desire or fear.

MERCURY: Yet pause, and plunge
Into Eternity, where recorded time,
Even all that we imagine, age on age,
Seems but a point, and the reluctant mind
Flags wearily in its unending flight, 420
Till it sink, dizzy, blind, lost, shelterless;
Perchance it has not numbered the slow years
Which thou must spend in torture, unreprieved?

PROMETHEUS: Perchance no thought can count them, yet they pass.

MERCURY: If thou might’st dwell among the Gods the while
Lapped in voluptuous joy? 425

PROMETHEUS: I would not quit
This bleak ravine, these unrepentant pains.

MERCURY: Alas! I wonder at, yet pity thee.

PROMETHEUS: Pity the self-despising slaves of Heaven,
Not me, within whose mind sits peace serene. 430
As light in the sun, throned: how vain is talk!
Call up the fiends.

IONE: O, sister, look! White fire
Has cloven to the roots yon huge snow-loaded cedar;
How fearfully God’s thunder howls behind!



I must obey his words and thine: alas!
Most heavily remorse hangs at my heart!

PANTHEA: See where the child of Heaven, with winged feet,
Runs down the slanted sunlight of the dawn.

IONE: Dear sister, close thy plumes over thine eyes
Lest thou behold and die: they come: they come 440
Blackening the birth of day with countless wings,
And hollow underneath, like death.

FIRST FURY: Prometheus!

SECOND FURY: Immortal Titan!

THIRD FURY: Champion of Heaven’s slaves!

PROMETHEUS: He whom some dreadful voice invokes is here,
Prometheus, the chained Titan. Horrible forms, 445
What and who are ye? Never yet there came
Phantasms so foul through monster-teeming Hell
From the all-miscreative brain of Jove;
Whilst I behold such execrable shapes,
Methinks I grow like what I contemplate, 450
And laugh and stare in loathsome sympathy.

FIRST FURY: We are the ministers of pain, and fear,
And disappointment, and mistrust, and hate,
And clinging crime; and as lean dogs pursue
Through wood and lake some struck and sobbing fawn, 455
We track all things that weep, and bleed, and live,
When the great King betrays them to our will.

PROMETHEUS: Oh! many fearful natures in one name,
I know ye; and these lakes and echoes know
The darkness and the clangour of your wings. 460
But why more hideous than your loathed selves
Gather ye up in legions from the deep?

SECOND FURY: We knew not that: Sisters, rejoice, rejoice!

PROMETHEUS: Can aught exult in its deformity?



The beauty of delight makes lovers glad,
Gazing on one another: so are we.
As from the rose which the pale priestess kneels
To gather for her festal crown of flowers
The aereal crimson falls, flushing her cheek,
So from our victim’s destined agony 470
The shade which is our form invests us round,
Else we are shapeless as our mother Night.

PROMETHEUS: I laugh your power, and his who sent you here,
To lowest scorn. Pour forth the cup of pain.



Thou thinkest we will rend thee bone from bone,
And nerve from nerve, working like fire within?

PROMETHEUS: Pain is my element, as hate is thine;
Ye rend me now; I care not.

SECOND FURY: Dost imagine
We will but laugh into thy lidless eyes?



I weigh not what ye do, but what ye suffer,
Being evil. Cruel was the power which called
You, or aught else so wretched, into light.

THIRD FURY: Thou think’st we will live through thee, one by one,
Like animal life, and though we can obscure not
The soul which burns within, that we will dwell 485
Beside it, like a vain loud multitude
Vexing the self-content of wisest men:
That we will be dread thought beneath thy brain,
And foul desire round thine astonished heart,
And blood within thy labyrinthine veins 490
Crawling like agony?

PROMETHEUS: Why, ye are thus now;
Yet am I king over myself, and rule
The torturing and conflicting throngs within,
As Jove rules you when Hell grows mutinous.



From the ends of the earth, from the ends of the earth,
Where the night has its grave and the morning its birth,
Come, come, come!
Oh, ye who shake hills with the scream of your mirth,
When cities sink howling in ruin; and ye
Who with wingless footsteps trample the sea, 500
And close upon Shipwreck and Famine’s track,
Sit chattering with joy on the foodless wreck;
Come, come, come!
Leave the bed, low, cold, and red,
Strewed beneath a nation dead; 505
Leave the hatred, as in ashes
Fire is left for future burning:
It will burst in bloodier flashes
When ye stir it, soon returning:
Leave the self-contempt implanted 510
In young spirits, sense-enchanted,
Misery’s yet unkindled fuel:
Leave Hell’s secrets half unchanted
To the maniac dreamer; cruel
More than ye can be with hate 515
Is he with fear.
Come, come, come!
We are steaming up from Hell’s wide gate
And we burthen the blast of the atmosphere,
But vainly we toil till ye come here. 520

IONE: Sister, I hear the thunder of new wings.

PANTHEA: These solid mountains quiver with the sound
Even as the tremulous air: their shadows make
The space within my plumes more black than night.



Your call was as a winged car,
Driven on whirlwinds fast and far;
It rapped us from red gulfs of war.

SECOND FURY: From wide cities, famine-wasted;

THIRD FURY: Groans half heard, and blood untasted;



Kingly conclaves stern and cold,
Where blood with gold is bought and sold;

FIFTH FURY: From the furnace, white and hot,
In which —

A FURY: Speak not: whisper not:
I know all that ye would tell,
But to speak might break the spell 535
Which must bend the Invincible,
The stern of thought;
He yet defies the deepest power of Hell.

FURY: Tear the veil!

ANOTHER FURY: It is torn.

CHORUS: The pale stars of the morn
Shine on a misery, dire to be borne. 540
Dost thou faint, mighty Titan? We laugh thee to scorn.
Dost thou boast the clear knowledge thou waken’dst for man?
Then was kindled within him a thirst which outran
Those perishing waters; a thirst of fierce fever,
Hope, love, doubt, desire, which consume him for ever. 545
One came forth of gentle worth
Smiling on the sanguine earth;
His words outlived him, like swift poison
Withering up truth, peace, and pity.
Look! where round the wide horizon 550
Many a million-peopled city
Vomits smoke in the bright air.
Mark that outcry of despair!
’Tis his mild and gentle ghost
Wailing for the faith he kindled: 555
Look again, the flames almost
To a glow-worm’s lamp have dwindled:
The survivors round the embers
Gather in dread.
Joy, joy, joy! 560
Past ages crowd on thee, but each one remembers,
And the future is dark, and the present is spread
Like a pillow of thorns for thy slumberless head.

SEMICHORUS 1: Drops of bloody agony flow
From his white and quivering brow. 565
Grant a little respite now:
See a disenchanted nation
Springs like day from desolation;
To Truth its state is dedicate,
And Freedom leads it forth, her mate; 570
A legioned band of linked brothers
Whom Love calls children —

SEMICHORUS 2: ’Tis another’s:
See how kindred murder kin:
’Tis the vintage-time for death and sin:
Blood, like new wine, bubbles within: 575
Till Despair smothers
The struggling world, which slaves and tyrants win.


IONE: Hark, sister! what a low yet dreadful groan
Quite unsuppressed is tearing up the heart
Of the good Titan, as storms tear the deep, 580
And beasts hear the sea moan in inland caves.
Darest thou observe how the fiends torture him?

PANTHEA: Alas! I looked forth twice, but will no more.

IONE: What didst thou see?

PANTHEA: A woful sight: a youth
With patient looks nailed to a crucifix. 585

IONE: What next?

PANTHEA: The heaven around, the earth below
Was peopled with thick shapes of human death,
All horrible, and wrought by human hands,
And some appeared the work of human hearts,
For men were slowly killed by frowns and smiles: 590
And other sights too foul to speak and live
Were wandering by. Let us not tempt worse fear
By looking forth: those groans are grief enough.

FURY: Behold an emblem: those who do endure
Deep wrongs for man, and scorn, and chains, but heap 595
Thousand-fold torment on themselves and him.

PROMETHEUS: Remit the anguish of that lighted stare;
Close those wan lips; let that thorn-wounded brow
Stream not with blood; it mingles with thy tears!
Fix, fix those tortured orbs in peace and death, 600
So thy sick throes shake not that crucifix,
So those pale fingers play not with thy gore.
O, horrible! Thy name I will not speak,
It hath become a curse. I see, I see
The wise, the mild, the lofty, and the just, 605
Whom thy slaves hate for being like to thee,
Some hunted by foul lies from their heart’s home,
An early-chosen, late-lamented home;
As hooded ounces cling to the driven hind;
Some linked to corpses in unwholesome cells: 610
Some — Hear I not the multitude laugh loud? —
Impaled in lingering fire: and mighty realms
Float by my feet, like sea-uprooted isles,
Whose sons are kneaded down in common blood
By the red light of their own burning homes. 615

FURY: Blood thou canst see, and fire; and canst hear groans;
Worse things unheard, unseen, remain behind.


FURY: In each human heart terror survives
The ravin it has gorged: the loftiest fear
All that they would disdain to think were true: 620
Hypocrisy and custom make their minds
The fanes of many a worship, now outworn.
They dare not devise good for man’s estate,
And yet they know not that they do not dare.
The good want power, but to weep barren tears. 625
The powerful goodness want: worse need for them.
The wise want love; and those who love want wisdom;
And all best things are thus confused to ill.
Many are strong and rich, and would be just,
But live among their suffering fellow-men 630
As if none felt: they know not what they do.

PROMETHEUS: Thy words are like a cloud of winged snakes;
And yet I pity those they torture not.

FURY: Thou pitiest them? I speak no more!

Ah woe! Alas! pain, pain ever, for ever! 635
I close my tearless eyes, but see more clear
Thy works within my woe-illumed mind,
Thou subtle tyrant! Peace is in the grave.
The grave hides all things beautiful and good:
I am a God and cannot find it there, 640
Nor would I seek it: for, though dread revenge,
This is defeat, fierce king, not victory.
The sights with which thou torturest gird my soul
With new endurance, till the hour arrives
When they shall be no types of things which are. 645

PANTHEA: Alas! what sawest thou more?

PROMETHEUS: There are two woes:
To speak, and to behold; thou spare me one.
Names are there, Nature’s sacred watchwords, they
Were borne aloft in bright emblazonry;
The nations thronged around, and cried aloud, 650
As with one voice, Truth, liberty, and love!
Suddenly fierce confusion fell from heaven
Among them: there was strife, deceit, and fear:
Tyrants rushed in, and did divide the spoil.
This was the shadow of the truth I saw. 655

THE EARTH: I felt thy torture, son; with such mixed joy
As pain and virtue give. To cheer thy state
I bid ascend those subtle and fair spirits,
Whose homes are the dim caves of human thought,
And who inhabit, as birds wing the wind, 660
Its world-surrounding aether: they behold
Beyond that twilight realm, as in a glass,
The future: may they speak comfort to thee!

PANTHEA: Look, sister, where a troop of spirits gather,
Like flocks of clouds in spring’s delightful weather, 665
Thronging in the blue air!

IONE: And see! more come,
Like fountain-vapours when the winds are dumb,
That climb up the ravine in scattered lines.
And, hark! is it the music of the pines?
Is it the lake? Is it the waterfall? 670

PANTHEA: ’Tis something sadder, sweeter far than all.

CHORUS OF SPIRITS: From unremembered ages we
Gentle guides and guardians be
Of heaven-oppressed mortality;
And we breathe, and sicken not, 675
The atmosphere of human thought:
Be it dim, and dank, and gray,
Like a storm-extinguished day,
Travelled o’er by dying gleams;
Be it bright as all between 680
Cloudless skies and windless streams,
Silent, liquid, and serene;
As the birds within the wind,
As the fish within the wave,
As the thoughts of man’s own mind 685
Float through all above the grave;
We make there our liquid lair,
Voyaging cloudlike and unpent
Through the boundless element:
Thence we bear the prophecy 690
Which begins and ends in thee!

IONE: More yet come, one by one: the air around them
Looks radiant as the air around a star.

FIRST SPIRIT: On a battle-trumpet’s blast
I fled hither, fast, fast, fast, 695
‘Mid the darkness upward cast.
From the dust of creeds outworn,
From the tyrant’s banner torn,
Gathering ‘round me, onward borne,
There was mingled many a cry — 700
Freedom! Hope! Death! Victory!
Till they faded through the sky;
And one sound, above, around,
One sound beneath, around, above,
Was moving; ’twas the soul of Love; 705
’Twas the hope, the prophecy,
Which begins and ends in thee.

SECOND SPIRIT: A rainbow’s arch stood on the sea,
Which rocked beneath, immovably;
And the triumphant storm did flee, 710
Like a conqueror, swift and proud,
Between, with many a captive cloud,
A shapeless, dark and rapid crowd,
Each by lightning riven in half:
I heard the thunder hoarsely laugh: 715
Mighty fleets were strewn like chaff
And spread beneath a hell of death
O’er the white waters. I alit
On a great ship lightning-split,
And speeded hither on the sigh 720
Of one who gave an enemy
His plank, then plunged aside to die.

THIRD SPIRIT: I sate beside a sage’s bed,
And the lamp was burning red
Near the book where he had fed, 725
When a Dream with plumes of flame,
To his pillow hovering came,
And I knew it was the same
Which had kindled long ago
Pity, eloquence, and woe; 730
And the world awhile below
Wore the shade, its lustre made.
It has borne me here as fleet
As Desire’s lightning feet:
I must ride it back ere morrow, 735
Or the sage will wake in sorrow.

FOURTH SPIRIT: On a poet’s lips I slept
Dreaming like a love-adept
In the sound his breathing kept;
Nor seeks nor finds he mortal blisses, 740
But feeds on the aereal kisses
Of shapes that haunt thought’s wildernesses.
He will watch from dawn to gloom
The lake-reflected sun illume
The yellow bees in the ivy-bloom, 745
Nor heed nor see, what things they be;
But from these create he can
Forms more real than living man,
Nurslings of immortality!
One of these awakened me, 750
And I sped to succour thee.

IONE: Behold’st thou not two shapes from the east and west
Come, as two doves to one beloved nest,
Twin nurslings of the all-sustaining air
On swift still wings glide down the atmosphere? 755
And, hark! their sweet sad voices! ’tis despair
Mingled with love and then dissolved in sound.

PANTHEA: Canst thou speak, sister? all my words are drowned.

IONE: Their beauty gives me voice. See how they float
On their sustaining wings of skiey grain, 760
Orange and azure deepening into gold:
Their soft smiles light the air like a star’s fire.

CHORUS OF SPIRITS: Hast thou beheld the form of Love?

FIFTH SPIRIT: As over wide dominions
I sped, like some swift cloud that wings the wide air’s wildernesses,
That planet-crested shape swept by on lightning-braided pinions, 765
Scattering the liquid joy of life from his ambrosial tresses:
His footsteps paved the world with light; but as I passed ’twas fading,
And hollow Ruin yawned behind: great sages bound in madness,
And headless patriots, and pale youths who perished, unupbraiding,
Gleamed in the night. I wandered o’er, till thou, O King of sadness, 770
Turned by thy smile the worst I saw to recollected gladness.

SIXTH SPIRIT: Ah, sister! Desolation is a delicate thing:
It walks not on the earth, it floats not on the air,
But treads with lulling footstep, and fans with silent wing
The tender hopes which in their hearts the best and gentlest bear; 775
Who, soothed to false repose by the fanning plumes above
And the music-stirring motion of its soft and busy feet,
Dream visions of aereal joy, and call the monster, Love,
And wake, and find the shadow Pain, as he whom now we greet.



Though Ruin now Love’s shadow be,
Following him, destroyingly,
On Death’s white and winged steed,
Which the fleetest cannot flee,
Trampling down both flower and weed,
Man and beast, and foul and fair, 785
Like a tempest through the air;
Thou shalt quell this horseman grim,
Woundless though in heart or limb.

PROMETHEUS: Spirits! how know ye this shall be?



In the atmosphere we breathe,
As buds grow red when the snow-storms flee,
From Spring gathering up beneath,
Whose mild winds shake the elder-brake,
And the wandering herdsmen know
That the white-thorn soon will blow: 795
Wisdom, Justice, Love, and Peace,
When they struggle to increase,
Are to us as soft winds be
To shepherd boys, the prophecy
Which begins and ends in thee. 800

IONE: Where are the Spirits fled?

PANTHEA: Only a sense
Remains of them, like the omnipotence
Of music, when the inspired voice and lute
Languish, ere yet the responses are mute,
Which through the deep and labyrinthine soul, 805
Like echoes through long caverns, wind and roll.

PROMETHEUS: How fair these airborn shapes! and yet I feel
Most vain all hope but love; and thou art far,
Asia! who, when my being overflowed,
Wert like a golden chalice to bright wine 810
Which else had sunk into the thirsty dust.
All things are still: alas! how heavily
This quiet morning weighs upon my heart;
Though I should dream I could even sleep with grief
If slumber were denied not. I would fain 815
Be what it is my destiny to be,
The saviour and the strength of suffering man,
Or sink into the original gulf of things:
There is no agony, and no solace left;
Earth can console, Heaven can torment no more. 820

PANTHEA: Hast thou forgotten one who watches thee
The cold dark night, and never sleeps but when
The shadow of thy spirit falls on her?

PROMETHEUS: I said all hope was vain but love: thou lovest.



Deeply in truth; but the eastern star looks white,
And Asia waits in that far Indian vale,
The scene of her sad exile; rugged once
And desolate and frozen, like this ravine;
But now invested with fair flowers and herbs,
And haunted by sweet airs and sounds, which flow 830
Among the woods and waters, from the aether
Of her transforming presence, which would fade
If it were mingled not with thine. Farewell!

_54 thro’ wide B; thro’ the wide 1820.

_106 as hell 1839, B; a hell 1820.

_137 And love 1820; And lovest cj. Swinburne.

_553 Hark B; Mark 1820.

_589 And 1820; Tho’ B.

_619 ravin B, edition 1839; ruin 1820.

_646 thou more? B; thou? 1820.

_687 there B, edition 1839; these 1820.

_774 lulling B; silent 1820.

End of Act 1.

Prometheus Unbound.

Act 2.

SCENE 2.1: Morning. A lovely vale in the Indian Caucasus. Asia, alone.

ASIA: From all the blasts of heaven thou hast descended:
Yes, like a spirit, like a thought, which makes
Unwonted tears throng to the horny eyes,
And beatings haunt the desolated heart,
Which should have learnt repose: thou hast descended 5
Cradled in tempests; thou dost wake, O Spring!
O child of many winds! As suddenly
Thou comest as the memory of a dream,
Which now is sad because it hath been sweet;
Like genius, or like joy which riseth up 10
As from the earth, clothing with golden clouds
The desert of our life.
This is the season, this the day, the hour;
At sunrise thou shouldst come, sweet sister mine,
Too long desired, too long delaying, come! 15
How like death-worms the wingless moments crawl!
The point of one white star is quivering still
Deep in the orange light of widening morn
Beyond the purple mountains: through a chasm
Of wind-divided mist the darker lake 20
Reflects it: now it wanes: it gleams again
As the waves fade, and as the burning threads
Of woven cloud unravel in pale air:
’Tis lost! and through yon peaks of cloud-like snow
The roseate sunlight quivers: hear I not 25
The Aeolian music of her sea-green plumes
Winnowing the crimson dawn?


I feel, I see
Those eyes which burn through smiles that fade in tears,
Like stars half quenched in mists of silver dew.
Beloved and most beautiful, who wearest 30
The shadow of that soul by which I live,
How late thou art! the sphered sun had climbed
The sea; my heart was sick with hope, before
The printless air felt thy belated plumes.



Pardon, great Sister! but my wings were faint
With the delight of a remembered dream,
As are the noontide plumes of summer winds
Satiate with sweet flowers. I was wont to sleep
Peacefully, and awake refreshed and calm
Before the sacred Titan’s fall, and thy 40
Unhappy love, had made, through use and pity,
Both love and woe familiar to my heart
As they had grown to thine: erewhile I slept
Under the glaucous caverns of old Ocean
Within dim bowers of green and purple moss, 45
Our young Ione’s soft and milky arms
Locked then, as now, behind my dark, moist hair,
While my shut eyes and cheek were pressed within
The folded depth of her life-breathing bosom:
But not as now, since I am made the wind 50
Which fails beneath the music that I bear
Of thy most wordless converse; since dissolved
Into the sense with which love talks, my rest
Was troubled and yet sweet; my waking hours
Too full of care and pain.



Lift up thine eyes,
And let me read thy dream.

PANTHEA: As I have said
With our sea-sister at his feet I slept.
The mountain mists, condensing at our voice
Under the moon, had spread their snowy flakes,
From the keen ice shielding our linked sleep. 60
Then two dreams came. One, I remember not.
But in the other his pale wound-worn limbs
Fell from Prometheus, and the azure night
Grew radiant with the glory of that form
Which lives unchanged within, and his voice fell 65
Like music which makes giddy the dim brain,
Faint with intoxication of keen joy:
‘Sister of her whose footsteps pave the world
With loveliness — more fair than aught but her,
Whose shadow thou art — lift thine eyes on me.’ 70
I lifted them: the overpowering light
Of that immortal shape was shadowed o’er
By love; which, from his soft and flowing limbs,
And passion-parted lips, and keen, faint eyes,
Steamed forth like vaporous fire; an atmosphere 75
Which wrapped me in its all-dissolving power,
As the warm ether of the morning sun
Wraps ere it drinks some cloud of wandering dew.
I saw not, heard not, moved not, only felt
His presence flow and mingle through my blood 80
Till it became his life, and his grew mine,
And I was thus absorbed, until it passed,
And like the vapours when the sun sinks down,
Gathering again in drops upon the pines,
And tremulous as they, in the deep night 85
My being was condensed; and as the rays
Of thought were slowly gathered, I could hear
His voice, whose accents lingered ere they died
Like footsteps of weak melody: thy name
Among the many sounds alone I heard 90
Of what might be articulate; though still
I listened through the night when sound was none.
Ione wakened then, and said to me:
‘Canst thou divine what troubles me to-night?
I always knew, what I desired before, 95
Nor ever found delight to wish in vain.
But now I cannot tell thee what I seek;
I know not; something sweet, since it is sweet
Even to desire; it is thy sport, false sister;
Thou hast discovered some enchantment old, 100
Whose spells have stolen my spirit as I slept
And mingled it with thine: for when just now
We kissed, I felt within thy parted lips
The sweet air that sustained me, and the warmth
Of the life-blood, for loss of which I faint, 105
Quivered between our intertwining arms.’
I answered not, for the Eastern star grew pale,
But fled to thee.

ASIA: Thou speakest, but thy words
Are as the air: I feel them not: Oh, lift
Thine eyes, that I may read his written soul! 110

PANTHEA: I lift them though they droop beneath the load
Of that they would express: what canst thou see
But thine own fairest shadow imaged there?

ASIA: Thine eyes are like the deep, blue, boundless heaven
Contracted to two circles underneath 115
Their long, fine lashes; dark, far, measureless,
Orb within orb, and line through line inwoven.

PANTHEA: Why lookest thou as if a spirit passed?

ASIA: There is a change: beyond their inmost depth
I see a shade, a shape: ’tis He, arrayed 120
In the soft light of his own smiles, which spread
Like radiance from the cloud-surrounded moon.
Prometheus, it is thine! depart not yet!
Say not those smiles that we shall meet again
Within that bright pavilion which their beams 125
Shall build o’er the waste world? The dream is told.
What shape is that between us? Its rude hair
Roughens the wind that lifts it, its regard
Is wild and quick, yet ’tis a thing of air,
For through its gray robe gleams the golden dew 130
Whose stars the noon has quenched not.

DREAM Follow! Follow!

PANTHEA: It is mine other dream.

ASIA: It disappears.

PANTHEA: It passes now into my mind. Methought
As we sate here, the flower-infolding buds
Burst on yon lightning-blasted almond tree, 135
When swift from the white Scythian wilderness
A wind swept forth wrinkling the Earth with frost:
I looked, and all the blossoms were blown down;
But on each leaf was stamped, as the blue bells
Of Hyacinth tell Apollo’s written grief, 140

ASIA: As you speak, your words
Fill, pause by pause, my own forgotten sleep
With shapes. Methought among these lawns together
We wandered, underneath the young gray dawn,
And multitudes of dense white fleecy clouds 145
Were wandering in thick flocks along the mountains
Shepherded by the slow, unwilling wind;
And the white dew on the new-bladed grass,
Just piercing the dark earth, hung silently;
And there was more which I remember not: 150
But on the shadows of the morning clouds,
Athwart the purple mountain slope, was written
FOLLOW, O, FOLLOW! as they vanished by;
And on each herb, from which Heaven’s dew had fallen,
The like was stamped, as with a withering fire; 155
A wind arose among the pines; it shook
The clinging music from their boughs, and then
Low, sweet, faint sounds, like the farewell of ghosts,
And then I said, ‘Panthea, look on me.’ 160
But in the depth of those beloved eyes
Still I saw, FOLLOW, FOLLOW!

ECHO: Follow, follow!

PANTHEA: The crags, this clear spring morning, mock our voices
As they were spirit-tongued.

ASIA: It is some being
Around the crags. What fine clear sounds! O, list! 165

ECHOES, UNSEEN: Echoes we: listen!
We cannot stay:
As dew-stars glisten
Then fade away —
Child of Ocean! 170

ASIA: Hark! Spirits speak. The liquid responses
Of their aereal tongues yet sound.

PANTHEA: I hear.

ECHOES: Oh, follow, follow,
As our voice recedeth
Through the caverns hollow, 175
Where the forest spreadeth;
Oh, follow, follow!
Through the caverns hollow,
As the song floats thou pursue,
Where the wild bee never flew, 180
Through the noontide darkness deep,
By the odour-breathing sleep
Of faint night-flowers, and the waves
At the fountain-lighted caves,
While our music, wild and sweet, 185
Mocks thy gently falling feet,
Child of Ocean!

ASIA: Shall we pursue the sound? It grows more faint
And distant.

PANTHEA: List! the strain floats nearer now.



In the world unknown
Sleeps a voice unspoken;
By thy step alone
Can its rest be broken;
Child of Ocean!



How the notes sink upon the ebbing wind!

ECHOES: Oh, follow, follow!
Through the caverns hollow,
As the song floats thou pursue,
By the woodland noontide dew;
By the forests, lakes, and fountains, 200
Through the many-folded mountains;
To the rents, and gulfs, and chasms,
Where the Earth reposed from spasms,
On the day when He and thou
Parted, to commingle now; 205
Child of Ocean!

ASIA: Come, sweet Panthea, link thy hand in mine,
And follow, ere the voices fade away.

_122 moon B; morn 1820.

_126 o’er B; on 1820.

_143 these B; the 1820.

SCENE 2.2: A forest, intermingled with rocks and caverns. Asia and Panthea pass into it. Two young fauns are sitting on a rock listening.

SEMICHORUS 1 OF SPIRITS: The path through which that lovely twain
Have passed, by cedar, pine, and yew,
And each dark tree that ever grew,
Is curtained out from Heaven’s wide blue;
Nor sun, nor moon, nor wind, nor rain, 5
Can pierce its interwoven bowers,
Nor aught, save where some cloud of dew,
Drifted along the earth-creeping breeze,
Between the trunks of the hoar trees,
Hangs each a pearl in the pale flowers 10
Of the green laurel, blown anew,
And bends, and then fades silently,
One frail and fair anemone:
Or when some star of many a one
That climbs and wanders through steep night, 15
Has found the cleft through which alone
Beams fall from high those depths upon
Ere it is borne away, away,
By the swift Heavens that cannot stay,
It scatters drops of golden light, 20
Like lines of rain that ne’er unite:
And the gloom divine is all around,
And underneath is the mossy ground.

SEMICHORUS 2: There the voluptuous nightingales,
Are awake through all the broad noonday. 25
When one with bliss or sadness fails,
And through the windless ivy-boughs,
Sick with sweet love, droops dying away
On its mate’s music-panting bosom;
Another from the swinging blossom, 30
Watching to catch the languid close
Of the last strain, then lifts on high
The wings of the weak melody,
Till some new strain of feeling bear
The song, and all the woods are mute; 35
When there is heard through the dim air
The rush of wings, and rising there
Like many a lake-surrounded flute,
Sounds overflow the listener’s brain
So sweet, that joy is almost pain. 40

SEMICHORUS 1: There those enchanted eddies play
Of echoes, music-tongued, which draw,
By Demogorgon’s mighty law,
With melting rapture, or sweet awe,
All spirits on that secret way; 45
As inland boats are driven to Ocean
Down streams made strong with mountain-thaw:
And first there comes a gentle sound
To those in talk or slumber bound,
And wakes the destined soft emotion — 50
Attracts, impels them; those who saw
Say from the breathing earth behind
There steams a plume-uplifting wind
Which drives them on their path, while they
Believe their own swift wings and feet 55
The sweet desires within obey:
And so they float upon their way,
Until, still sweet, but loud and strong,
The storm of sound is driven along,
Sucked up and hurrying: as they fleet 60
Behind, its gathering billows meet
And to the fatal mountain bear
Like clouds amid the yielding air.

FIRST FAUN: Canst thou imagine where those spirits live
Which make such delicate music in the woods? 65
We haunt within the least frequented caves
And closest coverts, and we know these wilds,
Yet never meet them, though we hear them oft:
Where may they hide themselves?

SECOND FAUN: ’Tis hard to tell;
I have heard those more skilled in spirits say, 70
The bubbles, which the enchantment of the sun
Sucks from the pale faint water-flowers that pave
The oozy bottom of clear lakes and pools,
Are the pavilions where such dwell and float
Under the green and golden atmosphere 75
Which noontide kindles through the woven leaves;
And when these burst, and the thin fiery air,
The which they breathed within those lucent domes,
Ascends to flow like meteors through the night,
They ride on them, and rein their headlong speed, 80
And bow their burning crests, and glide in fire
Under the waters of the earth again.

FIRST FAUN: If such live thus, have others other lives,
Under pink blossoms or within the bells
Of meadow flowers, or folded violets deep, 85
Or on their dying odours, when they die,
Or in the sunlight of the sphered dew?

SECOND FAUN: Ay, many more which we may well divine.
But should we stay to speak, noontide would come,
And thwart Silenus find his goats undrawn, 90
And grudge to sing those wise and lovely songs
Of Fate, and Chance, and God, and Chaos old,
And Love, and the chained Titan’s woful doom,
And how he shall be loosed, and make the earth
One brotherhood: delightful strains which cheer 95
Our solitary twilights, and which charm
To silence the unenvying nightingales.

_38 surrounded B, edition 1839; surrounding 1820.

_50 destined]destinied 1820.

_86 on 1820; in B.

_93 doom B, edition 1839; dooms 1820.


PANTHEA: Hither the sound has borne us — to the realm
Of Demogorgon, and the mighty portal,
Like a volcano’s meteor-breathing chasm,
Whence the oracular vapour is hurled up
Which lonely men drink wandering in their youth, 5
And call truth, virtue, love, genius, or joy,
That maddening wine of life, whose dregs they drain
To deep intoxication; and uplift,
Like Maenads who cry loud, Evoe! Evoe!
The voice which is contagion to the world. 10

ASIA: Fit throne for such a Power! Magnificent!
How glorious art thou, Earth! And if thou be
The shadow of some spirit lovelier still,
Though evil stain its work, and it should be
Like its creation, weak yet beautiful, 15
I could fall down and worship that and thee.
Even now my heart adoreth: Wonderful!
Look, sister, ere the vapour dim thy brain:
Beneath is a wide plain of billowy mist,
As a lake, paving in the morning sky, 20
With azure waves which burst in silver light,
Some Indian vale. Behold it, rolling on
Under the curdling winds, and islanding
The peak whereon we stand, midway, around,
Encinctured by the dark and blooming forests, 25
Dim twilight-lawns, and stream-illumined caves,
And wind-enchanted shapes of wandering mist;
And far on high the keen sky-cleaving mountains
From icy spires of sun-like radiance fling
The dawn, as lifted Ocean’s dazzling spray, 30
From some Atlantic islet scattered up,
Spangles the wind with lamp-like water-drops.
The vale is girdled with their walls, a howl
Of cataracts from their thaw-cloven ravines,
Satiates the listening wind, continuous, vast, 35
Awful as silence. Hark! the rushing snow!
The sun-awakened avalanche! whose mass,
Thrice sifted by the storm, had gathered there
Flake after flake, in heaven-defying minds
As thought by thought is piled, till some great truth 40
Is loosened, and the nations echo round,
Shaken to their roots, as do the mountains now.

PANTHEA: Look how the gusty sea of mist is breaking
In crimson foam, even at our feet! it rises
As Ocean at the enchantment of the moon 45
Round foodless men wrecked on some oozy isle.

ASIA: The fragments of the cloud are scattered up;
The wind that lifts them disentwines my hair;
Its billows now sweep o’er mine eyes; my brain
Grows dizzy; see’st thou shapes within the mist? 50

see’st thou B; I see thin 1820; I see 1839.

PANTHEA: A countenance with beckoning smiles: there burns
An azure fire within its golden locks!
Another and another: hark! they speak!

SONG OF SPIRITS: To the deep, to the deep,
Down, down! 55
Through the shade of sleep,
Through the cloudy strife
Of Death and of Life;
Through the veil and the bar
Of things which seem and are 60
Even to the steps of the remotest throne,
Down, down!

While the sound whirls around,
Down, down!
As the fawn draws the hound, 65
As the lightning the vapour,
As a weak moth the taper;
Death, despair; love, sorrow;
Time both; to-day, to-morrow;
As steel obeys the spirit of the stone, 70
Down, down!

Through the gray, void abysm,
Down, down!
Where the air is no prism,
And the moon and stars are not, 75
And the cavern-crags wear not
The radiance of Heaven,
Nor the gloom to Earth given,
Where there is One pervading, One alone,
Down, down! 80

In the depth of the deep,
Down, down!
Like veiled lightning asleep,
Like the spark nursed in embers,
The last look Love remembers, 85
Like a diamond, which shines
On the dark wealth of mines,
A spell is treasured but for thee alone.
Down, down!


We have bound thee, we guide thee;
Down, down!
With the bright form beside thee;
Resist not the weakness,
Such strength is in meekness
That the Eternal, the Immortal, 95
Must unloose through life’s portal
The snake-like Doom coiled underneath his throne
By that alone.

_26 illumed B; illumined 1820.


PANTHEA: What veiled form sits on that ebon throne?

ASIA: The veil has fallen.

PANTHEA: I see a mighty darkness
Filling the seat of power, and rays of gloom
Dart round, as light from the meridian sun.
— Ungazed upon and shapeless; neither limb, 5
Nor form, nor outline; yet we feel it is
A living Spirit.

DEMOGORGON: Ask what thou wouldst know.

ASIA: What canst thou tell?

DEMOGORGON: All things thou dar’st demand.

ASIA: Who made the living world?


ASIA: Who made all
That it contains? thought, passion, reason, will, 10

DEMOGORGON: God: Almighty God.

ASIA: Who made that sense which, when the winds of Spring
In rarest visitation, or the voice
Of one beloved heard in youth alone,
Fills the faint eyes with falling tears which dim 15
The radiant looks of unbewailing flowers,
And leaves this peopled earth a solitude
When it returns no more?

DEMOGORGON: Merciful God.

ASIA: And who made terror, madness, crime, remorse,
Which from the links of the great chain of things, 20
To every thought within the mind of man
Sway and drag heavily, and each one reels
Under the load towards the pit of death;
Abandoned hope, and love that turns to hate;
And self-contempt, bitterer to drink than blood; 25
Pain, whose unheeded and familiar speech
Is howling, and keen shrieks, day after day;
And Hell, or the sharp fear of Hell?

DEMOGORGON: He reigns.

ASIA: Utter his name: a world pining in pain
Asks but his name: curses shall drag him down. 30

DEMOGORGON: He reigns.

ASIA: I feel, I know it: who?

DEMOGORGON: He reigns.

ASIA: Who reigns? There was the Heaven and Earth at first,
And Light and Love; then Saturn, from whose throne
Time fell, an envious shadow: such the state
Of the earth’s primal spirits beneath his sway, 35
As the calm joy of flowers and living leaves
Before the wind or sun has withered them
And semivital worms; but he refused
The birthright of their being, knowledge, power,
The skill which wields the elements, the thought 40
Which pierces this dim universe like light,
Self-empire, and the majesty of love;
For thirst of which they fainted. Then Prometheus
Gave wisdom, which is strength, to Jupiter,
And with this law alone, ‘Let man be free,’ 45
Clothed him with the dominion of wide Heaven.
To know nor faith, nor love, nor law; to be
Omnipotent but friendless is to reign;
And Jove now reigned; for on the race of man
First famine, and then toil, and then disease, 50
Strife, wounds, and ghastly death unseen before,
Fell; and the unseasonable seasons drove
With alternating shafts of frost and fire,
Their shelterless, pale tribes to mountain caves:
And in their desert hearts fierce wants he sent, 55
And mad disquietudes, and shadows idle
Of unreal good, which levied mutual war,
So ruining the lair wherein they raged.
Prometheus saw, and waked the legioned hopes
Which sleep within folded Elysian flowers, 60
Nepenthe, Moly, Amaranth, fadeless blooms,
That they might hide with thin and rainbow wings
The shape of Death; and Love he sent to bind
The disunited tendrils of that vine
Which bears the wine of life, the human heart; 65
And he tamed fire which, like some beast of prey,
Most terrible, but lovely, played beneath
The frown of man; and tortured to his will
Iron and gold, the slaves and signs of power,
And gems and poisons, and all subtlest forms 70
Hidden beneath the mountains and the waves.
He gave man speech, and speech created thought,
Which is the measure of the universe;
And Science struck the thrones of earth and heaven,
Which shook, but fell not; and the harmonious mind 75
Poured itself forth in all-prophetic song;
And music lifted up the listening spirit
Until it walked, exempt from mortal care,
Godlike, o’er the clear billows of sweet sound;
And human hands first mimicked and then mocked, 80
With moulded limbs more lovely than its own,
The human form, till marble grew divine;
And mothers, gazing, drank the love men see
Reflected in their race, behold, and perish.
He told the hidden power of herbs and springs, 85
And Disease drank and slept. Death grew like sleep.
He taught the implicated orbits woven
Of the wide-wandering stars; and how the sun
Changes his lair, and by what secret spell
The pale moon is transformed, when her broad eye 90
Gazes not on the interlunar sea:
He taught to rule, as life directs the limbs,
The tempest-winged chariots of the Ocean,
And the Celt knew the Indian. Cities then
Were built, and through their snow-like columns flowed 95
The warm winds, and the azure ether shone,
And the blue sea and shadowy hills were seen.
Such, the alleviations of his state,
Prometheus gave to man, for which he hangs
Withering in destined pain: but who rains down 100
Evil, the immedicable plague, which, while
Man looks on his creation like a God
And sees that it is glorious, drives him on,
The wreck of his own will, the scorn of earth,
The outcast, the abandoned, the alone? 105
Not Jove: while yet his frown shook Heaven ay, when
His adversary from adamantine chains
Cursed him, he trembled like a slave. Declare
Who is his master? Is he too a slave?



All spirits are enslaved which serve things evil:
Thou knowest if Jupiter be such or no.

ASIA: Whom calledst thou God?

DEMOGORGON: I spoke but as ye speak,
For Jove is the supreme of living things.

ASIA: Who is the master of the slave?

DEMOGORGON: If the abysm
Could vomit forth its secrets . . . But a voice 115
Is wanting, the deep truth is imageless;
For what would it avail to bid thee gaze
On the revolving world? What to bid speak
Fate, Time, Occasion, Chance and Change? To these
All things are subject but eternal Love. 120

ASIA: So much I asked before, and my heart gave
The response thou hast given; and of such truths
Each to itself must be the oracle.
One more demand; and do thou answer me
As my own soul would answer, did it know 125
That which I ask. Prometheus shall arise
Henceforth the sun of this rejoicing world:
When shall the destined hour arrive?


ASIA: The rocks are cloven, and through the purple night
I see cars drawn by rainbow-winged steeds 130
Which trample the dim winds: in each there stands
A wild-eyed charioteer urging their flight.
Some look behind, as fiends pursued them there,
And yet I see no shapes but the keen stars:
Others, with burning eyes, lean forth, and drink 135
With eager lips the wind of their own speed,
As if the thing they loved fled on before,
And now, even now, they clasped it. Their bright locks
Stream like a comet’s flashing hair; they all
Sweep onward.



These are the immortal Hours,
Of whom thou didst demand. One waits for thee.

ASIA: A Spirit with a dreadful countenance
Checks its dark chariot by the craggy gulf.
Unlike thy brethren, ghastly charioteer,
Who art thou? Whither wouldst thou bear me? Speak! 145

SPIRIT: I am the shadow of a destiny
More dread than is my aspect: ere yon planet
Has set, the darkness which ascends with me
Shall wrap in lasting night heaven’s kingless throne.

ASIA: What meanest thou?



That terrible shadow floats
Up from its throne, as may the lurid smoke
Of earthquake-ruined cities o’er the sea.
Lo! it ascends the car; the coursers fly
Terrified: watch its path among the stars
Blackening the night!



Thus I am answered: strange!

PANTHEA: See, near the verge, another chariot stays;
An ivory shell inlaid with crimson fire,
Which comes and goes within its sculptured rim
Of delicate strange tracery; the young spirit
That guides it has the dove-like eyes of hope; 160
How its soft smiles attract the soul! as light
Lures winged insects through the lampless air.

SPIRIT: My coursers are fed with the lightning,
They drink of the whirlwind’s stream,
And when the red morning is bright’ning 165
They bathe in the fresh sunbeam;
They have strength for their swiftness I deem;
Then ascend with me, daughter of Ocean.
I desire: and their speed makes night kindle;
I fear: they outstrip the Typhoon; 170
Ere the cloud piled on Atlas can dwindle
We encircle the earth and the moon:
We shall rest from long labours at noon:
Then ascend with me, daughter of Ocean.

_100 rains B, edition 1839; reigns 1820.


SPIRIT: On the brink of the night and the morning
My coursers are wont to respire;
But the Earth has just whispered a warning
That their flight must be swifter than fire:
They shall drink the hot speed of desire! 5

ASIA: Thou breathest on their nostrils, but my breath
Would give them swifter speed.

SPIRIT: Alas! it could not.

PANTHEA: Oh Spirit! pause, and tell whence is the light
Which fills this cloud? the sun is yet unrisen.



The sun will rise not until noon. Apollo
Is held in heaven by wonder; and the light
Which fills this vapour, as the aereal hue
Of fountain-gazing roses fills the water,
Flows from thy mighty sister.

PANTHEA: Yes, I feel —



What is it with thee, sister? Thou art pale.

PANTHEA: How thou art changed! I dare not look on thee;
I feel but see thee not. I scarce endure
The radiance of thy beauty. Some good change
Is working in the elements, which suffer
Thy presence thus unveiled. The Nereids tell 20
That on the day when the clear hyaline
Was cloven at thine uprise, and thou didst stand
Within a veined shell, which floated on
Over the calm floor of the crystal sea,
Among the Aegean isles, and by the shores 25
Which bear thy name; love, like the atmosphere
Of the sun’s fire filling the living world,
Burst from thee, and illumined earth and heaven
And the deep ocean and the sunless caves
And all that dwells within them; till grief cast 30
Eclipse upon the soul from which it came:
Such art thou now; nor is it I alone,
Thy sister, thy companion, thine own chosen one,
But the whole world which seeks thy sympathy.
Hearest thou not sounds i’ the air which speak the love 35
Of all articulate beings? Feelest thou not
The inanimate winds enamoured of thee? List!


ASIA: Thy words are sweeter than aught else but his
Whose echoes they are; yet all love is sweet,
Given or returned. Common as light is love, 40
And its familiar voice wearies not ever.
Like the wide heaven, the all-sustaining air,
It makes the reptile equal to the God:
They who inspire it most are fortunate,
As I am now; but those who feel it most 45
Are happier still, after long sufferings,
As I shall soon become.

PANTHEA: List! Spirits speak.

VOICE IN THE AIR, SINGING: Life of Life! thy lips enkindle
With their love the breath between them;
And thy smiles before they dwindle 50
Make the cold air fire; then screen them
In those looks, where whoso gazes
Faints, entangled in their mazes.

Child of Light! thy limbs are burning
Through the vest which seems to hide them; 55
As the radiant lines of morning
Through the clouds ere they divide them;
And this atmosphere divinest
Shrouds thee wheresoe’er thou shinest.


Fair are others; none beholds thee,
But thy voice sounds low and tender
Like the fairest, for it folds thee
From the sight, that liquid splendour,
And all feel, yet see thee never,
As I feel now, lost for ever! 65

Lamp of Earth! where’er thou movest
Its dim shapes are clad with brightness,
And the souls of whom thou lovest
Walk upon the winds with lightness,
Till they fail, as I am failing, 70
Dizzy, lost, yet unbewailing!

ASIA: My soul is an enchanted boat,
Which, like a sleeping swan, doth float
Upon the silver waves of thy sweet singing;
And thine doth like an angel sit 75
Beside a helm conducting it,
Whilst all the winds with melody are ringing.
It seems to float ever, for ever,
Upon that many-winding river,
Between mountains, woods, abysses, 80
A paradise of wildernesses!
Till, like one in slumber bound,
Borne to the ocean, I float down, around,
Into a sea profound, of ever-spreading sound:


Meanwhile thy spirit lifts its pinions
In music’s most serene dominions;
Catching the winds that fan that happy heaven.
And we sail on, away, afar,
Without a course, without a star,
But, by the instinct of sweet music driven; 90
Till through Elysian garden islets
By thee most beautiful of pilots,
Where never mortal pinnace glided,
The boat of my desire is guided:
Realms where the air we breathe is love, 95
Which in the winds on the waves doth move,
Harmonizing this earth with what we feel above.

We have passed Age’s icy caves,
And Manhood’s dark and tossing waves,
And Youth’s smooth ocean, smiling to betray: 100
Beyond the glassy gulfs we flee
Of shadow-peopled Infancy,
Through Death and Birth, to a diviner day;
A paradise of vaulted bowers,
Lit by downward-gazing flowers, 105
And watery paths that wind between
Wildernesses calm and green,
Peopled by shapes too bright to see,
And rest, having beheld; somewhat like thee;
Which walk upon the sea, and chant melodiously! 110

_9 this B; the 1820.

_22 thine B; thy 1820.

_54 limbs B, edition 1839; lips 1820.

_96 winds and on B; winds on 1820.

End of Act 2.

Prometheus Unbound.

Act 3.


JUPITER: Ye congregated powers of heaven, who share
The glory and the strength of him ye serve,
Rejoice! henceforth I am omnipotent.
All else had been subdued to me; alone
The soul of man, like unextinguished fire, 5
Yet burns towards heaven with fierce reproach, and doubt,
And lamentation, and reluctant prayer,
Hurling up insurrection, which might make
Our antique empire insecure, though built
On eldest faith, and hell’s coeval, fear; 10
And though my curses through the pendulous air,
Like snow on herbless peaks, fall flake by flake,
And cling to it; though under my wrath’s night
It climbs the crags of life, step after step,
Which wound it, as ice wounds unsandalled feet, 15
It yet remains supreme o’er misery,
Aspiring, unrepressed, yet soon to fall:
Even now have I begotten a strange wonder,
That fatal child, the terror of the earth,
Who waits but till the destined hour arrive, 20
Bearing from Demogorgon’s vacant throne
The dreadful might of ever-living limbs
Which clothed that awful spirit unbeheld,
To redescend, and trample out the spark.
Pour forth heaven’s wine, Idaean Ganymede, 25
And let it fill the Daedal cups like fire,
And from the flower-inwoven soil divine
Ye all-triumphant harmonies arise,
As dew from earth under the twilight stars:
Drink! be the nectar circling through your veins 30
The soul of joy, ye ever-living Gods,
Till exultation burst in one wide voice
Like music from Elysian winds.
And thou
Ascend beside me, veiled in the light
Of the desire which makes thee one with me, 35
Thetis, bright image of eternity!
When thou didst cry, ‘Insufferable might!
God! Spare me! I sustain not the quick flames,
The penetrating presence; all my being,
Like him whom the Numidian seps did thaw 40
Into a dew with poison, is dissolved,
Sinking through its foundations:’ even then
Two mighty spirits, mingling, made a third
Mightier than either, which, unbodied now,
Between us floats, felt, although unbeheld, 45
Waiting the incarnation, which ascends,
(Hear ye the thunder of the fiery wheels
Griding the winds?) from Demogorgon’s throne.
Victory! victory! Feel’st thou not, O world,
The earthquake of his chariot thundering up 50
Awful shape, what art thou? Speak!

DEMOGORGON: Eternity. Demand no direr name.
Descend, and follow me down the abyss.
I am thy child, as thou wert Saturn’s child;
Mightier than thee: and we must dwell together 55
Henceforth in darkness. Lift thy lightnings not.
The tyranny of heaven none may retain,
Or reassume, or hold, succeeding thee:
Yet if thou wilt, as ’tis the destiny
Of trodden worms to writhe till they are dead, 60
Put forth thy might.

JUPITER: Detested prodigy!
Even thus beneath the deep Titanian prisons
I trample thee! thou lingerest?
Mercy! mercy!
No pity, no release, no respite! Oh,
That thou wouldst make mine enemy my judge, 65
Even where he hangs, seared by my long revenge,
On Caucasus! he would not doom me thus.
Gentle, and just, and dreadless, is he not
The monarch of the world? What then art thou?
No refuge! no appeal!
Sink with me then, 70
We two will sink on the wide waves of ruin,
Even as a vulture and a snake outspent
Drop, twisted in inextricable fight,
Into a shoreless sea. Let hell unlock
Its mounded oceans of tempestuous fire, 75
And whelm on them into the bottomless void
This desolated world, and thee, and me,
The conqueror and the conquered, and the wreck
Of that for which they combated.
Ai, Ai!
The elements obey me not. I sink 80
Dizzily down, ever, for ever, down.
And, like a cloud, mine enemy above
Darkens my fall with victory! Ai, Ai!

_5 like unextinguished B, edition 1839; like an unextinguished 1820.

_13 night B, edition 1839; might 1820.

_20 destined B, edition 1839; distant 1820.

_69 then B, edition 1839; omitted 1820.


OCEAN: He fell, thou sayest, beneath his conqueror’s frown?

APOLLO: Ay, when the strife was ended which made dim
The orb I rule, and shook the solid stars,
The terrors of his eye illumined heaven
With sanguine light, through the thick ragged skirts 5
Of the victorious darkness, as he fell:
Like the last glare of day’s red agony,
Which, from a rent among the fiery clouds,
Burns far along the tempest-wrinkled deep.



He sunk to the abyss? To the dark void?

APOLLO: An eagle so caught in some bursting cloud
On Caucasus, his thunder-baffled wings
Entangled in the whirlwind, and his eyes
Which gazed on the undazzling sun, now blinded
By the white lightning, while the ponderous hail 15
Beats on his struggling form, which sinks at length
Prone, and the aereal ice clings over it.

OCEAN: Henceforth the fields of heaven-reflecting sea
Which are my realm, will heave, unstained with blood,
Beneath the uplifting winds, like plains of corn 20
Swayed by the summer air; my streams will flow
Round many-peopled continents, and round
Fortunate isles; and from their glassy thrones
Blue Proteus and his humid nymphs shall mark
The shadow of fair ships, as mortals see 25
The floating bark of the light-laden moon
With that white star, its sightless pilot’s crest,
Borne down the rapid sunset’s ebbing sea;
Tracking their path no more by blood and groans,
And desolation, and the mingled voice 30
Of slavery and command; but by the light
Of wave-reflected flowers, and floating odours,
And music soft, and mild, free, gentle voices,
And sweetest music, such as spirits love.



And I shall gaze not on the deeds which make
My mind obscure with sorrow, as eclipse
Darkens the sphere I guide; but list, I hear
The small, clear, silver lute of the young Spirit
That sits i’ the morning star.

OCEAN: Thou must away;
Thy steeds will pause at even, till when farewell: 40
The loud deep calls me home even now to feed it
With azure calm out of the emerald urns
Which stand for ever full beside my throne.
Behold the Nereids under the green sea,
Their wavering limbs borne on the wind-like stream, 45
Their white arms lifted o’er their streaming hair
With garlands pied and starry sea-flower crowns,
Hastening to grace their mighty sister’s joy.
It is the unpastured sea hungering for calm.
Peace, monster; I come now. Farewell.




_22 many-peopled B; many peopled 1820.

_26 light-laden B; light laden 1820.

_39 i’ the B, edition 1839; on the 1820.


HERCULES: Most glorious among Spirits, thus doth strength
To wisdom, courage, and long-suffering love,
And thee, who art the form they animate,
Minister like a slave.

PROMETHEUS: Thy gentle words
Are sweeter even than freedom long desired 5
And long delayed.
Asia, thou light of life,
Shadow of beauty unbeheld: and ye,
Fair sister nymphs, who made long years of pain
Sweet to remember, through your love and care:
Henceforth we will not part. There is a cave, 10
All overgrown with trailing odorous plants,
Which curtain out the day with leaves and flowers,
And paved with veined emerald, and a fountain
Leaps in the midst with an awakening sound.
From its curved roof the mountain’s frozen tears 15
Like snow, or silver, or long diamond spires,
Hang downward, raining forth a doubtful light:
And there is heard the ever-moving air,
Whispering without from tree to tree, and birds,
And bees; and all around are mossy seats, 20
And the rough walls are clothed with long soft grass;
A simple dwelling, which shall be our own;
Where we will sit and talk of time and change,
As the world ebbs and flows, ourselves unchanged.
What can hide man from mutability? 25
And if ye sigh, then I will smile; and thou,
Ione, shalt chant fragments of sea-music,
Until I weep, when ye shall smile away
The tears she brought, which yet were sweet to shed.
We will entangle buds and flowers and beams 30
Which twinkle on the fountain’s brim, and make
Strange combinations out of common things,
Like human babes in their brief innocence;
And we will search, with looks and words of love,
For hidden thoughts, each lovelier than the last, 35
Our unexhausted spirits; and like lutes
Touched by the skill of the enamoured wind,
Weave harmonies divine, yet ever new,
From difference sweet where discord cannot be;
And hither come, sped on the charmed winds, 40
Which meet from all the points of heaven, as bees
From every flower aereal Enna feeds,
At their known island-homes in Himera,
The echoes of the human world, which tell
Of the low voice of love, almost unheard, 45
And dove-eyed pity’s murmured pain, and music,
Itself the echo of the heart, and all
That tempers or improves man’s life, now free;
And lovely apparitions — dim at first,
Then radiant, as the mind, arising bright 50
From the embrace of beauty (whence the forms
Of which these are the phantoms) casts on them
The gathered rays which are reality —
Shall visit us, the progeny immortal
Of Painting, Sculpture, and rapt Poesy, 55
And arts, though unimagined, yet to be.
The wandering voices and the shadows these
Of all that man becomes, the mediators
Of that best worship love, by him and us
Given and returned; swift shapes and sounds, which grow 60
More fair and soft as man grows wise and kind,
And, veil by veil, evil and error fall:
Such virtue has the cave and place around.
For thee, fair Spirit, one toil remains. Ione,
Give her that curved shell, which Proteus old 65
Made Asia’s nuptial boon, breathing within it
A voice to be accomplished, and which thou
Didst hide in grass under the hollow rock.

IONE: Thou most desired Hour, more loved and lovely
Than all thy sisters, this is the mystic shell; 70
See the pale azure fading into silver
Lining it with a soft yet glowing light:
Looks it not like lulled music sleeping there?

SPIRIT: It seems in truth the fairest shell of Ocean:
Its sound must be at once both sweet and strange. 75

PROMETHEUS: Go, borne over the cities of mankind
On whirlwind-footed coursers: once again
Outspeed the sun around the orbed world;
And as thy chariot cleaves the kindling air,
Thou breathe into the many-folded shell, 80
Loosening its mighty music; it shall be
As thunder mingled with clear echoes: then
Return; and thou shalt dwell beside our cave.
And thou, O Mother Earth! —

THE EARTH: I hear, I feel;
Thy lips are on me, and thy touch runs down 85
Even to the adamantine central gloom
Along these marble nerves; ’tis life, ’tis joy,
And, through my withered, old, and icy frame
The warmth of an immortal youth shoots down
Circling. Henceforth the many children fair 90
Folded in my sustaining arms; all plants,
And creeping forms, and insects rainbow-winged,
And birds, and beasts, and fish, and human shapes,
Which drew disease and pain from my wan bosom,
Draining the poison of despair, shall take 95
And interchange sweet nutriment; to me
Shall they become like sister-antelopes
By one fair dam, snow-white and swift as wind,
Nursed among lilies near a brimming stream.
The dew-mists of my sunless sleep shall float 100
Under the stars like balm: night-folded flowers
Shall suck unwithering hues in their repose:
And men and beasts in happy dreams shall gather
Strength for the coming day, and all its joy:
And death shall be the last embrace of her 105
Who takes the life she gave, even as a mother,
Folding her child, says, ‘Leave me not again.’

ASIA: Oh, mother! wherefore speak the name of death?
Cease they to love, and move, and breathe, and speak,
Who die?



It would avail not to reply:
Thou art immortal, and this tongue is known
But to the uncommunicating dead.
Death is the veil which those who live call life:
They sleep, and it is lifted: and meanwhile
In mild variety the seasons mild 115
With rainbow-skirted showers, and odorous winds,
And long blue meteors cleansing the dull night,
And the life-kindling shafts of the keen sun’s
All-piercing bow, and the dew-mingled rain
Of the calm moonbeams, a soft influence mild, 120
Shall clothe the forests and the fields, ay, even
The crag-built deserts of the barren deep,
With ever-living leaves, and fruits, and flowers.
And thou! There is a cavern where my spirit
Was panted forth in anguish whilst thy pain 125
Made my heart mad, and those who did inhale it
Became mad too, and built a temple there,
And spoke, and were oracular, and lured
The erring nations round to mutual war,
And faithless faith, such as Jove kept with thee; 130
Which breath now rises, as amongst tall weeds
A violet’s exhalation, and it fills
With a serener light and crimson air
Intense, yet soft, the rocks and woods around;
It feeds the quick growth of the serpent vine, 135
And the dark linked ivy tangling wild,
And budding, blown, or odour-faded blooms
Which star the winds with points of coloured light,
As they rain through them, and bright golden globes
Of fruit, suspended in their own green heaven, 140
And through their veined leaves and amber stems
The flowers whose purple and translucid bowls
Stand ever mantling with aereal dew,
The drink of spirits: and it circles round,
Like the soft waving wings of noonday dreams, 145
Inspiring calm and happy thoughts, like mine,
Now thou art thus restored. This cave is thine.
Arise! Appear!
This is my torch-bearer;
Who let his lamp out in old time with gazing
On eyes from which he kindled it anew 150
With love, which is as fire, sweet daughter mine,
For such is that within thine own. Run, wayward,
And guide this company beyond the peak
Of Bacchic Nysa, Maenad-haunted mountain,
And beyond Indus and its tribute rivers, 155
Trampling the torrent streams and glassy lakes
With feet unwet, unwearied, undelaying,
And up the green ravine, across the vale,
Beside the windless and crystalline pool,
Where ever lies, on unerasing waves, 160
The image of a temple, built above,
Distinct with column, arch, and architrave,
And palm-like capital, and over-wrought,
And populous with most living imagery,
Praxitelean shapes, whose marble smiles 165
Fill the hushed air with everlasting love.
It is deserted now, but once it bore
Thy name, Prometheus; there the emulous youths
Bore to thy honour through the divine gloom
The lamp which was thine emblem; even as those 170
Who bear the untransmitted torch of hope
Into the grave, across the night of life,
As thou hast borne it most triumphantly
To this far goal of Time. Depart, farewell.
Beside that temple is the destined cave. 175

_85 their B; thy 1820.

_102 unwithering B, edition 1839; unwitting 1820.

_164 with most B; most with 1820.


IONE: Sister, it is not earthly: how it glides
Under the leaves! how on its head there burns
A light, like a green star, whose emerald beams
Are twined with its fair hair! how, as it moves,
The splendour drops in flakes upon the grass! 5
Knowest thou it?

PANTHEA: It is the delicate spirit
That guides the earth through heaven. From afar
The populous constellations call that light
The loveliest of the planets; and sometimes
It floats along the spray of the salt sea, 10
Or makes its chariot of a foggy cloud,
Or walks through fields or cities while men sleep,
Or o’er the mountain tops, or down the rivers,
Or through the green waste wilderness, as now,
Wondering at all it sees. Before Jove reigned 15
It loved our sister Asia, and it came
Each leisure hour to drink the liquid light
Out of her eyes, for which it said it thirsted
As one bit by a dipsas, and with her
It made its childish confidence, and told her 20
All it had known or seen, for it saw much,
Yet idly reasoned what it saw; and called her —
For whence it sprung it knew not, nor do I—
Mother, dear mother.


Mother, dearest mother;
May I then talk with thee as I was wont? 25
May I then hide my eyes in thy soft arms,
After thy looks have made them tired of joy?
May I then play beside thee the long noons,
When work is none in the bright silent air?



I love thee, gentlest being, and henceforth
Can cherish thee unenvied: speak, I pray:
Thy simple talk once solaced, now delights.

SPIRIT OF THE EARTH: Mother, I am grown wiser, though a child
Cannot be wise like thee, within this day;
And happier too; happier and wiser both. 35
Thou knowest that toads, and snakes, and loathly worms,
And venomous and malicious beasts, and boughs
That bore ill berries in the woods, were ever
An hindrance to my walks o’er the green world:
And that, among the haunts of humankind, 40
Hard-featured men, or with proud, angry looks,
Or cold, staid gait, or false and hollow smiles,
Or the dull sneer of self-loved ignorance,
Or other such foul masks, with which ill thoughts
Hide that fair being whom we spirits call man; 45
And women too, ugliest of all things evil,
(Though fair, even in a world where thou art fair,
When good and kind, free and sincere like thee)
When false or frowning made me sick at heart
To pass them, though they slept, and I unseen. 50
Well, my path lately lay through a great city
Into the woody hills surrounding it:
A sentinel was sleeping at the gate:
When there was heard a sound, so loud, it shook
The towers amid the moonlight, yet more sweet 55
Than any voice but thine, sweetest of all;
A long, long sound, as it would never end:
And all the inhabitants leaped suddenly
Out of their rest, and gathered in the streets,
Looking in wonder up to Heaven, while yet 60
The music pealed along. I hid myself
Within a fountain in the public square,
Where I lay like the reflex of the moon
Seen in a wave under green leaves; and soon
Those ugly human shapes and visages 65
Of which I spoke as having wrought me pain,
Passed floating through the air, and fading still
Into the winds that scattered them; and those
From whom they passed seemed mild and lovely forms
After some foul disguise had fallen, and all 70
Were somewhat changed, and after brief surprise
And greetings of delighted wonder, all
Went to their sleep again: and when the dawn
Came, wouldst thou think that toads, and snakes, and efts,
Could e’er be beautiful? yet so they were, 75
And that with little change of shape or hue:
All things had put their evil nature off:
I cannot tell my joy, when o’er a lake,
Upon a drooping bough with nightshade twined,
I saw two azure halcyons clinging downward 80
And thinning one bright bunch of amber berries,
With quick long beaks, and in the deep there lay
Those lovely forms imaged as in a sky;
So, with my thoughts full of these happy changes,
We meet again, the happiest change of all. 85

ASIA: And never will we part, till thy chaste sister
Who guides the frozen and inconstant moon
Will look on thy more warm and equal light
Till her heart thaw like flakes of April snow
And love thee.



What! as Asia loves Prometheus?

ASIA: Peace, wanton, thou art yet not old enough.
Think ye by gazing on each other’s eyes
To multiply your lovely selves, and fill
With sphered fires the interlunar air?

SPIRIT OF THE EARTH: Nay, mother, while my sister trims her lamp
’Tis hard I should go darkling. 95

ASIA: Listen; look!


PROMETHEUS: We feel what thou hast heard and seen: yet speak.

SPIRIT OF THE HOUR: Soon as the sound had ceased whose thunder filled
The abysses of the sky and the wide earth,
There was a change: the impalpable thin air 100
And the all-circling sunlight were transformed,
As if the sense of love dissolved in them
Had folded itself round the sphered world.
My vision then grew clear, and I could see
Into the mysteries of the universe: 105
Dizzy as with delight I floated down,
Winnowing the lightsome air with languid plumes,
My coursers sought their birthplace in the sun,
Where they henceforth will live exempt from toil,
Pasturing flowers of vegetable fire; 110
And where my moonlike car will stand within
A temple, gazed upon by Phidian forms
Of thee, and Asia, and the Earth, and me,
And you fair nymphs looking the love we feel —
In memory of the tidings it has borne — 115
Beneath a dome fretted with graven flowers,
Poised on twelve columns of resplendent stone,
And open to the bright and liquid sky.
Yoked to it by an amphisbaenic snake
The likeness of those winged steeds will mock 120
The flight from which they find repose. Alas,
Whither has wandered now my partial tongue
When all remains untold which ye would hear?
As I have said, I floated to the earth:
It was, as it is still, the pain of bliss 125
To move, to breathe, to be. I wandering went
Among the haunts and dwellings of mankind,
And first was disappointed not to see
Such mighty change as I had felt within
Expressed in outward things; but soon I looked, 130
And behold, thrones were kingless, and men walked
One with the other even as spirits do,
None fawned, none trampled; hate, disdain, or fear,
Self-love or self-contempt, on human brows
No more inscribed, as o’er the gate of hell, 135
‘All hope abandon ye who enter here;’
None frowned, none trembled, none with eager fear
Gazed on another’s eye of cold command,
Until the subject of a tyrant’s will
Became, worse fate, the abject of his own, 140
Which spurred him, like an outspent horse, to death.
None wrought his lips in truth-entangling lines
Which smiled the lie his tongue disdained to speak;
None, with firm sneer, trod out in his own heart
The sparks of love and hope till there remained 145
Those bitter ashes, a soul self-consumed,
And the wretch crept a vampire among men,
Infecting all with his own hideous ill;
None talked that common, false, cold, hollow talk
Which makes the heart deny the “yes” it breathes, 150
Yet question that unmeant hypocrisy
With such a self-mistrust as has no name.
And women, too, frank, beautiful, and kind
As the free heaven which rains fresh light and dew
On the wide earth, past; gentle radiant forms, 155
From custom’s evil taint exempt and pure;
Speaking the wisdom once they could not think,
Looking emotions once they feared to feel,
And changed to all which once they dared not be,
Yet being now, made earth like heaven; nor pride, 160
Nor jealousy, nor envy, nor ill shame,
The bitterest of those drops of treasured gall,
Spoiled the sweet taste of the nepenthe, love.

Thrones, altars, judgement-seats, and prisons; wherein,
And beside which, by wretched men were borne 165
Sceptres, tiaras, swords, and chains, and tomes
Of reasoned wrong, glozed on by ignorance,
Were like those monstrous and barbaric shapes,
The ghosts of a no-more-remembered fame,
Which, from their unworn obelisks, look forth 170
In triumph o’er the palaces and tombs
Of those who were their conquerors: mouldering round,
These imaged to the pride of kings and priests
A dark yet mighty faith, a power as wide
As is the world it wasted, and are now 175
But an astonishment; even so the tools
And emblems of its last captivity,
Amid the dwellings of the peopled earth,
Stand, not o’erthrown, but unregarded now.
And those foul shapes, abhorred by god and man — 180
Which, under many a name and many a form
Strange, savage, ghastly, dark and execrable,
Were Jupiter, the tyrant of the world;
And which the nations, panic-stricken, served
With blood, and hearts broken by long hope, and love 185
Dragged to his altars soiled and garlandless,
And slain among men’s unreclaiming tears,
Flattering the thing they feared, which fear was hate —
Frown, mouldering fast, o’er their abandoned shrines:
The painted veil, by those who were, called life, 190
Which mimicked, as with colours idly spread,
All men believed and hoped, is torn aside;
The loathsome mask has fallen, the man remains
Sceptreless, free, uncircumscribed, but man
Equal, unclassed, tribeless, and nationless, 195
Exempt from awe, worship, degree, the king
Over himself; just, gentle, wise; but man
Passionless? — no, yet free from guilt or pain,
Which were, for his will made or suffered them,
Nor yet exempt, though ruling them like slaves, 200
From chance, and death, and mutability,
The clogs of that which else might oversoar
The loftiest star of unascended heaven,
Pinnacled dim in the intense inane.

_121 flight B, edition 1839; light 1820.

_173 These B; Those 1820.

_187 amid B; among 1820.

_192 or B; and 1820.

End of Act 3.

Prometheus Unbound.

Act 4.


VOICE OF UNSEEN SPIRITS: The pale stars are gone!
For the sun, their swift shepherd,
To their folds them compelling,
In the depths of the dawn,
Hastes, in meteor-eclipsing array, and the flee 5
Beyond his blue dwelling,
As fawns flee the leopard.
But where are ye?


Here, oh, here:
We bear the bier 10
Of the father of many a cancelled year!
Spectres we
Of the dead Hours be,
We bear Time to his tomb in eternity.


Strew, oh, strew
Hair, not yew!
Wet the dusty pall with tears, not dew!
Be the faded flowers
Of Death’s bare bowers
Spread on the corpse of the King of Hours! 20

Haste, oh, haste!
As shades are chased,
Trembling, by day, from heaven’s blue waste.
We melt away,
Like dissolving spray, 25
From the children of a diviner day,
With the lullaby
Of winds that die
On the bosom of their own harmony!



What dark forms were they?

PANTHEA: The past Hours weak and gray,
With the spoil which their toil
Raked together
From the conquest but One could foil.

IONE: Have they passed?



They have passed;
They outspeeded the blast,
While ’tis said, they are fled:

IONE: Whither, oh, whither?

PANTHEA: To the dark, to the past, to the dead.



Bright clouds float in heaven,
Dew-stars gleam on earth,
Waves assemble on ocean,
They are gathered and driven
By the storm of delight, by the panic of glee!
They shake with emotion, 45
They dance in their mirth.
But where are ye?

The pine boughs are singing
Old songs with new gladness,
The billows and fountains 50
Fresh music are flinging,
Like the notes of a spirit from land and from sea;
The storms mock the mountains
With the thunder of gladness.
But where are ye? 55

IONE: What charioteers are these?

PANTHEA: Where are their chariots?

SEMICHORUS OF HOURS: The voice of the Spirits of Air and of Earth
Has drawn back the figured curtain of sleep
Which covered our being and darkened our birth
In the deep.

A VOICE: In the deep?



Oh, below the deep.

SEMICHORUS 1: An hundred ages we had been kept
Cradled in visions of hate and care,
And each one who waked as his brother slept,
Found the truth —

SEMICHORUS 2: Worse than his visions were!



We have heard the lute of Hope in sleep;
We have known the voice of Love in dreams;
We have felt the wand of Power, and leap —

SEMICHORUS 2: As the billows leap in the morning beams!

CHORUS: Weave the dance on the floor of the breeze,
Pierce with song heaven’s silent light, 70
Enchant the day that too swiftly flees,
To check its flight ere the cave of Night.

Once the hungry Hours were hounds
Which chased the day like a bleeding deer,
And it limped and stumbled with many wounds 75
Through the nightly dells of the desert year.

But now, oh weave the mystic measure
Of music, and dance, and shapes of light,
Let the Hours, and the spirits of might and pleasure,
Like the clouds and sunbeams, unite —




PANTHEA: See, where the Spirits of the human mind
Wrapped in sweet sounds, as in bright veils, approach.

CHORUS OF SPIRITS: We join the throng
Of the dance and the song,
By the whirlwind of gladness borne along; 85
As the flying-fish leap
From the Indian deep,
And mix with the sea-birds, half-asleep.

CHORUS OF HOURS: Whence come ye, so wild and so fleet,
For sandals of lightning are on your feet, 90
And your wings are soft and swift as thought,
And your eyes are as love which is veiled not?

CHORUS OF SPIRITS: We come from the mind
Of human kind
Which was late so dusk, and obscene, and blind, 95
Now ’tis an ocean
Of clear emotion,
A heaven of serene and mighty motion.

From that deep abyss
Of wonder and bliss, 100
Whose caverns are crystal palaces;
From those skiey towers
Where Thought’s crowned powers
Sit watching your dance, ye happy Hours!


From the dim recesses
Of woven caresses,
Where lovers catch ye by your loose tresses;
From the azure isles,
Where sweet Wisdom smiles,
Delaying your ships with her siren wiles. 110

From the temples high
Of Man’s ear and eye,
Roofed over Sculpture and Poesy;
From the murmurings
Of the unsealed springs 115
Where Science bedews her Daedal wings.

Years after years,
Through blood, and tears,
And a thick hell of hatreds, and hopes, and fears;
We waded and flew, 120
And the islets were few
Where the bud-blighted flowers of happiness grew.

Our feet now, every palm,
Are sandalled with calm,
And the dew of our wings is a rain of balm; 125
And, beyond our eyes,
The human love lies
Which makes all it gazes on Paradise.

CHORUS OF SPIRITS AND HOURS: Then weave the web of the mystic measure;
From the depths of the sky and the ends of the earth, 130
Come, swift Spirits of might and of pleasure,
Fill the dance and the music of mirth,
As the waves of a thousand streams rush by
To an ocean of splendour and harmony!



Our spoil is won,
Our task is done,
We are free to dive, or soar, or run;
Beyond and around,
Or within the bound
Which clips the world with darkness round. 140

We’ll pass the eyes
Of the starry skies
Into the hoar deep to colonize;
Death, Chaos, and Night,
From the sound of our flight, 145
Shall flee, like mist from a tempest’s might.

And Earth, Air, and Light,
And the Spirit of Might,
Which drives round the stars in their fiery flight;
And Love, Thought, and Breath, 150
The powers that quell Death,
Wherever we soar shall assemble beneath.

And our singing shall build
In the void’s loose field
A world for the Spirit of Wisdom to wield; 155
We will take our plan
From the new world of man,
And our work shall be called the Promethean.

CHORUS OF HOURS: Break the dance, and scatter the song;
Let some depart, and some remain; 160

SEMICHORUS 1: We, beyond heaven, are driven along:

SEMICHORUS 2: Us the enchantments of earth retain:

SEMICHORUS 1: Ceaseless, and rapid, and fierce, and free,
With the Spirits which build a new earth and sea,
And a heaven where yet heaven could never be; 165

SEMICHORUS 2: Solemn, and slow, and serene, and bright,
Leading the Day and outspeeding the Night,
With the powers of a world of perfect light;

SEMICHORUS 1: We whirl, singing loud, round the gathering sphere,
Till the trees, and the beasts, and the clouds appear 170
From its chaos made calm by love, not fear.

SEMICHORUS 2: We encircle the ocean and mountains of earth,
And the happy forms of its death and birth
Change to the music of our sweet mirth.



Break the dance, and scatter the song;
Let some depart, and some remain,
Wherever we fly we lead along
In leashes, like starbeams, soft yet strong,
The clouds that are heavy with love’s sweet rain.

PANTHEA: Ha! they are gone!



Yet feel you no delight
From the past sweetness?

PANTHEA: As the bare green hill
When some soft cloud vanishes into rain,
Laughs with a thousand drops of sunny water
To the unpavilioned sky!

IONE: Even whilst we speak
New notes arise. What is that awful sound? 185

PANTHEA: ’Tis the deep music of the rolling world
Kindling within the strings of the waved air
Aeolian modulations.

IONE: Listen too,
How every pause is filled with under-notes,
Clear, silver, icy, keen awakening tones, 190
Which pierce the sense, and live within the soul,
As the sharp stars pierce winter’s crystal air
And gaze upon themselves within the sea.

PANTHEA: But see where through two openings in the forest
Which hanging branches overcanopy, 195
And where two runnels of a rivulet,
Between the close moss violet-inwoven,
Have made their path of melody, like sisters
Who part with sighs that they may meet in smiles,
Turning their dear disunion to an isle 200
Of lovely grief, a wood of sweet sad thoughts;
Two visions of strange radiance float upon
The ocean-like enchantment of strong sound,
Which flows intenser, keener, deeper yet
Under the ground and through the windless air. 205

IONE: I see a chariot like that thinnest boat,
In which the Mother of the Months is borne
By ebbing light into her western cave,
When she upsprings from interlunar dreams;
O’er which is curved an orblike canopy 210
Of gentle darkness, and the hills and woods,
Distinctly seen through that dusk aery veil,
Regard like shapes in an enchanter’s glass;
Its wheels are solid clouds, azure and gold,
Such as the genii of the thunderstorm 215
Pile on the floor of the illumined sea
When the sun rushes under it; they roll
And move and grow as with an inward wind;
Within it sits a winged infant, white
Its countenance, like the whiteness of bright snow, 220
Its plumes are as feathers of sunny frost,
Its limbs gleam white, through the wind-flowing folds
Of its white robe, woof of ethereal pearl.
Its hair is white, the brightness of white light
Scattered in strings; yet its two eyes are heavens 225
Of liquid darkness, which the Deity
Within seems pouring, as a storm is poured
From jagged clouds, out of their arrowy lashes,
Tempering the cold and radiant air around,
With fire that is not brightness; in its hand 230
It sways a quivering moonbeam, from whose point
A guiding power directs the chariot’s prow
Over its wheeled clouds, which as they roll
Over the grass, and flowers, and waves, wake sounds,
Sweet as a singing rain of silver dew. 235

PANTHEA: And from the other opening in the wood
Rushes, with loud and whirlwind harmony,
A sphere, which is as many thousand spheres,
Solid as crystal, yet through all its mass
Flow, as through empty space, music and light: 240
Ten thousand orbs involving and involved,
Purple and azure, white, and green, and golden,
Sphere within sphere; and every space between
Peopled with unimaginable shapes,
Such as ghosts dream dwell in the lampless deep, 245
Yet each inter-transpicuous, and they whirl
Over each other with a thousand motions,
Upon a thousand sightless axles spinning,
And with the force of self-destroying swiftness,
Intensely, slowly, solemnly, roll on, 250
Kindling with mingled sounds, and many tones,
Intelligible words and music wild.
With mighty whirl the multitudinous orb
Grinds the bright brook into an azure mist
Of elemental subtlety, like light; 255
And the wild odour of the forest flowers,
The music of the living grass and air,
The emerald light of leaf-entangled beams
Round its intense yet self-conflicting speed,
Seem kneaded into one aereal mass 260
Which drowns the sense. Within the orb itself,
Pillowed upon its alabaster arms,
Like to a child o’erwearied with sweet toil,
On its own folded wings, and wavy hair,
The Spirit of the Earth is laid asleep, 265
And you can see its little lips are moving,
Amid the changing light of their own smiles,
Like one who talks of what he loves in dream.

IONE: ’Tis only mocking the orb’s harmony.



And from a star upon its forehead, shoot,
Like swords of azure fire, or golden spears
With tyrant-quelling myrtle overtwined,
Embleming heaven and earth united now,
Vast beams like spokes of some invisible wheel
Which whirl as the orb whirls, swifter than thought, 275
Filling the abyss with sun-like lightenings,
And perpendicular now, and now transverse,
Pierce the dark soil, and as they pierce and pass,
Make bare the secrets of the earth’s deep heart;
Infinite mine of adamant and gold, 280
Valueless stones, and unimagined gems,
And caverns on crystalline columns poised
With vegetable silver overspread;
Wells of unfathomed fire, and water springs
Whence the great sea, even as a child is fed, 285
Whose vapours clothe earth’s monarch mountain-tops
With kingly, ermine snow. The beams flash on
And make appear the melancholy ruins
Of cancelled cycles; anchors, beaks of ships;
Planks turned to marble; quivers, helms, and spears, 290
And gorgon-headed targes, and the wheels
Of scythed chariots, and the emblazonry
Of trophies, standards, and armorial beasts,
Round which death laughed, sepulchred emblems
Of dead destruction, ruin within ruin! 295
The wrecks beside of many a city vast,
Whose population which the earth grew over
Was mortal, but not human; see, they lie,
Their monstrous works, and uncouth skeletons,
Their statues, homes and fanes; prodigious shapes 300
Huddled in gray annihilation, split,
Jammed in the hard, black deep; and over these,
The anatomies of unknown winged things,
And fishes which were isles of living scale,
And serpents, bony chains, twisted around 305
The iron crags, or within heaps of dust
To which the tortuous strength of their last pangs
Had crushed the iron crags; and over these
The jagged alligator, and the might
Of earth-convulsing behemoth, which once 310
Were monarch beasts, and on the slimy shores,
And weed-overgrown continents of earth,
Increased and multiplied like summer worms
On an abandoned corpse, till the blue globe
Wrapped deluge round it like a cloak, and they 315
Yelled, gasped, and were abolished; or some God
Whose throne was in a comet, passed, and cried,
‘Be not!’ And like my words they were no more.

THE EARTH: The joy, the triumph, the delight, the madness!
The boundless, overflowing, bursting gladness, 320
The vaporous exultation not to be confined!
Ha! ha! the animation of delight
Which wraps me, like an atmosphere of light,
And bears me as a cloud is borne by its own wind.



Brother mine, calm wanderer,
Happy globe of land and air,
Some Spirit is darted like a beam from thee,
Which penetrates my frozen frame,
And passes with the warmth of flame,
With love, and odour, and deep melody 330
Through me, through me!

THE EARTH: Ha! ha! the caverns of my hollow mountains,
My cloven fire-crags, sound-exulting fountains
Laugh with a vast and inextinguishable laughter.
The oceans, and the deserts, and the abysses, 335
And the deep air’s unmeasured wildernesses,
Answer from all their clouds and billows, echoing after.

They cry aloud as I do. Sceptred curse,
Who all our green and azure universe
Threatenedst to muffle round with black destruction, sending 340
A solid cloud to rain hot thunderstones,
And splinter and knead down my children’s bones,
All I bring forth, to one void mass battering and blending —

Until each crag-like tower, and storied column,
Palace, and obelisk, and temple solemn, 345
My imperial mountains crowned with cloud, and snow, and fire,
My sea-like forests, every blade and blossom
Which finds a grave or cradle in my bosom,
Were stamped by thy strong hate into a lifeless mire:


How art thou sunk, withdrawn, covered, drunk up
By thirsty nothing, as the brackish cup
Drained by a desert-troop, a little drop for all;
And from beneath, around, within, above,
Filling thy void annihilation, love
Bursts in like light on caves cloven by the thunder-ball. 355

THE MOON: The snow upon my lifeless mountains
Is loosened into living fountains,
My solid oceans flow, and sing and shine:
A spirit from my heart bursts forth,
It clothes with unexpected birth 360
My cold bare bosom: Oh! it must be thine
On mine, on mine!

Gazing on thee I feel, I know
Green stalks burst forth, and bright flowers grow,
And living shapes upon my bosom move: 365
Music is in the sea and air,
Winged clouds soar here and there,
Dark with the rain new buds are dreaming of:
’Tis love, all love!



It interpenetrates my granite mass,
Through tangled roots and trodden clay doth pass
Into the utmost leaves and delicatest flowers;
Upon the winds, among the clouds ’tis spread,
It wakes a life in the forgotten dead,
They breathe a spirit up from their obscurest bowers. 375

And like a storm bursting its cloudy prison
With thunder, and with whirlwind, has arisen
Out of the lampless caves of unimagined being:
With earthquake shock and swiftness making shiver
Thought’s stagnant chaos, unremoved for ever, 380
Till hate, and fear, and pain, light-vanquished shadows, fleeing,

Leave Man, who was a many-sided mirror,
Which could distort to many a shape of error,
This true fair world of things, a sea reflecting love;
Which over all his kind, as the sun’s heaven 385
Gliding o’er ocean, smooth, serene, and even,
Darting from starry depths radiance and life, doth move:

Leave Man, even as a leprous child is left,
Who follows a sick beast to some warm cleft
Of rocks, through which the might of healing springs is poured; 390
Then when it wanders home with rosy smile,
Unconscious, and its mother fears awhile
It is a spirit, then, weeps on her child restored.

Man, oh, not men! a chain of linked thought,
Of love and might to be divided not, 395
Compelling the elements with adamantine stress;
As the sun rules, even with a tyrant’s gaze,
The unquiet republic of the maze
Of planets, struggling fierce towards heaven’s free wilderness.


Man, one harmonious soul of many a soul,
Whose nature is its own divine control,
Where all things flow to all, as rivers to the sea;
Familiar acts are beautiful through love;
Labour, and pain, and grief, in life’s green grove
Sport like tame beasts, none knew how gentle they could be! 405

His will, with all mean passions, bad delights,
And selfish cares, its trembling satellites,
A spirit ill to guide, but mighty to obey,
Is as a tempest-winged ship, whose helm
Love rules, through waves which dare not overwhelm, 410
Forcing life’s wildest shores to own its sovereign sway.

All things confess his strength. Through the cold mass
Of marble and of colour his dreams pass;
Bright threads whence mothers weave the robes their children wear;
Language is a perpetual Orphic song, 415
Which rules with Daedal harmony a throng
Of thoughts and forms, which else senseless and shapeless were.

The lightning is his slave; heaven’s utmost deep
Gives up her stars, and like a flock of sheep
They pass before his eye, are numbered, and roll on! 420
The tempest is his steed, he strides the air;
And the abyss shouts from her depth laid bare,
Heaven, hast thou secrets? Man unveils me; I have none.

THE MOON: The shadow of white death has passed
From my path in heaven at last, 425
A clinging shroud of solid frost and sleep;
And through my newly-woven bowers,
Wander happy paramours,
Less mighty, but as mild as those who keep
Thy vales more deep. 430

THE EARTH: As the dissolving warmth of dawn may fold
A half unfrozen dew-globe, green, and gold,
And crystalline, till it becomes a winged mist,
And wanders up the vault of the blue day,
Outlives the noon, and on the sun’s last ray 435
Hangs o’er the sea, a fleece of fire and amethyst.

THE MOON: Thou art folded, thou art lying
In the light which is undying
Of thine own joy, and heaven’s smile divine;
All suns and constellations shower 440
On thee a light, a life, a power
Which doth array thy sphere; thou pourest thine
On mine, on mine!

THE EARTH: I spin beneath my pyramid of night,
Which points into the heavens dreaming delight, 445
Murmuring victorious joy in my enchanted sleep;
As a youth lulled in love-dreams faintly sighing,
Under the shadow of his beauty lying,
Which round his rest a watch of light and warmth doth keep.



As in the soft and sweet eclipse,
When soul meets soul on lovers’ lips,
High hearts are calm, and brightest eyes are dull;
So when thy shadow falls on me,
Then am I mute and still, by thee
Covered; of thy love, Orb most beautiful, 455
Full, oh, too full!

Thou art speeding round the sun
Brightest world of many a one;
Green and azure sphere which shinest
With a light which is divinest 460
Among all the lamps of Heaven
To whom life and light is given;
I, thy crystal paramour
Borne beside thee by a power
Like the polar Paradise, 465
Magnet-like of lovers’ eyes;
I, a most enamoured maiden
Whose weak brain is overladen
With the pleasure of her love,
Maniac-like around thee move
Gazing, an insatiate bride, 470
On thy form from every side
Like a Maenad, round the cup
Which Agave lifted up
In the weird Cadmaean forest. 475
Brother, wheresoe’er thou soarest
I must hurry, whirl and follow
Through the heavens wide and hollow,
Sheltered by the warm embrace
Of thy soul from hungry space, 480
Drinking from thy sense and sight
Beauty, majesty, and might,
As a lover or a chameleon
Grows like what it looks upon,
As a violet’s gentle eye 485
Gazes on the azure sky
Until its hue grows like what it beholds,
As a gray and watery mist
Glows like solid amethyst
Athwart the western mountain it enfolds, 490
When the sunset sleeps
Upon its snow —

THE EARTH: And the weak day weeps
That it should be so.
Oh, gentle Moon, the voice of thy delight 495
Falls on me like thy clear and tender light
Soothing the seaman, borne the summer night,
Through isles for ever calm;
Oh, gentle Moon, thy crystal accents pierce
The caverns of my pride’s deep universe, 500
Charming the tiger joy, whose tramplings fierce
Made wounds which need thy balm.

PANTHEA: I rise as from a bath of sparkling water,
A bath of azure light, among dark rocks,
Out of the stream of sound.



Ah me! sweet sister,
The stream of sound has ebbed away from us,
And you pretend to rise out of its wave,
Because your words fall like the clear, soft dew
Shaken from a bathing wood-nymph’s limbs and hair.



Peace! peace! a mighty Power, which is as darkness,
Is rising out of Earth, and from the sky
Is showered like night, and from within the air
Bursts, like eclipse which had been gathered up
Into the pores of sunlight: the bright visions,
Wherein the singing spirits rode and shone, 515
Gleam like pale meteors through a watery night.

IONE: There is a sense of words upon mine ear.

PANTHEA: An universal sound like words: Oh, list!

DEMOGORGON: Thou, Earth, calm empire of a happy soul,
Sphere of divinest shapes and harmonies, 520
Beautiful orb! gathering as thou dost roll
The love which paves thy path along the skies:

THE EARTH: I hear: I am as a drop of dew that dies.

DEMOGORGON: Thou, Moon, which gazest on the nightly Earth
With wonder, as it gazes upon thee; 525
Whilst each to men, and beasts, and the swift birth
Of birds, is beauty, love, calm, harmony:

THE MOON: I hear: I am a leaf shaken by thee!

DEMOGORGON: Ye Kings of suns and stars, Daemons and Gods,
Ethereal Dominations, who possess 530
Elysian, windless, fortunate abodes
Beyond Heaven’s constellated wilderness:

A VOICE FROM ABOVE: Our great Republic hears: we are blest, and bless.

DEMOGORGON: Ye happy Dead, whom beams of brightest verse
Are clouds to hide, not colours to portray, 535
Whether your nature is that universe
Which once ye saw and suffered —

Whom we have left, we change and pass away.

DEMOGORGON: Ye elemental Genii, who have homes
From man’s high mind even to the central stone 540
Of sullen lead; from heaven’s star-fretted domes
To the dull weed some sea-worm battens on:

A CONFUSED VOICE: We hear: thy words waken Oblivion.

DEMOGORGON: Spirits, whose homes are flesh; ye beasts and birds,
Ye worms and fish; ye living leaves and buds; 545
Lightning and wind; and ye untameable herds,
Meteors and mists, which throng air’s solitudes:—

A VOICE: Thy voice to us is wind among still woods.

DEMOGORGON: Man, who wert once a despot and a slave;
A dupe and a deceiver; a decay; 550
A traveller from the cradle to the grave
Through the dim night of this immortal day:

ALL: Speak: thy strong words may never pass away.

DEMOGORGON: This is the day, which down the void abysm
At the Earth-born’s spell yawns for Heaven’s despotism, 555
And Conquest is dragged captive through the deep:
Love, from its awful throne of patient power
In the wise heart, from the last giddy hour
Of dread endurance, from the slippery, steep,
And narrow verge of crag-like agony, springs 560
And folds over the world its healing wings.

Gentleness, Virtue, Wisdom, and Endurance,
These are the seals of that most firm assurance
Which bars the pit over Destruction’s strength;
And if, with infirm hand, Eternity, 565
Mother of many acts and hours, should free
The serpent that would clasp her with his length;
These are the spells by which to reassume
An empire o’er the disentangled doom.


To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent; 575
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory!

_116 her B; his 1820.

_208 light B; night 1820.

_212 aery B; airy 1820.

_225 strings B, edition 1839; string 1820.

_242 white and green B; white, green 1820.

_274 spokes B, edition 1839; spoke 1820.

_276 lightenings B; lightnings 1820.

_280 mines B; mine 1820.

_282 poised B; poized edition 1839; poured 1820.

_335-_336 the abysses, And 1820, 1839; the abysses Of B.

_355 the omitted 1820.

_387 life B; light 1820.

_432 unfrozen B, edition 1839; infrozen 1820.

_547 throng 1820, 1839; cancelled for feed B.

_559 dread B, edition 1839; dead 1820.

_575 falter B, edition 1839; flatter 1820.

Cancelled Fragments of “Prometheus Unbound”.


(following 1..)

When thou descendst each night with open eyes

In torture, for a tyrant seldom sleeps,

Thou never; . . .

. . .


(following 1..)

Which thou henceforth art doomed to interweave

. . .


(following the first two words of 1..)

[Of Hell:] I placed it in his choice to be

The crown, or trampled refuse of the world

With but one law itself a glorious boon —

I gave —

. . .


(following 1..)


I leaped on the wings of the Earth-star damp

As it rose on the steam of a slaughtered camp —

The sleeping newt heard not our tramp

As swift as the wings of fire may pass —

We threaded the points of long thick grass

Which hide the green pools of the morass

But shook a water-serpent’s couch

In a cleft skull, of many such

The widest; at the meteor’s touch

The snake did seem to see in dream

Thrones and dungeons overthrown

Visions how unlike his own . . .

’Twas the hope the prophecy

Which begins and ends in thee

. . .


(following 2.1..)

Lift up thine eyes Panthea — they pierce they burn


Alas! I am consumed — I melt away

The fire is in my heart —


Thine eyes burn burn! —

Hide them within thine hair —


O quench thy lips

I sink I perish


Shelter me now — they burn

It is his spirit in their orbs . . . my life

Is ebbing fast — I cannot speak —


Rest, rest!

Sleep death annihilation pain! aught else

. . .


(following 2.4..)

Or looks which tell that while the lips are calm

And the eyes cold, the spirit weeps within

Tears like the sanguine sweat of agony;

. . .

Uncancelled Passage.


(following 2.5..)


You said that spirits spoke, but it was thee

Sweet sister, for even now thy curved lips

Tremble as if the sound were dying there

Not dead


Alas it was Prometheus spoke

Within me, and I know it must be so

I mixed my own weak nature with his love

. . . And my thoughts

Are like the many forests of a vale

Through which the might of whirlwind and of rain

Had passed — they rest rest through the evening light

As mine do now in thy beloved smile.

Cancelled Stage Directions.


(following 1..)



(following 1..)



(following 1..)

[First printed by Mr. C.D. Locock, “Examination of the Shelley Manuscripts at the Bodleian Library”, 1903, pages 33-7.]

Note on “Prometheus Unbound”, By Mrs. Shelley.

On the 12th of March, 1818, Shelley quitted England, never to return. His principal motive was the hope that his health would be improved by a milder climate; he suffered very much during the winter previous to his emigration, and this decided his vacillating purpose. In December, 1817, he had written from Marlow to a friend, saying:

‘My health has been materially worse. My feelings at intervals are of a deadly and torpid kind, or awakened to such a state of unnatural and keen excitement that, only to instance the organ of sight, I find the very blades of grass and the boughs of distant trees present themselves to me with microscopic distinctness. Towards evening I sink into a state of lethargy and inanimation, and often remain for hours on the sofa between sleep and waking, a prey to the most painful irritability of thought. Such, with little intermission, is my condition. The hours devoted to study are selected with vigilant caution from among these periods of endurance. It is not for this that I think of travelling to Italy, even if I knew that Italy would relieve me. But I have experienced a decisive pulmonary attack; and although at present it has passed away without any considerable vestige of its existence, yet this symptom sufficiently shows the true nature of my disease to be consumptive. It is to my advantage that this malady is in its nature slow, and, if one is sufficiently alive to its advances, is susceptible of cure from a warm climate. In the event of its assuming any decided shape, IT WOULD BE MY DUTY to go to Italy without delay. It is not mere health, but life, that I should seek, and that not for my own sake — I feel I am capable of trampling on all such weakness; but for the sake of those to whom my life may be a source of happiness, utility, security, and honour, and to some of whom my death might be all that is the reverse.’

In almost every respect his journey to Italy was advantageous. He left behind friends to whom he was attached; but cares of a thousand kinds, many springing from his lavish generosity, crowded round him in his native country, and, except the society of one or two friends, he had no compensation. The climate caused him to consume half his existence in helpless suffering. His dearest pleasure, the free enjoyment of the scenes of Nature, was marred by the same circumstance.

He went direct to Italy, avoiding even Paris, and did not make any pause till he arrived at Milan. The first aspect of Italy enchanted Shelley; it seemed a garden of delight placed beneath a clearer and brighter heaven than any he had lived under before. He wrote long descriptive letters during the first year of his residence in Italy, which, as compositions, are the most beautiful in the world, and show how truly he appreciated and studied the wonders of Nature and Art in that divine land.

The poetical spirit within him speedily revived with all the power and with more than all the beauty of his first attempts. He meditated three subjects as the groundwork for lyrical dramas. One was the story of Tasso; of this a slight fragment of a song of Tasso remains. The other was one founded on the Book of Job, which he never abandoned in idea, but of which no trace remains among his papers. The third was the “Prometheus Unbound”. The Greek tragedians were now his most familiar companions in his wanderings, and the sublime majesty of Aeschylus filled him with wonder and delight. The father of Greek tragedy does not possess the pathos of Sophocles, nor the variety and tenderness of Euripides; the interest on which he founds his dramas is often elevated above human vicissitudes into the mighty passions and throes of gods and demi-gods: such fascinated the abstract imagination of Shelley.

We spent a month at Milan, visiting the Lake of Como during that interval. Thence we passed in succession to Pisa, Leghorn, the Baths of Lucca, Venice, Este, Rome, Naples, and back again to Rome, whither we returned early in March, 1819. During all this time Shelley meditated the subject of his drama, and wrote portions of it. Other poems were composed during this interval, and while at the Bagni di Lucca he translated Plato’s “Symposium”. But, though he diversified his studies, his thoughts centred in the Prometheus. At last, when at Rome, during a bright and beautiful Spring, he gave up his whole time to the composition. The spot selected for his study was, as he mentions in his preface, the mountainous ruins of the Baths of Caracalla. These are little known to the ordinary visitor at Rome. He describes them in a letter, with that poetry and delicacy and truth of description which render his narrated impressions of scenery of unequalled beauty and interest.

At first he completed the drama in three acts. It was not till several months after, when at Florence, that he conceived that a fourth act, a sort of hymn of rejoicing in the fulfilment of the prophecies with regard to Prometheus, ought to be added to complete the composition.

The prominent feature of Shelley’s theory of the destiny of the human species was that evil is not inherent in the system of the creation, but an accident that might be expelled. This also forms a portion of Christianity: God made earth and man perfect, till he, by his fall,

‘Brought death into the world and all our woe.’

Shelley believed that mankind had only to will that there should be no evil, and there would be none. It is not my part in these Notes to notice the arguments that have been urged against this opinion, but to mention the fact that he entertained it, and was indeed attached to it with fervent enthusiasm. That man could be so perfectionized as to be able to expel evil from his own nature, and from the greater part of the creation, was the cardinal point of his system. And the subject he loved best to dwell on was the image of One warring with the Evil Principle, oppressed not only by it, but by all — even the good, who were deluded into considering evil a necessary portion of humanity; a victim full of fortitude and hope and the spirit of triumph emanating from a reliance in the ultimate omnipotence of Good. Such he had depicted in his last poem, when he made Laon the enemy and the victim of tyrants. He now took a more idealized image of the same subject. He followed certain classical authorities in figuring Saturn as the good principle, Jupiter the usurping evil one, and Prometheus as the regenerator, who, unable to bring mankind back to primitive innocence, used knowledge as a weapon to defeat evil, by leading mankind, beyond the state wherein they are sinless through ignorance, to that in which they are virtuous through wisdom. Jupiter punished the temerity of the Titan by chaining him to a rock of Caucasus, and causing a vulture to devour his still-renewed heart. There was a prophecy afloat in heaven portending the fall of Jove, the secret of averting which was known only to Prometheus; and the god offered freedom from torture on condition of its being communicated to him. According to the mythological story, this referred to the offspring of Thetis, who was destined to be greater than his father. Prometheus at last bought pardon for his crime of enriching mankind with his gifts, by revealing the prophecy. Hercules killed the vulture, and set him free; and Thetis was married to Peleus, the father of Achilles.

Shelley adapted the catastrophe of this story to his peculiar views. The son greater than his father, born of the nuptials of Jupiter and Thetis, was to dethrone Evil, and bring back a happier reign than that of Saturn. Prometheus defies the power of his enemy, and endures centuries of torture; till the hour arrives when Jove, blind to the real event, but darkly guessing that some great good to himself will flow, espouses Thetis. At the moment, the Primal Power of the world drives him from his usurped throne, and Strength, in the person of Hercules, liberates Humanity, typified in Prometheus, from the tortures generated by evil done or suffered. Asia, one of the Oceanides, is the wife of Prometheus — she was, according to other mythological interpretations, the same as Venus and Nature. When the benefactor of mankind is liberated, Nature resumes the beauty of her prime, and is united to her husband, the emblem of the human race, in perfect and happy union. In the Fourth Act, the Poet gives further scope to his imagination, and idealizes the forms of creation — such as we know them, instead of such as they appeared to the Greeks. Maternal Earth, the mighty parent, is superseded by the Spirit of the Earth, the guide of our planet through the realms of sky; while his fair and weaker companion and attendant, the Spirit of the Moon, receives bliss from the annihilation of Evil in the superior sphere.

Shelley develops, more particularly in the lyrics of this drama, his abstruse and imaginative theories with regard to the Creation. It requires a mind as subtle and penetrating as his own to understand the mystic meanings scattered throughout the poem. They elude the ordinary reader by their abstraction and delicacy of distinction, but they are far from vague. It was his design to write prose metaphysical essays on the nature of Man, which would have served to explain much of what is obscure in his poetry; a few scattered fragments of observations and remarks alone remain. He considered these philosophical views of Mind and Nature to be instinct with the intensest spirit of poetry.

More popular poets clothe the ideal with familiar and sensible imagery. Shelley loved to idealize the real — to gift the mechanism of the material universe with a soul and a voice, and to bestow such also on the most delicate and abstract emotions and thoughts of the mind. Sophocles was his great master in this species of imagery.

I find in one of his manuscript books some remarks on a line in the “Oedipus Tyrannus”, which show at once the critical subtlety of Shelley’s mind, and explain his apprehension of those ‘minute and remote distinctions of feeling, whether relative to external nature or the living beings which surround us,’ which he pronounces, in the letter quoted in the note to the “Revolt of Islam”, to comprehend all that is sublime in man.

‘In the Greek Shakespeare, Sophocles, we find the image,

Pollas d’ odous elthonta phrontidos planois:

a line of almost unfathomable depth of poetry; yet how simple are the images in which it is arrayed!

“Coming to many ways in the wanderings of careful thought.”

If the words odous and planois had not been used, the line might have been explained in a metaphorical instead of an absolute sense, as we say “WAYS and means,” and “wanderings” for error and confusion. But they meant literally paths or roads, such as we tread with our feet; and wanderings, such as a man makes when he loses himself in a desert, or roams from city to city — as Oedipus, the speaker of this verse, was destined to wander, blind and asking charity. What a picture does this line suggest of the mind as a wilderness of intricate paths, wide as the universe, which is here made its symbol; a world within a world which he who seeks some knowledge with respect to what he ought to do searches throughout, as he would search the external universe for some valued thing which was hidden from him upon its surface.’

In reading Shelley’s poetry, we often find similar verses, resembling, but not imitating the Greek in this species of imagery; for, though he adopted the style, he gifted it with that originality of form and colouring which sprung from his own genius.

In the “Prometheus Unbound”, Shelley fulfils the promise quoted from a letter in the Note on the “Revolt of Islam”. (While correcting the proof-sheets of that poem, it struck me that the poet had indulged in an exaggerated view of the evils of restored despotism; which, however injurious and degrading, were less openly sanguinary than the triumph of anarchy, such as it appeared in France at the close of the last century. But at this time a book, “Scenes of Spanish Life”, translated by Lieutenant Crawford from the German of Dr. Huber, of Rostock, fell into my hands. The account of the triumph of the priests and the serviles, after the French invasion of Spain in 1823, bears a strong and frightful resemblance to some of the descriptions of the massacre of the patriots in the “Revolt of Islam”.) The tone of the composition is calmer and more majestic, the poetry more perfect as a whole, and the imagination displayed at once more pleasingly beautiful and more varied and daring. The description of the Hours, as they are seen in the cave of Demogorgon, is an instance of this — it fills the mind as the most charming picture — we long to see an artist at work to bring to our view the

‘cars drawn by rainbow-winged steeds

Which trample the dim winds: in each there stands

A wild-eyed charioteer urging their flight.

Some look behind, as fiends pursued them there,

And yet I see no shapes but the keen stars:

Others, with burning eyes, lean forth, and drink

With eager lips the wind of their own speed,

As if the thing they loved fled on before,

And now, even now, they clasped it. Their bright locks

Stream like a comet’s flashing hair: they all

Sweep onward.’

Through the whole poem there reigns a sort of calm and holy spirit of love; it soothes the tortured, and is hope to the expectant, till the prophecy is fulfilled, and Love, untainted by any evil, becomes the law of the world.

England had been rendered a painful residence to Shelley, as much by the sort of persecution with which in those days all men of liberal opinions were visited, and by the injustice he had lately endured in the Court of Chancery, as by the symptoms of disease which made him regard a visit to Italy as necessary to prolong his life. An exile, and strongly impressed with the feeling that the majority of his countrymen regarded him with sentiments of aversion such as his own heart could experience towards none, he sheltered himself from such disgusting and painful thoughts in the calm retreats of poetry, and built up a world of his own — with the more pleasure, since he hoped to induce some one or two to believe that the earth might become such, did mankind themselves consent. The charm of the Roman climate helped to clothe his thoughts in greater beauty than they had ever worn before. And, as he wandered among the ruins made one with Nature in their decay, or gazed on the Praxitelean shapes that throng the Vatican, the Capitol, and the palaces of Rome, his soul imbibed forms of loveliness which became a portion of itself. There are many passages in the “Prometheus” which show the intense delight he received from such studies, and give back the impression with a beauty of poetical description peculiarly his own. He felt this, as a poet must feel when he satisfies himself by the result of his labours; and he wrote from Rome, ‘My “Prometheus Unbound” is just finished, and in a month or two I shall send it. It is a drama, with characters and mechanism of a kind yet unattempted; and I think the execution is better than any of my former attempts.’

I may mention, for the information of the more critical reader, that the verbal alterations in this edition of “Prometheus” are made from a list of errata written by Shelley himself.

The Cenci. a Tragedy in Five Acts.

[Composed at Rome and near Leghorn (Villa Valsovano), May-August 5, 1819; published 1820 (spring) by C. & J. Ollier, London. This edition of two hundred and fifty copies was printed in Italy ‘because,’ writes Shelley to Peacock, September 21, 1819, ‘it costs, with all duties and freightage, about half what it would cost in London.’ A Table of Errata in Mrs. Shelley’s handwriting is printed by Forman in “The Shelley Library”, page 91. A second edition, published by Ollier in 1821 (C.H. Reynell, printer), embodies the corrections indicated in this Table. No manuscript of “The Cenci” is known to exist. Our text follows that of the second edition (1821); variations of the first (Italian) edition, the title-page of which bears date 1819, are given in the footnotes. The text of the “Poetical Works”, 1839, 1st and 2nd editions (Mrs. Shelley), follows for the most part that of the editio princeps of 1819.]

Table of Contents

Dedication, to Leigh Hunt, Esq.


Dramatis Personae.

Act 1.

Act 2.

Act 3.

Act 4.

Act 5.

Note on the Cenci, by Mrs. Shelley.

Dedication, to Leigh Hunt, Esq.

My dear friend —

I inscribe with your name, from a distant country, and after an absence whose months have seemed years, this the latest of my literary efforts.

Those writings which I have hitherto published, have been little else than visions which impersonate my own apprehensions of the beautiful and the just. I can also perceive in them the literary defects incidental to youth and impatience; they are dreams of what ought to be, or may be. The drama which I now present to you is a sad reality. I lay aside the presumptuous attitude of an instructor, and am content to paint, with such colours as my own heart furnishes, that which has been.

Had I known a person more highly endowed than yourself with all that it becomes a man to possess, I had solicited for this work the ornament of his name. One more gentle, honourable, innocent and brave; one of more exalted toleration for all who do and think evil, and yet himself more free from evil; one who knows better how to receive, and how to confer a benefit, though he must ever confer far more than he can receive; one of simpler, and, in the highest sense of the word, of purer life and manners I never knew: and I had already been fortunate in friendships when your name was added to the list.

In that patient and irreconcilable enmity with domestic and political tyranny and imposture which the tenor of your life has illustrated, and which, had I health and talents, should illustrate mine, let us, comforting each other in our task, live and die.

All happiness attend you! Your affectionate friend,


Rome, May 29, 1819.


A manuscript was communicated to me during my travels in Italy, which was copied from the archives of the Cenci Palace at Rome, and contains a detailed account of the horrors which ended in the extinction of one of the noblest and richest families of that city during the Pontificate of Clement VIII, in the year 1599. The story is, that an old man having spent his life in debauchery and wickedness, conceived at length an implacable hatred towards his children; which showed itself towards one daughter under the form of an incestuous passion, aggravated by every circumstance of cruelty and violence. This daughter, after long and vain attempts to escape from what she considered a perpetual contamination both of body and mind, at length plotted with her mother-in-law and brother to murder their common tyrant. The young maiden, who was urged to this tremendous deed by an impulse which overpowered its horror, was evidently a most gentle and amiable being, a creature formed to adorn and be admired, and thus violently thwarted from her nature by the necessity of circumstance and opinion. The deed was quickly discovered, and, in spite of the most earnest prayers made to the Pope by the highest persons in Rome, the criminals were put to death. The old man had during his life repeatedly bought his pardon from the Pope for capital crimes of the most enormous and unspeakable kind, at the price of a hundred thousand crowns; the death therefore of his victims can scarcely be accounted for by the love of justice. The Pope, among other motives for severity, probably felt that whoever killed the Count Cenci deprived his treasury of a certain and copious source of revenue. (The Papal Government formerly took the most extraordinary precautions against the publicity of facts which offer so tragical a demonstration of its own wickedness and weakness; so that the communication of the manuscript had become, until very lately, a matter of some difficulty.) Such a story, if told so as to present to the reader all the feelings of those who once acted it, their hopes and fears, their confidences and misgivings, their various interests, passions, and opinions, acting upon and with each other, yet all conspiring to one tremendous end, would be as a light to make apparent some of the most dark and secret caverns of the human heart.

On my arrival at Rome I found that the story of the Cenci was a subject not to be mentioned in Italian society without awakening a deep and breathless interest; and that the feelings of the company never failed to incline to a romantic pity for the wrongs, and a passionate exculpation of the horrible deed to which they urged her, who has been mingled two centuries with the common dust. All ranks of people knew the outlines of this history, and participated in the overwhelming interest which it seems to have the magic of exciting in the human heart. I had a copy of Guido’s picture of Beatrice which is preserved in the Colonna Palace, and my servant instantly recognized it as the portrait of La Cenci.

This national and universal interest which the story produces and has produced for two centuries and among all ranks of people in a great City, where the imagination is kept for ever active and awake, first suggested to me the conception of its fitness for a dramatic purpose. In fact it is a tragedy which has already received, from its capacity of awakening and sustaining the sympathy of men, approbation and success. Nothing remained as I imagined, but to clothe it to the apprehensions of my countrymen in such language and action as would bring it home to their hearts. The deepest and the sublimest tragic compositions, King Lear and the two plays in which the tale of Oedipus is told, were stories which already existed in tradition, as matters of popular belief and interest, before Shakspeare and Sophocles made them familiar to the sympathy of all succeeding generations of mankind.

This story of the Cenci is indeed eminently fearful and monstrous: anything like a dry exhibition of it on the stage would be insupportable. The person who would treat such a subject must increase the ideal, and diminish the actual horror of the events, so that the pleasure which arises from the poetry which exists in these tempestuous sufferings and crimes may mitigate the pain of the contemplation of the moral deformity from which they spring. There must also be nothing attempted to make the exhibition subservient to what is vulgarly termed a moral purpose. The highest moral purpose aimed at in the highest species of the drama, is the teaching the human heart, through its sympathies and antipathies, the knowledge of itself; in proportion to the possession of which knowledge, every human being is wise, just, sincere, tolerant and kind. If dogmas can do more, it is well: but a drama is no fit place for the enforcement of them. Undoubtedly, no person can be truly dishonoured by the act of another; and the fit return to make to the most enormous injuries is kindness and forbearance, and a resolution to convert the injurer from his dark passions by peace and love. Revenge, retaliation, atonement, are pernicious mistakes. If Beatrice had thought in this manner she would have been wiser and better; but she would never have been a tragic character: the few whom such an exhibition would have interested, could never have been sufficiently interested for a dramatic purpose, from the want of finding sympathy in their interest among the mass who surround them. It is in the restless and anatomizing casuistry with which men seek the justification of Beatrice, yet feel that she has done what needs justification; it is in the superstitious horror with which they contemplate alike her wrongs and their revenge, that the dramatic character of what she did and suffered, consists.

I have endeavoured as nearly as possible to represent the characters as they probably were, and have sought to avoid the error of making them actuated by my own conceptions of right or wrong, false or true: thus under a thin veil converting names and actions of the sixteenth century into cold impersonations of my own mind. They are represented as Catholics, and as Catholics deeply tinged with religion. To a Protestant apprehension there will appear something unnatural in the earnest and perpetual sentiment of the relations between God and men which pervade the tragedy of the Cenci. It will especially be startled at the combination of an undoubting persuasion of the truth of the popular religion with a cool and determined perseverance in enormous guilt. But religion in Italy is not, as in Protestant countries, a cloak to be worn on particular days; or a passport which those who do not wish to be railed at carry with them to exhibit; or a gloomy passion for penetrating the impenetrable mysteries of our being, which terrifies its possessor at the darkness of the abyss to the brink of which it has conducted him. Religion coexists, as it were, in the mind of an Italian Catholic, with a faith in that of which all men have the most certain knowledge. It is interwoven with the whole fabric of life. It is adoration, faith, submission, penitence, blind admiration; not a rule for moral conduct. It has no necessary connection with any one virtue. The most atrocious villain may be rigidly devout, and without any shock to established faith, confess himself to be so. Religion pervades intensely the whole frame of society, and is according to the temper of the mind which it inhabits, a passion, a persuasion, an excuse, a refuge; never a check. Cenci himself built a chapel in the court of his Palace, and dedicated it to St. Thomas the Apostle, and established masses for the peace of his soul. Thus in the first scene of the fourth act Lucretia’s design in exposing herself to the consequences of an expostulation with Cenci after having administered the opiate, was to induce him by a feigned tale to confess himself before death; this being esteemed by Catholics as essential to salvation; and she only relinquishes her purpose when she perceives that her perseverance would expose Beatrice to new outrages.

I have avoided with great care in writing this play the introduction of what is commonly called mere poetry, and I imagine there will scarcely be found a detached simile or a single isolated description, unless Beatrice’s description of the chasm appointed for her father’s murder should be judged to be of that nature. (An idea in this speech was suggested by a most sublime passage in “El Purgaterio de San Patricio” of Calderon; the only plagiarism which I have intentionally committed in the whole piece.)

In a dramatic composition the imagery and the passion should interpenetrate one another, the former being reserved simply for the full development and illustration of the latter. Imagination is as the immortal God which should assume flesh for the redemption of mortal passion. It is thus that the most remote and the most familiar imagery may alike be fit for dramatic purposes when employed in the illustration of strong feeling, which raises what is low, and levels to the apprehension that which is lofty, casting over all the shadow of its own greatness. In other respects, I have written more carelessly; that is, without an over-fastidious and learned choice of words. In this respect I entirely agree with those modern critics who assert that in order to move men to true sympathy we must use the familiar language of men, and that our great ancestors the ancient English poets are the writers, a study of whom might incite us to do that for our own age which they have done for theirs. But it must be the real language of men in general and not that of any particular class to whose society the writer happens to belong. So much for what I have attempted; I need not be assured that success is a very different matter; particularly for one whose attention has but newly been awakened to the study of dramatic literature.

I endeavoured whilst at Rome to observe such monuments of this story as might be accessible to a stranger. The portrait of Beatrice at the Colonna Palace is admirable as a work of art: it was taken by Guido during her confinement in prison. But it is most interesting as a just representation of one of the loveliest specimens of the workmanship of Nature. There is a fixed and pale composure upon the features: she seems sad and stricken down in spirit, yet the despair thus expressed is lightened by the patience of gentleness. Her head is bound with folds of white drapery from which the yellow strings of her golden hair escape, and fall about her neck. The moulding of her face is exquisitely delicate; the eyebrows are distinct and arched: the lips have that permanent meaning of imagination and sensibility which suffering has not repressed and which it seems as if death scarcely could extinguish. Her forehead is large and clear; her eyes, which we are told were remarkable for their vivacity, are swollen with weeping and lustreless, but beautifully tender and serene. In the whole mien there is a simplicity and dignity which, united with her exquisite loveliness and deep sorrow, are inexpressibly pathetic. Beatrice Cenci appears to have been one of those rare persons in whom energy and gentleness dwell together without destroying one another: her nature was simple and profound. The crimes and miseries in which she was an actor and a sufferer are as the mask and the mantle in which circumstances clothed her for her impersonation on the scene of the world.

The Cenci Palace is of great extent; and though in part modernized, there yet remains a vast and gloomy pile of feudal architecture in the same state as during the dreadful scenes which are the subject of this tragedy. The Palace is situated in an obscure corner of Rome, near the quarter of the Jews, and from the upper windows you see the immense ruins of Mount Palatine half hidden under their profuse overgrowth of trees. There is a court in one part of the Palace (perhaps that in which Cenci built the Chapel to St. Thomas), supported by granite columns and adorned with antique friezes of fine workmanship, and built up, according to the ancient Italian fashion, with balcony over balcony of open-work. One of the gates of the Palace formed of immense stones and leading through a passage, dark and lofty and opening into gloomy subterranean chambers, struck me particularly.

Of the Castle of Petrella, I could obtain no further information than that which is to be found in the manuscript.

The Cenci. a Tragedy in Five Acts.

Dramatis Personae.














Act 1.



That matter of the murder is hushed up

If you consent to yield his Holiness

Your fief that lies beyond the Pincian gate. —

It needed all my interest in the conclave


To bend him to this point; he said that you

Bought perilous impunity with your gold;

That crimes like yours if once or twice compounded

Enriched the Church, and respited from hell

An erring soul which might repent and live:—


But that the glory and the interest

Of the high throne he fills, little consist

With making it a daily mart of guilt

As manifold and hideous as the deeds

Which you scarce hide from men’s revolted eyes.



The third of my possessions — let it go!

Ay, I once heard the nephew of the Pope

Had sent his architect to view the ground,

Meaning to build a villa on my vines

The next time I compounded with his uncle:


I little thought he should outwit me so!

Henceforth no witness — not the lamp — shall see

That which the vassal threatened to divulge

Whose throat is choked with dust for his reward.

The deed he saw could not have rated higher


Than his most worthless life:— it angers me!

Respited me from Hell! So may the Devil

Respite their souls from Heaven! No doubt Pope Clement,

And his most charitable nephews, pray

That the Apostle Peter and the Saints


Will grant for their sake that I long enjoy

Strength, wealth, and pride, and lust, and length of days

Wherein to act the deeds which are the stewards

Of their revenue. — But much yet remains

To which they show no title.


Oh, Count Cenci!


So much that thou mightst honourably live

And reconcile thyself with thine own heart

And with thy God, and with the offended world.

How hideously look deeds of lust and blood

Through those snow white and venerable hairs! —


Your children should be sitting round you now,

But that you fear to read upon their looks

The shame and misery you have written there.

Where is your wife? Where is your gentle daughter?

Methinks her sweet looks, which make all things else


Beauteous and glad, might kill the fiend within you.

Why is she barred from all society

But her own strange and uncomplaining wrongs?

Talk with me, Count — you know I mean you well.

I stood beside your dark and fiery youth


Watching its bold and bad career, as men

Watch meteors, but it vanished not — I marked

Your desperate and remorseless manhood; now

Do I behold you in dishonoured age

Charged with a thousand unrepented crimes.


Yet I have ever hoped you would amend,

And in that hope have saved your life three times.


For which Aldobrandino owes you now

My fief beyond the Pincian. — Cardinal,

One thing, I pray you, recollect henceforth,


And so we shall converse with less restraint.

A man you knew spoke of my wife and daughter —

He was accustomed to frequent my house;

So the next day HIS wife and daughter came

And asked if I had seen him; and I smiled:


I think they never saw him any more.


Thou execrable man, beware! —


Of thee?

Nay, this is idle:— We should know each other.

As to my character for what men call crime

Seeing I please my senses as I list,


And vindicate that right with force or guile,

It is a public matter, and I care not

If I discuss it with you. I may speak

Alike to you and my own conscious heart —

For you give out that you have half reformed me,


Therefore strong vanity will keep you silent

If fear should not; both will, I do not doubt.

All men delight in sensual luxury,

All men enjoy revenge; and most exult

Over the tortures they can never feel —


Flattering their secret peace with others’ pain.

But I delight in nothing else. I love

The sight of agony, and the sense of joy,

When this shall be another’s, and that mine.

And I have no remorse and little fear,


Which are, I think, the checks of other men.

This mood has grown upon me, until now

Any design my captious fancy makes

The picture of its wish, and it forms none

But such as men like you would start to know,


Is as my natural food and rest debarred

Until it be accomplished.


Art thou not

Most miserable?


Why miserable? —

No. — I am what your theologians call

Hardened; — which they must be in impudence,


So to revile a man’s peculiar taste.

True, I was happier than I am, while yet

Manhood remained to act the thing I thought;

While lust was sweeter than revenge; and now

Invention palls:— Ay, we must all grow old —


And but that there remains a deed to act

Whose horror might make sharp an appetite

Duller than mine — I’d do — I know not what.

When I was young I thought of nothing else

But pleasure; and I fed on honey sweets:


Men, by St. Thomas! cannot live like bees,

And I grew tired:— yet, till I killed a foe,

And heard his groans, and heard his children’s groans,

Knew I not what delight was else on earth,

Which now delights me little. I the rather


Look on such pangs as terror ill conceals,

The dry fixed eyeball; the pale, quivering lip,

Which tell me that the spirit weeps within

Tears bitterer than the bloody sweat of Christ.

I rarely kill the body, which preserves,


Like a strong prison, the soul within my power,

Wherein I feed it with the breath of fear

For hourly pain.


Hell’s most abandoned fiend

Did never, in the drunkenness of guilt,

Speak to his heart as now you speak to me;


I thank my God that I believe you not.



My Lord, a gentleman from Salamanca

Would speak with you.


Bid him attend me

In the grand saloon.



Farewell; and I will pray

Almighty God that thy false, impious words


Tempt not his spirit to abandon thee.



The third of my possessions! I must use

Close husbandry, or gold, the old man’s sword,

Falls from my withered hand. But yesterday

There came an order from the Pope to make


Fourfold provision for my cursed sons;

Whom I had sent from Rome to Salamanca,

Hoping some accident might cut them off;

And meaning if I could to starve them there.

I pray thee, God, send some quick death upon them!


Bernardo and my wife could not be worse

If dead and damned:— then, as to Beatrice —


I think they cannot hear me at that door;

What if they should? And yet I need not speak

Though the heart triumphs with itself in words.


O, thou most silent air, that shalt not hear

What now I think! Thou, pavement, which I tread

Towards her chamber — let your echoes talk

Of my imperious step scorning surprise,

But not of my intent! — Andrea!



My lord?



Bid Beatrice attend me in her chamber

This evening:— no, at midnight and alone.


_100 And but that edition 1821; But that editions 1819, 1839.

_131 Whom I had edition 1821; Whom I have editions 1819, 1839.

_140 that shalt edition 1821; that shall editions 1819, 1839.



Pervert not truth,

Orsino. You remember where we held

That conversation; — nay, we see the spot

Even from this cypress; — two long years are past


Since, on an April midnight, underneath

The moonlight ruins of Mount Palatine,

I did confess to you my secret mind.


You said you loved me then.


You are a Priest.

Speak to me not of love.


I may obtain


The dispensation of the Pope to marry.

Because I am a Priest do you believe

Your image, as the hunter some struck deer,

Follows me not whether I wake or sleep?


As I have said, speak to me not of love;


Had you a dispensation I have not;

Nor will I leave this home of misery

Whilst my poor Bernard, and that gentle lady

To whom I owe life, and these virtuous thoughts,

Must suffer what I still have strength to share.


Alas, Orsino! All the love that once

I felt for you, is turned to bitter pain.

Ours was a youthful contract, which you first

Broke, by assuming vows no Pope will loose.

And thus I love you still, but holily,


Even as a sister or a spirit might;

And so I swear a cold fidelity.

And it is well perhaps we shall not marry.

You have a sly, equivocating vein

That suits me not. — Ah, wretched that I am!


Where shall I turn? Even now you look on me

As you were not my friend, and as if you

Discovered that I thought so, with false smiles

Making my true suspicion seem your wrong.

Ah, no! forgive me; sorrow makes me seem


Sterner than else my nature might have been;

I have a weight of melancholy thoughts,

And they forebode — but what can they forebode

Worse than I now endure?


All will be well.

Is the petition yet prepared? You know


My zeal for all you wish, sweet Beatrice;

Doubt not but I will use my utmost skill

So that the Pope attend to your complaint.


Your zeal for all I wish; — Ah me, you are cold!

Your utmost skill . . . speak but one word . . .




Weak and deserted creature that I am,

Here I stand bickering with my only friend!


This night my father gives a sumptuous feast,

Orsino; he has heard some happy news

From Salamanca, from my brothers there,


And with this outward show of love he mocks

His inward hate. ’Tis bold hypocrisy,

For he would gladlier celebrate their deaths,

Which I have heard him pray for on his knees:

Great God! that such a father should be mine!


But there is mighty preparation made,

And all our kin, the Cenci, will be there,

And all the chief nobility of Rome.

And he has bidden me and my pale Mother

Attire ourselves in festival array.


Poor lady! She expects some happy change

In his dark spirit from this act; I none.

At supper I will give you the petition:

Till when — farewell.




I know the Pope

Will ne’er absolve me from my priestly vow


But by absolving me from the revenue

Of many a wealthy see; and, Beatrice,

I think to win thee at an easier rate.

Nor shall he read her eloquent petition:

He might bestow her on some poor relation


Of his sixth cousin, as he did her sister,

And I should be debarred from all access.

Then as to what she suffers from her father,

In all this there is much exaggeration:—

Old men are testy and will have their way;


A man may stab his enemy, or his vassal,

And live a free life as to wine or women,

And with a peevish temper may return

To a dull home, and rate his wife and children;

Daughters and wives call this foul tyranny.


I shall be well content if on my conscience

There rest no heavier sin than what they suffer

From the devices of my love — a net

From which he shall escape not. Yet I fear

Her subtle mind, her awe-inspiring gaze,


Whose beams anatomize me nerve by nerve

And lay me bare, and make me blush to see

My hidden thoughts. — Ah, no! A friendless girl

Who clings to me, as to her only hope:—

I were a fool, not less than if a panther


Were panic-stricken by the antelope’s eye,

If she escape me.


_24 And thus editions 1821, 1839; And yet edition 1819.

_75 vassal edition 1821; slave edition 1819.



Welcome, my friends and kinsmen; welcome ye,

Princes and Cardinals, pillars of the church,

Whose presence honours our festivity.

I have too long lived like an anchorite,


And in my absence from your merry meetings

An evil word is gone abroad of me;

But I do hope that you, my noble friends,

When you have shared the entertainment here,

And heard the pious cause for which ’tis given,


And we have pledged a health or two together,

Will think me flesh and blood as well as you;

Sinful indeed, for Adam made all so,

But tender-hearted, meek and pitiful.


In truth, my Lord, you seem too light of heart,


Too sprightly and companionable a man,

To act the deeds that rumour pins on you.


I never saw such blithe and open cheer

In any eye!


Some most desired event,

In which we all demand a common joy,


Has brought us hither; let us hear it, Count.


It is indeed a most desired event.

If when a parent from a parent’s heart

Lifts from this earth to the great Father of all

A prayer, both when he lays him down to sleep,


And when he rises up from dreaming it;

One supplication, one desire, one hope,

That he would grant a wish for his two sons,

Even all that he demands in their regard —

And suddenly beyond his dearest hope


It is accomplished, he should then rejoice,

And call his friends and kinsmen to a feast,

And task their love to grace his merriment —

Then honour me thus far — for I am he.


Great God! How horrible! some dreadful ill

Must have befallen my brothers.



Fear not, child,

He speaks too frankly.


Ah! My blood runs cold.

I fear that wicked laughter round his eye,

Which wrinkles up the skin even to the hair.


Here are the letters brought from Salamanca;


Beatrice, read them to your mother. God!

I thank thee! In one night didst thou perform,

By ways inscrutable, the thing I sought.

My disobedient and rebellious sons

Are dead! — Why, dead! — What means this change of cheer?


You hear me not, I tell you they are dead;

And they will need no food or raiment more:

The tapers that did light them the dark way

Are their last cost. The Pope, I think, will not

Expect I should maintain them in their coffins.


Rejoice with me — my heart is wondrous glad.



It is not true! — Dear Lady, pray look up.

Had it been true, there is a God in Heaven,

He would not live to boast of such a boon.

Unnatural man, thou knowest that it is false.



Ay, as the word of God; whom here I call

To witness that I speak the sober truth; —

And whose most favouring Providence was shown

Even in the manner of their deaths. For Rocco

Was kneeling at the mass, with sixteen others,


When the church fell and crushed him to a mummy,

The rest escaped unhurt. Cristofano

Was stabbed in error by a jealous man,

Whilst she he loved was sleeping with his rival;

All in the self-same hour of the same night;


Which shows that Heaven has special care of me.

I beg those friends who love me, that they mark

The day a feast upon their calendars.

It was the twenty-seventh of December:

Ay, read the letters if you doubt my oath.



Oh, horrible! I will depart —


And I. —



No, stay!

I do believe it is some jest; though faith!

’Tis mocking us somewhat too solemnly.

I think his son has married the Infanta,

Or found a mine of gold in El Dorado.


’Tis but to season some such news; stay, stay!

I see ’tis only raillery by his smile.


Oh, thou bright wine whose purple splendour leaps

And bubbles gaily in this golden bowl

Under the lamplight, as my spirits do,


To hear the death of my accursed sons!

Could I believe thou wert their mingled blood,

Then would I taste thee like a sacrament,

And pledge with thee the mighty Devil in Hell,

Who, if a father’s curses, as men say,


Climb with swift wings after their children’s souls,

And drag them from the very throne of Heaven,

Now triumphs in my triumph! — But thou art

Superfluous; I have drunken deep of joy,

And I will taste no other wine to-night.

Here, Andrea! Bear the bowl around.



Thou wretch!

Will none among this noble company

Check the abandoned villain?


For God’s sake,

Let me dismiss the guests! You are insane,

Some ill will come of this.


Seize, silence him!


I will!


And I!


Who moves? Who speaks?



’tis nothing,

Enjoy yourselves. — Beware! For my revenge

Is as the sealed commission of a king

That kills, and none dare name the murderer.



I do entreat you, go not, noble guests;


What, although tyranny and impious hate

Stand sheltered by a father’s hoary hair?

What if ’tis he who clothed us in these limbs

Who tortures them, and triumphs? What, if we,

The desolate and the dead, were his own flesh,


His children and his wife, whom he is bound

To love and shelter? Shall we therefore find

No refuge in this merciless wide world?

O think what deep wrongs must have blotted out

First love, then reverence in a child’s prone mind,


Till it thus vanquish shame and fear! O think!

I have borne much, and kissed the sacred hand

Which crushed us to the earth, and thought its stroke

Was perhaps some paternal chastisement!

Have excused much, doubted; and when no doubt


Remained, have sought by patience, love, and tears

To soften him, and when this could not be

I have knelt down through the long sleepless nights

And lifted up to God, the Father of all,

Passionate prayers: and when these were not heard


I have still borne — until I meet you here,

Princes and kinsmen, at this hideous feast

Given at my brothers’ deaths. Two yet remain,

His wife remains and I, whom if ye save not,

Ye may soon share such merriment again


As fathers make over their children’s graves.

O Prince Colonna, thou art our near kinsman,

Cardinal, thou art the Pope’s chamberlain,

Camillo, thou art chief justiciary,

Take us away!


I hope my good friends here


Will think of their own daughters — or perhaps

Of their own throats — before they lend an ear

To this wild girl.


Dare no one look on me?

None answer? Can one tyrant overbear

The sense of many best and wisest men?


Or is it that I sue not in some form

Of scrupulous law, that ye deny my suit?

O God! That I were buried with my brothers!

And that the flowers of this departed spring

Were fading on my grave! And that my father


Were celebrating now one feast for all!


A bitter wish for one so young and gentle.

Can we do nothing?


Nothing that I see.

Count Cenci were a dangerous enemy:

Yet I would second any one.


And I.



Retire to your chamber, insolent girl!


Retire thou, impious man! Ay, hide thyself

Where never eye can look upon thee more!

Wouldst thou have honour and obedience

Who art a torturer? Father, never dream,


Though thou mayst overbear this company,

But ill must come of ill. — Frown not on me!

Haste, hide thyself, lest with avenging looks

My brothers’ ghosts should hunt thee from thy seat!

Cover thy face from every living eye,


And start if thou but hear a human step:

Seek out some dark and silent corner, there,

Bow thy white head before offended God,

And we will kneel around, and fervently

Pray that he pity both ourselves and thee.



My friends, I do lament this insane girl

Has spoilt the mirth of our festivity.

Good night, farewell; I will not make you longer

Spectators of our dull domestic quarrels.

Another time. —


My brain is swimming round;

Give me a bowl of wine!



Thou painted viper!

Beast that thou art! Fair and yet terrible!

I know a charm shall make thee meek and tame,

Now get thee from my sight!


Here, Andrea,

Fill up this goblet with Greek wine. I said


I would not drink this evening; but I must;

For, strange to say, I feel my spirits fail

With thinking what I have decreed to do. —


Be thou the resolution of quick youth

Within my veins, and manhood’s purpose stern,


And age’s firm, cold, subtle villainy;

As if thou wert indeed my children’s blood

Which I did thirst to drink! The charm works well;

It must be done; it shall be done, I swear!


_132 no edition 1821; not edition 1819.

End of Act 1.

Act 2.



Weep not, my gentle boy; he struck but me

Who have borne deeper wrongs. In truth, if he

Had killed me, he had done a kinder deed.

O God Almighty, do Thou look upon us,


We have no other friend but only Thee!

Yet weep not; though I love you as my own,

I am not your true mother.


Oh, more, more,

Than ever mother was to any child,

That have you been to me! Had he not been


My father, do you think that I should weep!


Alas! Poor boy, what else couldst thou have done?



Did he pass this way? Have you seen him, brother?

Ah, no! that is his step upon the stairs;

’Tis nearer now; his hand is on the door;


Mother, if I to thee have ever been

A duteous child, now save me! Thou, great God,

Whose image upon earth a father is,

Dost thou indeed abandon me? He comes;

The door is opening now; I see his face;


He frowns on others, but he smiles on me,

Even as he did after the feast last night.


Almighty God, how merciful Thou art!

’Tis but Orsino’s servant. — Well, what news?


My master bids me say, the Holy Father


Has sent back your petition thus unopened.


And he demands at what hour ’twere secure

To visit you again?


At the Ave Mary.


So, daughter, our last hope has failed. Ah me!

How pale you look; you tremble, and you stand


Wrapped in some fixed and fearful meditation,

As if one thought were over strong for you:

Your eyes have a chill glare; O, dearest child!

Are you gone mad? If not, pray speak to me.


You see I am not mad: I speak to you.



You talked of something that your father did

After that dreadful feast? Could it be worse

Than when he smiled, and cried, ‘My sons are dead!’

And every one looked in his neighbour’s face

To see if others were as white as he?


At the first word he spoke I felt the blood

Rush to my heart, and fell into a trance;

And when it passed I sat all weak and wild;

Whilst you alone stood up, and with strong words

Checked his unnatural pride; and I could see


The devil was rebuked that lives in him.

Until this hour thus you have ever stood

Between us and your father’s moody wrath

Like a protecting presence; your firm mind

Has been our only refuge and defence:


What can have thus subdued it? What can now

Have given you that cold melancholy look,

Succeeding to your unaccustomed fear?


What is it that you say? I was just thinking

’Twere better not to struggle any more.


Men, like my father, have been dark and bloody,

Yet never — Oh! Before worse comes of it

’Twere wise to die: it ends in that at last.


Oh, talk not so, dear child! Tell me at once

What did your father do or say to you?


He stayed not after that accursed feast

One moment in your chamber. — Speak to me.


Oh, sister, sister, prithee, speak to us!


It was one word, Mother, one little word;

One look, one smile.


Oh! He has trampled me


Under his feet, and made the blood stream down

My pallid cheeks. And he has given us all

Ditch-water, and the fever-stricken flesh

Of buffaloes, and bade us eat or starve,

And we have eaten. — He has made me look


On my beloved Bernardo, when the rust

Of heavy chains has gangrened his sweet limbs,

And I have never yet despaired — but now!

What could I say?


Ah, no! ’tis nothing new.

The sufferings we all share have made me wild:


He only struck and cursed me as he passed;

He said, he looked, he did; — nothing at all

Beyond his wont, yet it disordered me.

Alas! I am forgetful of my duty,

I should preserve my senses for your sake.



Nay, Beatrice; have courage, my sweet girl.

If any one despairs it should be I

Who loved him once, and now must live with him

Till God in pity call for him or me.

For you may, like your sister, find some husband,


And smile, years hence, with children round your knees;

Whilst I, then dead, and all this hideous coil

Shall be remembered only as a dream.


Talk not to me, dear lady, of a husband.

Did you not nurse me when my mother died?


Did you not shield me and that dearest boy?

And had we any other friend but you

In infancy, with gentle words and looks,

To win our father not to murder us?

And shall I now desert you? May the ghost


Of my dead Mother plead against my soul

If I abandon her who filled the place

She left, with more, even, than a mother’s love!


And I am of my sister’s mind. Indeed

I would not leave you in this wretchedness,


Even though the Pope should make me free to live

In some blithe place, like others of my age,

With sports, and delicate food, and the fresh air.

Oh, never think that I will leave you, Mother!


My dear, dear children!



What! Beatrice here!

Come hither!



Nay, hide not your face, ’tis fair;

Look up! Why, yesternight you dared to look

With disobedient insolence upon me,

Bending a stern and an inquiring brow

On what I meant; whilst I then sought to hide


That which I came to tell you — but in vain.


Oh, that the earth would gape! Hide me, O God!


Then it was I whose inarticulate words

Fell from my lips, and who with tottering steps

Fled from your presence, as you now from mine.


Stay, I command you — from this day and hour

Never again, I think, with fearless eye,

And brow superior, and unaltered cheek,

And that lip made for tenderness or scorn,

Shalt thou strike dumb the meanest of mankind;


Me least of all. Now get thee to thy chamber!

Thou too, loathed image of thy cursed mother,


Thy milky, meek face makes me sick with hate!



So much has passed between us as must make

Me bold, her fearful. —’Tis an awful thing


To touch such mischief as I now conceive:

So men sit shivering on the dewy bank,

And try the chill stream with their feet; once in . . .

How the delighted spirit pants for joy!


O husband! Pray forgive poor Beatrice.

She meant not any ill.



Nor you perhaps?

Nor that young imp, whom you have taught by rote

Parricide with his alphabet? Nor Giacomo?

Nor those two most unnatural sons, who stirred

Enmity up against me with the Pope?


Whom in one night merciful God cut off:

Innocent lambs! They thought not any ill.

You were not here conspiring? You said nothing

Of how I might be dungeoned as a madman;

Or be condemned to death for some offence,


And you would be the witnesses? — This failing,

How just it were to hire assassins, or

Put sudden poison in my evening drink?

Or smother me when overcome by wine?

Seeing we had no other judge but God,


And He had sentenced me, and there were none

But you to be the executioners

Of His decree enregistered in heaven?

Oh, no! You said not this?


So help me God,

I never thought the things you charge me with!



If you dare to speak that wicked lie again

I’ll kill you. What! It was not by your counsel

That Beatrice disturbed the feast last night?

You did not hope to stir some enemies

Against me, and escape, and laugh to scorn


What every nerve of you now trembles at?

You judged that men were bolder than they are;

Few dare to stand between their grave and me.


Look not so dreadfully! By my salvation

I knew not aught that Beatrice designed;


Nor do I think she designed any thing

Until she heard you talk of her dead brothers.


Blaspheming liar! You are damned for this!

But I will take you where you may persuade

The stones you tread on to deliver you:


For men shall there be none but those who dare

All things — not question that which I command.

On Wednesday next I shall set out: you know

That savage rock, the Castle of Petrella:

’Tis safely walled, and moated round about:


Its dungeons underground, and its thick towers

Never told tales; though they have heard and seen

What might make dumb things speak. — Why do you linger?

Make speediest preparation for the journey!


The all-beholding sun yet shines; I hear


A busy stir of men about the streets;

I see the bright sky through the window panes:

It is a garish, broad, and peering day;

Loud, light, suspicious, full of eyes and ears,

And every little corner, nook, and hole


Is penetrated with the insolent light.

Come darkness! Yet, what is the day to me?

And wherefore should I wish for night, who do

A deed which shall confound both night and day?

’Tis she shall grope through a bewildering mist


Of horror: if there be a sun in heaven

She shall not dare to look upon its beams;

Nor feel its warmth. Let her then wish for night;

The act I think shall soon extinguish all

For me: I bear a darker deadlier gloom


Than the earth’s shade, or interlunar air,

Or constellations quenched in murkiest cloud,

In which I walk secure and unbeheld

Towards my purpose. — Would that it were done!




There is an obsolete and doubtful law

By which you might obtain a bare provision

Of food and clothing —


Nothing more? Alas!

Bare must be the provision which strict law


Awards, and aged, sullen avarice pays.

Why did my father not apprentice me

To some mechanic trade? I should have then

Been trained in no highborn necessities

Which I could meet not by my daily toil.


The eldest son of a rich nobleman

Is heir to all his incapacities;

He has wide wants, and narrow powers. If you,

Cardinal Camillo, were reduced at once

From thrice-driven beds of down, and delicate food,


An hundred servants, and six palaces,

To that which nature doth indeed require? —


Nay, there is reason in your plea; ’twere hard.


’Tis hard for a firm man to bear: but I

Have a dear wife, a lady of high birth,


Whose dowry in ill hour I lent my father

Without a bond or witness to the deed:

And children, who inherit her fine senses,

The fairest creatures in this breathing world;

And she and they reproach me not. Cardinal,


Do you not think the Pope would interpose

And stretch authority beyond the law?


Though your peculiar case is hard, I know

The Pope will not divert the course of law.

After that impious feast the other night


I spoke with him, and urged him then to check

Your father’s cruel hand; he frowned and said,

‘Children are disobedient, and they sting

Their fathers’ hearts to madness and despair,

Requiting years of care with contumely.


I pity the Count Cenci from my heart;

His outraged love perhaps awakened hate,

And thus he is exasperated to ill.

In the great war between the old and young

I, who have white hairs and a tottering body,


Will keep at least blameless neutrality.’


You, my good Lord Orsino, heard those words.


What words?


Alas, repeat them not again!

There then is no redress for me, at least

None but that which I may achieve myself,


Since I am driven to the brink. — But, say,

My innocent sister and my only brother

Are dying underneath my father’s eye.

The memorable torturers of this land,

Galeaz Visconti, Borgia, Ezzelin,


Never inflicted on their meanest slave

What these endure; shall they have no protection?


Why, if they would petition to the Pope

I see not how he could refuse it — yet

He holds it of most dangerous example


In aught to weaken the paternal power,

Being, as ’twere, the shadow of his own.

I pray you now excuse me. I have business

That will not bear delay.



But you, Orsino,

Have the petition: wherefore not present it?



I have presented it, and backed it with

My earnest prayers, and urgent interest;

It was returned unanswered. I doubt not

But that the strange and execrable deeds

Alleged in it — in truth they might well baffle


Any belief — have turned the Pope’s displeasure

Upon the accusers from the criminal:

So I should guess from what Camillo said.


My friend, that palace-walking devil Gold

Has whispered silence to his Holiness:


And we are left, as scorpions ringed with fire.

What should we do but strike ourselves to death?

For he who is our murderous persecutor

Is shielded by a father’s holy name,

Or I would —



What? Fear not to speak your thought.


Words are but holy as the deeds they cover:

A priest who has forsworn the God he serves;

A judge who makes Truth weep at his decree;

A friend who should weave counsel, as I now,

But as the mantle of some selfish guile;


A father who is all a tyrant seems,

Were the profaner for his sacred name.


Ask me not what I think; the unwilling brain

Feigns often what it would not; and we trust

Imagination with such fantasies


As the tongue dares not fashion into words,

Which have no words, their horror makes them dim

To the mind’s eye. — My heart denies itself

To think what you demand.


But a friend’s bosom

Is as the inmost cave of our own mind


Where we sit shut from the wide gaze of day,

And from the all-communicating air.

You look what I suspected —


Spare me now!

I am as one lost in a midnight wood,

Who dares not ask some harmless passenger


The path across the wilderness, lest he,

As my thoughts are, should be — a murderer.

I know you are my friend, and all I dare

Speak to my soul that will I trust with thee.

But now my heart is heavy, and would take


Lone counsel from a night of sleepless care.

Pardon me, that I say farewell — farewell!

I would that to my own suspected self

I could address a word so full of peace.


Farewell! — Be your thoughts better or more bold.



I had disposed the Cardinal Camillo

To feed his hope with cold encouragement:

It fortunately serves my close designs

That ’tis a trick of this same family

To analyse their own and other minds.


Such self-anatomy shall teach the will

Dangerous secrets: for it tempts our powers,

Knowing what must be thought, and may be done.

Into the depth of darkest purposes:

So Cenci fell into the pit; even I,


Since Beatrice unveiled me to myself,

And made me shrink from what I cannot shun,

Show a poor figure to my own esteem,

To which I grow half reconciled. I’ll do

As little mischief as I can; that thought

Shall fee the accuser conscience.



Now what harm

If Cenci should be murdered? — Yet, if murdered,

Wherefore by me? And what if I could take

The profit, yet omit the sin and peril

In such an action? Of all earthly things


I fear a man whose blows outspeed his words

And such is Cenci: and while Cenci lives

His daughter’s dowry were a secret grave

If a priest wins her. — Oh, fair Beatrice!

Would that I loved thee not, or loving thee,


Could but despise danger and gold and all

That frowns between my wish and its effect.

Or smiles beyond it! There is no escape . . .

Her bright form kneels beside me at the altar,

And follows me to the resort of men,


And fills my slumber with tumultuous dreams,

So when I wake my blood seems liquid fire;

And if I strike my damp and dizzy head

My hot palm scorches it: her very name,

But spoken by a stranger, makes my heart


Sicken and pant; and thus unprofitably

I clasp the phantom of unfelt delights

Till weak imagination half possesses

The self-created shadow. Yet much longer

Will I not nurse this life of feverous hours:


From the unravelled hopes of Giacomo

I must work out my own dear purposes.

I see, as from a tower, the end of all:

Her father dead; her brother bound to me

By a dark secret, surer than the grave;


Her mother scared and unexpostulating

From the dread manner of her wish achieved;

And she! — Once more take courage, my faint heart;

What dares a friendless maiden matched with thee?

I have such foresight as assures success:


Some unbeheld divinity doth ever,

When dread events are near, stir up men’s minds

To black suggestions; and he prospers best,

Not who becomes the instrument of ill,

But who can flatter the dark spirit, that makes


Its empire and its prey of other hearts

Till it become his slave . . . as I will do.


_77 makes Truth edition 1821; makes the truth editions 1819, 1839.

End of Act 2.

Act 3.



Reach me that handkerchief! — My brain is hurt;

My eyes are full of blood; just wipe them for me . . .

I see but indistinctly . . .


My sweet child,

You have no wound; ’tis only a cold dew


That starts from your dear brow. — Alas! Alas!

What has befallen?


How comes this hair undone?

Its wandering strings must be what blind me so,

And yet I tied it fast. — Oh, horrible!

The pavement sinks under my feet! The walls


Spin round! I see a woman weeping there,

And standing calm and motionless, whilst I

Slide giddily as the world reels . . . My God!

The beautiful blue heaven is flecked with blood!

The sunshine on the floor is black! The air


Is changed to vapours such as the dead breathe

In charnel pits! Pah! I am choked! There creeps

A clinging, black, contaminating mist

About me . . . ’tis substantial, heavy, thick,

I cannot pluck it from me, for it glues


My fingers and my limbs to one another,

And eats into my sinews, and dissolves

My flesh to a pollution, poisoning

The subtle, pure, and inmost spirit of life!

My God! I never knew what the mad felt


Before; for I am mad beyond all doubt!


No, I am dead! These putrefying limbs

Shut round and sepulchre the panting soul

Which would burst forth into the wandering air!


What hideous thought was that I had even now?


’Tis gone; and yet its burthen remains here

O’er these dull eyes . . . upon this weary heart!

O, world! O, life! O, day! O, misery!


What ails thee, my poor child? She answers not:

Her spirit apprehends the sense of pain,


But not its cause; suffering has dried away

The source from which it sprung . . .


Like Parricide . . .

Misery has killed its father: yet its father

Never like mine . . . O, God! What thing am I?


My dearest child, what has your father done?



Who art thou, questioner? I have no father.


She is the madhouse nurse who tends on me,

It is a piteous office.


Do you know

I thought I was that wretched Beatrice

Men speak of, whom her father sometimes hales


From hall to hall by the entangled hair;

At others, pens up naked in damp cells

Where scaly reptiles crawl, and starves her there,

Till she will eat strange flesh. This woful story

So did I overact in my sick dreams,


That I imagined . . . no, it cannot be!

Horrible things have been in this wide world,

Prodigious mixtures, and confusions strange

Of good and ill; and worse have been conceived

Than ever there was found a heart to do.


But never fancy imaged such a deed

As . . .


Who art thou? Swear to me, ere I die

With fearful expectation, that indeed

Thou art not what thou seemest . . . Mother!



My sweet child, know you . . .


Yet speak it not:


For then if this be truth, that other too

Must be a truth, a firm enduring truth,

Linked with each lasting circumstance of life,

Never to change, never to pass away.

Why so it is. This is the Cenci Palace;


Thou art Lucretia; I am Beatrice.

I have talked some wild words, but will no more.

Mother, come near me: from this point of time,

I am . . .



Alas! What has befallen thee, child?

What has thy father done?


What have I done?


Am I not innocent? Is it my crime

That one with white hair, and imperious brow,

Who tortured me from my forgotten years,

As parents only dare, should call himself

My father, yet should be! — Oh, what am I?


What name, what place, what memory shall be mine?

What retrospects, outliving even despair?


He is a violent tyrant, surely, child:

We know that death alone can make us free;

His death or ours. But what can he have done


Of deadlier outrage or worse injury?

Thou art unlike thyself; thine eyes shoot forth

A wandering and strange spirit. Speak to me,

Unlock those pallid hands whose fingers twine

With one another.


’Tis the restless life


Tortured within them. If I try to speak,

I shall go mad. Ay, something must be done;

What, yet I know not . . . something which shall make

The thing that I have suffered but a shadow

In the dread lightning which avenges it;


Brief, rapid, irreversible, destroying

The consequence of what it cannot cure.

Some such thing is to be endured or done:

When I know what, I shall be still and calm,

And never anything will move me more.


But now! — O blood, which art my father’s blood,

Circling through these contaminated veins,

If thou, poured forth on the polluted earth,

Could wash away the crime, and punishment

By which I suffer . . . no, that cannot be!


Many might doubt there were a God above

Who sees and permits evil, and so die:

That faith no agony shall obscure in me.


It must indeed have been some bitter wrong;

Yet what, I dare not guess. Oh, my lost child,


Hide not in proud impenetrable grief

Thy sufferings from my fear.


I hide them not.

What are the words which yon would have me speak?

I, who can feign no image in my mind

Of that which has transformed me: I, whose thought


Is like a ghost shrouded and folded up

In its own formless horror: of all words,

That minister to mortal intercourse,

Which wouldst thou hear? For there is none to tell

My misery: if another ever knew


Aught like to it, she died as I will die,

And left it, as I must, without a name.

Death, Death! Our law and our religion call thee

A punishment and a reward . . . Oh, which

Have I deserved?


The peace of innocence;


Till in your season you be called to heaven.

Whate’er you may have suffered, you have done

No evil. Death must be the punishment

Of crime, or the reward of trampling down

The thorns which God has strewed upon the path

Which leads to immortality.



Ay, death . . .

The punishment of crime. I pray thee, God,

Let me not be bewildered while I judge.

If I must live day after day, and keep

These limbs, the unworthy temple of Thy spirit,


As a foul den from which what Thou abhorrest

May mock Thee, unavenged . . . it shall not be!

Self-murder . . . no, that might be no escape,

For Thy decree yawns like a Hell between

Our will and it:— O! In this mortal world


There is no vindication and no law

Which can adjudge and execute the doom

Of that through which I suffer.



Welcome, Friend!

I have to tell you that, since last we met,

I have endured a wrong so great and strange,


That neither life nor death can give me rest.

Ask me not what it is, for there are deeds

Which have no form, sufferings which have no tongue.


And what is he who has thus injured you?


The man they call my father: a dread name.


It cannot be . . .



What it can be, or not,

Forbear to think. It is, and it has been;

Advise me how it shall not be again.

I thought to die; but a religious awe

Restrains me, and the dread lest death itself


Might be no refuge from the consciousness

Of what is yet unexpiated. Oh, speak!


Accuse him of the deed, and let the law

Avenge thee.


Oh, ice-hearted counsellor!

If I could find a word that might make known


The crime of my destroyer; and that done,

My tongue should like a knife tear out the secret

Which cankers my heart’s core; ay, lay all bare,

So that my unpolluted fame should be

With vilest gossips a stale mouthed story;


A mock, a byword, an astonishment:—

If this were done, which never shall be done,

Think of the offender’s gold, his dreaded hate,

And the strange horror of the accuser’s tale,

Baffling belief, and overpowering speech;


Scarce whispered, unimaginable, wrapped

In hideous hints . . . Oh, most assured redress!


You will endure it then?


Endure! — Orsino,

It seems your counsel is small profit.



All must be suddenly resolved and done.


What is this undistinguishable mist

Of thoughts, which rise, like shadow after shadow,

Darkening each other?


Should the offender live?

Triumph in his misdeed? and make, by use,

His crime, whate’er it is, dreadful no doubt,


Thine element; until thou mayest become

Utterly lost; subdued even to the hue

Of that which thou permittest?


Mighty death!

Thou double-visaged shadow! Only judge!

Rightfullest arbiter!



If the lightning


Of God has e’er descended to avenge . . .


Blaspheme not! His high Providence commits

Its glory on this earth, and their own wrongs

Into the hands of men; if they neglect

To punish crime . . .


But if one, like this wretch,


Should mock, with gold, opinion, law, and power?

If there be no appeal to that which makes

The guiltiest tremble? If because our wrongs,

For that they are unnatural, strange and monstrous,

Exceed all measure of belief? O God!


If, for the very reasons which should make

Redress most swift and sure, our injurer triumphs?

And we, the victims, bear worse punishment

Than that appointed for their torturer?


Think not

But that there is redress where there is wrong,

So we be bold enough to seize it.




If there were any way to make all sure,

I know not . . . but I think it might be good

To . . .


Why, his late outrage to Beatrice;

For it is such, as I but faintly guess,


As makes remorse dishonour, and leaves her

Only one duty, how she may avenge:

You, but one refuge from ills ill endured;

Me, but one counsel . . .


For we cannot hope

That aid, or retribution, or resource


Will arise thence, where every other one

Might find them with less need.



Then . . .


Peace, Orsino!

And, honoured Lady, while I speak, I pray,

That you put off, as garments overworn,

Forbearance and respect, remorse and fear,


And all the fit restraints of daily life,

Which have been borne from childhood, but which now

Would be a mockery to my holier plea.

As I have said, I have endured a wrong,

Which, though it be expressionless, is such


As asks atonement; both for what is past,

And lest I be reserved, day after day,

To load with crimes an overburthened soul,

And be . . . what ye can dream not. I have prayed

To God, and I have talked with my own heart,


And have unravelled my entangled will,

And have at length determined what is right.

Art thou my friend, Orsino? False or true?

Pledge thy salvation ere I speak.


I swear

To dedicate my cunning, and my strength,


My silence, and whatever else is mine,

To thy commands.


You think we should devise

His death?


And execute what is devised,

And suddenly. We must be brief and bold.


And yet most cautious.


For the jealous laws


Would punish us with death and infamy

For that which it became themselves to do.


Be cautious as ye may, but prompt. Orsino,

What are the means?


I know two dull, fierce outlaws,

Who think man’s spirit as a worm’s, and they


Would trample out, for any slight caprice,

The meanest or the noblest life. This mood

Is marketable here in Rome. They sell

What we now want.


To-morrow before dawn,

Cenci will take us to that lonely rock,


Petrella, in the Apulian Apennines.

If he arrive there . . .


He must not arrive.


Will it be dark before you reach the tower?


The sun will scarce be set.


But I remember

Two miles on this side of the fort, the road


Crosses a deep ravine; ’tis rough and narrow,

And winds with short turns down the precipice;

And in its depth there is a mighty rock,

Which has, from unimaginable years,

Sustained itself with terror and with toil


Over a gulf, and with the agony

With which it clings seems slowly coming down;

Even as a wretched soul hour after hour,

Clings to the mass of life; yet, clinging, leans;

And leaning, makes more dark the dread abyss


In which it fears to fall: beneath this crag

Huge as despair, as if in weariness,

The melancholy mountain yawns . . . below,

You hear but see not an impetuous torrent

Raging among the caverns, and a bridge


Crosses the chasm; and high above there grow,

With intersecting trunks, from crag to crag,

Cedars, and yews, and pines; whose tangled hair

Is matted in one solid roof of shade

By the dark ivy’s twine. At noonday here


’Tis twilight, and at sunset blackest night.


Before you reach that bridge make some excuse

For spurring on your mules, or loitering

Until . . .


What sound is that?


Hark! No, it cannot be a servant’s step


It must be Cenci, unexpectedly

Returned . . . Make some excuse for being here.


That step we hear approach must never pass

The bridge of which we spoke.



What shall I do?

Cenci must find me here, and I must bear


The imperious inquisition of his looks

As to what brought me hither: let me mask

Mine own in some inane and vacant smile.


How! Have you ventured hither? Know you then

That Cenci is from home?


I sought him here;

And now must wait till he returns.



Great God!

Weigh you the danger of this rashness?



Does my destroyer know his danger? We

Are now no more, as once, parent and child,

But man to man; the oppressor to the oppressed;


The slanderer to the slandered; foe to foe:

He has cast Nature off, which was his shield,

And Nature casts him off, who is her shame;

And I spurn both. Is it a father’s throat

Which I will shake, and say, I ask not gold;


I ask not happy years; nor memories

Of tranquil childhood; nor home-sheltered love;

Though all these hast thou torn from me, and more;

But only my fair fame; only one hoard

Of peace, which I thought hidden from thy hate,


Under the penury heaped on me by thee,

Or I will . . . God can understand and pardon,

Why should I speak with man?


Be calm, dear friend.


Well, I will calmly tell you what he did.

This old Francesco Cenci, as you know,


Borrowed the dowry of my wife from me,

And then denied the loan; and left me so

In poverty, the which I sought to mend

By holding a poor office in the state.

It had been promised to me, and already


I bought new clothing for my ragged babes,

And my wife smiled; and my heart knew repose.

When Cenci’s intercession, as I found,

Conferred this office on a wretch, whom thus

He paid for vilest service. I returned


With this ill news, and we sate sad together

Solacing our despondency with tears

Of such affection and unbroken faith

As temper life’s worst bitterness; when he,

As he is wont, came to upbraid and curse,


Mocking our poverty, and telling us

Such was God’s scourge for disobedient sons.

And then, that I might strike him dumb with shame,

I spoke of my wife’s dowry; but he coined

A brief yet specious tale, how I had wasted


The sum in secret riot; and he saw

My wife was touched, and he went smiling forth.

And when I knew the impression he had made,

And felt my wife insult with silent scorn

My ardent truth, and look averse and cold,


I went forth too: but soon returned again;

Yet not so soon but that my wife had taught

My children her harsh thoughts, and they all cried,

‘Give us clothes, father! Give us better food!

What you in one night squander were enough


For months!’ I looked, and saw that home was hell.

And to that hell will I return no more

Until mine enemy has rendered up

Atonement, or, as he gave life to me

I will, reversing Nature’s law . . .


Trust me,


The compensation which thou seekest here

Will be denied.


Then . . . Are you not my friend?

Did you not hint at the alternative,

Upon the brink of which you see I stand,

The other day when we conversed together?


My wrongs were then less. That word parricide,

Although I am resolved, haunts me like fear.


It must be fear itself, for the bare word

Is hollow mockery. Mark, how wisest God

Draws to one point the threads of a just doom,


So sanctifying it: what you devise

Is, as it were, accomplished.


Is he dead?


His grave is ready. Know that since we met

Cenci has done an outrage to his daughter.


What outrage?


That she speaks not, but you may


Conceive such half conjectures as I do,

From her fixed paleness, and the lofty grief

Of her stern brow bent on the idle air,

And her severe unmodulated voice,

Drowning both tenderness and dread; and last


From this; that whilst her step-mother and I,

Bewildered in our horror, talked together

With obscure hints; both self-misunderstood

And darkly guessing, stumbling, in our talk,

Over the truth, and yet to its revenge,


She interrupted us, and with a look

Which told, before she spoke it, he must die: . . .


It is enough. My doubts are well appeased;

There is a higher reason for the act

Than mine; there is a holier judge than me,


A more unblamed avenger. Beatrice,

Who in the gentleness of thy sweet youth

Hast never trodden on a worm, or bruised

A living flower, but thou hast pitied it

With needless tears! Fair sister, thou in whom


Men wondered how such loveliness and wisdom

Did not destroy each other! Is there made

Ravage of thee? O, heart, I ask no more

Justification! Shall I wait, Orsino,

Till he return, and stab him at the door?



Not so; some accident might interpose

To rescue him from what is now most sure;

And you are unprovided where to fly,

How to excuse or to conceal. Nay, listen:

All is contrived; success is so assured

That . . .



’Tis my brother’s voice! You know me not?



My sister, my lost sister!


Lost indeed!

I see Orsino has talked with you, and

That you conjecture things too horrible

To speak, yet far less than the truth. Now, stay not,


He might return: yet kiss me; I shall know

That then thou hast consented to his death.

Farewell, farewell! Let piety to God,

Brotherly love, justice and clemency,

And all things that make tender hardest hearts


Make thine hard, brother. Answer not . . . farewell.


_140 nor edition 1821; or editions 1819, 1839 (1st).

_278 hither edition 1821; thither edition 1819.



’Tis midnight, and Orsino comes not yet.


What! can the everlasting elements

Feel with a worm like man? If so, the shaft

Of mercy-winged lightning would not fall


On stones and trees. My wife and children sleep:

They are now living in unmeaning dreams:

But I must wake, still doubting if that deed

Be just which is most necessary. O,

Thou unreplenished lamp! whose narrow fire


Is shaken by the wind, and on whose edge

Devouring darkness hovers! Thou small flame,

Which, as a dying pulse rises and falls,

Still flickerest up and down, how very soon,

Did I not feed thee, wouldst thou fail and be


As thou hadst never been! So wastes and sinks

Even now, perhaps, the life that kindled mine:

But that no power can fill with vital oil

That broken lamp of flesh. Ha! ’tis the blood

Which fed these veins that ebbs till all is cold:


It is the form that moulded mine that sinks

Into the white and yellow spasms of death:

It is the soul by which mine was arrayed

In God’s immortal likeness which now stands

Naked before Heaven’s judgement seat!


One! Two!


The hours crawl on; and, when my hairs are white,

My son will then perhaps be waiting thus,

Tortured between just hate and vain remorse;

Chiding the tardy messenger of news

Like those which I expect. I almost wish


He be not dead, although my wrongs are great;

Yet . . . ’tis Orsino’s step . . .




I am come

To say he has escaped.




And safe

Within Petrella. He passed by the spot

Appointed for the deed an hour too soon.



Are we the fools of such contingencies?

And do we waste in blind misgivings thus

The hours when we should act? Then wind and thunder,

Which seemed to howl his knell, is the loud laughter

With which Heaven mocks our weakness! I henceforth


Will ne’er repent of aught designed or done

But my repentance.


See, the lamp is out.


If no remorse is ours when the dim air

Has drank this innocent flame, why should we quail

When Cenci’s life, that light by which ill spirits


See the worst deeds they prompt, shall sink for ever?

No, I am hardened.


Why, what need of this?

Who feared the pale intrusion of remorse

In a just deed? Although our first plan failed,

Doubt not but he will soon be laid to rest.


But light the lamp; let us not talk i’ the dark.


And yet once quenched I cannot thus relume

My father’s life: do you not think his ghost

Might plead that argument with God?


Once gone

You cannot now recall your sister’s peace;


Your own extinguished years of youth and hope;

Nor your wife’s bitter words; nor all the taunts

Which, from the prosperous, weak misfortune takes;

Nor your dead mother; nor . . .


O, speak no more!

I am resolved, although this very hand


Must quench the life that animated it.


There is no need of that. Listen: you know

Olimpio, the castellan of Petrella

In old Colonna’s time; him whom your father

Degraded from his post? And Marzio,


That desperate wretch, whom he deprived last year

Of a reward of blood, well earned and due?


I knew Olimpio; and they say he hated

Old Cenci so, that in his silent rage

His lips grew white only to see him pass.

Of Marzio I know nothing.



Marzio’s hate

Matches Olimpio’s. I have sent these men,

But in your name, and as at your request,

To talk with Beatrice and Lucretia.


Only to talk?


The moments which even now


Pass onward to to-morrow’s midnight hour

May memorize their flight with death: ere then

They must have talked, and may perhaps have done,

And made an end . . .


Listen! What sound is that?


The house-dog moans, and the beams crack: nought else.



It is my wife complaining in her sleep:

I doubt not she is saying bitter things

Of me; and all my children round her dreaming

That I deny them sustenance.


Whilst he

Who truly took it from them, and who fills


Their hungry rest with bitterness, now sleeps

Lapped in bad pleasures, and triumphantly

Mocks thee in visions of successful hate

Too like the truth of day.


If e’er he wakes

Again, I will not trust to hireling hands . . .



Why, that were well. I must be gone; good-night.

When next we meet — may all be done!


And all

Forgotten: Oh, that I had never been!


_91 may all be done! / Giacomo: And all edition 1821; Giacomo: May all be done, and all edition 1819.

End of Act 3.

Act 4.



She comes not; yet I left her even now

Vanquished and faint. She knows the penalty

Of her delay: yet what if threats are vain?

Am I not now within Petrella’s moat?


Or fear I still the eyes and ears of Rome?

Might I not drag her by the golden hair?

Stamp on her? keep her sleepless till her brain

Be overworn? Tame her with chains and famine?

Less would suffice. Yet so to leave undone


What I most seek! No, ’tis her stubborn will

Which by its own consent shall stoop as low

As that which drags it down.


Thou loathed wretch!

Hide thee from my abhorrence: fly, begone!

Yet stay! Bid Beatrice come hither.




Husband! I pray, for thine own wretched sake

Heed what thou dost. A man who walks like thee

Through crimes, and through the danger of his crimes,

Each hour may stumble o’er a sudden grave.

And thou art old; thy hairs are hoary gray;


As thou wouldst save thyself from death and hell,

Pity thy daughter; give her to some friend

In marriage: so that she may tempt thee not

To hatred, or worse thoughts, if worse there be.


What! like her sister who has found a home


To mock my hate from with prosperity?

Strange ruin shall destroy both her and thee

And all that yet remain. My death may be

Rapid, her destiny outspeeds it. Go,

Bid her come hither, and before my mood


Be changed, lest I should drag her by the hair.


She sent me to thee, husband. At thy presence

She fell, as thou dost know, into a trance;

And in that trance she heard a voice which said,

‘Cenci must die! Let him confess himself!


Even now the accusing Angel waits to hear

If God, to punish his enormous crimes,

Harden his dying heart!’


Why — such things are . . .

No doubt divine revealings may be made.

’Tis plain I have been favoured from above,


For when I cursed my sons they died. — Ay . . . so . . .

As to the right or wrong, that’s talk . . . repentance . . .

Repentance is an easy moment’s work

And more depends on God than me. Well . . . well . . .

I must give up the greater point, which was

To poison and corrupt her soul.




One, two;

Ay . . . Rocco and Cristofano my curse

Strangled: and Giacomo, I think, will find

Life a worse Hell than that beyond the grave:

Beatrice shall, if there be skill in hate,


Die in despair, blaspheming: to Bernardo,

He is so innocent, I will bequeath

The memory of these deeds, and make his youth

The sepulchre of hope, where evil thoughts

Shall grow like weeds on a neglected tomb.


When all is done, out in the wide Campagna,

I will pile up my silver and my gold;

My costly robes, paintings, and tapestries;

My parchments and all records of my wealth,

And make a bonfire in my joy, and leave


Of my possessions nothing but my name;

Which shall be an inheritance to strip

Its wearer bare as infamy. That done,

My soul, which is a scourge, will I resign

Into the hands of him who wielded it;


Be it for its own punishment or theirs,

He will not ask it of me till the lash

Be broken in its last and deepest wound;

Until its hate be all inflicted. Yet,

Lest death outspeed my purpose, let me make

Short work and sure . . .




Oh, stay! It was a feint:

She had no vision, and she heard no voice.

I said it but to awe thee.


That is well.

Vile palterer with the sacred truth of God,

Be thy soul choked with that blaspheming lie!


For Beatrice worse terrors are in store

To bend her to my will.


Oh! to what will?

What cruel sufferings more than she has known

Canst thou inflict?


Andrea! Go call my daughter,

And if she comes not tell her that I come.


What sufferings? I will drag her, step by step,

Through infamies unheard of among men:

She shall stand shelterless in the broad noon

Of public scorn, for acts blazoned abroad,

One among which shall be . . . What? Canst thou guess?


She shall become (for what she most abhors

Shall have a fascination to entrap

Her loathing will) to her own conscious self

All she appears to others; and when dead,

As she shall die unshrived and unforgiven,


A rebel to her father and her God,

Her corpse shall be abandoned to the hounds;

Her name shall be the terror of the earth;

Her spirit shall approach the throne of God

Plague-spotted with my curses. I will make


Body and soul a monstrous lump of ruin.



The Lady Beatrice . . .


Speak, pale slave! What

Said she?


My Lord, ’twas what she looked; she said:

‘Go tell my father that I see the gulf

Of Hell between us two, which he may pass,

I will not.’




Go thou quick, Lucretia,

Tell her to come; yet let her understand

Her coming is consent: and say, moreover,

That if she come not I will curse her.



With what but with a father’s curse doth God


Panic-strike armed victory, and make pale

Cities in their prosperity? The world’s Father

Must grant a parent’s prayer against his child,

Be he who asks even what men call me.

Will not the deaths of her rebellious brothers


Awe her before I speak? For I on them

Did imprecate quick ruin, and it came.


Well; what? Speak, wretch!


She said, ‘I cannot come;

Go tell my father that I see a torrent

Of his own blood raging between us.’




Hear me! If this most specious mass of flesh,

Which Thou hast made my daughter; this my blood,

This particle of my divided being;

Or rather, this my bane and my disease,

Whose sight infects and poisons me; this devil


Which sprung from me as from a hell, was meant

To aught good use; if her bright loveliness

Was kindled to illumine this dark world;

If nursed by Thy selectest dew of love

Such virtues blossom in her as should make


The peace of life, I pray Thee for my sake,

As Thou the common God and Father art

Of her, and me, and all; reverse that doom!

Earth, in the name of God, let her food be

Poison, until she be encrusted round


With leprous stains! Heaven, rain upon her head

The blistering drops of the Maremma’s dew,

Till she be speckled like a toad; parch up

Those love-enkindled lips, warp those fine limbs

To loathed lameness! All-beholding sun,


Strike in thine envy those life-darting eyes

With thine own blinding beams!


Peace! Peace!

For thine own sake unsay those dreadful words.

When high God grants He punishes such prayers.


He does his will, I mine! This in addition,

That if she have a child . . .



Horrible thought!


That if she ever have a child; and thou,

Quick Nature! I adjure thee by thy God,

That thou be fruitful in her, and increase

And multiply, fulfilling his command,


And my deep imprecation! May it be

A hideous likeness of herself, that as

From a distorting mirror, she may see

Her image mixed with what she most abhors,

Smiling upon her from her nursing breast.


And that the child may from its infancy

Grow, day by day, more wicked and deformed,

Turning her mother’s love to misery:

And that both she and it may live until

It shall repay her care and pain with hate,


Or what may else be more unnatural.

So he may hunt her through the clamorous scoffs

Of the loud world to a dishonoured grave.

Shall I revoke this curse? Go, bid her come,

Before my words are chronicled in Heaven.



I do not feel as if I were a man,

But like a fiend appointed to chastise

The offences of some unremembered world.

My blood is running up and down my veins;

A fearful pleasure makes it prick and tingle:


I feel a giddy sickness of strange awe;

My heart is beating with an expectation

Of horrid joy.


What? Speak!


She bids thee curse;

And if thy curses, as they cannot do,

Could kill her soul . . .


She would not come. ’Tis well,


I can do both; first take what I demand,

And then extort concession. To thy chamber!

Fly ere I spurn thee; and beware this night

That thou cross not my footsteps. It were safer

To come between the tiger and his prey.



It must be late; mine eyes grow weary dim

With unaccustomed heaviness of sleep.

Conscience! Oh, thou most insolent of lies!

They say that sleep, that healing dew of Heaven,

Steeps not in balm the foldings of the brain


Which thinks thee an impostor. I will go

First to belie thee with an hour of rest,

Which will be deep and calm, I feel: and then . . .

O, multitudinous Hell, the fiends will shake

Thine arches with the laughter of their joy!


There shall be lamentation heard in Heaven

As o’er an angel fallen; and upon Earth

All good shall droop and sicken, and ill things

Shall with a spirit of unnatural life,

Stir and be quickened . . . even as I am now.


_4 not now edition 1821; now not edition 1819.



They come not yet.


’Tis scarce midnight.


How slow

Behind the course of thought, even sick with speed,

Lags leaden-footed time!


The minutes pass . . .

If he should wake before the deed is done?



O, mother! He must never wake again.

What thou hast said persuades me that our act

Will but dislodge a spirit of deep hell

Out of a human form.


’Tis true he spoke

Of death and judgement with strange confidence


For one so wicked; as a man believing

In God, yet recking not of good or ill.

And yet to die without confession! . . .



Believe that Heaven is merciful and just,

And will not add our dread necessity

To the amount of his offences.





They come.


All mortal things must hasten thus

To their dark end. Let us go down.



How feel you to this work?


As one who thinks

A thousand crowns excellent market price


For an old murderer’s life. Your cheeks are pale.


It is the white reflection of your own,

Which you call pale.


Is that their natural hue?


Or ’tis my hate and the deferred desire

To wreak it, which extinguishes their blood.


You are inclined then to this business?




If one should bribe me with a thousand crowns

To kill a serpent which had stung my child,

I could not be more willing.


Noble ladies!


Are ye resolved?


Is he asleep?


Is all




I mixed an opiate with his drink:

He sleeps so soundly . . .


That his death will be

But as a change of sin-chastising dreams,

A dark continuance of the Hell within him,

Which God extinguish! But ye are resolved?


Ye know it is a high and holy deed?


We are resolved.


As to the how this act

Be warranted, it rests with you.


Well, follow!


Hush! Hark! What noise is that?


Ha! some one comes!


Ye conscience-stricken cravens, rock to rest


Your baby hearts. It is the iron gate,

Which ye left open, swinging to the wind,

That enters whistling as in scorn. Come, follow!

And be your steps like mine, light, quick and bold.




They are about it now.


Nay, it is done.


I have not heard him groan.


He will not groan.


What sound is that?


List! ’tis the tread of feet

About his bed.


My God!

If he be now a cold, stiff corpse . . .



O, fear not

What may be done, but what is left undone:

The act seals all.


Is it accomplished?




Did you not call?






I ask if all is over?


We dare not kill an old and sleeping man;


His thin gray hair, his stern and reverend brow,

His veined hands crossed on his heaving breast,

And the calm innocent sleep in which he lay,

Quelled me. Indeed, indeed, I cannot do it.


But I was bolder; for I chid Olimpio,


And bade him bear his wrongs to his own grave

And leave me the reward. And now my knife

Touched the loose wrinkled throat, when the old man

Stirred in his sleep, and said, ‘God! hear, O, hear,

A father’s curse! What, art Thou not our Father?’


And then he laughed. I knew it was the ghost

Of my dead father speaking through his lips,

And could not kill him.


Miserable slaves!

Where, if ye dare not kill a sleeping man,

Found ye the boldness to return to me


With such a deed undone? Base palterers!

Cowards and traitors! Why, the very conscience

Which ye would sell for gold and for revenge

Is an equivocation: it sleeps over

A thousand daily acts disgracing men;


And when a deed where mercy insults Heaven . . .

Why do I talk?


Hadst thou a tongue to say,

‘She murdered her own father!’— I must do it!

But never dream ye shall outlive him long!


Stop, for God’s sake!


I will go back and kill him.



Give me the weapon, we must do thy will.


Take it! Depart! Return!


How pale thou art!

We do but that which ’twere a deadly crime

To leave undone.


Would it were done!


Even whilst

That doubt is passing through your mind, the world


Is conscious of a change. Darkness and Hell

Have swallowed up the vapour they sent forth

To blacken the sweet light of life. My breath

Comes, methinks, lighter, and the jellied blood

Runs freely through my veins. Hark!


He is . . .





We strangled him that there might be no blood;

And then we threw his heavy corpse i’ the garden

Under the balcony; ’twill seem it fell.


Here, take this gold, and hasten to your homes.

And, Marzio, because thou wast only awed


By that which made me tremble, wear thou this!


It was the mantle which my grandfather

Wore in his high prosperity, and men

Envied his state: so may they envy thine.

Thou wert a weapon in the hand of God


To a just use. Live long and thrive! And, mark,

If thou hast crimes, repent: this deed is none.



Hark, ’tis the castle horn: my God! it sounds

Like the last trump.


Some tedious guest is coming.


The drawbridge is let down; there is a tramp


Of horses in the court; fly, hide yourselves!



Let us retire to counterfeit deep rest;

I scarcely need to counterfeit it now:

The spirit which doth reign within these limbs

Seems strangely undisturbed. I could even sleep


Fearless and calm: all ill is surely past.


_10 reverend]reverent all editions.



Lady, my duty to his Holiness

Be my excuse that thus unseasonably

I break upon your rest. I must speak with

Count Cenci; doth he sleep?


I think he sleeps;


Yet, wake him not, I pray, spare me awhile,

He is a wicked and a wrathful man;

Should he be roused out of his sleep to-night,

Which is, I know, a hell of angry dreams,

It were not well; indeed it were not well.

Wait till day break . . .



Oh, I am deadly sick!


I grieve thus to distress you, but the Count

Must answer charges of the gravest import,

And suddenly; such my commission is.


I dare not rouse him: I know none who dare . . .


’Twere perilous; . . . you might as safely waken

A serpent; or a corpse in which some fiend

Were laid to sleep.


Lady, my moments here

Are counted. I must rouse him from his sleep,

Since none else dare.


O, terror! O, despair!



Bernardo, conduct you the Lord Legate to

Your father’s chamber.




’Tis a messenger

Come to arrest the culprit who now stands

Before the throne of unappealable God.

Both Earth and Heaven, consenting arbiters,

Acquit our deed.



Oh, agony of fear!

Would that he yet might live! Even now I heard

The Legate’s followers whisper as they passed

They had a warrant for his instant death.

All was prepared by unforbidden means


Which we must pay so dearly, having done.

Even now they search the tower, and find the body;

Now they suspect the truth; now they consult

Before they come to tax us with the fact;

O, horrible, ’tis all discovered!




What is done wisely, is done well. Be bold

As thou art just. ’Tis like a truant child

To fear that others know what thou hast done,

Even from thine own strong consciousness, and thus

Write on unsteady eyes and altered cheeks


All thou wouldst hide. Be faithful to thyself,

And fear no other witness but thy fear.

For if, as cannot be, some circumstance

Should rise in accusation, we can blind

Suspicion with such cheap astonishment,


Or overbear it with such guiltless pride,

As murderers cannot feign. The deed is done,

And what may follow now regards not me.

I am as universal as the light;

Free as the earth-surrounding air; as firm


As the world’s centre. Consequence, to me,

Is as the wind which strikes the solid rock,

But shakes it not.



Murder! Murder! Murder!



Go search the castle round; sound the alarm;

Look to the gates, that none escape!


What now?



I know not what to say . . . my father’s dead.


How; dead! he only sleeps; you mistake, brother.

His sleep is very calm, very like death;

’Tis wonderful how well a tyrant sleeps.

He is not dead?


Dead; murdered.


Oh no, no!


He is not murdered though he may be dead;

I have alone the keys of those apartments.


Ha! Is it so?


My Lord, I pray excuse us;

We will retire; my mother is not well:

She seems quite overcome with this strange horror.




Can you suspect who may have murdered him?


I know not what to think.


Can you name any

Who had an interest in his death?



I can name none who had not, and those most

Who most lament that such a deed is done;


My mother, and my sister, and myself.


’Tis strange! There were clear marks of violence.

I found the old man’s body in the moonlight

Hanging beneath the window of his chamber,

Among the branches of a pine: he could not


Have fallen there, for all his limbs lay heaped

And effortless; ’tis true there was no blood . . .

Favour me, Sir; it much imports your house

That all should be made clear; to tell the ladies

That I request their presence.




We have one.



My Lord, we found this ruffian and another

Lurking among the rocks; there is no doubt

But that they are the murderers of Count Cenci:

Each had a bag of coin; this fellow wore

A gold-inwoven robe, which, shining bright


Under the dark rocks to the glimmering moon

Betrayed them to our notice: the other fell

Desperately fighting.


What does he confess?


He keeps firm silence; but these lines found on him

May speak.


Their language is at least sincere.



‘To the Lady Beatrice.

That the atonement of what my nature sickens to conjecture may soon

arrive, I send thee, at thy brother’s desire, those who will speak and

do more than I dare write . . .

‘Thy devoted servant, Orsino.’


Knowest thou this writing, Lady?





Nor thou?


Where was it found? What is it? It should be

Orsino’s hand! It speaks of that strange horror

Which never yet found utterance, but which made

Between that hapless child and her dead father

A gulf of obscure hatred.



Is it so?

Is it true, Lady, that thy father did

Such outrages as to awaken in thee

Unfilial hate?


Not hate, ’twas more than hate:

This is most true, yet wherefore question me?



There is a deed demanding question done;

Thou hast a secret which will answer not.


What sayest? My Lord, your words are bold and rash.


I do arrest all present in the name

Of the Pope’s Holiness. You must to Rome.



O, not to Rome! Indeed we are not guilty.


Guilty! Who dares talk of guilt? My Lord,

I am more innocent of parricide

Than is a child born fatherless . . . Dear mother,

Your gentleness and patience are no shield


For this keen-judging world, this two-edged lie,

Which seems, but is not. What! will human laws,

Rather will ye who are their ministers,

Bar all access to retribution first,

And then, when Heaven doth interpose to do


What ye neglect, arming familiar things

To the redress of an unwonted crime,

Make ye the victims who demanded it

Culprits? ’Tis ye are culprits! That poor wretch

Who stands so pale, and trembling, and amazed,


If it be true he murdered Cenci, was

A sword in the right hand of justest God.

Wherefore should I have wielded it? Unless

The crimes which mortal tongue dare never name

God therefore scruples to avenge.


You own

That you desired his death?



It would have been

A crime no less than his, if for one moment

That fierce desire had faded in my heart.

’Tis true I did believe, and hope, and pray,

Ay, I even knew . . . for God is wise and just,


That some strange sudden death hung over him.

’Tis true that this did happen, and most true

There was no other rest for me on earth,

No other hope in Heaven . . . now what of this?


Strange thoughts beget strange deeds; and here are both:

I judge thee not.



And yet, if you arrest me,

You are the judge and executioner

Of that which is the life of life: the breath

Of accusation kills an innocent name,

And leaves for lame acquittal the poor life


Which is a mask without it. ’Tis most false

That I am guilty of foul parricide;

Although I must rejoice, for justest cause,

That other hands have sent my father’s soul

To ask the mercy he denied to me.


Now leave us free; stain not a noble house

With vague surmises of rejected crime;

Add to our sufferings and your own neglect

No heavier sum: let them have been enough:

Leave us the wreck we have.


I dare not, Lady.


I pray that you prepare yourselves for Rome:

There the Pope’s further pleasure will be known.


O, not to Rome! O, take us not to Rome!


Why not to Rome, dear mother? There as here

Our innocence is as an armed heel


To trample accusation. God is there

As here, and with His shadow ever clothes

The innocent, the injured and the weak;

And such are we. Cheer up, dear Lady, lean

On me; collect your wandering thoughts. My Lord,


As soon as you have taken some refreshment,

And had all such examinations made

Upon the spot, as may be necessary

To the full understanding of this matter,

We shall be ready. Mother; will you come?



Ha! they will bind us to the rack, and wrest

Self-accusation from our agony!

Will Giacomo be there? Orsino? Marzio?

All present; all confronted; all demanding

Each from the other’s countenance the thing


Which is in every heart! O, misery!



She faints: an ill appearance this.


My Lord,

She knows not yet the uses of the world.

She fears that power is as a beast which grasps

And loosens not: a snake whose look transmutes


All things to guilt which is its nutriment.

She cannot know how well the supine slaves

Of blind authority read the truth of things

When written on a brow of guilelessness:

She sees not yet triumphant Innocence


Stand at the judgement-seat of mortal man,

A judge and an accuser of the wrong

Which drags it there. Prepare yourself, my Lord;

Our suite will join yours in the court below.


_6 a wrathful edition 1821; wrathful editions 1819, 1839.

End of Act 4.

Act 5.



Do evil deeds thus quickly come to end?

O, that the vain remorse which must chastise

Crimes done, had but as loud a voice to warn

As its keen sting is mortal to avenge!


O, that the hour when present had cast off

The mantle of its mystery, and shown

The ghastly form with which it now returns

When its scared game is roused, cheering the hounds

Of conscience to their prey! Alas! Alas!


It was a wicked thought, a piteous deed,

To kill an old and hoary-headed father.


It has turned out unluckily, in truth.


To violate the sacred doors of sleep;

To cheat kind Nature of the placid death


Which she prepares for overwearied age;

To drag from Heaven an unrepentant soul

Which might have quenched in reconciling prayers

A life of burning crimes . . .


You cannot say

I urged you to the deed.


O, had I never


Found in thy smooth and ready countenance

The mirror of my darkest thoughts; hadst thou

Never with hints and questions made me look

Upon the monster of my thought, until

It grew familiar to desire . . .


’Tis thus


Men cast the blame of their unprosperous acts

Upon the abettors of their own resolve;

Or anything but their weak, guilty selves.

And yet, confess the truth, it is the peril

In which you stand that gives you this pale sickness


Of penitence; confess ’tis fear disguised

From its own shame that takes the mantle now

Of thin remorse. What if we yet were safe?


How can that be? Already Beatrice,

Lucretia and the murderer are in prison.


I doubt not officers are, whilst we speak,

Sent to arrest us.


I have all prepared

For instant flight. We can escape even now,

So we take fleet occasion by the hair.


Rather expire in tortures, as I may.


What! will you cast by self-accusing flight

Assured conviction upon Beatrice?

She, who alone in this unnatural work,

Stands like God’s angel ministered upon

By fiends; avenging such a nameless wrong


As turns black parricide to piety;

Whilst we for basest ends . . . I fear, Orsino,

While I consider all your words and looks,

Comparing them with your proposal now,

That you must be a villain. For what end


Could you engage in such a perilous crime,

Training me on with hints, and signs, and smiles,

Even to this gulf? Thou art no liar? No,

Thou art a lie! Traitor and murderer!

Coward and slave! But no, defend thyself;



Let the sword speak what the indignant tongue

Disdains to brand thee with.


Put up your weapon.

Is it the desperation of your fear

Makes you thus rash and sudden with a friend,

Now ruined for your sake? If honest anger


Have moved you, know, that what I just proposed

Was but to try you. As for me, I think,

Thankless affection led me to this point,

From which, if my firm temper could repent,

I cannot now recede. Even whilst we speak


The ministers of justice wait below:

They grant me these brief moments. Now if you

Have any word of melancholy comfort

To speak to your pale wife, ’twere best to pass

Out at the postern, and avoid them so.



O, generous friend! How canst thou pardon me?

Would that my life could purchase thine!


That wish

Now comes a day too late. Haste; fare thee well!

Hear’st thou not steps along the corridor?


I’m sorry for it; but the guards are waiting


At his own gate, and such was my contrivance

That I might rid me both of him and them.

I thought to act a solemn comedy

Upon the painted scene of this new world,

And to attain my own peculiar ends


By some such plot of mingled good and ill

As others weave; but there arose a Power

Which grasped and snapped the threads of my device

And turned it to a net of ruin . . . Ha!


Is that my name I hear proclaimed abroad?


But I will pass, wrapped in a vile disguise;

Rags on my back, and a false innocence

Upon my face, through the misdeeming crowd

Which judges by what seems. ’Tis easy then

For a new name and for a country new,


And a new life, fashioned on old desires,

To change the honours of abandoned Rome.

And these must be the masks of that within,

Which must remain unaltered . . . Oh, I fear

That what is past will never let me rest!


Why, when none else is conscious, but myself,

Of my misdeeds, should my own heart’s contempt

Trouble me? Have I not the power to fly

My own reproaches? Shall I be the slave

Of . . . what? A word? which those of this false world


Employ against each other, not themselves;

As men wear daggers not for self-offence.

But if I am mistaken, where shall I

Find the disguise to hide me from myself,

As now I skulk from every other eye?


_58 a friend edition 1821; your friend edition 1839.



Accused, do you persist in your denial?

I ask you, are you innocent, or guilty?

I demand who were the participators

In your offence? Speak truth, and the whole truth.



My God! I did not kill him; I know nothing;

Olimpio sold the robe to me from which

You would infer my guilt.


Away with him!


Dare you, with lips yet white from the rack’s kiss

Speak false? Is it so soft a questioner,


That you would bandy lover’s talk with it

Till it wind out your life and soul? Away!


Spare me! O, spare! I will confess.


Then speak.


I strangled him in his sleep.


Who urged you to it?


His own son Giacomo, and the young prelate


Orsino sent me to Petrella; there

The ladies Beatrice and Lucretia

Tempted me with a thousand crowns, and I

And my companion forthwith murdered him.

Now let me die.


This sounds as bad as truth. Guards, there,

Lead forth the prisoner!



Look upon this man;

When did you see him last?


We never saw him.


You know me too well, Lady Beatrice.


I know thee! How? where? when?


You know ’twas I

Whom you did urge with menaces and bribes


To kill your father. When the thing was done

You clothed me in a robe of woven gold

And bade me thrive: how I have thriven, you see.

You, my Lord Giacomo, Lady Lucretia,

You know that what I speak is true.



Oh, dart


The terrible resentment of those eyes

On the dead earth! Turn them away from me!

They wound: ’twas torture forced the truth. My Lords,

Having said this let me be led to death.


Poor wretch, I pity thee: yet stay awhile.


Guards, lead him not away.



Cardinal Camillo,

You have a good repute for gentleness

And wisdom: can it be that you sit here

To countenance a wicked farce like this?

When some obscure and trembling slave is dragged


From sufferings which might shake the sternest heart

And bade to answer, not as he believes,

But as those may suspect or do desire

Whose questions thence suggest their own reply:

And that in peril of such hideous torments


As merciful God spares even the damned. Speak now

The thing you surely know, which is that you,

If your fine frame were stretched upon that wheel,

And you were told: ‘Confess that you did poison

Your little nephew; that fair blue-eyed child


Who was the lodestar of your life:’— and though

All see, since his most swift and piteous death,

That day and night, and heaven and earth, and time,

And all the things hoped for or done therein

Are changed to you, through your exceeding grief,


Yet you would say, ‘I confess anything:’

And beg from your tormentors, like that slave,

The refuge of dishonourable death.

I pray thee, Cardinal, that thou assert

My innocence.


What shall we think, my Lords?


Shame on these tears! I thought the heart was frozen

Which is their fountain. I would pledge my soul

That she is guiltless.


Yet she must be tortured.


I would as soon have tortured mine own nephew

(If he now lived he would be just her age;


His hair, too, was her colour, and his eyes

Like hers in shape, but blue and not so deep)

As that most perfect image of God’s love

That ever came sorrowing upon the earth.

She is as pure as speechless infancy!



Well, be her purity on your head, my Lord,

If you forbid the rack. His Holiness

Enjoined us to pursue this monstrous crime

By the severest forms of law; nay even

To stretch a point against the criminals.


The prisoners stand accused of parricide

Upon such evidence as justifies



What evidence? This man’s?


Even so.


Come near. And who art thou thus chosen forth

Out of the multitude of living men

To kill the innocent?



I am Marzio,

Thy father’s vassal.


Fix thine eyes on mine;

Answer to what I ask.


I prithee mark

His countenance: unlike bold calumny

Which sometimes dares not speak the thing it looks,


He dares not look the thing he speaks, but bends

His gaze on the blind earth.


What! wilt thou say

That I did murder my own father?



Spare me! My brain swims round . . . I cannot speak . . .

It was that horrid torture forced the truth.


Take me away! Let her not look on me!

I am a guilty miserable wretch;

I have said all I know; now, let me die!


My Lords, if by my nature I had been

So stern, as to have planned the crime alleged,


Which your suspicions dictate to this slave,

And the rack makes him utter, do you think

I should have left this two-edged instrument

Of my misdeed; this man, this bloody knife

With my own name engraven on the heft,


Lying unsheathed amid a world of foes,

For my own death? That with such horrible need

For deepest silence, I should have neglected

So trivial a precaution, as the making

His tomb the keeper of a secret written


On a thief’s memory? What is his poor life?

What are a thousand lives? A parricide

Had trampled them like dust; and, see, he lives!


And thou . . .


Oh, spare me! Speak to me no more!

That stern yet piteous look, those solemn tones,

Wound worse than torture.



I have told it all;

For pity’s sake lead me away to death.


Guards, lead him nearer the Lady Beatrice;

He shrinks from her regard like autumn’s leaf

From the keen breath of the serenest north.



O thou who tremblest on the giddy verge

Of life and death, pause ere thou answerest me;

So mayst thou answer God with less dismay:

What evil have we done thee? I, alas!

Have lived but on this earth a few sad years,


And so my lot was ordered, that a father

First turned the moments of awakening life

To drops, each poisoning youth’s sweet hope; and then

Stabbed with one blow my everlasting soul;

And my untainted fame; and even that peace


Which sleeps within the core of the heart’s heart;

But the wound was not mortal; so my hate

Became the only worship I could lift

To our great father, who in pity and love,

Armed thee, as thou dost say, to cut him off;


And thus his wrong becomes my accusation;

And art thou the accuser? If thou hopest

Mercy in heaven, show justice upon earth:

Worse than a bloody hand is a hard heart.

If thou hast done murders, made thy life’s path


Over the trampled laws of God and man,

Rush not before thy Judge, and say: ‘My maker,

I have done this and more; for there was one

Who was most pure and innocent on earth;

And because she endured what never any


Guilty or innocent endured before:

Because her wrongs could not be told, not thought;

Because thy hand at length did rescue her;

I with my words killed her and all her kin.’

Think, I adjure you, what it is to slay


The reverence living in the minds of men

Towards our ancient house, and stainless fame!

Think what it is to strangle infant pity,

Cradled in the belief of guileless looks,

Till it become a crime to suffer. Think


What ’tis to blot with infamy and blood

All that which shows like innocence, and is,

Hear me, great God! I swear, most innocent,

So that the world lose all discrimination

Between the sly, fierce, wild regard of guilt,


And that which now compels thee to reply

To what I ask: Am I, or am I not

A parricide?


Thou art not!


What is this?


I here declare those whom I did accuse

Are innocent. ’Tis I alone am guilty.



Drag him away to torments; let them be

Subtle and long drawn out, to tear the folds

Of the heart’s inmost cell. Unbind him not

Till he confess.


Torture me as ye will:

A keener pang has wrung a higher truth


From my last breath. She is most innocent!

Bloodhounds, not men, glut yourselves well with me;

I will not give you that fine piece of nature

To rend and ruin.



What say ye now, my Lords?


Let tortures strain the truth till it be white


As snow thrice sifted by the frozen wind.


Yet stained with blood.


Know you this paper, Lady?


Entrap me not with questions. Who stands here

As my accuser? Ha! wilt thou be he,

Who art my judge? Accuser, witness, judge,


What, all in one? Here is Orsino’s name;

Where is Orsino? Let his eye meet mine.

What means this scrawl? Alas! ye know not what,

And therefore on the chance that it may be

Some evil, will ye kill us?



Marzio’s dead.


What did he say?



Nothing. As soon as we

Had bound him on the wheel, he smiled on us,

As one who baffles a deep adversary;

And holding his breath, died.


There remains nothing

But to apply the question to those prisoners,

Who yet remain stubborn.



I overrule

Further proceedings, and in the behalf

Of these most innocent and noble persons

Will use my interest with the Holy Father.


Let the Pope’s pleasure then be done. Meanwhile


Conduct these culprits each to separate cells;

And be the engines ready; for this night

If the Pope’s resolution be as grave,

Pious, and just as once, I’ll wring the truth

Out of those nerves and sinews, groan by groan.


_164 pang edition 1821; pain editions 1819, 1839.



How gently slumber rests upon her face,

Like the last thoughts of some day sweetly spent

Closing in night and dreams, and so prolonged.

After such torments as she bore last night,


How light and soft her breathing comes. Ay me!

Methinks that I shall never sleep again.

But I must shake the heavenly dew of rest

From this sweet folded flower, thus . . . wake, awake!

What, sister, canst thou sleep?


I was just dreaming


That we were all in Paradise. Thou knowest

This cell seems like a kind of Paradise

After our father’s presence.


Dear, dear sister,

Would that thy dream were not a dream! O God!

How shall I tell?


What wouldst thou tell, sweet brother?



Look not so calm and happy, or even whilst

I stand considering what I have to say

My heart will break.


See now, thou mak’st me weep:

How very friendless thou wouldst be, dear child,

If I were dead. Say what thou hast to say.



They have confessed; they could endure no more

The tortures . . .


Ha! What was there to confess?

They must have told some weak and wicked lie

To flatter their tormentors. Have they said

That they were guilty? O white innocence,


That thou shouldst wear the mask of guilt to hide

Thine awful and serenest countenance

From those who know thee not!


Ignoble hearts!

For some brief spasms of pain, which are at least

As mortal as the limbs through which they pass,


Are centuries of high splendour laid in dust?

And that eternal honour which should live

Sunlike, above the reek of mortal fame,

Changed to a mockery and a byword? What!

Will you give up these bodies to be dragged


At horses’ heels, so that our hair should sweep

The footsteps of the vain and senseless crowd,

Who, that they may make our calamity

Their worship and their spectacle, will leave

The churches and the theatres as void


As their own hearts? Shall the light multitude

Fling, at their choice, curses or faded pity,

Sad funeral flowers to deck a living corpse,

Upon us as we pass to pass away,

And leave . . . what memory of our having been?


Infamy, blood, terror, despair? O thou,

Who wert a mother to the parentless,

Kill not thy child! Let not her wrongs kill thee!

Brother, lie down with me upon the rack,

And let us each be silent as a corpse;


It soon will be as soft as any grave.

’Tis but the falsehood it can wring from fear

Makes the rack cruel.


They will tear the truth

Even from thee at last, those cruel pains:

For pity’s sake say thou art guilty now.



Oh, speak the truth! Let us all quickly die;

And after death, God is our judge, not they;

He will have mercy on us.


If indeed

It can be true, say so, dear sister mine;

And then the Pope will surely pardon you,

And all be well.



Confess, or I will warp

Your limbs with such keen tortures . . .


Tortures! Turn

The rack henceforth into a spinning-wheel!

Torture your dog, that he may tell when last

He lapped the blood his master shed . . . not me!


My pangs are of the mind, and of the heart,

And of the soul; ay, of the inmost soul,

Which weeps within tears as of burning gall

To see, in this ill world where none are true,

My kindred false to their deserted selves.


And with considering all the wretched life

Which I have lived, and its now wretched end,

And the small justice shown by Heaven and Earth

To me or mine; and what a tyrant thou art,

And what slaves these; and what a world we make,


The oppressor and the oppressed . . . such pangs compel

My answer. What is it thou wouldst with me?


Art thou not guilty of thy father’s death?


Or wilt thou rather tax high-judging God

That He permitted such an act as that


Which I have suffered, and which He beheld;

Made it unutterable, and took from it

All refuge, all revenge, all consequence,

But that which thou hast called my father’s death?

Which is or is not what men call a crime,


Which either I have done, or have not done;

Say what ye will. I shall deny no more.

If ye desire it thus, thus let it be,

And so an end of all. Now do your will;

No other pains shall force another word.



She is convicted, but has not confessed.

Be it enough. Until their final sentence

Let none have converse with them. You, young Lord,

Linger not here!


Oh, tear him not away!


Guards! do your duty.


Oh! would ye divide

Body from soul?



That is the headsman’s business.



Have I confessed? Is it all over now?

No hope! No refuge! O weak, wicked tongue

Which hast destroyed me, would that thou hadst been

Cut out and thrown to dogs first! To have killed


My father first, and then betrayed my sister;

Ay, thee! the one thing innocent and pure

In this black, guilty world, to that which I

So well deserve! My wife! my little ones!

Destitute, helpless, and I . . . Father! God!


Canst Thou forgive even the unforgiving,

When their full hearts break thus, thus! . . .



O my child!

To what a dreadful end are we all come!

Why did I yield? Why did I not sustain

Those torments? Oh, that I were all dissolved


Into these fast and unavailing tears,

Which flow and feel not!


What ’twas weak to do,

’Tis weaker to lament, once being done;

Take cheer! The God who knew my wrong, and made

Our speedy act the angel of His wrath,


Seems, and but seems, to have abandoned us.

Let us not think that we shall die for this.

Brother, sit near me; give me your firm hand,

You had a manly heart. Bear up! Bear up!

O dearest Lady, put your gentle head


Upon my lap, and try to sleep awhile:

Your eyes look pale, hollow, and overworn,

With heaviness of watching and slow grief.

Come, I will sing you some low, sleepy tune,

Not cheerful, nor yet sad; some dull old thing,


Some outworn and unused monotony,

Such as our country gossips sing and spin,

Till they almost forget they live: lie down!

So, that will do. Have I forgot the words?

Faith! They are sadder than I thought they were.



False friend, wilt thou smile or weep

When my life is laid asleep?

Little cares for a smile or a tear,

The clay-cold corpse upon the bier!

Farewell! Heighho!


What is this whispers low?

There is a snake in thy smile, my dear;

And bitter poison within thy tear.

Sweet sleep, were death like to thee,

Or if thou couldst mortal be,


I would close these eyes of pain;

When to wake? Never again.

O World! Farewell!

Listen to the passing bell!

It says, thou and I must part,


With a light and a heavy heart.




The Pope is stern; not to be moved or bent.

He looked as calm and keen as is the engine

Which tortures and which kills, exempt itself

From aught that it inflicts; a marble form,


A rite, a law, a custom: not a man.

He frowned, as if to frown had been the trick

Of his machinery, on the advocates

Presenting the defences, which he tore

And threw behind, muttering with hoarse, harsh voice:


‘Which among ye defended their old father

Killed in his sleep?’ Then to another: ‘Thou

Dost this in virtue of thy place; ’tis well.’

He turned to me then, looking deprecation,

And said these three words, coldly: ‘They must die.’


And yet you left him not?



I urged him still;

Pleading, as I could guess, the devilish wrong

Which prompted your unnatural parent’s death.

And he replied: ‘Paolo Santa Croce

Murdered his mother yester evening,


And he is fled. Parricide grows so rife

That soon, for some just cause no doubt, the young

Will strangle us all, dozing in our chairs.

Authority, and power, and hoary hair

Are grown crimes capital. You are my nephew,


You come to ask their pardon; stay a moment;

Here is their sentence; never see me more

Till, to the letter, it be all fulfilled.’


O God, not so! I did believe indeed

That all you said was but sad preparation


For happy news. Oh, there are words and looks

To bend the sternest purpose! Once I knew them,

Now I forget them at my dearest need.

What think you if I seek him out, and bathe

His feet and robe with hot and bitter tears?


Importune him with prayers, vexing his brain

With my perpetual cries, until in rage

He strike me with his pastoral cross, and trample

Upon my prostrate head, so that my blood

May stain the senseless dust on which he treads,


And remorse waken mercy? I will do it!

Oh, wait till I return!



Alas, poor boy!

A wreck-devoted seaman thus might pray

To the deaf sea.



I hardly dare to fear

That thou bring’st other news than a just pardon.



May God in heaven be less inexorable

To the Pope’s prayers than he has been to mine.

Here is the sentence and the warrant.



My God! Can it be possible I have

To die so suddenly? So young to go


Under the obscure, cold, rotting, wormy ground!

To be nailed down into a narrow place;

To see no more sweet sunshine; hear no more

Blithe voice of living thing; muse not again

Upon familiar thoughts, sad, yet thus lost —


How fearful! to be nothing! Or to be . . .

What? Oh, where am I? Let me not go mad!

Sweet Heaven, forgive weak thoughts! If there should be

No God, no Heaven, no Earth in the void world;

The wide, gray, lampless, deep, unpeopled world!


If all things then should be . . . my father’s spirit,

His eye, his voice, his touch surrounding me;

The atmosphere and breath of my dead life!

If sometimes, as a shape more like himself,

Even the form which tortured me on earth,


Masked in gray hairs and wrinkles, he should come

And wind me in his hellish arms, and fix

His eyes on mine, and drag me down, down, down!

For was he not alone omnipotent

On Earth, and ever present? Even though dead,


Does not his spirit live in all that breathe,

And work for me and mine still the same ruin,

Scorn, pain, despair? Who ever yet returned

To teach the laws of Death’s untrodden realm?

Unjust perhaps as those which drive us now,

Oh, whither, whither?



Trust in God’s sweet love,

The tender promises of Christ: ere night,

Think, we shall be in Paradise.


’Tis past!

Whatever comes, my heart shall sink no more.

And yet, I know not why, your words strike chill:


How tedious, false, and cold seem all things. I

Have met with much injustice in this world;

No difference has been made by God or man,

Or any power moulding my wretched lot,

‘Twixt good or evil, as regarded me.


I am cut off from the only world I know,

From light, and life, and love, in youth’s sweet prime.

You do well telling me to trust in God;

I hope I do trust in him. In whom else

Can any trust? And yet my heart is cold.




Know you not, Mother . . . Sister, know you not?

Bernardo even now is gone to implore

The Pope to grant our pardon.


Child, perhaps

It will be granted. We may all then live

To make these woes a tale for distant years:


Oh, what a thought! It gushes to my heart

Like the warm blood.


Yet both will soon be cold.

Oh, trample out that thought! Worse than despair,

Worse than the bitterness of death, is hope:

It is the only ill which can find place


Upon the giddy, sharp, and narrow hour

Tottering beneath us. Plead with the swift frost

That it should spare the eldest flower of spring:

Plead with awakening earthquake, o’er whose couch

Even now a city stands, strong, fair, and free;


Now stench and blackness yawn, like death. Oh, plead

With famine, or wind-walking Pestilence,

Blind lightning, or the deaf sea, not with man!

Cruel, cold, formal man; righteous in words,

In deeds a Cain. No, Mother, we must die:


Since such is the reward of innocent lives;

Such the alleviation of worst wrongs.

And whilst our murderers live, and hard, cold men,

Smiling and slow, walk through a world of tears

To death as to life’s sleep; ’twere just the grave


Were some strange joy for us. Come, obscure Death,

And wind me in thine all-embracing arms!

Like a fond mother hide me in thy bosom,

And rock me to the sleep from which none wake.

Live ye, who live, subject to one another

As we were once, who now . . .




Oh, horrible!

That tears, that looks, that hope poured forth in prayer,

Even till the heart is vacant and despairs,

Should all be vain! The ministers of death

Are waiting round the doors. I thought I saw


Blood on the face of one . . . What if ’twere fancy?

Soon the heart’s blood of all I love on earth

Will sprinkle him, and he will wipe it off

As if ’twere only rain. O life! O world!

Cover me! let me be no more! To see


That perfect mirror of pure innocence

Wherein I gazed, and grew happy and good,

Shivered to dust! To see thee, Beatrice,

Who made all lovely thou didst look upon . . .

Thee, light of life . . . dead, dark! while I say, sister,


To hear I have no sister; and thou, Mother,

Whose love was as a bond to all our loves . . .

Dead! The sweet bond broken!


They come! Let me

Kiss those warm lips before their crimson leaves

Are blighted . . . white . . . cold. Say farewell, before


Death chokes that gentle voice! Oh, let me hear

You speak!


Farewell, my tender brother. Think

Of our sad fate with gentleness, as now:

And let mild, pitying thoughts lighten for thee

Thy sorrow’s load. Err not in harsh despair,


But tears and patience. One thing more, my child:

For thine own sake be constant to the love

Thou bearest us; and to the faith that I,

Though wrapped in a strange cloud of crime and shame,

Lived ever holy and unstained. And though


Ill tongues shall wound me, and our common name

Be as a mark stamped on thine innocent brow

For men to point at as they pass, do thou

Forbear, and never think a thought unkind

Of those, who perhaps love thee in their graves.


So mayest thou die as I do; fear and pain

Being subdued. Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!


I cannot say, farewell!


Oh, Lady Beatrice!


Give yourself no unnecessary pain,

My dear Lord Cardinal. Here, Mother, tie


My girdle for me, and bind up this hair

In any simple knot; ay, that does well.

And yours I see is coming down. How often

Have we done this for one another; now

We shall not do it any more. My Lord,


We are quite ready. Well, ’tis very well.

_105 yawn edition 1821; yawns editions 1819, 1839.

_136 was as a Rossetti cj.; was a editions 1819, 1821, 1839.

The End.

Note on the Cenci, by Mrs. Shelley.

The sort of mistake that Shelley made as to the extent of his own genius and powers, which led him deviously at first, but lastly into the direct track that enabled him fully to develop them, is a curious instance of his modesty of feeling, and of the methods which the human mind uses at once to deceive itself, and yet, in its very delusion, to make its way out of error into the path which Nature has marked out as its right one. He often incited me to attempt the writing a tragedy: he conceived that I possessed some dramatic talent, and he was always most earnest and energetic in his exhortations that I should cultivate any talent I possessed, to the utmost. I entertained a truer estimate of my powers; and above all (though at that time not exactly aware of the fact) I was far too young to have any chance of succeeding, even moderately, in a species of composition that requires a greater scope of experience in, and sympathy with, human passion than could then have fallen to my lot — or than any perhaps, except Shelley, ever possessed, even at the age of twenty-six, at which he wrote The Cenci.

On the other hand, Shelley most erroneously conceived himself to be destitute of this talent. He believed that one of the first requisites was the capacity of forming and following-up a story or plot. He fancied himself to he defective in this portion of imagination: it was that which gave him least pleasure in the writings of others, though he laid great store by it as the proper framework to support the sublimest efforts of poetry. He asserted that he was too metaphysical and abstract, too fond of the theoretical and the ideal, to succeed as a tragedian. It perhaps is not strange that I shared this opinion with himself; for he had hitherto shown no inclination for, nor given any specimen of his powers in framing and supporting the interest of a story, either in prose or verse. Once or twice, when he attempted such, he had speedily thrown it aside, as being even disagreeable to him as an occupation.

The subject he had suggested for a tragedy was Charles I: and he had written to me: ‘Remember, remember Charles I. I have been already imagining how you would conduct some scenes. The second volume of “St. Leon” begins with this proud and true sentiment: “There is nothing which the human mind can conceive which it may not execute.” Shakespeare was only a human being.’ These words were written in 1818, while we were in Lombardy, when he little thought how soon a work of his own would prove a proud comment on the passage he quoted. When in Rome, in 1819, a friend put into our hands the old manuscript account of the story of the Cenci. We visited the Colonna and Doria palaces, where the portraits of Beatrice were to be found; and her beauty cast the reflection of its own grace over her appalling story. Shelley’s imagination became strongly excited, and he urged the subject to me as one fitted for a tragedy. More than ever I felt my incompetence; but I entreated him to write it instead; and he began, and proceeded swiftly, urged on by intense sympathy with the sufferings of the human beings whose passions, so long cold in the tomb, he revived, and gifted with poetic language. This tragedy is the only one of his works that he communicated to me during its progress. We talked over the arrangement of the scenes together. I speedily saw the great mistake we had made, and triumphed in the discovery of the new talent brought to light from that mine of wealth (never, alas, through his untimely death, worked to its depths)— his richly gifted mind.

We suffered a severe affliction in Rome by the loss of our eldest child, who was of such beauty and promise as to cause him deservedly to be the idol of our hearts. We left the capital of the world, anxious for a time to escape a spot associated too intimately with his presence and loss. (Such feelings haunted him when, in “The Cenci”, he makes Beatrice speak to Cardinal Camillo of

‘that fair blue-eyed child

Who was the lodestar of your life:’— and say —

All see, since his most swift and piteous death,

That day and night, and heaven and earth, and time,

And all the things hoped for or done therein

Are changed to you, through your exceeding grief.’)

Some friends of ours were residing in the neighbourhood of Leghorn, and we took a small house, Villa Valsovano, about half-way between the town and Monte Nero, where we remained during the summer. Our villa was situated in the midst of a podere; the peasants sang as they worked beneath our windows, during the heats of a very hot season, and in the evening the water-wheel creaked as the process of irrigation went on, and the fireflies flashed from among the myrtle hedges: Nature was bright, sunshiny, and cheerful, or diversified by storms of a majestic terror, such as we had never before witnessed.

At the top of the house there was a sort of terrace. There is often such in Italy, generally roofed: this one was very small, yet not only roofed but glazed. This Shelley made his study; it looked out on a wide prospect of fertile country, and commanded a view of the near sea. The storms that sometimes varied our day showed themselves most picturesquely as they were driven across the ocean; sometimes the dark lurid clouds dipped towards the waves, and became water-spouts that churned up the waters beneath, as they were chased onward and scattered by the tempest. At other times the dazzling sunlight and heat made it almost intolerable to every other; but Shelley basked in both, and his health and spirits revived under their influence. In this airy cell he wrote the principal part of “The Cenci”. He was making a study of Calderon at the time, reading his best tragedies with an accomplished lady living near us, to whom his letter from Leghorn was addressed during the following year. He admired Calderon, both for his poetry and his dramatic genius; but it shows his judgement and originality that, though greatly struck by his first acquaintance with the Spanish poet, none of his peculiarities crept into the composition of “The Cenci”; and there is no trace of his new studies, except in that passage to which he himself alludes as suggested by one in “El Purgatorio de San Patricio”.

Shelley wished “The Cenci” to be acted. He was not a playgoer, being of such fastidious taste that he was easily disgusted by the bad filling-up of the inferior parts. While preparing for our departure from England, however, he saw Miss O’Neil several times. She was then in the zenith of her glory; and Shelley was deeply moved by her impersonation of several parts, and by the graceful sweetness, the intense pathos, the sublime vehemence of passion she displayed. She was often in his thoughts as he wrote: and, when he had finished, he became anxious that his tragedy should be acted, and receive the advantage of having this accomplished actress to fill the part of the heroine. With this view he wrote the following letter to a friend in London:

‘The object of the present letter us to ask a favour of you. I have written a tragedy on a story well known in Italy, and, in my conception, eminently dramatic. I have taken some pains to make my play fit for representation, and those who have already seen it judge favourably. It is written without any of the peculiar feelings and opinions which characterize my other compositions; I have attended simply to the impartial development of such characters as it is probable the persons represented really were, together with the greatest degree of popular effect to be produced by such a development. I send you a translation of the Italian manuscript on which my play is founded; the chief circumstance of which I have touched very delicately; for my principal doubt as to whether it would succeed as an acting play hangs entirely on the question as to whether any such a thing as incest in this shape, however treated, would be admitted on the stage. I think, however, it will form no objection; considering, first, that the facts are matter of history, and, secondly, the peculiar delicacy with which I have treated it. (In speaking of his mode of treating this main incident, Shelley said that it might be remarked that, in the course of the play, he had never mentioned expressly Cenci’s worst crime. Every one knew what it must be, but it was never imaged in words — the nearest allusion to it being that portion of Cenci’s curse beginning —

“That, if she have a child,” etc.)

‘I am exceedingly interested in the question of whether this attempt of mine will succeed or not. I am strongly inclined to the affirmative at present; founding my hopes on this — that, as a composition, it is certainly not inferior to any of the modern plays that have been acted, with the exception of “Remorse”; that the interest of the plot is incredibly greater and more real; and that there is nothing beyond what the multitude are contented to believe that they can understand, either in imagery, opinion, or sentiment. I wish to preserve a complete incognito, and can trust to you that, whatever else you do, you will at least favour me on this point. Indeed, this is essential, deeply essential, to its success. After it had been acted, and successfully (could I hope for such a thing), I would own it if I pleased, and use the celebrity it might acquire to my own purposes.

‘What I want you to do is to procure for me its presentation at Covent Garden. The principal character, Beatrice, is precisely fitted for Miss O’Neil, and it might even seem to have been written for her (God forbid that I should see her play it — it would tear my nerves to pieces); and in all respects it is fitted only for Covent Garden. The chief male character I confess I should be very unwilling that any one but Kean should play. That is impossible, and I must be contented with an inferior actor.’

The play was accordingly sent to Mr. Harris. He pronounced the subject to be so objectionable that he could not even submit the part to Miss O’Neil for perusal, but expressed his desire that the author would write a tragedy on some other subject, which he would gladly accept. Shelley printed a small edition at Leghorn, to ensure its correctness; as he was much annoyed by the many mistakes that crept into his text when distance prevented him from correcting the press.

Universal approbation soon stamped “The Cenci” as the best tragedy of modern times. Writing concerning it, Shelley said: ‘I have been cautious to avoid the introducing faults of youthful composition; diffuseness, a profusion of inapplicable imagery, vagueness, generality, and, as Hamlet says, “words, words”.’ There is nothing that is not purely dramatic throughout; and the character of Beatrice, proceeding, from vehement struggle, to horror, to deadly resolution, and lastly to the elevated dignity of calm suffering, joined to passionate tenderness and pathos, is touched with hues so vivid and so beautiful that the poet seems to have read intimately the secrets of the noble heart imaged in the lovely countenance of the unfortunate girl. The Fifth Act is a masterpiece. It is the finest thing he ever wrote, and may claim proud comparison not only with any contemporary, but preceding, poet. The varying feelings of Beatrice are expressed with passionate, heart-reaching eloquence. Every character has a voice that echoes truth in its tones. It is curious, to one acquainted with the written story, to mark the success with which the poet has inwoven the real incidents of the tragedy into his scenes, and yet, through the power of poetry, has obliterated all that would otherwise have shown too harsh or too hideous in the picture. His success was a double triumph; and often after he was earnestly entreated to write again in a style that commanded popular favour, while it was not less instinct with truth and genius. But the bent of his mind went the other way; and, even when employed on subjects whose interest depended on character and incident, he would start off in another direction, and leave the delineations of human passion, which he could depict in so able a manner, for fantastic creations of his fancy, or the expression of those opinions and sentiments, with regard to human nature and its destiny, a desire to diffuse which was the master passion of his soul.

The Mask of Anarchy.

Written on the Occasion of the Massacre at Manchester.

[Composed at the Villa Valsovano near Leghorn — or possibly later, during Shelley’s sojourn at Florence — in the autumn of 1819, shortly after the Peterloo riot at Manchester, August 16; edited with Preface by Leigh Hunt, and published under the poet’s name by Edward Moxon, 1832 (Bradbury & Evans, printers). Two manuscripts are extant: a transcript by Mrs. Shelley with Shelley’s autograph corrections, known as the ‘Hunt manuscript’; and an earlier draft, not quite complete, in the poet’s handwriting, presented by Mrs. Shelley to (Sir) John Bowring in 1826, and now in the possession of Mr. Thomas J. Wise (the ‘Wise manuscript’). Mrs. Shelley’s copy was sent to Leigh Hunt in 1819 with view to its publication in “The Examiner”; hence the name ‘Hunt manuscript.’ A facsimile of the Wise manuscript was published by the Shelley Society in 1887. Sources of the text are (1) the Hunt manuscript; (2) the Wise manuscript; (3) the editio princeps, editor Leigh Hunt, 1832; (4) Mrs. Shelley’s two editions (“Poetical Works”) of 1839. Of the two manuscripts Mrs. Shelley’s transcript is the later and more authoritative.]


As I lay asleep in Italy

There came a voice from over the Sea,

And with great power it forth led me

To walk in the visions of Poesy.


I met Murder on the way —

He had a mask like Castlereagh —

Very smooth he looked, yet grim;

Seven blood-hounds followed him:


All were fat; and well they might


Be in admirable plight,

For one by one, and two by two,

He tossed them human hearts to chew

Which from his wide cloak he drew.


Next came Fraud, and he had on,


Like Eldon, an ermined gown;

His big tears, for he wept well,

Turned to mill-stones as they fell.


And the little children, who

Round his feet played to and fro,


Thinking every tear a gem,

Had their brains knocked out by them.


Clothed with the Bible, as with light,

And the shadows of the night,

Like Sidmouth, next, Hypocrisy


On a crocodile rode by.


And many more Destructions played

In this ghastly masquerade,

All disguised, even to the eyes,

Like Bishops, lawyers, peers, or spies.


Last came Anarchy: he rode

On a white horse, splashed with blood;

He was pale even to the lips,

Like Death in the Apocalypse.


And he wore a kingly crown;


And in his grasp a sceptre shone;

On his brow this mark I saw —



With a pace stately and fast,

Over English land he passed,


Trampling to a mire of blood

The adoring multitude.


And a mighty troop around,

With their trampling shook the ground,

Waving each a bloody sword,


For the service of their Lord.


And with glorious triumph, they

Rode through England proud and gay,

Drunk as with intoxication

Of the wine of desolation.


O’er fields and towns, from sea to sea,

Passed the Pageant swift and free,

Tearing up, and trampling down;

Till they came to London town.


And each dweller, panic-stricken,


Felt his heart with terror sicken

Hearing the tempestuous cry

Of the triumph of Anarchy.


For with pomp to meet him came,

Clothed in arms like blood and flame,


The hired murderers, who did sing

‘Thou art God, and Law, and King.


‘We have waited, weak and lone

For thy coming, Mighty One!

Our purses are empty, our swords are cold,


Give us glory, and blood, and gold.’


Lawyers and priests, a motley crowd,

To the earth their pale brows bowed;

Like a bad prayer not over loud,

Whispering —‘Thou art Law and God.’—


Then all cried with one accord,

‘Thou art King, and God, and Lord;

Anarchy, to thee we bow,

Be thy name made holy now!’


And Anarchy, the Skeleton,


Bowed and grinned to every one,

As well as if his education

Had cost ten millions to the nation.


For he knew the Palaces

Of our Kings were rightly his;


His the sceptre, crown, and globe,

And the gold-inwoven robe.


So he sent his slaves before

To seize upon the Bank and Tower,

And was proceeding with intent


To meet his pensioned Parliament


When one fled past, a maniac maid,

And her name was Hope, she said:

But she looked more like Despair,

And she cried out in the air:


‘My father Time is weak and gray

With waiting for a better day;

See how idiot-like he stands,

Fumbling with his palsied hands!


‘He has had child after child,


And the dust of death is piled

Over every one but me —

Misery, oh, Misery!’


Then she lay down in the street,

Right before the horses’ feet,


Expecting, with a patient eye,

Murder, Fraud, and Anarchy.


When between her and her foes

A mist, a light, an image rose,

Small at first, and weak, and frail


Like the vapour of a vale:


Till as clouds grow on the blast,

Like tower-crowned giants striding fast,

And glare with lightnings as they fly,

And speak in thunder to the sky,


It grew — a Shape arrayed in mail

Brighter than the viper’s scale,

And upborne on wings whose grain

Was as the light of sunny rain.


On its helm, seen far away,


A planet, like the Morning’s, lay;

And those plumes its light rained through

Like a shower of crimson dew.


With step as soft as wind it passed

O’er the heads of men — so fast


That they knew the presence there,

And looked — but all was empty air.


As flowers beneath May’s footstep waken,

As stars from Night’s loose hair are shaken,

As waves arise when loud winds call,


Thoughts sprung where’er that step did fall.


And the prostrate multitude

Looked — and ankle-deep in blood,

Hope, that maiden most serene,

Was walking with a quiet mien:


And Anarchy, the ghastly birth,

Lay dead earth upon the earth;

The Horse of Death tameless as wind

Fled, and with his hoofs did grind

To dust the murderers thronged behind.


A rushing light of clouds and splendour,

A sense awakening and yet tender

Was heard and felt — and at its close

These words of joy and fear arose


As if their own indignant Earth


Which gave the sons of England birth

Had felt their blood upon her brow,

And shuddering with a mother’s throe


Had turned every drop of blood

By which her face had been bedewed


To an accent unwithstood —

As if her heart had cried aloud:


‘Men of England, heirs of Glory,

Heroes of unwritten story,

Nurslings of one mighty Mother,


Hopes of her, and one another;


‘Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number,

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you —


Ye are many — they are few.


‘What is Freedom? — ye can tell

That which slavery is, too well —

For its very name has grown

To an echo of your own.


‘’Tis to work and have such pay

As just keeps life from day to day

In your limbs, as in a cell

For the tyrants’ use to dwell,


‘So that ye for them are made


Loom, and plough, and sword, and spade,

With or without your own will bent

To their defence and nourishment.


‘’Tis to see your children weak

With their mothers pine and peak,


When the winter winds are bleak —

They are dying whilst I speak.


‘’Tis to hunger for such diet

As the rich man in his riot

Casts to the fat dogs that lie


Surfeiting beneath his eye;


‘’Tis to let the Ghost of Gold

Take from Toil a thousandfold

More than e’er its substance could

In the tyrannies of old.


‘Paper coin — that forgery

Of the title-deeds, which ye

Hold to something of the worth

Of the inheritance of Earth.


‘’Tis to be a slave in soul


And to hold no strong control

Over your own wills, but be

All that others make of ye.


‘And at length when ye complain

With a murmur weak and vain


’Tis to see the Tyrant’s crew

Ride over your wives and you

Blood is on the grass like dew.


‘Then it is to feel revenge

Fiercely thirsting to exchange


Blood for blood — and wrong for wrong —

Do not thus when ye are strong.


‘Birds find rest, in narrow nest

When weary of their winged quest;

Beasts find fare, in woody lair


When storm and snow are in the air.


‘Asses, swine, have litter spread

And with fitting food are fed;

All things have a home but one —

Thou, Oh, Englishman, hast none!


‘This is Slavery — savage men,

Or wild beasts within a den

Would endure not as ye do —

But such ills they never knew.


‘What art thou Freedom? O! could slaves


Answer from their living graves

This demand — tyrants would flee

Like a dream’s dim imagery:


‘Thou art not, as impostors say,

A shadow soon to pass away,


A superstition, and a name

Echoing from the cave of Fame.


‘For the labourer thou art bread,

And a comely table spread

From his daily labour come


In a neat and happy home.


Thou art clothes, and fire, and food

For the trampled multitude —

No — in countries that are free

Such starvation cannot be


As in England now we see.


‘To the rich thou art a check,

When his foot is on the neck

Of his victim, thou dost make

That he treads upon a snake.


Thou art Justice — ne’er for gold

May thy righteous laws be sold

As laws are in England — thou

Shield’st alike the high and low.


‘Thou art Wisdom — Freemen never


Dream that God will damn for ever

All who think those things untrue

Of which Priests make such ado.


‘Thou art Peace — never by thee

Would blood and treasure wasted be


As tyrants wasted them, when all

Leagued to quench thy flame in Gaul.


‘What if English toil and blood

Was poured forth, even as a flood?

It availed, Oh, Liberty,


To dim, but not extinguish thee.


‘Thou art Love — the rich have kissed

Thy feet, and like him following Christ,

Give their substance to the free

And through the rough world follow thee,


‘Or turn their wealth to arms, and make

War for thy beloved sake

On wealth, and war, and fraud — whence they

Drew the power which is their prey.


‘Science, Poetry, and Thought


Are thy lamps; they make the lot

Of the dwellers in a cot

So serene, they curse it not.


‘Spirit, Patience, Gentleness,

All that can adorn and bless


Art thou — let deeds, not words, express

Thine exceeding loveliness.


‘Let a great Assembly be

Of the fearless and the free

On some spot of English ground


Where the plains stretch wide around.


‘Let the blue sky overhead,

The green earth on which ye tread,

All that must eternal be

Witness the solemnity.


‘From the corners uttermost

Of the bounds of English coast;

From every hut, village, and town

Where those who live and suffer moan

For others’ misery or their own,


‘From the workhouse and the prison

Where pale as corpses newly risen,


Women, children, young and old

Groan for pain, and weep for cold —


‘From the haunts of daily life


Where is waged the daily strife

With common wants and common cares

Which sows the human heart with tares —


‘Lastly from the palaces

Where the murmur of distress


Echoes, like the distant sound

Of a wind alive around


‘Those prison halls of wealth and fashion,

Where some few feel such compassion

For those who groan, and toil, and wail

As must make their brethren pale —


‘Ye who suffer woes untold,

Or to feel, or to behold

Your lost country bought and sold

With a price of blood and gold —


‘Let a vast assembly be,

And with great solemnity

Declare with measured words that ye

Are, as God has made ye, free —


‘Be your strong and simple words


Keen to wound as sharpened swords,

And wide as targes let them be,

With their shade to cover ye.


‘Let the tyrants pour around

With a quick and startling sound,


Like the loosening of a sea,

Troops of armed emblazonry.


‘Let the charged artillery drive

Till the dead air seems alive

With the clash of clanging wheels,


And the tramp of horses’ heels.


‘Let the fixed bayonet

Gleam with sharp desire to wet

Its bright point in English blood

Looking keen as one for food.


Let the horsemen’s scimitars

Wheel and flash, like sphereless stars

Thirsting to eclipse their burning

In a sea of death and mourning.


‘Stand ye calm and resolute,


Like a forest close and mute,

With folded arms and looks which are

Weapons of unvanquished war,


‘And let Panic, who outspeeds

The career of armed steeds


Pass, a disregarded shade

Through your phalanx undismayed.


‘Let the laws of your own land,

Good or ill, between ye stand

Hand to hand, and foot to foot,


Arbiters of the dispute,


‘The old laws of England — they

Whose reverend heads with age are gray,

Children of a wiser day;

And whose solemn voice must be


Thine own echo — Liberty!


‘On those who first should violate

Such sacred heralds in their state

Rest the blood that must ensue,

And it will not rest on you.


‘And if then the tyrants dare

Let them ride among you there,

Slash, and stab, and maim, and hew —

What they like, that let them do.


‘With folded arms and steady eyes,


And little fear, and less surprise,

Look upon them as they slay

Till their rage has died away.


Then they will return with shame

To the place from which they came,


And the blood thus shed will speak

In hot blushes on their cheek.


‘Every woman in the land

Will point at them as they stand —

They will hardly dare to greet


Their acquaintance in the street.


‘And the bold, true warriors

Who have hugged Danger in wars

Will turn to those who would be free,

Ashamed of such base company.


‘And that slaughter to the Nation

Shall steam up like inspiration,

Eloquent, oracular;

A volcano heard afar.


‘And these words shall then become


Like Oppression’s thundered doom

Ringing through each heart and brain,

Heard again — again — again —


‘Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number —


Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you —

Ye are many — they are few.’

(Note at stanza 49: The following stanza is found in the Wise manuscript and in editions 1839, but is wanting in the Hunt manuscript and in edition 1832:—

‘Horses, oxen, have a home,

When from daily toil they come;

Household dogs, when the wind roars,

Find a home within warm doors.’)

(Note to end of stanza 67: The following stanza is found (cancelled) at this place in the Wise manuscript:—

‘From the cities where from caves,

Like the dead from putrid graves,

Troops of starvelings gliding come,

Living Tenants of a tomb.’

_15. Like Eldon Hunt manuscript; Like Lord Eldon Wise manuscript.

_15. ermined Hunt manuscript, Wise manuscript edition 1832; ermine editions 1839.

_23 shadows]shadow editions 1839 only.

_29 or]and Wise manuscript only.

_35 And in his grasp Hunt manuscript, edition 1882; In his hand Wise manuscript, Hunt manuscript cancelled, edition 1839.

_36 On his]And on his edition 1832 only.

_51 the Hunt manuscript, edition 1832; that Wise manuscript.

_56 tempestuous]tremendous editions 1839 only.

_58 For with pomp]For from . . . Hunt manuscript, Wise manuscript.

_71 God]Law editions 1839 only.

_79 rightly Wise manuscript; nightly Hunt manuscript, editions 1832, 1839.

_93 Fumbling] Trembling editions 1839 only.

_105 a vale Hunt manuscript, Wise manuscript; the vale editions 1832, 1839.

_113 as]like editions 1839 only.

_116 its Wise manuscript, Hunt manuscript; it editions 1832, 1839.

_121 but Wise MS; and Hunt manuscript, editions 1832, 1839.

_122 May’s footstep Wise manuscript, Hunt manuscript; the footstep edition 1832; May’s footsteps editions 1839.

_132-4 omit Wise manuscript.

_146 had cried Hunt manuscript, editions 1832, 1839; cried out Wise manuscript.

_155 omit edition 1832 only.

_182 of]from Wise manuscript only.

_186 wills Hunt manuscript, editions 1832, 1839; will Wise manuscript.

_198 their Wise manuscript, Hunt manuscript, editions 1839; the edition 1832.

_216 cave Wise manuscript, Hunt manuscript, editions 1839; caves edition 1832, Hunt manuscript cancelled.

_220 In Wise manuscript, editions 1832, 1839; To Hunt manuscript.

_233 the Hunt manuscript, editions 1832, 1839; both Wise manuscript.

_234 Freemen Wise manuscript, Hunt manuscript, editions 1839; Freedom edition 1832.

_235 Dream Wise manuscript, Hunt manuscript, editions 1839; Dreams edition 1832. damn]doom editions 1839 only.

_248 Give Hunt manuscript, edition 1832; Given Wise manuscript, Hunt manuscript cancelled, editions 1839.

_249 follow]followed editions 1839 only.

_250 Or Wise manuscript, Hunt manuscript; Oh editions 1832, 1839.

_254 Science, Poetry, Wise manuscript, Hunt manuscript; Science, and Poetry editions 1832, 1839.

_257 So Hunt manuscript, edition 1832; Such they curse their Maker not Wise manuscript, editions 1839.

_263 and]of edition 1832 only.

_274 or]and edition 1832 only.

_282 sows Wise manuscript, Hunt manuscript; sow editions 1832, 1839.

_297 measured Wise manuscript, Hunt manuscript, edition 1832; ne’er-said editions 1839.

_322 of unvanquished Wise manuscript; of an unvanquished Hunt manuscript, editions 1832, 1839.

_346 slay Wise manuscript; Hunt manuscript, editions 1839; stay edition 1832.

_357 in wars Wise manuscript, Hunt manuscript, edition 1832; in the wars editions 1839.

Note on the Mask of Anarchy, by Mrs. Shelley.

Though Shelley’s first eager desire to excite his countrymen to resist openly the oppressions existent during ‘the good old times’ had faded with early youth, still his warmest sympathies were for the people. He was a republican, and loved a democracy. He looked on all human beings as inheriting an equal right to possess the dearest privileges of our nature; the necessaries of life when fairly earned by labour, and intellectual instruction. His hatred of any despotism that looked upon the people as not to be consulted, or protected from want and ignorance, was intense. He was residing near Leghorn, at Villa Valsovano, writing “The Cenci”, when the news of the Manchester Massacre reached us; it roused in him violent emotions of indignation and compassion. The great truth that the many, if accordant and resolute, could control the few, as was shown some years after, made him long to teach his injured countrymen how to resist. Inspired by these feelings, he wrote the “Mask of Anarchy”, which he sent to his friend Leigh Hunt, to be inserted in the Examiner, of which he was then the Editor.

‘I did not insert it,’ Leigh Hunt writes in his valuable and interesting preface to this poem, when he printed it in 1832, ‘because I thought that the public at large had not become sufficiently discerning to do justice to the sincerity and kind-heartedness of the spirit that walked in this flaming robe of verse.’ Days of outrage have passed away, and with them the exasperation that would cause such an appeal to the many to be injurious. Without being aware of them, they at one time acted on his suggestions, and gained the day. But they rose when human life was respected by the Minister in power; such was not the case during the Administration which excited Shelley’s abhorrence.

The poem was written for the people, and is therefore in a more popular tone than usual: portions strike as abrupt and unpolished, but many stanzas are all his own. I heard him repeat, and admired, those beginning

‘My Father Time is old and gray,’

before I knew to what poem they were to belong. But the most touching passage is that which describes the blessed effects of liberty; it might make a patriot of any man whose heart was not wholly closed against his humbler fellow-creatures.

Peter Bell the Third.

By Miching Mallecho, Esq.

Is it a party in a parlour,

Crammed just as they on earth were crammed,

Some sipping punch — some sipping tea;

But, as you by their faces see,

All silent, and all — damned!

“Peter Bell”, by W. WORDSWORTH.