[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 —
‘I AM GOD, AND KING, AND LAW!’
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,
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.
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.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00