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The Revolt of Islam

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

Canto Second

     THE star-light 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 judgment in the grave--'t was 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 colors 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 wingèd 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 leaguèd 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, 't was 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 vapors 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 trancèd 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 humankind,
     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 armor 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 aërial 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
     Forever, 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 arm 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 belovèd 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 forever 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 loathèd 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 belovèd 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 closèd 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 't is 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 star-light 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.