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The Revolt of Islam

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

Canto Sixth

     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 watch-fire 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 leapt
   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 vapors 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 forever.

     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 loathèd 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 't were a scourge over the courser's head,
     And lightly shook the reins. We spake no word,
     But like the vapor 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 forever 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 curvèd 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 linkèd 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 wingèd 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 vapors 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 linkèd 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 interchangèd 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 linkèd 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 Æthiopian 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 forever
     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;
    'T will 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.'--''T is 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.