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The Revolt of Islam

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

Canto Seventh

     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 dreams, 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 noon-day 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 Æthiop 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 aëry 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 jailer 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, belovèd!--'t was a dream divine;
     Even to remember how it fled, how swift,
     How utterly, might make the heart repine,--
     Though 't was 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 't was 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 wingèd 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 subtle 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 thronèd 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.