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The Revolt of Islam

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

Canto Ninth

     '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 wingèd 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 grace
     Arrayed, thine own wild songs which in the air
     Like homeless odors 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 splendor 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 passed, 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 Æthiop'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 wingèd 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-wingèd 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 odors 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 forever
     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, belovèd, 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--
     Oh, willingly, belovèd, 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?
     Oh, 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!