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The Revolt of Islam

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

Canto Eleventh

     SHE saw me not--she heard me not--alone
     Upon the mountain's dizzy brink she stood;
     She spake not, breathed not, moved not--there was thrown
     Over her look the shadow of a mood
     Which only clothes the heart in solitude,
     A thought of voiceless depth;--she stood alone--
     Above, the Heavens were spread--below, the flood
     Was murmuring in its caves--the wind had blown
   Her hair apart, through which her eyes and forehead shone.

     A cloud was hanging o'er the western mountains;
     Before its blue and moveless depth were flying
     Gray mists poured forth from the unresting fountains
     Of darkness in the North; the day was dying;
     Sudden, the sun shone forth--its beams were lying
     Like boiling gold on Ocean, strange to see,
     And on the shattered vapors which, defying
     The power of light in vain, tossed restlessly
   In the red Heaven, like wrecks in a tempestuous sea.

     It was a stream of living beams, whose bank
     On either side by the cloud's cleft was made;
     And where its chasms that flood of glory drank,
     Its waves gushed forth like fire, and as if swayed
     By some mute tempest, rolled on her; the shade
     Of her bright image floated on the river
     Of liquid light, which then did end and fade--
     Her radiant shape upon its verge did shiver;
   Aloft, her flowing hair like strings of flame did quiver.

     I stood beside her, but she saw me not--
     She looked upon the sea, and skies, and earth.
     Rapture and love and admiration wrought
     A passion deeper far than tears, or mirth,
     Or speech, or gesture, or whate'er has birth
     From common joy; which with the speechless feeling
     That led her there united, and shot forth
     From her far eyes a light of deep revealing,
   All but her dearest self from my regard concealing.

     Her lips were parted, and the measured breath
     Was now heard there; her dark and intricate eyes,
     Orb within orb, deeper than sleep or death,
     Absorbed the glories of the burning skies,
     Which, mingling with her heart's deep ecstasies,
     Burst from her looks and gestures; and a light
     Of liquid tenderness, like love, did rise
     From her whole frame--an atmosphere which quite
   Arrayed her in its beams, tremulous and soft and bright.

     She would have clasped me to her glowing frame;
     Those warm and odorous lips might soon have shed
     On mine the fragrance and the invisible flame
     Which now the cold winds stole; she would have laid
     Upon my languid heart her dearest head;
     I might have heard her voice, tender and sweet;
     Her eyes, mingling with mine, might soon have fed
     My soul with their own joy.--One moment yet
   I gazed--we parted then, never again to meet!

     Never but once to meet on earth again!
     She heard me as I fled--her eager tone
     Sunk on my heart, and almost wove a chain
     Around my will to link it with her own,
     So that my stern resolve was almost gone.
    'I cannot reach thee! whither dost thou fly?
     My steps are faint.--Come back, thou dearest one--
     Return, ah me! return!'--the wind passed by
   On which those accents died, faint, far, and lingeringly.

     Woe! woe! that moonless midnight! Want and Pest
     Were horrible, but one more fell doth rear,
     As in a hydra's swarming lair, its crest
     Eminent among those victims--even the Fear
     Of Hell; each girt by the hot atmosphere
     Of his blind agony, like a scorpion stung
     By his own rage upon his burning bier
     Of circling coals of fire. But still there clung
   One hope, like a keen sword on starting threads uphung:

     Not death--death was no more refuge or rest;
     Not life--it was despair to be!--not sleep,
     For fiends and chasms of fire had dispossessed
     All natural dreams; to wake was not to weep,
     But to gaze, mad and pallid, at the leap
     To which the Future, like a snaky scourge,
     Or like some tyrant's eye which aye doth keep
     Its withering beam upon his slaves, did urge
   Their steps; they heard the roar of Hell's sulphureous surge.

     Each of that multitude, alone and lost
     To sense of outward things, one hope yet knew;
     As on a foam-girt crag some seaman tossed
     Stares at the rising tide, or like the crew
     Whilst now the ship is splitting through and through;
     Each, if the tramp of a far steed was heard,
     Started from sick despair, or if there flew
     One murmur on the wind, or if some word
   Which none can gather yet the distant crowd has stirred.

     Why became cheeks, wan with the kiss of death,
     Paler from hope? they had sustained despair.
     Why watched those myriads with suspended breath
     Sleepless a second night? the are not here,
     The victims--and hour by hour, a vision drear,
     Warm corpses fall upon the clay-cold dead;
     And even in death their lips are wreathed with fear.
     The crowd is mute and moveless--overhead
   Silent Arcturus shines--ha! hear'st thou not the tread

     Of rushing feet? laughter? the shout, the scream
     Of triumph not to be contained? See! hark!
     They come, they come! give way! Alas, ye deem
     Falsely--'t is but a crowd of maniacs stark
     Driven, like a troop of spectres, through the dark
     From the choked well, whence a bright death-fire sprung,
     A lurid earth-star, which dropped many a spark
     From its blue train, and, spreading widely, clung
   To their wild hair, like mist the topmost pines among.

     And many, from the crowd collected there,
     Joined that strange dance in fearful sympathies;
     There was the silence of a long despair,
     When the last echo of those terrible cries
     Came from a distant street, like agonies
     Stifled afar.--Before the Tyrant's throne
     All night his agèd Senate sate, their eyes
     In stony expectation fixed; when one
   Sudden before them stood, a Stranger and alone.

     Dark Priests and haughty Warriors gazed on him
     With baffled wonder, for a hermit's vest
     Concealed his face; but when he spake, his tone
     Ere yet the matter did their thoughts arrest--
     Earnest, benignant, calm, as from a breast
     Void of all hate or terror--made them start;
     For as with gentle accents he addressed
     His speech to them, on each unwilling heart
   Unusual awe did fall--a spirit-quelling dart.

    'Ye Princes of the Earth, ye sit aghast
     Amid the ruin which yourselves have made;
     Yes, Desolation heard your trumpet's blast,
     And sprang from sleep!--dark Terror has obeyed
     Your bidding. Oh, that I, whom ye have made
     Your foe, could set my dearest enemy free
     From pain and fear! but evil casts a shade
     Which cannot pass so soon, and Hate must be
   The nurse and parent still of an ill progeny.

    'Ye turn to Heaven for aid in your distress;
     Alas, that ye, the mighty and the wise,
     Who, if ye dared, might not aspire to less
     Than ye conceive of power, should fear the lies
     Which thou, and thou, didst frame for mysteries
     To blind your slaves! consider your own thought--
     An empty and a cruel sacrifice
     Ye now prepare for a vain idol wrought
   Out of the fears and hate which vain desires have brought.

    'Ye seek for happiness--alas the day!
     Ye find it not in luxury nor in gold,
     Nor in the fame, nor in the envied sway
     For which, O willing slaves to Custom old,
     Severe task-mistress, ye your hearts have sold.
     Ye seek for peace, and, when ye die, to dream
     No evil dreams;--all mortal things are cold
     And senseless then; if aught survive, I deem
   It must be love and joy, for they immortal seem.

     'Fear not the future, weep not for the past.
     Oh, could I win your ears to dare be now
     Glorious, and great, and calm! that ye would cast
     Into the dust those symbols of your woe,
     Purple, and gold, and steel! that ye would go
     Proclaiming to the nations whence ye came
     That Want and Plague and Fear from slavery flow;
     And that mankind is free, and that the shame
   Of royalty and faith is lost in freedom's fame!

    'If thus 't is well--if not, I come to say
     That Laon--' While the Stranger spoke, among
     The Council sudden tumult and affray
     Arose, for many of those warriors young
     Had on his eloquent accents fed and hung
     Like bees on mountain-flowers; they knew the truth,
     And from their thrones in vindication sprung;
     The men of faith and law then without ruth
   Drew forth their secret steel, and stabbed each ardent youth.

     They stabbed them in the back and sneered--a slave,
     Who stood behind the throne, those corpses drew
     Each to its bloody, dark and secret grave;
     And one more daring raised his steel anew
     To pierce the Stranger: 'What hast thou to do
     With me, poor wretch?'--Calm, solemn and severe,
     That voice unstrung his sinews, and he threw
     His dagger on the ground, and, pale with fear,
   Sate silently--his voice then did the Stranger rear.

    'It doth avail not that I weep for ye--
     Ye cannot change, since ye are old and gray,
     And ye have chosen your lot--your fame must be
     A book of blood, whence in a milder day
     Men shall learn truth, when ye are wrapped in clay;
     Now ye shall triumph. I am Laon's friend,
     And him to your revenge will I betray,
     So ye concede one easy boon. Attend!
   For now I speak of things which ye can apprehend.

    'There is a People mighty in its youth,
     A land beyond the Oceans of the West,
     Where, though with rudest rites, Freedom and Truth
     Are worshipped; from a glorious Mother's breast,
     Who, since high Athens fell, among the rest
     Sate like the Queen of Nations, but in woe,
     By inbred monsters outraged and oppressed,
     Turns to her chainless child for succor now,
   It draws the milk of Power in Wisdom's fullest flow.

    'That land is like an Eagle, whose young gaze
     Feeds on the noontide beam, whose golden plume
     Floats moveless on the storm, and in the blaze
     Of sunrise gleams when earth is wrapped in gloom;
     An epitaph of glory for the tomb
     Of murdered Europe may thy fame be made,
     Great People! as the sands shalt thou become;
     Thy growth is swift as morn when night must fade;
   The multitudinous Earth shall sleep beneath thy shade.

    'Yes, in the desert there is built a home
     For Freedom. Genius is made strong to rear
     The monuments of man beneath the dome
     Of a new Heaven; myriads assemble there,
     Whom the proud lords of man, in rage or fear,
     Drive from their wasted homes. The boon I pray
     Is this--that Cythna shall be convoyed there,--
     Nay, start not at the name--America!
   And then to you this night Laon will I betray.

    'With me do what ye will. I am your foe!'
     The light of such a joy as makes the stare
     Of hungry snakes like living emeralds glow
     Shone in a hundred human eyes.--'Where, where
     Is Laon? haste! fly! drag him swiftly here!
     We grant thy boon.'--'I put no trust in ye,
     Swear by the Power ye dread.'--'We swear, we swear!'
     The Stranger threw his vest back suddenly,
   And smiled in gentle pride, and said, 'Lo! I am he!'