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The Revolt of Islam

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

Canto Twelfth

     THE transport of a fierce and monstrous gladness
     Spread through the multitudinous streets, fast flying
     Upon the winds of fear; from his dull madness
     The starveling waked, and died in joy; the dying,
     Among the corpses in stark agony lying,
     Just heard the happy tidings, and in hope
     Closed their faint eyes; from house to house replying
     With loud acclaim, the living shook Heaven's cope,
   And filled the startled Earth with echoes. Morn did ope

     Its pale eyes then; and lo! the long array
     Of guards in golden arms, and Priests beside,
     Singing their bloody hymns, whose garbs betray
     The blackness of the faith it seems to hide;
     And see the Tyrant's gem-wrought chariot glide
     Among the gloomy cowls and glittering spears--
     A Shape of light is sitting by his side,
     A child most beautiful. I' the midst appears
   Laon--exempt alone from mortal hopes and fears.

     His head and feet are bare, his hands are bound
     Behind with heavy chains, yet none do wreak
     Their scoffs on him, though myriads throng around;
     There are no sneers upon his lip which speak
     That scorn or hate has made him bold; his cheek
     Resolve has not turned pale; his eyes are mild
     And calm, and, like the morn about to break,
     Smile on mankind; his heart seems reconciled
   To all things and itself, like a reposing child.

     Tumult was in the soul of all beside,
     Ill joy, or doubt, or fear; but those who saw
     Their tranquil victim pass felt wonder glide
     Into their brain, and became calm with awe.--
     See, the slow pageant near the pile doth draw.
     A thousand torches in the spacious square,
     Borne by the ready slaves of ruthless law,
     Await the signal round; the morning fair
   Is changed to a dim night by that unnatural glare.

     And see! beneath a sun-bright canopy,
     Upon a platform level with the pile,
     The anxious Tyrant sit, enthroned on high,
     Girt by the chieftains of the host; all smile
     In expectation but one child: the while
     I, Laon, led by mutes, ascend my bier
     Of fire, and look around;--each distant isle
     Is dark in the bright dawn; towers far and near
   Pierce like reposing flames the tremulous atmosphere.

     There was such silence through the host as when
     An earthquake, trampling on some populous town,
     Has crushed ten thousand with one tread, and men
     Expect the second; all were mute but one,
     That fairest child, who, bold with love, alone
     Stood up before the king, without avail,
     Pleading for Laon's life--her stifled groan
     Was heard--she trembled like one aspen pale
   Among the gloomy pines of a Norwegian vale.

     What were his thoughts linked in the morning sun,
     Among those reptiles, stingless with delay,
     Even like a tyrant's wrath?--the signal-gun
     Roared--hark, again! in that dread pause he lay
     As in a quiet dream--the slaves obey--
     A thousand torches drop,--and hark, the last
     Bursts on that awful silence; far away
     Millions, with hearts that beat both loud and fast,
   Watch for the springing flame expectant and aghast.

     They fly--the torches fall--a cry of fear
     Has startled the triumphant!--they recede!
     For, ere the cannon's roar has died, they hear
     The tramp of hoofs like earthquake, and a steed
     Dark and gigantic, with the tempest's speed,
     Bursts through their ranks; a woman sits thereon,
     Fairer it seems than aught that earth can breed,
     Calm, radiant, like the phantom of the dawn,
   A spirit from the caves of daylight wandering gone.

     All thought it was God's Angel come to sweep
     The lingering guilty to their fiery grave;
     The Tyrant from his throne in dread did leap,--
     Her innocence his child from fear did save;
     Scared by the faith they feigned, each priestly slave
     Knelt for His mercy whom they served with blood,
     And, like the refluence of a mighty wave
     Sucked into the loud sea, the multitude
   With crushing panic fled in terror's altered mood.

     They pause, they blush, they gaze; a gathering shout
     Bursts like one sound from the ten thousand streams
     Of a tempestuous sea; that sudden rout
     One checked who never in his mildest dreams
     Felt awe from grace or loveliness, the seams
     Of his rent heart so hard and cold a creed
     Had seared with blistering ice; but he misdeems
     That he is wise whose wounds do only bleed
   Inly for self,--thus thought the Iberian Priest indeed,

     And others, too, thought he was wise to see
     In pain, and fear, and hate, something divine--
     In love and beauty, no divinity.
     Now with a bitter smile, whose light did shine
     Like a fiend's hope upon his lips and eyne,
     He said, and the persuasion of that sneer
     Rallied his trembling comrades--'Is it mine
     To stand alone, when kings and soldiers fear
   A woman? Heaven has sent its other victim here.'

    'Were it not impious,' said the King, 'to break
     Our holy oath?'--'Impious to keep it, say!'
     Shrieked the exulting Priest:--'Slaves, to the stake
     Bind her, and on my head the burden lay
     Of her just torments; at the Judgment Day
     Will I stand up before the golden throne
     Of Heaven, and cry,--"To Thee did I betray
     An infidel! but for me she would have known
   Another moment's joy!" the glory be thine own.'

     They trembled, but replied not, nor obeyed,
     Pausing in breathless silence. Cythna sprung
     From her gigantic steed, who, like a shade
     Chased by the winds, those vacant streets among
     Fled tameless, as the brazen rein she flung
     Upon his neck, and kissed his moonèd brow.
     A piteous sight, that one so fair and young
     The clasp of such a fearful death should woo
   With smiles of tender joy as beamed from Cythna now.

     The warm tears burst in spite of faith and fear
     From many a tremulous eye, but, like soft dews
     Which feed spring's earliest buds, hung gathered there,
     Frozen by doubt,--alas! they could not choose
     But weep; for, when her faint limbs did refuse
     To climb the pyre, upon the mutes she smiled;
     And with her eloquent gestures, and the hues
     Of her quick lips, even as a weary child
   Wins sleep from some fond nurse with its caresses mild,

     She won them, though unwilling, her to bind
     Near me, among the snakes. When then had fled
     One soft reproach that was most thrilling kind,
     She smiled on me, and nothing then we said,
     But each upon the other's countenance fed
     Looks of insatiate love; the mighty veil
     Which doth divide the living and the dead
     Was almost rent, the world grew dim and pale--
   All light in Heaven or Earth beside our love did fail.

     Yet--yet--one brief relapse, like the last beam
     Of dying flames, the stainless air around
     Hung silent and serene--a blood-red gleam
     Burst upwards, hurling fiercely from the ground
     The globèd smoke; I heard the mighty sound
     Of its uprise, like a tempestuous ocean;
     And, through its chasms I saw, as in a swound,
     The Tyrant's child fall without life or motion
   Before his throne, subdued by some unseen emotion.--

     And is this death?--The pyre has disappeared,
     The Pestilence, the Tyrant, and the throng;
     The flames grow silent--slowly there is heard
     The music of a breath-suspending song,
     Which, like the kiss of love when life is young,
     Steeps the faint eyes in darkness sweet and deep;
     With ever-changing notes it floats along,
     Till on my passive soul there seemed to creep
   A melody, like waves on wrinkled sands that leap.

     The warm touch of a soft and tremulous hand
     Wakened me then; lo, Cythna sate reclined
     Beside me, on the waved and golden sand
     Of a clear pool, upon a bank o'ertwined
     With strange and star-bright flowers which to the wind
     Breathed divine odor; high above was spread
     The emerald heaven of trees of unknown kind,
     Whose moonlike blooms and bright fruit overhead
   A shadow, which was light, upon the waters shed.

     And round about sloped many a lawny mountain
     With incense-bearing forests and vast caves
     Of marble radiance, to that mighty fountain;
     And, where the flood its own bright margin laves,
     Their echoes talk with its eternal waves,
     Which from the depths whose jagged caverns breed
     Their unreposing strife it lifts and heaves,
     Till through a chasm of hills they roll, and feed
   A river deep, which flies with smooth but arrowy speed.

     As we sate gazing in a trance of wonder,
     A boat approached, borne by the musical air
     Along the waves which sung and sparkled under
     Its rapid keel. A wingèd Shape sate there,
     A child with silver-shining wings, so fair
     That, as her bark did through the waters glide,
     The shadow of the lingering waves did wear
     Light, as from starry beams; from side to side
   While veering to the wind her plumes the bark did guide.

     The boat was one curved shell of hollow pearl,
     Almost translucent with the light divine
     Of her within; the prow and stern did curl,
     Hornèd on high, like the young moon supine,
     When o'er dim twilight mountains dark with pine
     It floats upon the sunset's sea of beams,
     Whose golden waves in many a purple line
     Fade fast, till, borne on sunlight's ebbing streams,
   Dilating, on earth's verge the sunken meteor gleams.

     Its keel has struck the sands beside our feet.
     Then Cythna turned to me, and from her eyes,
     Which swam with unshed tears, a look more sweet
     Than happy love, a wild and glad surprise,
     Glanced as she spake: 'Ay, this is Paradise
     And not a dream, and we are all united!
     Lo, that is mine own child, who in the guise
     Of madness came, like day to one benighted
   In lonesome woods; my heart is now too well requited!'

     And then she wept aloud, and in her arms
     Clasped that bright Shape, less marvellously fair
     Than her own human hues and living charms,
     Which, as she leaned in passion's silence there,
     Breathed warmth on the cold bosom of the air,
     Which seemed to blush and tremble with delight;
     The glossy darkness of her streaming hair
     Fell o'er that snowy child, and wrapped from sight
   The fond and long embrace which did their hearts unite.

     Then the bright child, the plumèd Seraph, came,
     And fixed its blue and beaming eyes on mine,
     And said, 'I was disturbed by tremulous shame
     When once we met, yet knew that I was thine
     From the same hour in which thy lips divine
     Kindled a clinging dream within my brain,
     Which ever waked when I might sleep, to twine
     Thine image with her memory dear; again
   We meet, exempted now from mortal fear or pain.

    'When the consuming flames had wrapped ye round,
     The hope which I had cherished went away;
     I fell in agony on the senseless ground,
     And hid mine eyes in dust, and far astray
     My mind was gone, when bright, like dawning day,
     The Spectre of the Plague before me flew,
     And breathed upon my lips, and seemed to say,
     "They wait for thee, belovèd!"--then I knew
   The death-mark on my breast, and became calm anew.

    'It was the calm of love--for I was dying.
     I saw the black and half-extinguished pyre
     In its own gray and shrunken ashes lying;
     The pitchy smoke of the departed fire
     Still hung in many a hollow dome and spire
     Above the towers, like night,--beneath whose shade,
     Awed by the ending of their own desire,
     The armies stood; a vacancy was made
   In expectation's depth, and so they stood dismayed.

    'The frightful silence of that altered mood
     The tortures of the dying clove alone,
     Till one uprose among the multitude,
     And said--"The flood of time is rolling on;
     We stand upon its brink, whilst they are gone
     To glide in peace down death's mysterious stream.
     Have ye done well? they moulder, flesh and bone,
     Who might have made this life's envenomed dream
   A sweeter draught than ye will ever taste, I deem.

    '"These perish as the good and great of yore
     Have perished, and their murderers will repent;
     Yes, vain and barren tears shall flow before
     Yon smoke has faded from the firmament,
     Even for this cause, that ye, who must lament
     The death of those that made this world so fair,
     Cannot recall them now; but then is lent
     To man the wisdom of a high despair,
   When such can die, and he live on and linger here.

    '"Ay, ye may fear not now the Pestilence,
     From fabled hell as by a charm withdrawn;
     All power and faith must pass, since calmly hence
     In pain and fire have unbelievers gone;
     And ye must sadly turn away, and moan
     In secret, to his home each one returning;
     And to long ages shall this hour be known,
     And slowly shall its memory, ever burning,
     Fill this dark night of things with an eternal morning.

    '"For me that world is grown too void and cold,
     Since hope pursues immortal destiny
     With steps thus slow--therefore shall ye behold
     How those who love, yet fear not, dare to die;
     Tell to your children this!" then suddenly
     He sheathed a dagger in his heart, and fell;
     My brain grew dark in death, and yet to me
     There came a murmur from the crowd to tell
   Of deep and mighty change which suddenly befell.

    'Then suddenly I stood, a wingèd Thought,
     Before the immortal Senate, and the seat
     Of that star-shining Spirit, whence is wrought
     The strength of its dominion, good and great,
     The Better Genius of this world's estate.
     His realm around one mighty Fane is spread,
     Elysian islands bright and fortunate,
     Calm dwellings of the free and happy dead,
   Where I am sent to lead!' These wingèd words she said,

     And with the silence of her eloquent smile,
     Bade us embark in her divine canoe;
     Then at the helm we took our seat, the while
     Above her head those plumes of dazzling hue
     Into the winds' invisible stream she threw,
     Sitting beside the prow; like gossamer
     On the swift breath of morn the vessel flew
     O'er the bright whirlpools of that fountain fair,
   Whose shores receded fast while we seemed lingering there;

     Till down that mighty stream dark, calm and fleet,
     Between a chasm of cedarn mountains riven,
     Chased by the thronging winds whose viewless feet,
     As swift as twinkling beams, had under Heaven
     From woods and waves wild sounds and odors driven,
     The boat fled visibly; three nights and days,
     Borne like a cloud through morn, and noon, and even,
     We sailed along the winding watery ways
   Of the vast stream, a long and labyrinthine maze.

     A scene of joy and wonder to behold,--
     That river's shapes and shadows changing ever,
     Where the broad sunrise filled with deepening gold
     Its whirlpools where all hues did spread and quiver;
     And where melodious falls did burst and shiver
     Among rocks clad with flowers, the foam and spray
     Sparkled like stars upon the sunny river;
     Or, when the moonlight poured a holier day,
   One vast and glittering lake around green islands lay.

     Morn, noon and even, that boat of pearl outran
     The streams which bore it, like the arrowy cloud
     Of tempest, or the speedier thought of man,
     Which flieth forth and cannot make abode;
     Sometimes through forests, deep like night, we glode,
     Between the walls of mighty mountains crowned
     With Cyclopean piles, whose turrets proud,
     The homes of the departed, dimly frowned
   O'er the bright waves which girt their dark foundations round.

     Sometimes between the wide and flowering meadows
     Mile after mile we sailed, and 't was delight
     To see far off the sunbeams chase the shadows
     Over the grass; sometimes beneath the night
     Of wide and vaulted caves, whose roofs were bright
     With starry gems, we fled, whilst from their deep
     And dark green chasms shades beautiful and white,
     Amid sweet sounds across our path would sweep,
   Like swift and lovely dreams that walk the waves of sleep.

     And ever as we sailed, our minds were full
     Of love and wisdom, which would overflow
     In converse wild, and sweet, and wonderful;
     And in quick smiles whose light would come and go,
     Like music o'er wide waves, and in the flow
     Of sudden tears, and in the mute caress;
     For a deep shade was cleft, and we did know,
     That virtue, though obscured on Earth, not less
   Survives all mortal change in lasting loveliness.

     Three days and nights we sailed, as thought and feeling
     Number delightful hours--for through the sky
     The spherèd lamps of day and night, revealing
     New changes and new glories, rolled on high,
     Sun, Moon and moonlike lamps, the progeny
     Of a diviner Heaven, serene and fair;
     On the fourth day, wild as a wind-wrought sea
     The stream became, and fast and faster bare
   The spirit-wingèd boat, steadily speeding there.

     Steady and swift, where the waves rolled like mountains
     Within the vast ravine, whose rifts did pour
     Tumultuous floods from their ten thousand fountains,
     The thunder of whose earth-uplifting roar
     Made the air sweep in whirlwinds from the shore,
     Calm as a shade, the boat of that fair child
     Securely fled that rapid stress before,
     Amid the topmost spray and sunbows wild
   Wreathed in the silver mist; in joy and pride we smiled.

     The torrent of that wide and raging river
     Is passed, and our aërial speed suspended.
     We look behind; a golden mist did quiver
     When its wild surges with the lake were blended;
     Our bark hung there, as on a line suspended
     Between two heavens,--that windless, waveless lake,
     Which four great cataracts from four vales, attended
     By mists, aye feed; from rocks and clouds they break,
   And of that azure sea a silent refuge make.

     Motionless resting on the lake awhile,
     I saw its marge of snow-bright mountains rear
     Their peaks aloft; I saw each radiant isle;
     And in the midst, afar, even like a sphere
     Hung in one hollow sky, did there appear
     The Temple of the Spirit; on the sound
     Which issued thence drawn nearer and more near
     Like the swift moon this glorious earth around,
   The charmèd boat approached, and there its haven found.