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Queen Mab

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

Book I

       HOW wonderful is Death,
       Death, and his brother Sleep!
     One, pale as yonder waning moon
       With lips of lurid blue;
       The other, rosy as the morn
     When throned on ocean's wave
           It blushes o'er the world;
     Yet both so passing wonderful!

       Hath then the gloomy Power
   Whose reign is in the tainted sepulchres                           10
       Seized on her sinless soul?
       Must then that peerless form
   Which love and admiration cannot view
   Without a beating heart, those azure veins
   Which steal like streams along a field of snow,
     That lovely outline which is fair
       As breathing marble, perish?
       Must putrefaction's breath
     Leave nothing of this heavenly sight
       But loathsomeness and ruin?                                    20
     Spare nothing but a gloomy theme,
   On which the lightest heart might moralize?
       Or is it only a sweet slumber
       Stealing o'er sensation,
     Which the breath of roseate morning
           Chaseth into darkness?
           Will Ianthe wake again,
       And give that faithful bosom joy
     Whose sleepless spirit waits to catch
     Light, life and rapture, from her smile?                         30

           Yes! she will wake again,
   Although her glowing limbs are motionless,
           And silent those sweet lips,
           Once breathing eloquence
     That might have soothed a tiger's rage
   Or thawed the cold heart of a conqueror.
           Her dewy eyes are closed,
     And on their lids, whose texture fine
     Scarce hides the dark blue orbs beneath,
           The baby Sleep is pillowed;                                40
           Her golden tresses shade
           The bosom's stainless pride,
       Curling like tendrils of the parasite
           Around a marble column.

       Hark! whence that rushing sound?
           'T is like the wondrous strain
       That round a lonely ruin swells,
       Which, wandering on the echoing shore,
           The enthusiast hears at evening;
       'T is softer than the west wind's sigh;                        50
       'T is wilder than the unmeasured notes
       Of that strange lyre whose strings
       The genii of the breezes sweep;
           Those lines of rainbow light
       Are like the moonbeams when they fall
   Through some cathedral window, but the tints
           Are such as may not find
           Comparison on earth.

   Behold the chariot of the Fairy Queen!
   Celestial coursers paw the unyielding air;                         60
   Their filmy pennons at her word they furl,
   And stop obedient to the reins of light;
     These the Queen of Spells drew in;
     She spread a charm around the spot,
   And, leaning graceful from the ethereal car,
     Long did she gaze, and silently,
           Upon the slumbering maid.

   Oh! not the visioned poet in his dreams,
   When silvery clouds float through the wildered brain,
   When every sight of lovely, wild and grand                         70
     Astonishes, enraptures, elevates,
       When fancy at a glance combines
       The wondrous and the beautiful,--
     So bright, so fair, so wild a shape
           Hath ever yet beheld,
   As that which reined the coursers of the air
     And poured the magic of her gaze
           Upon the maiden's sleep.

       The broad and yellow moon
       Shone dimly through her form--                                 80
     That form of faultless symmetry;
     The pearly and pellucid car
       Moved not the moonlight's line.
       'T was not an earthly pageant.
     Those, who had looked upon the sight
       Passing all human glory,
       Saw not the yellow moon,
       Saw not the mortal scene,
       Heard not the night-wind's rush,
       Heard not an earthly sound,                                    90
       Saw but the fairy pageant,
       Heard but the heavenly strains
       That filled the lonely dwelling.

   The Fairy's frame was slight--yon fibrous cloud,
   That catches but the palest tinge of even,
   And which the straining eye can hardly seize
   When melting into eastern twilight's shadow,
   Were scarce so thin, so slight; but the fair star
   That gems the glittering coronet of morn,
   Sheds not a light so mild, so powerful,                           100
   As that which, bursting from the Fairy's form,
   Spread a purpureal halo round the scene,
       Yet with an undulating motion,
       Swayed to her outline gracefully.

       From her celestial car
       The Fairy Queen descended,
       And thrice she waved her wand
     Circled with wreaths of amaranth;
       Her thin and misty form
       Moved with the moving air,                                    110
       And the clear silver tones,
       As thus she spoke, were such
     As are unheard by all but gifted ear.

    'Stars! your balmiest influence shed!
     Elements! your wrath suspend!
     Sleep, Ocean, in the rocky bounds
       That circle thy domain!
     Let not a breath be seen to stir
     Around yon grass-grown ruin's height!
       Let even the restless gossamer                                120
       Sleep on the moveless air!
       Soul of Ianthe! thou,
   Judged alone worthy of the envied boon
   That waits the good and the sincere; that waits
   Those who have struggled, and with resolute will
   Vanquished earth's pride and meanness, burst the chains,
   The icy chains of custom, and have shone
   The day-stars of their age;--Soul of
           Awake! arise!'

           Sudden arose                                              130
       Ianthe's Soul; it stood
     All beautiful in naked purity,
   The perfect semblance of its bodily frame;
   Instinct with inexpressible beauty and grace--
         Each stain of earthliness
       Had passed away--it reassumed
       Its native dignity and stood
         Immortal amid ruin.

       Upon the couch the body lay,
       Wrapt in the depth of slumber;                                140
   Its features were fixed and meaningless,
       Yet animal life was there,
       And every organ yet performed
       Its natural functions; 'twas a sight
   Of wonder to behold the body and the soul.
       The self-same lineaments, the same
       Marks of identity were there;
   Yet, oh, how different! One aspires to Heaven,
   Pants for its sempiternal heritage,
   And, ever changing, ever rising still,                            150
       Wantons in endless being:
   The other, for a time the unwilling sport
   Of circumstance and passion, struggles on;
   Fleets through its sad duration rapidly;
   Then like an useless and worn-out machine,
       Rots, perishes, and passes.

      'Spirit! who hast dived so deep;
       Spirit! who hast soared so high;
       Thou the fearless, thou the mild,
     Accept the boon thy worth hath earned,                          160
       Ascend the car with me!'

      'Do I dream? Is this new feeling
       But a visioned ghost of slumber?
           If indeed I am a soul,
       A free, a disembodied soul,
           Speak again to me.'

    'I am the Fairy MAB: to me 'tis given
     The wonders of the human world to keep;
     The secrets of the immeasurable past,
     In the unfailing consciences of men,                            170
     Those stern, unflattering chroniclers, I find;
     The future, from the causes which arise
     In each event, I gather; not the sting
     Which retributive memory implants
     In the hard bosom of the selfish man,
     Nor that ecstatic and exulting throb
     Which virtue's votary feels when he sums up
     The thoughts and actions of a well-spent day,
     Are unforeseen, unregistered by me;
     And it is yet permitted me to rend                              180
     The veil of mortal frailty, that the spirit,
     Clothed in its changeless purity, may know
     How soonest to accomplish the great end
     For which it hath its being, and may taste
     That peace which in the end all life will share.
     This is the meed of virtue; happy Soul,
        Ascend the car with me!'

     The chains of earth's immurement
       Fell from Ianthe's spirit;
   They shrank and brake like bandages of straw                      190
     Beneath a wakened giant's strength.
       She knew her glorious change,
     And felt in apprehension uncontrolled
       New raptures opening round;
     Each day-dream of her mortal life,
     Each frenzied vision of the slumbers
       That closed each well-spent day,
       Seemed now to meet reality.
     The Fairy and the Soul proceeded;
       The silver clouds disparted;                                  200
     And as the car of magic they ascended,
       Again the speechless music swelled,
       Again the coursers of the air
   Unfurled their azure pennons, and the Queen,
       Shaking the beamy reins,
       Bade them pursue their way.

       The magic car moved on.
     The night was fair, and countless stars
     Studded heaven's dark blue vault;
       Just o'er the eastern wave 210
     Peeped the first faint smile of morn.
       The magic car moved on--
       From the celestial hoofs
     The atmosphere in flaming sparkles flew,
       And where the burning wheels
     Eddied above the mountain's loftiest peak,
       Was traced a line of lightning.
       Now it flew far above a rock,
       The utmost verge of earth,
     The rival of the Andes, whose dark brow                         220
       Lowered o'er the silver sea.

       Far, far below the chariot's path,
         Calm as a slumbering babe,
         Tremendous Ocean lay.
       The mirror of its stillness showed
         The pale and waning stars,
         The chariot's fiery track,
         And the gray light of morn
         Tinging those fleecy clouds
         That canopied the dawn.                                     230

     Seemed it that the chariot's way
   Lay through the midst of an immense concave
   Radiant with million constellations, tinged
       With shades of infinite color,
       And semicircled with a belt
       Flashing incessant meteors.

       The magic car moved on.
       As they approached their goal,
     The coursers seemed to gather speed;
   The sea no longer was distinguished; earth                        240
     Appeared a vast and shadowy sphere;
       The sun's unclouded orb
       Rolled through the black concave;
       Its rays of rapid light
   Parted around the chariot's swifter course,
     And fell, like ocean's feathery spray
       Dashed from the boiling surge
       Before a vessel's prow.

       The magic car moved on.
       Earth's distant orb appeared                                  250
   The smallest light that twinkles in the heaven;
       Whilst round the chariot's way
       Innumerable systems rolled
       And countless spheres diffused
       An ever-varying glory.
     It was a sight of wonder: some
     Were hornèd like the crescent moon;
     Some shed a mild and silver beam
     Like Hesperus o'er the western sea;
     Some dashed athwart with trains of flame,                       260
     Like worlds to death and ruin driven;
   Some shone like suns, and as the chariot passed,
       Eclipsed all other light.

           Spirit of Nature! here--
       In this interminable wilderness
       Of worlds, at whose immensity
           Even soaring fancy staggers,
           Here is thy fitting temple!
             Yet not the lightest leaf
         That quivers to the passing breeze                          270
           Is less instinct with thee;
           Yet not the meanest worm
     That lurks in graves and fattens on the dead,
       Less shares thy eternal breath!
         Spirit of Nature! thou,
       Imperishable as this scene--
         Here is thy fitting temple!