Previous Contents Index Next

Queen Mab

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

Book II

     If solitude hath ever led thy steps
       To the wild ocean's echoing shore,
       And thou hast lingered there,
       Until the sun's broad orb
     Seemed resting on the burnished wave,
       Thou must have marked the lines
     Of purple gold that motionless
       Hung o'er the sinking sphere;
     Thou must have marked the billowy clouds,
     Edged with intolerable radiancy,                                 10
       Towering like rocks of jet
       Crowned with a diamond wreath;
       And yet there is a moment,
       When the sun's highest point
   Peeps like a star o'er ocean's western edge,
   When those far clouds of feathery gold,
     Shaded with deepest purple, gleam
     Like islands on a dark blue sea;
   Then has thy fancy soared above the earth
       And furled its wearied wing                                    20
       Within the Fairy's fane.

       Yet not the golden islands
       Gleaming in yon flood of light,
           Nor the feathery curtains
       Stretching o'er the sun's bright couch,
       Nor the burnished ocean-waves
           Paving that gorgeous dome,
     So fair, so wonderful a sight
   As Mab's ethereal palace could afford.
   Yet likest evening's vault, that faëry Hall!                  30
   As Heaven, low resting on the wave, it spread
           Its floors of flashing light,
           Its vast and azure dome,
           Its fertile golden islands
           Floating on a silver sea;
   Whilst suns their mingling beamings darted
   Through clouds of circumambient darkness,
     And pearly battlements around
     Looked o'er the immense of Heaven.

     The magic car no longer moved.                                   40
       The Fairy and the Spirit
       Entered the Hall of Spells.
         Those golden clouds
       That rolled in glittering billows
       Beneath the azure canopy,
   With the ethereal footsteps trembled not;
           The light and crimson mists,
   Floating to strains of thrilling melody
       Through that unearthly dwelling,
   Yielded to every movement of the will;                             50
   Upon their passive swell the Spirit leaned,
   And, for the varied bliss that pressed around,
     Used not the glorious privilege
       Of virtue and of wisdom.

      'Spirit!' the Fairy said,
     And pointed to the gorgeous dome,
      'This is a wondrous sight
       And mocks all human grandeur;
   But, were it virtue's only meed to dwell
   In a celestial palace, all resigned                                60
   To pleasurable impulses, immured
   Within the prison of itself, the will
   Of changeless Nature would be unfulfilled.
   Learn to make others happy. Spirit, come!
   This is thine high reward:--the past shall rise;
   Thou shalt behold the present; I will teach
           The secrets of the future.'

           The Fairy and the Spirit
   Approached the overhanging battlement.
       Below lay stretched the universe!                              70
       There, far as the remotest line
       That bounds imagination's flight,
         Countless and unending orbs
       In mazy motion intermingled,
       Yet still fulfilled immutably
           Eternal Nature's law.
           Above, below, around,
           The circling systems formed
           A wilderness of harmony;
       Each with undeviating aim,                                     80
   In eloquent silence, through the depths of space
           Pursued its wondrous way.

           There was a little light
   That twinkled in the misty distance.
           None but a spirit's eye
           Might ken that rolling orb.
           None but a spirit's eye,
           And in no other place
   But that celestial dwelling, might behold
   Each action of this earth's inhabitants.                           90
           But matter, space, and time,
   In those aërial mansions cease to act;
   And all-prevailing wisdom, when it reaps
   The harvest of its excellence, o'erbounds
   Those obstacles of which an earthly soul
       Fears to attempt the conquest.

       The Fairy pointed to the earth.
       The Spirit's intellectual eye
       Its kindred beings recognized.
   The thronging thousands, to a passing view,                       100
       Seemed like an ant-hill's citizens.
           How wonderful! that even
     The passions, prejudices, interests,
   That sway the meanest being--the weak touch
           That moves the finest nerve
           And in one human brain
   Causes the faintest thought, becomes a link
       In the great chain of Nature!

      'Behold,' the Fairy cried,
      'Palmyra's ruined palaces!                                     110
       Behold where grandeur frowned!
       Behold where pleasure smiled!
     What now remains?--the memory
       Of senselessness and shame.
       What is immortal there?
       Nothing--it stands to tell
       A melancholy tale, to give
       An awful warning; soon
     Oblivion will steal silently
       The remnant of its fame.                                      120
       Monarchs and conquerors there
     Proud o'er prostrate millions trod--
     The earthquakes of the human race;
     Like them, forgotten when the ruin
       That marks their shock is past.

      'Beside the eternal Nile
       The Pyramids have risen.
     Nile shall pursue his changeless way;
         Those Pyramids shall fall.
     Yea! not a stone shall stand to tell                            130
         The spot whereon they stood;
     Their very site shall be forgotten,
         As is their builder's name!

       'Behold yon sterile spot,
     Where now the wandering Arab's tent
         Flaps in the desert blast!
     There once old Salem's haughty fane
   Reared high to heaven its thousand golden domes,
     And in the blushing face of day
       Exposed its shameful glory.                                   140
   Oh! many a widow, many an orphan cursed
   The building of that fane; and many a father,
   Worn out with toil and slavery, implored
   The poor man's God to sweep it from the earth
   And spare his children the detested task
   Of piling stone on stone and poisoning
         The choicest days of life
         To soothe a dotard's vanity.
   There an inhuman and uncultured race
   Howled hideous praises to their Demon-God;                        150
   They rushed to war, tore from the mother's womb
   The unborn child--old age and infancy
   Promiscuous perished; their victorious arms
   Left not a soul to breathe. Oh! they were fiends!
   But what was he who taught them that the God
   Of Nature and benevolence had given
   A special sanction to the trade of blood?
   His name and theirs are fading, and the tales
   Of this barbarian nation, which imposture
   Recites till terror credits, are pursuing                         160
     Itself into forgetfulness.

    'Where Athens, Rome, and Sparta stood,
     There is a moral desert now.
     The mean and miserable huts,
     The yet more wretched palaces,
     Contrasted with those ancient fanes
     Now crumbling to oblivion,--
     The long and lonely colonnades
     Through which the ghost of Freedom stalks,--
       Seem like a well-known tune,                                  170
   Which in some dear scene we have loved to hear,
       Remembered now in sadness.
       But, oh! how much more changed,
       How gloomier is the contrast
       Of human nature there!
   Where Socrates expired, a tyrant's slave,
   A coward and a fool, spreads death around--
       Then, shuddering, meets his own.
     Where Cicero and Antoninus lived,
     A cowled and hypocritical monk                                  180
         Prays, curses and deceives.

      'Spirit! ten thousand years
       Have scarcely passed away,
   Since in the waste, where now the savage drinks
   His enemy's blood, and, aping Europe's sons,
       Wakes the unholy song of war,
           Arose a stately city,
   Metropolis of the western continent.
     There, now, the mossy column-stone,
   Indented by time's unrelaxing grasp,                              190
       Which once appeared to brave
       All, save its country's ruin,--
       There the wide forest scene,
   Rude in the uncultivated loveliness
       Of gardens long run wild,--
   Seems, to the unwilling sojourner whose steps
     Chance in that desert has delayed,
   Thus to have stood since earth was what it is.
     Yet once it was the busiest haunt,
   Whither, as to a common centre, flocked                           200
     Strangers, and ships, and merchandise;
       Once peace and freedom blest
       The cultivated plain;
       But wealth, that curse of man,
   Blighted the bud of its prosperity;
   Virtue and wisdom, truth and liberty,
   Fled, to return not, until man shall know
     That they alone can give the bliss
       Worthy a soul that claims
       Its kindred with eternity.                                    210

    'There 's not one atom of yon earth
       But once was living man;
     Nor the minutest drop of rain,
     That hangeth in its thinnest cloud,
       But flowed in human veins;
       And from the burning plains
       Where Libyan monsters yell,
       From the most gloomy glens
       Of Greenland's sunless clime,
       To where the golden fields                                    220
       Of fertile England spread
       Their harvest to the day,
       Thou canst not find one spot
       Whereon no city stood.

      'How strange is human pride!
     I tell thee that those living things,
     To whom the fragile blade of grass
       That springeth in the morn
       And perisheth ere noon,
       Is an unbounded world;                                        230
     I tell thee that those viewless beings,
     Whose mansion is the smallest particle
       Of the impassive atmosphere,
       Think, feel and live like man;
     That their affections and antipathies,
       Like his, produce the laws
       Ruling their moral state;
       And the minutest throb
     That through their frame diffuses
       The slightest, faintest motion,                               240
       Is fixed and indispensable
       As the majestic laws
       That rule yon rolling orbs.'

       The Fairy paused. The Spirit,
   In ecstasy of admiration, felt
   All knowledge of the past revived; the events
       Of old and wondrous times,
   Which dim tradition interruptedly
   Teaches the credulous vulgar, were unfolded
     In just perspective to the view;                                250
     Yet dim from their infinitude.
       The Spirit seemed to stand
   High on an isolated pinnacle;
   The flood of ages combating below,
   The depth of the unbounded universe
       Above, and all around
     Nature's unchanging harmony.