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Queen Mab

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

Book III

      'Fairy!' the Spirit said,
       And on the Queen of Spells
       Fixed her ethereal eyes,
      'I thank thee. Thou hast given
   A boon which I will not resign, and taught
   A lesson not to be unlearned. I know
   The past, and thence I will essay to glean
   A warning for the future, so that man
   May profit by his errors and derive
       Experience from his folly;                                     10
   For, when the power of imparting joy
   Is equal to the will, the human soul
       Requires no other heaven.'

      'Turn thee, surpassing Spirit!
       Much yet remains unscanned.
       Thou knowest how great is man,
       Thou knowest his imbecility;
       Yet learn thou what he is;
       Yet learn the lofty destiny
       Which restless Time prepares                                   20
       For every living soul.

   'Behold a gorgeous palace that amid
   Yon populous city rears its thousand towers
   And seems itself a city. Gloomy troops
   Of sentinels in stern and silent ranks
   Encompass it around; the dweller there
   Cannot be free and happy; hearest thou not
   The curses of the fatherless, the groans
   Of those who have no friend? He passes on--
   The King, the wearer of a gilded chain                             30
   That binds his soul to abjectness, the fool
   Whom courtiers nickname monarch, whilst a slave
   Even to the basest appetites--that man
   Heeds not the shriek of penury; he smiles
   At the deep curses which the destitute
   Mutter in secret, and a sullen joy
   Pervades his bloodless heart when thousands groan
   But for those morsels which his wantonness
   Wastes in unjoyous revelry, to save
   All that they love from famine; when he hears                      40
   The tale of horror, to some ready-made face
   Of hypocritical assent he turns,
   Smothering the glow of shame, that, spite of him,
   Flushes his bloated cheek.

                               Now to the meal
   Of silence, grandeur and excess he drags
   His palled unwilling appetite. If gold,
   Gleaming around, and numerous viands culled
   From every clime could force the loathing sense
   To overcome satiety,--if wealth
   The spring it draws from poisons not,--or vice,                    50
   Unfeeling, stubborn vice, converteth not
   Its food to deadliest venom; then that king
   Is happy; and the peasant who fulfils
   His unforced task, when he returns at even
   And by the blazing faggot meets again
   Her welcome for whom all his toil is sped,
   Tastes not a sweeter meal.

                               Behold him now
   Stretched on the gorgeous couch; his fevered brain
   Reels dizzily awhile; but ah! too soon
   The slumber of intemperance subsides,                              60
   And conscience, that undying serpent, calls
   Her venomous brood to their nocturnal task.
   Listen! he speaks! oh! mark that frenzied eye--
   Oh! mark that deadly visage!'

                                  'No cessation!
   Oh! must this last forever! Awful death,
   I wish, yet fear to clasp thee!--Not one moment
   Of dreamless sleep! O dear and blessèd Peace,
   Why dost thou shroud thy vestal purity
   In penury and dungeons? Wherefore lurkest
   With danger, death, and solitude; yet shun'st                      70
   The palace I have built thee? Sacred Peace!
   Oh, visit me but once,--but pitying shed
   One drop of balm upon my withered soul!'

   'Vain man! that palace is the virtuous heart,
   And Peace defileth not her snowy robes
   In such a shed as thine. Hark! yet he mutters;
   His slumbers are but varied agonies;
   They prey like scorpions on the springs of life.
   There needeth not the hell that bigots frame
   To punish those who err; earth in itself                           80
   Contains at once the evil and the cure;
   And all-sufficing Nature can chastise
   Those who transgress her law; she only knows
   How justly to proportion to the fault
   The punishment it merits.

                              Is it strange
   That this poor wretch should pride him in his woe?
   Take pleasure in his abjectness, and hug
   The scorpion that consumes him? Is it strange
   That, placed on a conspicuous throne of thorns,
   Grasping an iron sceptre, and immured                              90
   Within a splendid prison whose stern bounds
   Shut him from all that's good or dear on earth,
   His soul asserts not its humanity?
   That man's mild nature rises not in war
   Against a king's employ? No--'tis not strange.
   He, like the vulgar, thinks, feels, acts, and lives
   Just as his father did; the unconquered powers
   Of precedent and custom interpose
   Between a king and virtue. Stranger yet,
   To those who know not Nature nor deduce                           100
   The future from the present, it may seem,
   That not one slave, who suffers from the crimes
   Of this unnatural being, not one wretch,
   Whose children famish and whose nuptial bed
   Is earth's unpitying bosom, rears an arm
   To dash him from his throne!

                                 Those gilded flies
   That, basking in the sunshine of a court,
   Fatten on its corruption! what are they?--
   The drones of the community; they feed
   On the mechanic's labor; the starved hind                         110
   For them compels the stubborn glebe to yield
   Its unshared harvests; and yon squalid form,
   Leaner than fleshless misery, that wastes
   A sunless life in the unwholesome mine,
   Drags out in labor a protracted death
   To glut their grandeur; many faint with toil
   That few may know the cares and woe of sloth.

   Whence, thinkest thou, kings and parasites arose?
   Whence that unnatural line of drones who heap
   Toil and unvanquishable penury                                    120
   On those who build their palaces and bring
   Their daily bread?--From vice, black loathsome vice;
   From rapine, madness, treachery, and wrong;
   From all that genders misery, and makes
   Of earth this thorny wilderness; from lust,
   Revenge, and murder.--And when reason's voice,
   Loud as the voice of Nature, shall have waked
   The nations; and mankind perceive that vice
   Is discord, war and misery; that virtue
   Is peace and happiness and harmony;                               130
   When man's maturer nature shall disdain
   The playthings of its childhood;--kingly glare
   Will lose its power to dazzle, its authority
   Will silently pass by; the gorgeous throne
   Shall stand unnoticed in the regal hall,
   Fast falling to decay; whilst falsehood's trade
   Shall be as hateful and unprofitable
   As that of truth is now.

                             Where is the fame
   Which the vain-glorious mighty of the earth
   Seek to eternize? Oh! the faintest sound                          140
   From time's light footfall, the minutest wave
   That swells the flood of ages, whelms in nothing
   The unsubstantial bubble. Ay! to-day
   Stern is the tyrant's mandate, red the gaze
   That flashes desolation, strong the arm
   That scatters multitudes. To-morrow comes!
   That mandate is a thunder-peal that died
   In ages past; that gaze, a transient flash
   On which the midnight closed; and on that arm
   The worm has made his meal.

                                The virtuous man,                    150
   Who, great in his humility as kings
   Are little in their grandeur; he who leads
   Invincibly a life of resolute good
   And stands amid the silent dungeon-depths
   More free and fearless than the trembling judge
   Who, clothed in venal power, vainly strove
   To bind the impassive spirit;--when he falls,
   His mild eye beams benevolence no more;
   Withered the hand outstretched but to relieve;
   Sunk reason's simple eloquence that rolled                        160
   But to appall the guilty. Yes! the grave
   Hath quenched that eye and death's relentless frost
   Withered that arm; but the unfading fame
   Which virtue hangs upon its votary's tomb,
   The deathless memory of that man whom kings
   Call to their minds and tremble, the remembrance
   With which the happy spirit contemplates
   Its well-spent pilgrimage on earth,
   Shall never pass away.

   'Nature rejects the monarch, not the man;                         170
   The subject, not the citizen; for kings
   And subjects, mutual foes, forever play
   A losing game into each other's hands,
   Whose stakes are vice and misery. The man
   Of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys.
   Power, like a desolating pestilence,
   Pollutes whate'er it touches; and obedience,
   Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
   Makes slaves of men, and of the human frame
   A mechanized automaton.

                            When Nero                                180
   High over flaming Rome with savage joy
   Lowered like a fiend, drank with enraptured ear
   The shrieks of agonizing death, beheld
   The frightful desolation spread, and felt
   A new-created sense within his soul
   Thrill to the sight and vibrate to the sound,--
   Thinkest thou his grandeur had not overcome
   The force of human kindness? And when Rome
   With one stern blow hurled not the tyrant down,
   Crushed not the arm red with her dearest blood,                   190
   Had not submissive abjectness destroyed
   Nature's suggestions?

                          Look on yonder earth:
   The golden harvests spring; the unfailing sun
   Sheds light and life; the fruits, the flowers, the trees,
   Arise in due succession; all things speak
   Peace, harmony and love. The universe,
   In Nature's silent eloquence, declares
   That all fulfil the works of love and joy,--
   All but the outcast, Man. He fabricates
   The sword which stabs his peace; he cherisheth                    200
   The snakes that gnaw his heart; he raiseth up
   The tyrant whose delight is in his woe,
   Whose sport is in his agony. Yon sun,
   Lights it the great alone? Yon silver beams,
   Sleep they less sweetly on the cottage thatch
   Than on the dome of kings? Is mother earth
   A step-dame to her numerous sons who earn
   Her unshared gifts with unremitting toil;
   A mother only to those puling babes
   Who, nursed in ease and luxury, make men                          210
   The playthings of their babyhood and mar
   In self-important childishness that peace
   Which men alone appreciate?

      'Spirit of Nature, no!
   The pure diffusion of thy essence throbs
     Alike in every human heart.
       Thou aye erectest there
     Thy throne of power unappealable;
     Thou art the judge beneath whose nod
     Man's brief and frail authority                                 220
       Is powerless as the wind
       That passeth idly by;
     Thine the tribunal which surpasseth
       The show of human justice
       As God surpasses man!

      'Spirit of Nature! thou
   Life of interminable multitudes;
     Soul of those mighty spheres
   Whose changeless paths through Heaven's deep silence lie;
     Soul of that smallest being,                                    230
       The dwelling of whose life
     Is one faint April sun-gleam;--
       Man, like these passive things,
   Thy will unconsciously fulfilleth;
     Like theirs, his age of endless peace,
       Which time is fast maturing,
       Will swiftly, surely, come;
   And the unbounded frame which thou pervadest,
       Will be without a flaw
     Marring its perfect symmetry!                                   240