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Queen Mab

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

Book IV

   'How beautiful this night! the balmiest sigh,
   Which vernal zephyrs breathe in evening's ear,
   Were discord to the speaking quietude
   That wraps this moveless scene. Heaven's ebon vault,
   Studded with stars unutterably bright,
   Through which the moon's unclouded grandeur rolls,
   Seems like a canopy which love had spread
   To curtain her sleeping world. Yon gentle hills.
   Robed in a garment of untrodden snow;
   Yon darksome rocks, whence icicles depend                          10
   So stainless that their white and glittering spires
   Tinge not the moon's pure beam; yon castled steep
   Whose banner hangeth o'er the time-worn tower
   So idly that rapt fancy deemeth it
   A metaphor of peace;--all form a scene
   Where musing solitude might love to lift
   Her soul above this sphere of earthliness;
   Where silence undisturbed might watch alone--
   So cold, so bright, so still.

                                  The orb of day
   In southern climes o'er ocean's waveless field                     20
   Sinks sweetly smiling; not the faintest breath
   Steals o'er the unruffled deep; the clouds of eve
   Reflect unmoved the lingering beam of day;
   And Vesper's image on the western main
   Is beautifully still. To-morrow comes:
   Cloud upon cloud, in dark and deepening mass,
   Roll o'er the blackened waters; the deep roar
   Of distant thunder mutters awfully;
   Tempest unfolds its pinion o'er the gloom
   That shrouds the boiling surge; the pitiless fiend,                30
   With all his winds and lightnings, tracks his prey;
   The torn deep yawns,--the vessel finds a grave
   Beneath its jagged gulf.

                             Ah! whence yon glare
   That fires the arch of heaven? that dark red smoke
   Blotting the silver moon? The stars are quenched
   In darkness, and the pure and spangling snow
   Gleams faintly through the gloom that gathers round.
   Hark to that roar whose swift and deafening peals
   In countless echoes through the mountains ring,
   Startling pale Midnight on her starry throne!                      40
   Now swells the intermingling din; the jar
   Frequent and frightful of the bursting bomb;
   The falling beam, the shriek, the groan, the shout,
   The ceaseless clangor, and the rush of men
   Inebriate with rage:--loud and more loud
   The discord grows; till pale Death shuts the scene
   And o'er the conqueror and the conquered draws
   His cold and bloody shroud.--Of all the men
   Whom day's departing beam saw blooming there
   In proud and vigorous health; of all the hearts                    50
   That beat with anxious life at sunset there;
   How few survive, how few are beating now!
   All is deep silence, like the fearful calm
   That slumbers in the storm's portentous pause;
   Save when the frantic wail of widowed love
   Comes shuddering on the blast, or the faint moan
   With which some soul bursts from the frame of clay
   Wrapt round its struggling powers.

                                       The gray morn
   Dawns on the mournful scene; the sulphurous smoke
   Before the icy wind slow rolls away,                               60
   And the bright beams of frosty morning dance
   Along the spangling snow. There tracks of blood
   Even to the forest's depth, and scattered arms,
   And lifeless warriors, whose hard lineaments
   Death's self could change not, mark the dreadful path
   Of the outsallying victors; far behind
   Black ashes note where their proud city stood.
   Within yon forest is a gloomy glen--
   Each tree which guards its darkness from the day,
   Waves o'er a warrior's tomb.

                                 I see thee shrink,                   70
   Surpassing Spirit!--wert thou human else?
   I see a shade of doubt and horror fleet
   Across thy stainless features; yet fear not;
   This is no unconnected misery,
   Nor stands uncaused and irretrievable.
   Man's evil nature, that apology
   Which kings who rule, and cowards who crouch, set up
   For their unnumbered crimes, sheds not the blood
   Which desolates the discord-wasted land.
   From kings and priests and statesmen war arose,                    80
   Whose safety is man's deep unbettered woe,
   Whose grandeur his debasement. Let the axe
   Strike at the root, the poison-tree will fall;
   And where its venomed exhalations spread
   Ruin, and death, and woe, where millions lay
   Quenching the serpent's famine, and their bones
   Bleaching unburied in the putrid blast,
   A garden shall arise, in loveliness
   Surpassing fabled Eden.

                            Hath Nature's soul,--
   That formed this world so beautiful, that spread                   90
   Earth's lap with plenty, and life's smallest chord
   Strung to unchanging unison, that gave
   The happy birds their dwelling in the grove,
   That yielded to the wanderers of the deep
   The lovely silence of the unfathomed main,
   And filled the meanest worm that crawls in dust
   With spirit, thought and love,--on Man alone,
   Partial in causeless malice, wantonly
   Heaped ruin, vice, and slavery; his soul
   Blasted with withering curses; placed afar                        100
   The meteor-happiness, that shuns his grasp,
   But serving on the frightful gulf to glare
   Rent wide beneath his footsteps?

   Kings, priests and statesmen blast the human flower
   Even in its tender bud; their influence darts
   Like subtle poison through the bloodless veins
   Of desolate society. The child,
   Ere he can lisp his mother's sacred name,
   Swells with the unnatural pride of crime, and lifts
   His baby-sword even in a hero's mood.                             110
   This infant arm becomes the bloodiest scourge
   Of devastated earth; whilst specious names,
   Learnt in soft childhood's unsuspecting hour,
   Serve as the sophisms with which manhood dims
   Bright reason's ray and sanctifies the sword
   Upraised to shed a brother's innocent blood.
   Let priest-led slaves cease to proclaim that man
   Inherits vice and misery, when force
   And falsehood hang even o'er the cradled babe,
   Stifling with rudest grasp all natural good.                      120

   'Ah! to the stranger-soul, when first it peeps
   From its new tenement and looks abroad
   For happiness and sympathy, how stern
   And desolate a tract is this wide world!
   How withered all the buds of natural good!
   No shade, no shelter from the sweeping storms
   Of pitiless power! On its wretched frame
   Poisoned, perchance, by the disease and woe
   Heaped on the wretched parent whence it sprung
   By morals, law and custom, the pure winds                         130
   Of heaven, that renovate the insect tribes,
   May breathe not. The untainting light of day
   May visit not its longings. It is bound
   Ere it has life; yea, all the chains are forged
   Long ere its being; all liberty and love
   And peace is torn from its defencelessness;
   Cursed from its birth, even from its cradle doomed
   To abjectness and bondage!

   'Throughout this varied and eternal world
   Soul is the only element, the block                               140
   That for uncounted ages has remained.
   The moveless pillar of a mountain's weight
   Is active living spirit. Every grain
   Is sentient both in unity and part,
   And the minutest atom comprehends
   A world of loves and hatreds; these beget
   Evil and good; hence truth and falsehood spring;
   Hence will and thought and action, all the germs
   Of pain or pleasure, sympathy or hate,
   That variegate the eternal universe.                              150
   Soul is not more polluted than the beams
   Of heaven's pure orb ere round their rapid lines
   The taint of earth-born atmospheres arise.

   'Man is of soul and body, formed for deeds
   Of high resolve; on fancy's boldest wing
   To soar unwearied, fearlessly to turn
   The keenest pangs to peacefulness, and taste
   The joys which mingled sense and spirit yield;
   Or he is formed for abjectness and woe,
   To grovel on the dunghill of his fears,                           160
   To shrink at every sound, to quench the flame
   Of natural love in sensualism, to know
   That hour as blest when on his worthless days
   The frozen hand of death shall set its seal,
   Yet fear the cure, though hating the disease.
   The one is man that shall hereafter be;
   The other, man as vice has made him now.

   'War is the statesman's game, the priest's delight,
   The lawyer's jest, the hired assassin's trade,
   And to those royal murderers whose mean thrones                   170
   Are bought by crimes of treachery and gore,
   The bread they eat, the staff on which they lean.
   Guards, garbed in blood-red livery, surround
   Their palaces, participate the crimes
   That force defends and from a nation's rage
   Secures the crown, which all the curses reach
   That famine, frenzy, woe and penury breathe.
   These are the hired bravos who defend
   The tyrant's throne -- the bullies of his fear;
   These are the sinks and channels of worst vice,                   180
   The refuse of society, the dregs
   Of all that is most vile; their cold hearts blend
   Deceit with sternness, ignorance with pride,
   All that is mean and villainous with rage
   Which hopelessness of good and self-contempt
   Alone might kindle; they are decked in wealth,
   Honor and power, then are sent abroad
   To do their work. The pestilence that stalks
   In gloomy triumph through some eastern land
   Is less destroying. They cajole with gold                         190
   And promises of fame the thoughtless youth
   Already crushed with servitude; he knows
   His wretchedness too late, and cherishes
   Repentance for his ruin, when his doom
   Is sealed in gold and blood!
   Those too the tyrant serve, who, skilled to snare
   The feet of justice in the toils of law,
   Stand ready to oppress the weaker still,
   And right or wrong will vindicate for gold,
   Sneering at public virtue, which beneath                          200
   Their pitiless tread lies torn and trampled where
   Honor sits smiling at the sale of truth.

   'Then grave and hoary-headed hypocrites,
   Without a hope, a passion or a love,
   Who through a life of luxury and lies
   Have crept by flattery to the seats of power,
   Support the system whence their honors flow.
   They have three words--well tyrants know their use,
   Well pay them for the loan with usury
   Torn from a bleeding world!--God, Hell and Heaven:                210
   A vengeful, pitiless, and almighty fiend,
   Whose mercy is a nickname for the rage
   Of tameless tigers hungering for blood;
   Hell, a red gulf of everlasting fire,
   Where poisonous and undying worms prolong
   Eternal misery to those hapless slaves
   Whose life has been a penance for its crimes;
   And Heaven, a meed for those who dare belie
   Their human nature, quake, believe and cringe
   Before the mockeries of earthly power.                            220

   'These tools the tyrant tempers to his work,
   Wields in his wrath, and as he wills destroys,
   Omnipotent in wickedness; the while
   Youth springs, age moulders, manhood tamely does
   His bidding, bribed by short-lived joys to lend
   Force to the weakness of his trembling arm.
   They rise, they fall; one generation comes
   Yielding its harvest to destruction's scythe.
   It fades, another blossoms; yet behold!
   Red glows the tyrant's stamp-mark on its bloom,                   230
   Withering and cankering deep its passive prime.
   He has invented lying words and modes,
   Empty and vain as his own coreless heart;
   Evasive meanings, nothings of much sound,
   To lure the heedless victim to the toils
   Spread round the valley of its paradise.

   'Look to thyself, priest, conqueror or prince!
   Whether thy trade is falsehood, and thy lusts
   Deep wallow in the earnings of the poor,
   With whom thy master was; or thou delight'st                      240
   In numbering o'er the myriads of thy slain,
   All misery weighing nothing in the scale
   Against thy short-lived fame; or thou dost load
   With cowardice and crime the groaning land,
   A pomp-fed king. Look to thy wretched self!
   Ay, art thou not the veriest slave that e'er
   Crawled on the loathing earth? Are not thy days
   Days of unsatisfying listlessness?
   Dost thou not cry, ere night's long rack is o'er,
   "When will the morning come?" Is not thy youth                    250
   A vain and feverish dream of sensualism?
   Thy manhood blighted with unripe disease?
   Are not thy views of unregretted death
   Drear, comfortless and horrible? Thy mind,
   Is it not morbid as thy nerveless frame,
   Incapable of judgment, hope or love?
   And dost thou wish the errors to survive,
   That bar thee from all sympathies of good,
   After the miserable interest
   Thou hold'st in their protraction? When the grave                 260
   Has swallowed up thy memory and thyself,
   Dost thou desire the bane that poisons earth
   To twine its roots around thy coffined clay,
   Spring from thy bones, and blossom on thy tomb,
   That of its fruit thy babes may eat and die?