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Queen Mab

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

Book V

   'Thus do the generations of the earth
   Go to the grave and issue from the womb,
   Surviving still the imperishable change
   That renovates the world; even as the leaves
   Which the keen frost-wind of the waning year
   Has scattered on the forest-soil and heaped
   For many seasons there--though long they choke,
   Loading with loathsome rottenness the land,
   All germs of promise, yet when the tall trees
   From which they fell, shorn of their lovely shapes,                10
   Lie level with the earth to moulder there,
   They fertilize the land they long deformed;
   Till from the breathing lawn a forest springs
   Of youth, integrity and loveliness,
   Like that which gave it life, to spring and die.
   Thus suicidal selfishness, that blights
   The fairest feelings of the opening heart,
   Is destined to decay, whilst from the soil
   Shall spring all virtue, all delight, all love,
   And judgment cease to wage unnatural war                           20
   With passion's unsubduable array.
   Twin-sister of Religion, Selfishness!
   Rival in crime and falsehood, aping all
   The wanton horrors of her bloody play;
   Yet frozen, unimpassioned, spiritless,
   Shunning the light, and owning not its name,
   Compelled by its deformity to screen
   With flimsy veil of justice and of right
   Its unattractive lineaments that scare
   All save the brood of ignorance; at once                           30
   The cause and the effect of tyranny;
   Unblushing, hardened, sensual and vile;
   Dead to all love but of its abjectness;
   With heart impassive by more noble powers
   Than unshared pleasure, sordid gain, or fame;
   Despising its own miserable being,
   Which still it longs, yet fears, to disenthrall.

   'Hence commerce springs, the venal interchange
   Of all that human art or Nature yield;
   Which wealth should purchase not, but want demand,                 40
   And natural kindness hasten to supply
   From the full fountain of its boundless love,
   Forever stifled, drained and tainted now.
   Commerce! beneath whose poison-breathing shade
   No solitary virtue dares to spring,
   But poverty and wealth with equal hand
   Scatter their withering curses, and unfold
   The doors of premature and violent death
   To pining famine and full-fed disease,
   To all that shares the lot of human life,                          50
   Which, poisoned body and soul, scarce drags the chain
   That lengthens as it goes and clanks behind.

   'Commerce has set the mark of selfishness,
   The signet of its all-enslaving power,
   Upon a shining ore, and called it gold;
   Before whose image bow the vulgar great,
   The vainly rich, the miserable proud,
   The mob of peasants, nobles, priests and kings,
   And with blind feelings reverence the power
   That grinds them to the dust of misery.                            60
   But in the temple of their hireling hearts
   Gold is a living god and rules in scorn
   All earthly things but virtue.

   'Since tyrants by the sale of human life
   Heap luxuries to their sensualism, and fame
   To their wide-wasting and insatiate pride,
   Success has sanctioned to a credulous world
   The ruin, the disgrace, the woe of war.
   His hosts of blind and unresisting dupes
   The despot numbers; from his cabinet                               70
   These puppets of his schemes he moves at will,
   Even as the slaves by force or famine driven,
   Beneath a vulgar master, to perform
   A task of cold and brutal drudgery;--
   Hardened to hope, insensible to fear,
   Scarce living pulleys of a dead machine,
   Mere wheels of work and articles of trade,
   That grace the proud and noisy pomp of wealth!

   'The harmony and happiness of man
   Yields to the wealth of nations; that which lifts                  80
   His nature to the heaven of its pride,
   Is bartered for the poison of his soul;
   The weight that drags to earth his towering hopes,
   Blighting all prospect but of selfish gain,
   Withering all passion but of slavish fear,
   Extinguishing all free and generous love
   Of enterprise and daring, even the pulse
   That fancy kindles in the beating heart
   To mingle with sensation, it destroys,--
   Leaves nothing but the sordid lust of self,                        90
   The grovelling hope of interest and gold,
   Unqualified, unmingled, unredeemed
   Even by hypocrisy.

                       And statesmen boast
   Of wealth! The wordy eloquence that lives
   After the ruin of their hearts, can gild
   The bitter poison of a nation's woe;
   Can turn the worship of the servile mob
   To their corrupt and glaring idol, fame,
   From virtue, trampled by its iron tread,--
   Although its dazzling pedestal be raised                          100
   Amid the horrors of a limb-strewn field,
   With desolated dwellings smoking round.
   The man of ease, who, by his warm fireside,
   To deeds of charitable intercourse
   And bare fulfilment of the common laws
   Of decency and prejudice confines
   The struggling nature of his human heart,
   Is duped by their cold sophistry; he sheds
   A passing tear perchance upon the wreck
   Of earthly peace, when near his dwelling's door                   110
   The frightful waves are driven, -- when his son
   Is murdered by the tyrant, or religion
   Drives his wife raving mad. But the poor man
   Whose life is misery, and fear and care;
   Whom the morn wakens but to fruitless toil;
   Who ever hears his famished offspring's scream;
   Whom their pale mother's uncomplaining gaze
   Forever meets, and the proud rich man's eye
   Flashing command, and the heart-breaking scene
   Of thousands like himself;--he little heeds                       120
   The rhetoric of tyranny; his hate
   Is quenchless as his wrongs; he laughs to scorn
   The vain and bitter mockery of words,
   Feeling the horror of the tyrant's deeds,
   And unrestrained but by the arm of power,
   That knows and dreads his enmity.

   'The iron rod of penury still compels
   Her wretched slave to bow the knee to wealth,
   And poison, with unprofitable toil,
   A life too void of solace to confirm                              130
   The very chains that bind him to his doom.
   Nature, impartial in munificence,
   Has gifted man with all-subduing will.
   Matter, with all its transitory shapes,
   Lies subjected and plastic at his feet,
   That, weak from bondage, tremble as they tread.
   How many a rustic Milton has passed by,
   Stifling the speechless longings of his heart,
   In unremitting drudgery and care!
   How many a vulgar Cato has compelled                              140
   His energies, no longer tameless then,
   To mould a pin or fabricate a nail!
   How many a Newton, to whose passive ken
   Those mighty spheres that gem infinity
   Were only specks of tinsel fixed in heaven
   To light the midnights of his native town!

   'Yet every heart contains perfection's germ.
   The wisest of the sages of the earth,
   That ever from the stores of reason drew
   Science and truth, and virtue's dreadless tone,                   150
   Were but a weak and inexperienced boy,
   Proud, sensual, unimpassioned, unimbued
   With pure desire and universal love,
   Compared to that high being, of cloudless brain,
   Untainted passion, elevated will,
   Which death (who even would linger long in awe
   Within his noble presence and beneath
   His changeless eye-beam) might alone subdue.
   Him, every slave now dragging through the filth
   Of some corrupted city his sad life,                              160
   Pining with famine, swoln with luxury,
   Blunting the keenness of his spiritual sense
   With narrow schemings and unworthy cares,
   Or madly rushing through all violent crime
   To move the deep stagnation of his soul,--
   Might imitate and equal.

                             But mean lust
   Has bound its chains so tight about the earth
   That all within it but the virtuous man
   Is venal; gold or fame will surely reach
   The price prefixed by Selfishness to all                          170
   But him of resolute and unchanging will;
   Whom nor the plaudits of a servile crowd,
   Nor the vile joys of tainting luxury,
   Can bribe to yield his elevated soul
   To Tyranny or Falsehood, though they wield
   With blood-red hand the sceptre of the world.

   'All things are sold: the very light of heaven
   Is venal; earth's unsparing gifts of love,
   The smallest and most despicable things
   That lurk in the abysses of the deep,                             180
   All objects of our life, even life itself,
   And the poor pittance which the laws allow
   Of liberty, the fellowship of man,
   Those duties which his heart of human love
   Should urge him to perform instinctively,
   Are bought and sold as in a public mart
   Of undisguising Selfishness, that sets
   On each its price, the stamp-mark of her reign.
   Even love is sold; the solace of all woe
   Is turned to deadliest agony, old age                             190
   Shivers in selfish beauty's loathing arms,
   And youth's corrupted impulses prepare
   A life of horror from the blighting bane
   Of commerce; whilst the pestilence that springs
   From unenjoying sensualism, has filled
   All human life with hydra-headed woes.

   'Falsehood demands but gold to pay the pangs
   Of outraged conscience; for the slavish priest
   Sets no great value on his hireling faith;
   A little passing pomp, some servile souls,                        200
   Whom cowardice itself might safely chain
   Or the spare mite of avarice could bribe
   To deck the triumph of their languid zeal,
   Can make him minister to tyranny.
   More daring crime requires a loftier meed.
   Without a shudder the slave-soldier lends
   His arm to murderous deeds, and steels his heart,
   When the dread eloquence of dying men,
   Low mingling on the lonely field of fame,
   Assails that nature whose applause he sells                       210
   For the gross blessings of the patriot mob,
   For the vile gratitude of heartless kings,
   And for a cold world's good word,--viler still!

   'There is a nobler glory which survives
   Until our being fades, and, solacing
   All human care, accompanies its change;
   Deserts not virtue in the dungeon's gloom,
   And in the precincts of the palace guides
   Its footsteps through that labyrinth of crime;
   Imbues his lineaments with dauntlessness,                         220
   Even when from power's avenging hand he takes
   Its sweetest, last and noblest title--death;
   --The consciousness of good, which neither gold,
   Nor sordid fame, nor hope of heavenly bliss,
   Can purchase; but a life of resolute good,
   Unalterable will, quenchless desire
   Of universal happiness, the heart
   That beats with it in unison, the brain
   Whose ever-wakeful wisdom toils to change
   Reason's rich stores for its eternal weal.                        230

   'This commerce of sincerest virtue needs
   No meditative signs of selfishness,
   No jealous intercourse of wretched gain,
   No balancings of prudence, cold and long;
   In just and equal measure all is weighed,
   One scale contains the sum of human weal,
   And one, the good man's heart.

                                   How vainly seek
   The selfish for that happiness denied
   To aught but virtue! Blind and hardened, they,
   Who hope for peace amid the storms of care,                       240
   Who covet power they know not how to use,
   And sigh for pleasure they refuse to give,--
   Madly they frustrate still their own designs;
   And, where they hope that quiet to enjoy
   Which virtue pictures, bitterness of soul,
   Pining regrets, and vain repentances,
   Disease, disgust and lassitude pervade
   Their valueless and miserable lives.

   'But hoary-headed selfishness has felt
   Its death-blow and is tottering to the grave;                     250
   A brighter morn awaits the human day,
   When every transfer of earth's natural gifts
   Shall be a commerce of good words and works;
   When poverty and wealth, the thirst of fame,
   The fear of infamy, disease and woe,
   War with its million horrors, and fierce hell,
   Shall live but in the memory of time,
   Who, like a penitent libertine, shall start,
   Look back, and shudder at his younger years.'