Previous Contents Index Next

Queen Mab

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

Book VI

           All touch, all eye, all ear,
   The Spirit felt the Fairy's burning speech.
       O'er the thin texture of its frame
   The varying periods painted changing glows,
           As on a summer even,
   When soul-enfolding music floats around,
       The stainless mirror of the lake
       Re-images the eastern gloom,
   Mingling convulsively its purple hues
           With sunset's burnished gold.                              10
           Then thus the Spirit spoke:
   'It is a wild and miserable world!
           Thorny, and full of care,
   Which every fiend can make his prey at will!
       O Fairy! in the lapse of years,
           Is there no hope in store?
           Will yon vast suns roll on
       Interminably, still illuming
       The night of so many wretched souls,
           And see no hope for them?                                  20
   Will not the universal Spirit e'er
   Revivify this withered limb of Heaven?'

           The Fairy calmly smiled
   In comfort, and a kindling gleam of hope
   Suffused the Spirit's lineaments.
   'Oh! rest thee tranquil; chase those fearful doubts
   Which ne'er could rack an everlasting soul
   That sees the chains which bind it to its doom.
   Yes! crime and misery are in yonder earth,
           Falsehood, mistake and lust;                               30
           But the eternal world
   Contains at once the evil and the cure.
   Some eminent in virtue shall start up,
           Even in perversest time;
   The truths of their pure lips, that never die,
   Shall bind the scorpion falsehood with a wreath
           Of ever-living flame,
   Until the monster sting itself to death.

     'How sweet a scene will earth become!
   Of purest spirits a pure dwelling-place,                           40
   Symphonious with the planetary spheres;
   When man, with changeless Nature coalescing,
   Will undertake regeneration's work,
   When its ungenial poles no longer point
           To the red and baleful sun
           That faintly twinkles there!

          'Spirit, on yonder earth,
     Falsehood now triumphs; deadly power
   Has fixed its seal upon the lip of truth!
       Madness and misery are there!                                  50
   The happiest is most wretched! Yet confide
   Until pure health-drops from the cup of joy
   Fall like a dew of balm upon the world.
   Now, to the scene I show, in silence turn,
   And read the blood-stained charter of all woe,
   Which Nature soon with recreating hand
   Will blot in mercy from the book of earth.
   How bold the flight of passion's wandering wing,
   How swift the step of reason's firmer tread,
   How calm and sweet the victories of life,                          60
   How terrorless the triumph of the grave!
   How powerless were the mightiest monarch's arm,
   Vain his loud threat, and impotent his frown!
   How ludicrous the priest's dogmatic roar!
   The weight of his exterminating curse
   How light! and his affected charity,
   To suit the pressure of the changing times,
   What palpable deceit!--but for thy aid,
   Religion! but for thee, prolific fiend,
   Who peoplest earth with demons, hell with men,                     70
   And heaven with slaves!

   'Thou taintest all thou lookest upon!--the stars,
   Which on thy cradle beamed so brightly sweet,
   Were gods to the distempered playfulness
   Of thy untutored infancy; the trees,
   The grass, the clouds, the mountains and the sea,
   All living things that walk, swim, creep or fly,
   Were gods; the sun had homage, and the moon
   Her worshipper. Then thou becamest, a boy,
   More daring in thy frenzies; every shape,                          80
   Monstrous or vast, or beautifully wild,
   Which from sensation's relics fancy culls;
   The spirits of the air, the shuddering ghost,
   The genii of the elements, the powers
   That give a shape to Nature's varied works,
   Had life and place in the corrupt belief
   Of thy blind heart; yet still thy youthful hands
   Were pure of human blood. Then manhood gave
   Its strength and ardor to thy frenzied brain;
   Thine eager gaze scanned the stupendous scene,                     90
   Whose wonders mocked the knowledge of thy pride;
   Their everlasting and unchanging laws
   Reproached thine ignorance. Awhile thou stood'st
   Baffled and gloomy; then thou didst sum up
   The elements of all that thou didst know;
   The changing seasons, winter's leafless reign,
   The budding of the heaven-breathing trees,
   The eternal orbs that beautify the night,
   The sunrise, and the setting of the moon,
   Earthquakes and wars, and poisons and disease,                    100
   And all their causes, to an abstract point
   Converging thou didst bend, and called it God!
   The self-sufficing, the omnipotent,
   The merciful, and the avenging God!
   Who, prototype of human misrule, sits
   High in heaven's realm, upon a golden throne,
   Even like an earthly king; and whose dread work,
   Hell, gapes forever for the unhappy slaves
   Of fate, whom he created in his sport
   To triumph in their torments when they fell!                      110
   Earth heard the name; earth trembled as the smoke
   Of his revenge ascended up to heaven,
   Blotting the constellations; and the cries
   Of millions butchered in sweet confidence
   And unsuspecting peace, even when the bonds
   Of safety were confirmed by wordy oaths
   Sworn in his dreadful name, rung through the land;
   Whilst innocent babes writhed on thy stubborn spear,
   And thou didst laugh to hear the mother's shriek
   Of maniac gladness, as the sacred steel                           120
   Felt cold in her torn entrails!

   'Religion! thou wert then in manhood's prime;
   But age crept on; one God would not suffice
   For senile puerility; thou framedst
   A tale to suit thy dotage and to glut
   Thy misery-thirsting soul, that the mad fiend
   Thy wickedness had pictured might afford
   A plea for sating the unnatural thirst
   For murder, rapine, violence and crime,
   That still consumed thy being, even when                          130
   Thou heard'st the step of fate; that flames might light
   Thy funeral scene; and the shrill horrent shrieks
   Of parents dying on the pile that burned
   To light their children to thy paths, the roar
   Of the encircling flames, the exulting cries
   Of thine apostles loud commingling there,
         Might sate thine hungry ear
         Even on the bed of death!

   'But now contempt is mocking thy gray hairs;
   Thou art descending to the darksome grave,                        140
   Unhonored and unpitied but by those
   Whose pride is passing by like thine, and sheds,
   Like thine, a glare that fades before the sun
   Of truth, and shines but in the dreadful night
   That long has lowered above the ruined world.

   'Throughout these infinite orbs of mingling light
   Of which yon earth is one, is wide diffused
   A Spirit of activity and life,
   That knows no term, cessation or decay;
   That fades not when the lamp of earthly life,                     150
   Extinguished in the dampness of the grave,
   Awhile there slumbers, more than when the babe
   In the dim newness of its being feels
   The impulses of sublunary things,
   And all is wonder to unpractised sense;
   But, active, steadfast and eternal, still
   Guides the fierce whirlwind, in the tempest roars,
   Cheers in the day, breathes in the balmy groves,
   Strengthens in health, and poisons in disease;
   And in the storm of change, that ceaselessly                      160
   Rolls round the eternal universe and shakes
   Its undecaying battlement, presides,
   Apportioning with irresistible law
   The place each spring of its machine shall fill;
   So that, when waves on waves tumultuous heap
   Confusion to the clouds, and fiercely driven
   Heaven's lightnings scorch the uprooted ocean-fords--
   Whilst, to the eye of shipwrecked mariner,
   Lone sitting on the bare and shuddering rock,
   All seems unlinked contingency and chance--                       170
   No atom of this turbulence fulfils
   A vague and unnecessitated task
   Or acts but as it must and ought to act.
   Even the minutest molecule of light,
   That in an April sunbeam's fleeting glow
   Fulfils its destined though invisible work,
   The universal Spirit guides; nor less
   When merciless ambition, or mad zeal,
   Has led two hosts of dupes to battle-field,
   That, blind, they there may dig each other's graves               180
   And call the sad work glory, does it rule
   All passions; not a thought, a will, an act,
   No working of the tyrant's moody mind,
   Nor one misgiving of the slaves who boast
   Their servitude to hide the shame they feel,
   Nor the events enchaining every will,
   That from the depths of unrecorded time
   Have drawn all-influencing virtue, pass
   Unrecognized or unforeseen by thee,
   Soul of the Universe! eternal spring                              190
   Of life and death, of happiness and woe,
   Of all that chequers the phantasmal scene
   That floats before our eyes in wavering light,
   Which gleams but on the darkness of our prison
       Whose chains and massy walls
       We feel but cannot see.

   'Spirit of Nature! all-sufficing Power,
   Necessity! thou mother of the world!
   Unlike the God of human error, thou
   Requirest no prayers or praises; the caprice                      200
   Of man's weak will belongs no more to thee
   Than do the changeful passions of his breast
   To thy unvarying harmony; the slave,
   Whose horrible lusts spread misery o'er the world,
   And the good man, who lifts with virtuous pride
   His being in the sight of happiness
   That springs from his own works; the poison-tree,
   Beneath whose shade all life is withered up,
   And the fair oak, whose leafy dome affords
   A temple where the vows of happy love                             210
   Are registered, are equal in thy sight;
   No love, no hate thou cherishest; revenge
   And favoritism, and worst desire of fame
   Thou knowest not; all that the wide world contains
   Are but thy passive instruments, and thou
   Regard'st them all with an impartial eye,
   Whose joy or pain thy nature cannot feel,
     Because thou hast not human sense,
     Because thou art not human mind.

    'Yes! when the sweeping storm of time                            220
   Has sung its death-dirge o'er the ruined fanes
   And broken altars of the almighty fiend,
   Whose name usurps thy honors, and the blood
   Through centuries clotted there has floated down
   The tainted flood of ages, shalt thou live
   Unchangeable! A shrine is raised to thee,
     Which nor the tempest breath of time,
     Nor the interminable flood
     Over earth's slight pageant rolling,
         Availeth to destroy,--                                      230
   The sensitive extension of the world;
     That wondrous and eternal fane,
   Where pain and pleasure, good and evil join,
   To do the will of strong necessity,
     And life, in multitudinous shapes,
   Still pressing forward where no term can be,
     Like hungry and unresting flame
   Curls round the eternal columns of its strength.'