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Queen Mab

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

Book VII

   'I was an infant when my mother went
   To see an atheist burned. She took me there.
   The dark-robed priests were met around the pile;
   The multitude was gazing silently;
   And as the culprit passed with dauntless mien,
   Tempered disdain in his unaltering eye,
   Mixed with a quiet smile, shone calmly forth;
   The thirsty fire crept round his manly limbs;
   His resolute eyes were scorched to blindness soon;
   His death-pang rent my heart! the insensate mob                    10
   Uttered a cry of triumph, and I wept.
   "Weep not, child!" cried my mother, "for that man
   Has said, There is no God."'

                                'There is no God!
   Nature confirms the faith his death-groan sealed.
   Let heaven and earth, let man's revolving race,
   His ceaseless generations, tell their tale;
   Let every part depending on the chain
   That links it to the whole, point to the hand
   That grasps its term! Let every seed that falls
   In silent eloquence unfold its store                               20
   Of argument; infinity within,
   Infinity without, belie creation;
   The exterminable spirit it contains
   Is Nature's only God; but human pride
   Is skilful to invent most serious names
   To hide its ignorance.
                           'The name of God
   Has fenced about all crime with holiness,
   Himself the creature of his worshippers,
   Whose names and attributes and passions change,
   Seeva, Buddh, Foh, Jehovah, God, or Lord,                          30
   Even with the human dupes who build his shrines,
   Still serving o'er the war-polluted world
   For desolation's watchword; whether hosts
   Stain his death-blushing chariot-wheels, as on
   Triumphantly they roll, whilst Brahmins raise
   A sacred hymn to mingle with the groans;
   Or countless partners of his power divide
   His tyranny to weakness; or the smoke
   Of burning towns, the cries of female helplessness,
   Unarmed old age, and youth, and infancy,                           40
   Horribly massacred, ascend to heaven
   In honor of his name; or, last and worst,
   Earth groans beneath religion's iron age,
   And priests dare babble of a God of peace,
   Even whilst their hands are red with guiltless blood,
   Murdering the while, uprooting every germ
   Of truth, exterminating, spoiling all,
   Making the earth a slaughter-house!

          'O Spirit! through the sense
   By which thy inner nature was apprised                             50
     Of outward shows, vague dreams have rolled,
     And varied reminiscences have waked
           Tablets that never fade;
     All things have been imprinted there,
     The stars, the sea, the earth, the sky,
     Even the unshapeliest lineaments
       Of wild and fleeting visions
           Have left a record there
           To testify of earth.

   'These are my empire, for to me is given                           60
   The wonders of the human world to keep,
   And fancy's thin creations to endow
   With manner, being and reality;
   Therefore a wondrous phantom from the dreams
   Of human error's dense and purblind faith
   I will evoke, to meet thy questioning.
           Ahasuerus, rise!'

           A strange and woe-worn wight
       Arose beside the battlement,
           And stood unmoving there.                                  70
   His inessential figure cast no shade
           Upon the golden floor;
   His port and mien bore mark of many years,
   And chronicles of untold ancientness
   Were legible within his beamless eye;
       Yet his cheek bore the mark of youth;
   Freshness and vigor knit his manly frame;
   The wisdom of old age was mingled there
       With youth's primeval dauntlessness;
           And inexpressible woe,                                     80
   Chastened by fearless resignation, gave
   An awful grace to his all-speaking brow.

          'Is there a God?'

   'Is there a God!--ay, an almighty God,
   And vengeful as almighty! Once his voice
   Was heard on earth; earth shuddered at the sound;
   The fiery-visaged firmament expressed
   Abhorrence, and the grave of Nature yawned
   To swallow all the dauntless and the good
   That dared to hurl defiance at his throne,                         90
   Girt as it was with power. None but slaves
   Survived,--cold-blooded slaves, who did the work
   Of tyrannous omnipotence; whose souls
   No honest indignation ever urged
   To elevated daring, to one deed
   Which gross and sensual self did not pollute.
   These slaves built temples for the omnipotent fiend,
   Gorgeous and vast; the costly altars smoked
   With human blood, and hideous pæans rung
   Through all the long-drawn aisles. A murderer heard               100
   His voice in Egypt, one whose gifts and arts
   Had raised him to his eminence in power,
   Accomplice of omnipotence in crime
   And confidant of the all-knowing one.
         These were Jehovah's words.

   '"From an eternity of idleness
   I, God, awoke; in seven days' toil made earth
   From nothing; rested, and created man;
   I placed him in a paradise, and there
   Planted the tree of evil, so that he                              110
   Might eat and perish, and my soul procure
   Wherewith to sate its malice and to turn,
   Even like a heartless conqueror of the earth,
   All misery to my fame. The race of men,
   Chosen to my honor, with impunity
   May sate the lusts I planted in their heart.
   Here I command thee hence to lead them on,
   Until with hardened feet their conquering troops
   Wade on the promised soil through woman's blood,
   And make my name be dreaded through the land.                     120
   Yet ever-burning flame and ceaseless woe
   Shall be the doom of their eternal souls,
   With every soul on this ungrateful earth,
   Virtuous or vicious, weak or strong,--even all
   Shall perish, to fulfil the blind revenge
   (Which you, to men, call justice) of their God."

                          'The murderer's brow
   Quivered with horror.

                          '"God omnipotent,
   Is there no mercy? must our punishment
   Be endless? will long ages roll away,                             130
   And see no term? Oh! wherefore hast thou made
   In mockery and wrath this evil earth?
   Mercy becomes the powerful--be but just!
   O God! repent and save!"

                          '"One way remains:
   I will beget a son and he shall bear
   The sins of all the world; he shall arise
   In an unnoticed corner of the earth,
   And there shall die upon a cross, and purge
   The universal crime; so that the few
   On whom my grace descends, those who are marked                   140
   As vessels to the honor of their God,
   May credit this strange sacrifice and save
   Their souls alive. Millions shall live and die,
   Who ne'er shall call upon their Saviour's name,
   But, unredeemed, go to the gaping grave,
   Thousands shall deem it an old woman's tale,
   Such as the nurses frighten babes withal;
   These in a gulf of anguish and of flame
   Shall curse their reprobation endlessly,
   Yet tenfold pangs shall force them to avow,                       150
   Even on their beds of torment where they howl,
   My honor and the justice of their doom.
   What then avail their virtuous deeds, their thoughts
   Of purity, with radiant genius bright
   Or lit with human reason's earthly ray?
   Many are called, but few will I elect.
   Do thou my bidding, Moses!"

                         'Even the murderer's cheek
   Was blanched with horror, and his quivering lips
   Scarce faintly uttered--"O almighty one,
   I tremble and obey!"                                              160

   'O Spirit! centuries have set their seal
   On this heart of many wounds, and loaded brain,
   Since the Incarnate came; humbly he came,
   Veiling his horrible Godhead in the shape
   Of man, scorned by the world, his name unheard
   Save by the rabble of his native town,
   Even as a parish demagogue. He led
   The crowd; he taught them justice, truth and peace,
   In semblance; but he lit within their souls
   The quenchless flames of zeal, and blessed the sword              170
   He brought on earth to satiate with the blood
   Of truth and freedom his malignant soul
   At length his mortal frame was led to death.
   I stood beside him; on the torturing cross
   No pain assailed his unterrestrial sense;
   And yet he groaned. Indignantly I summed
   The massacres and miseries which his name
   Had sanctioned in my country, and I cried,
   "Go! go!" in mockery.
   A smile of godlike malice reillumined                             180
   His fading lineaments. "I go," he cried,
   "But thou shalt wander o'er the unquiet earth
   Eternally." The dampness of the grave
   Bathed my imperishable front. I fell,
   And long lay tranced upon the charmèd soil.
   When I awoke hell burned within my brain
   Which staggered on its seat; for all around
   The mouldering relics of my kindred lay,
   Even as the Almighty's ire arrested them,
   And in their various attitudes of death                           190
   My murdered children's mute and eyeless skulls
   Glared ghastily upon me.

                             But my soul,
   From sight and sense of the polluting woe
   Of tyranny, had long learned to prefer
   Hell's freedom to the servitude of heaven.
   Therefore I rose, and dauntlessly began
   My lonely and unending pilgrimage,
   Resolved to wage unweariable war
   With my almighty tyrant and to hurl
   Defiance at his impotence to harm                                 200
   Beyond the curse I bore. The very hand,
   That barred my passage to the peaceful grave,
   Has crushed the earth to misery, and given
   Its empire to the chosen of his slaves.
   These I have seen, even from the earliest dawn
   Of weak, unstable and precarious power,
   Then preaching peace, as now they practise war;
   So, when they turned but from the massacre
   Of unoffending infidels to quench
   Their thirst for ruin in the very blood                           210
   That flowed in their own veins, and pitiless zeal
   Froze every human feeling as the wife
   Sheathed in her husband's heart the sacred steel,
   Even whilst its hopes were dreaming of her love;
   And friends to friends, brothers to brothers stood
   Opposed in bloodiest battle-field, and war,
   Scarce satiable by fate's last death-draught, waged,
   Drunk from the wine-press of the Almighty's wrath;
   Whilst the red cross, in mockery of peace,
   Pointed to victory! When the fray was done,                       220
   No remnant of the exterminated faith
   Survived to tell its ruin, but the flesh,
   With putrid smoke poisoning the atmosphere,
   That rotted on the half-extinguished pile.

   'Yes! I have seen God's worshippers unsheathe
   The sword of his revenge, when grace descended,
   Confirming all unnatural impulses,
   To sanctify their desolating deeds;
   And frantic priests waved the ill-omened cross
   O'er the unhappy earth; then shone the sun                        230
   On showers of gore from the upflashing steel
   Of safe assassination, and all crime
   Made stingless by the spirits of the Lord,
   And blood-red rainbows canopied the land.

   'Spirit! no year of my eventful being
   Has passed unstained by crime and misery,
   Which flows from God's own faith. I've marked his slaves
   With tongues, whose lies are venomous, beguile
   The insensate mob, and, whilst one hand was red
   With murder, feign to stretch the other out                       240
   For brotherhood and peace; and that they now
   Babble of love and mercy, whilst their deeds
   Are marked with all the narrowness and crime
   That freedom's young arm dare not yet chastise,
   Reason may claim our gratitude, who now,
   Establishing the imperishable throne
   Of truth and stubborn virtue, maketh vain
   The unprevailing malice of my foe,
   Whose bootless rage heaps torments for the brave,
   Adds impotent eternities to pain,                                 250
   Whilst keenest disappointment racks his breast
   To see the smiles of peace around them play,
   To frustrate or to sanctify their doom.

   'Thus have I stood,--through a wild waste of years
   Struggling with whirlwinds of mad agony,
   Yet peaceful, and serene, and self-enshrined,
   Mocking my powerless tyrant's horrible curse
   With stubborn and unalterable will,
   Even as a giant oak, which heaven's fierce flame
   Had scathèd in the wilderness, to stand                    260
   A monument of fadeless ruin there;
   Yet peacefully and movelessly it braves
   The midnight conflict of the wintry storm,
     As in the sunlight's calm it spreads
     Its worn and withered arms on high
   To meet the quiet of a summer's noon.'

       The Fairy waved her wand;
       Ahasuerus fled
   Fast as the shapes of mingled shade and mist,
   That lurk in the glens of a twilight grove,                       270
       Flee from the morning beam;--
       The matter of which dreams are made
       Not more endowed with actual life
       Than this phantasmal portraiture
       Of wandering human thought.