Previous Contents Index Next

Queen Mab

By Percy Bysshe Shelley


   'The present and the past thou hast beheld.
   It was a desolate sight. Now, Spirit, learn,
     The secrets of the future.--Time!
   Unfold the brooding pinion of thy gloom,
   Render thou up thy half-devoured babes,
   And from the cradles of eternity,
   Where millions lie lulled to their portioned sleep
   By the deep murmuring stream of passing things,
   Tear thou that gloomy shroud.--Spirit, behold
       Thy glorious destiny!'                                         10

       Joy to the Spirit came.
   Through the wide rent in Time's eternal veil,
   Hope was seen beaming through the mists of fear;
       Earth was no longer hell;
       Love, freedom, health had given
   Their ripeness to the manhood of its prime,
       And all its pulses beat
   Symphonious to the planetary spheres;
       Then dulcet music swelled
   Concordant with the life-strings of the soul;                      20
   It throbbed in sweet and languid beatings there,
   Catching new life from transitory death;
   Like the vague sighings of a wind at even
   That wakes the wavelets of the slumbering sea
   And dies on the creation of its breath,
   And sinks and rises, falls and swells by fits,
     Was the pure stream of feeling
     That sprung from these sweet notes,
   And o'er the Spirit's human sympathies
   With mild and gentle motion calmly flowed.                         30

       Joy to the Spirit came,--
     Such joy as when a lover sees
   The chosen of his soul in happiness
       And witnesses her peace
   Whose woe to him were bitterer than death;
       Sees her unfaded cheek
   Glow mantling in first luxury of health,
       Thrills with her lovely eyes,
   Which like two stars amid the heaving main
       Sparkle through liquid bliss.                                  40

   Then in her triumph spoke the Fairy Queen:
   'I will not call the ghost of ages gone
   To unfold the frightful secrets of its lore;
       The present now is past,
   And those events that desolate the earth
   Have faded from the memory of Time,
   Who dares not give reality to that
   Whose being I annul. To me is given
   The wonders of the human world to keep,
   Space, matter, time and mind. Futurity                             50
   Exposes now its treasure; let the sight
   Renew and strengthen all thy failing hope.
   O human Spirit! spur thee to the goal
   Where virtue fixes universal peace,
   And, 'midst the ebb and flow of human things,
   Show somewhat stable, somewhat certain still,
   A light-house o'er the wild of dreary waves.

    'The habitable earth is full of bliss;
   Those wastes of frozen billows that were hurled
   By everlasting snow-storms round the poles,                        60
   Where matter dared not vegetate or live,
   But ceaseless frost round the vast solitude
   Bound its broad zone of stillness, are unloosed;
   And fragrant zephyrs there from spicy isles
   Ruffle the placid ocean-deep, that rolls
   Its broad, bright surges to the sloping sand,
   Whose roar is wakened into echoings sweet
   To murmur through the heaven-breathing groves
   And melodize with man's blest nature there.

   'Those deserts of immeasurable sand,                               70
   Whose age-collected fervors scarce allowed
   A bird to live, a blade of grass to spring,
   Where the shrill chirp of the green lizard's love
   Broke on the sultry silentness alone,
   Now teem with countless rills and shady woods,
   Cornfields and pastures and white cottages;
   And where the startled wilderness beheld
   A savage conqueror stained in kindred blood,
   A tigress sating with the flesh of lambs
   The unnatural famine of her toothless cubs,                        80
   Whilst shouts and howlings through the desert rang,--
   Sloping and smooth the daisy-spangled lawn,
   Offering sweet incense to the sunrise, smiles
   To see a babe before his mother's door,
       Sharing his morning's meal
     With the green and golden basilisk
       That comes to lick his feet.

   'Those trackless deeps, where many a weary sail
   Has seen above the illimitable plain
   Morning on night and night on morning rise,                        90
   Whilst still no land to greet the wanderer spread
   Its shadowy mountains on the sun-bright sea,
   Where the loud roarings of the tempest-waves
   So long have mingled with the gusty wind
   In melancholy loneliness, and swept
   The desert of those ocean solitudes
   But vocal to the sea-bird's harrowing shriek,
   The bellowing monster, and the rushing storm;
   Now to the sweet and many-mingling sounds
   Of kindliest human impulses respond.                              100
   Those lonely realms bright garden-isles begem,
   With lightsome clouds and shining seas between,
   And fertile valleys, resonant with bliss,
   Whilst green woods overcanopy the wave,
   Which like a toil-worn laborer leaps to shore
   To meet the kisses of the flowrets there.

   'All things are recreated, and the flame
   Of consentaneous love inspires all life.
   The fertile bosom of the earth gives suck
   To myriads, who still grow beneath her care,                      110
   Rewarding her with their pure perfectness;
   The balmy breathings of the wind inhale
   Her virtues and diffuse them all abroad;
   Health floats amid the gentle atmosphere,
   Glows in the fruits and mantles on the stream;
   No storms deform the beaming brow of heaven,
   Nor scatter in the freshness of its pride
   The foliage of the ever-verdant trees;
   But fruits are ever ripe, flowers ever fair,
   And autumn proudly bears her matron grace,                        120
   Kindling a flush on the fair cheek of spring,
   Whose virgin bloom beneath the ruddy fruit
   Reflects its tint and blushes into love.

   'The lion now forgets to thirst for blood;
   There might you see him sporting in the sun
   Beside the dreadless kid; his claws are sheathed,
   His teeth are harmless, custom's force has made
   His nature as the nature of a lamb.
   Like passion's fruit, the nightshade's tempting bane
   Poisons no more the pleasure it bestows;                          130
   All bitterness is past; the cup of joy
   Unmingled mantles to the goblet's brim
   And courts the thirsty lips it fled before.

     But chief, ambiguous man, he that can know
   More misery, and dream more joy than all;
   Whose keen sensations thrill within his breast
   To mingle with a loftier instinct there,
   Lending their power to pleasure and to pain,
   Yet raising, sharpening, and refining each;
   Who stands amid the ever-varying world,                           140
   The burden or the glory of the earth;
   He chief perceives the change; his being notes
   The gradual renovation and defines
   Each movement of its progress on his mind.

   'Man, where the gloom of the long polar night
   Lowers o'er the snow-clad rocks and frozen soil,
   Where scarce the hardiest herb that braves the frost
   Basks in the moonlight's ineffectual glow,
   Shrank with the plants, and darkened with the night;
   His chilled and narrow energies, his heart                        150
   Insensible to courage, truth or love,
   His stunted stature and imbecile frame,
   Marked him for some abortion of the earth,
   Fit compeer of the bears that roamed around,
   Whose habits and enjoyments were his own;
   His life a feverish dream of stagnant woe,
   Whose meagre wants, but scantily fulfilled,
   Apprised him ever of the joyless length
   Which his short being's wretchedness had reached;
   His death a pang which famine, cold and toil                      160
   Long on the mind, whilst yet the vital spark
   Clung to the body stubbornly, had brought:
   All was inflicted here that earth's revenge
   Could wreak on the infringers of her law;
   One curse alone was spared--the name of God.

   'Nor, where the tropics bound the realms of day
   With a broad belt of mingling cloud and flame,
   Where blue mists through the unmoving atmosphere
   Scattered the seeds of pestilence and fed
   Unnatural vegetation, where the land                              170
   Teemed with all earthquake, tempest and disease,
   Was man a nobler being; slavery
   Had crushed him to his country's blood-stained dust;
   Or he was bartered for the fame of power,
   Which, all internal impulses destroying,
   Makes human will an article of trade;
   Or he was changed with Christians for their gold
   And dragged to distant isles, where to the sound
   Of the flesh-mangling scourge he does the work
   Of all-polluting luxury and wealth,                               180
   Which doubly visits on the tyrants' heads
   The long-protracted fulness of their woe;
   Or he was led to legal butchery,
   To turn to worms beneath that burning sun
   Where kings first leagued against the rights of men
   And priests first traded with the name of God.

   'Even where the milder zone afforded man
   A seeming shelter, yet contagion there,
   Blighting his being with unnumbered ills,
   Spread like a quenchless fire; nor truth till late                190
   Availed to arrest its progress or create
   That peace which first in bloodless victory waved
   Her snowy standard o'er this favored clime;
   There man was long the train-bearer of slaves,
   The mimic of surrounding misery,
   The jackal of ambition's lion-rage,
   The bloodhound of religion's hungry zeal.

   'Here now the human being stands adorning
   This loveliest earth with taintless body and mind;
   Blest from his birth with all bland impulses,                     200
   Which gently in his noble bosom wake
   All kindly passions and all pure desires.
   Him, still from hope to hope the bliss pursuing
   Which from the exhaustless store of human weal
   Draws on the virtuous mind, the thoughts that rise
   In time-destroying infiniteness gift
   With self-enshrined eternity, that mocks
   The unprevailing hoariness of age;
   And man, once fleeting o'er the transient scene
   Swift as an unremembered vision, stands                           210
   Immortal upon earth; no longer now
   He slays the lamb that looks him in the face,
   And horribly devours his mangled flesh,
   Which, still avenging Nature's broken law,
   Kindled all putrid humors in his frame,
   All evil passions and all vain belief,
   Hatred, despair and loathing in his mind,
   The germs of misery, death, disease and crime.
   No longer now the wingèd habitants,
   That in the woods their sweet lives sing away,                    220
   Flee from the form of man; but gather round,
   And prune their sunny feathers on the hands
   Which little children stretch in friendly sport
   Towards these dreadless partners of their play.
   All things are void of terror; man has lost
   His terrible prerogative, and stands
   An equal amidst equals; happiness
   And science dawn, though late, upon the earth;
   Peace cheers the mind, health renovates the frame;
   Disease and pleasure cease to mingle here,                        230
   Reason and passion cease to combat there;
   Whilst each unfettered o'er the earth extend
   Their all-subduing energies, and wield
   The sceptre of a vast dominion there;
   Whilst every shape and mode of matter lends
   Its force to the omnipotence of mind,
   Which from its dark mine drags the gem of truth
   To decorate its paradise of peace.'