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Queen Mab

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

Book IX

   'O happy Earth, reality of Heaven!
   To which those restless souls that ceaselessly
   Throng through the human universe, aspire!
   Thou consummation of all mortal hope!
   Thou glorious prize of blindly working will,
   Whose rays, diffused throughout all space and time,
   Verge to one point and blend forever there!
   Of purest spirits thou pure dwelling-place
   Where care and sorrow, impotence and crime,
   Languor, disease and ignorance dare not come!                      10
   O happy Earth, reality of Heaven!

   'Genius has seen thee in her passionate dreams;
   And dim forebodings of thy loveliness,
   Haunting the human heart, have there entwined
   Those rooted hopes of some sweet place of bliss,
   Where friends and lovers meet to part no more.
   Thou art the end of all desire and will,
   The product of all action; and the souls,
   That by the paths of an aspiring change
   Have reached thy haven of perpetual peace,                         20
   There rest from the eternity of toil
   That framed the fabric of thy perfectness.

   'Even Time, the conqueror, fled thee in his fear;
   That hoary giant, who in lonely pride
   So long had ruled the world that nations fell
   Beneath his silent footstep. Pyramids,
   That for millenniums had withstood the tide
   Of human things, his storm-breath drove in sand
   Across that desert where their stones survived
   The name of him whose pride had heaped them there.                 30
   Yon monarch, in his solitary pomp,
   Was but the mushroom of a summer day,
   That his light-wingèd footstep pressed to dust;
   Time was the king of earth; all things gave way
   Before him but the fixed and virtuous will,
   The sacred sympathies of soul and sense,
   That mocked his fury and prepared his fall.

   'Yet slow and gradual dawned the morn of love;
   Long lay the clouds of darkness o'er the scene,
   Till from its native heaven they rolled away:                      40
   First, crime triumphant o'er all hope careered
   Unblushing, undisguising, bold and strong,
   Whilst falsehood, tricked in virtue's attributes,
   Long sanctified all deeds of vice and woe,
   Till, done by her own venomous sting to death,
   She left the moral world without a law,
   No longer fettering passion's fearless wing,
   Nor searing reason with the brand of God.
   Then steadily the happy ferment worked;
   Reason was free; and wild though passion went                      50
   Through tangled glens and wood-embosomed meads,
   Gathering a garland of the strangest flowers,
   Yet, like the bee returning to her queen,
   She bound the sweetest on her sister's brow,
   Who meek and sober kissed the sportive child,
   No longer trembling at the broken rod.

   'Mild was the slow necessity of death.
   The tranquil spirit failed beneath its grasp,
   Without a groan, almost without a fear,
   Calm as a voyager to some distant land,                            60
   And full of wonder, full of hope as he.
   The deadly germs of languor and disease
   Died in the human frame, and purity
   Blessed with all gifts her earthly worshippers.
   How vigorous then the athletic form of age!
   How clear its open and unwrinkled brow!
   Where neither avarice, cunning, pride or care
   Had stamped the seal of gray deformity
   On all the mingling lineaments of time.
   How lovely the intrepid front of youth,                            70
   Which meek-eyed courage decked with freshest grace;
   Courage of soul, that dreaded not a name,
   And elevated will, that journeyed on
   Through life's phantasmal scene in fearlessness,
   With virtue, love and pleasure, hand in hand!

   'Then, that sweet bondage which is freedom's self,
   And rivets with sensation's softest tie
   The kindred sympathies of human souls,
   Needed no fetters of tyrannic law.
   Those delicate and timid impulses                                  80
   In Nature's primal modesty arose,
   And with undoubting confidence disclosed
   The growing longings of its dawning love,
   Unchecked by dull and selfish chastity,
   That virtue of the cheaply virtuous,
   Who pride themselves in senselessness and frost.
   No longer prostitution's venomed bane
   Poisoned the springs of happiness and life;
   Woman and man, in confidence and love,
   Equal and free and pure together trod                              90
   The mountain-paths of virtue, which no more
   Were stained with blood from many a pilgrim's feet.

   'Then, where, through distant ages, long in pride
   The palace of the monarch-slave had mocked
   Famine's faint groan and penury's silent tear,
   A heap of crumbling ruins stood, and threw
   Year after year their stones upon the field,
   Wakening a lonely echo; and the leaves
   Of the old thorn, that on the topmost tower
   Usurped the royal ensign's grandeur, shook                        100
   In the stern storm that swayed the topmost tower,
   And whispered strange tales in the whirlwind's ear.

   'Low through the lone cathedral's roofless aisles
   The melancholy winds a death-dirge sung.
   It were a sight of awfulness to see
   The works of faith and slavery, so vast,
   So sumptuous, yet so perishing withal,
   Even as the corpse that rests beneath its wall!
   A thousand mourners deck the pomp of death
   To-day, the breathing marble glows above                          110
   To decorate its memory, and tongues
   Are busy of its life; to-morrow, worms
   In silence and in darkness seize their prey.

   'Within the massy prison's mouldering courts,
   Fearless and free the ruddy children played,
   Weaving gay chaplets for their innocent brows
   With the green ivy and the red wall-flower
   That mock the dungeon's unavailing gloom;
   The ponderous chains and gratings of strong iron
   There rusted amid heaps of broken stone                           120
   That mingled slowly with their native earth;
   There the broad beam of day, which feebly once
   Lighted the cheek of lean captivity
   With a pale and sickly glare, then freely shone
   On the pure smiles of infant playfulness;
   No more the shuddering voice of hoarse despair
   Pealed through the echoing vaults, but soothing notes
   Of ivy-fingered winds and gladsome birds
   And merriment were resonant around.

   'These ruins soon left not a wreck behind;                        130
   Their elements, wide-scattered o'er the globe,
   To happier shapes were moulded, and became
   Ministrant to all blissful impulses;
   Thus human things were perfected, and earth,
   Even as a child beneath its mother's love,
   Was strengthened in all excellence, and grew
   Fairer and nobler with each passing year.

   'Now Time his dusky pennons o'er the scene
   Closes in steadfast darkness, and the past
   Fades from our charmèd sight. My task is done;             140
   Thy lore is learned. Earth's wonders are thine own
   With all the fear and all the hope they bring.
   My spells are passed; the present now recurs.
   Ah me! a pathless wilderness remains
   Yet unsubdued by man's reclaiming hand.

   'Yet, human Spirit! bravely hold thy course;
   Let virtue teach thee firmly to pursue
   The gradual paths of an aspiring change;
   For birth and life and death, and that strange state
   Before the naked soul has found its home,                         150
   All tend to perfect happiness, and urge
   The restless wheels of being on their way,
   Whose flashing spokes, instinct with infinite life,
   Bicker and burn to gain their destined goal;
   For birth but wakes the spirit to the sense
   Of outward shows, whose unexperienced shape
   New modes of passion to its frame may lend;
   Life is its state of action, and the store
   Of all events is aggregated there
   That variegate the eternal universe;                              160
   Death is a gate of dreariness and gloom,
   That leads to azure isles and beaming skies
   And happy regions of eternal hope.
   Therefore, O Spirit! fearlessly bear on.
   Though storms may break the primrose on its stalk,
   Though frosts may blight the freshness of its bloom,
   Yet spring's awakening breath will woo the earth
   To feed with kindliest dews its favorite flower,
   That blooms in mossy bank and darksome glens,
   Lighting the greenwood with its sunny smile.                      170

   'Fear not then, Spirit, death's disrobing hand,
   So welcome when the tyrant is awake,
   So welcome when the bigot's hell-torch burns;
   'T is but the voyage of a darksome hour,
   The transient gulf-dream of a startling sleep.
   Death is no foe to virtue; earth has seen
   Love's brightest roses on the scaffold bloom,
   Mingling with freedom's fadeless laurels there,
   And presaging the truth of visioned bliss.
   Are there not hopes within thee, which this scene                 180
   Of linked and gradual being has confirmed?
   Whose stingings bade thy heart look further still,
   When, to the moonlight walk by Henry led,
   Sweetly and sadly thou didst talk of death?
   And wilt thou rudely tear them from thy breast,
   Listening supinely to a bigot's creed,
   Or tamely crouching to the tyrant's rod,
   Whose iron thongs are red with human gore?
   Never: but bravely bearing on, thy will
   Is destined an eternal war to wage                                190
   With tyranny and falsehood, and uproot
   The germs of misery from the human heart.
   Thine is the hand whose piety would soothe
   The thorny pillow of unhappy crime,
   Whose impotence an easy pardon gains,
   Watching its wanderings as a friend's disease;
   Thine is the brow whose mildness would defy
   Its fiercest rage, and brave its sternest will,
   When fenced by power and master of the world.
   Thou art sincere and good; of resolute mind,                      200
   Free from heart-withering custom's cold control,
   Of passion lofty, pure and unsubdued.
   Earth's pride and meanness could not vanquish thee,
   And therefore art thou worthy of the boon
   Which thou hast now received; virtue shall keep
   Thy footsteps in the path that thou hast trod,
   And many days of beaming hope shall bless
   Thy spotless life of sweet and sacred love.
   Go, happy one, and give that bosom joy,
     Whose sleepless spirit waits to catch                           210
     Light, life and rapture from thy smile!'

     The Fairy waves her wand of charm.
   Speechless with bliss the Spirit mounts the car,
     That rolled beside the battlement,
   Bending her beamy eyes in thankfulness.
     Again the enchanted steeds were yoked;
     Again the burning wheels inflame
   The steep descent of heaven's untrodden way.
     Fast and far the chariot flew;
     The vast and fiery globes that rolled                           220
     Around the Fairy's palace-gate
   Lessened by slow degrees, and soon appeared
   Such tiny twinklers as the planet orbs
   That there attendant on the solar power
   With borrowed light pursued their narrower way.

       Earth floated then below;
     The chariot paused a moment there;
       The Spirit then descended;
   The restless coursers pawed the ungenial soil,
   Snuffed the gross air, and then, their errand done,               230
   Unfurled their pinions to the winds of heaven.

     The Body and the Soul united then.
   A gentle start convulsed Ianthe's frame;
   Her veiny eyelids quietly unclosed;
   Moveless awhile the dark blue orbs remained.
   She looked around in wonder, and beheld
   Henry, who kneeled in silence by her couch,
   Watching her sleep with looks of speechless love,
       And the bright beaming stars
       That through the casement shone.                              240