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Prometheus Unbound

By Percy Bysshe Shelley


SCENE I.-- Heaven. JUPITER on his Throne; THETIS and the other Deities assembled.
      YE congregated powers of heaven, who share
      The glory and the strength of him ye serve,
      Rejoice! henceforth I am omnipotent.
      All else had been subdued to me; alone
      The soul of man, like unextinguished fire,
      Yet burns towards heaven with fierce reproach, and doubt,
      And lamentation, and reluctant prayer,
      Hurling up insurrection, which might make
      Our antique empire insecure, though built
      On eldest faith, and hell's coeval, fear;                       10
      And though my curses through the pendulous air,
      Like snow on herbless peaks, fall flake by flake,
      And cling to it; though under my wrath's night
      It climb the crags of life, step after step,
      Which wound it, as ice wounds unsandalled feet,
      It yet remains supreme o'er misery,
      Aspiring, unrepressed, yet soon to fall;
      Even now have I begotten a strange wonder,
      That fatal child, the terror of the earth,
      Who waits but till the destined hour arrive,                    20
      Bearing from Demogorgon's vacant throne
      The dreadful might of ever-living limbs
      Which clothed that awful spirit unbeheld,
      To redescend, and trample out the spark.
      Pour forth heaven's wine, Idæan Ganymede,
      And let it fill the dædal cups like fire,
      And from the flower-inwoven soil divine,
      Ye all-triumphant harmonies, arise,
      As dew from earth under the twilight stars.
      Drink! be the nectar circling through your veins                30
      The soul of joy, ye ever-living Gods,
      Till exultation burst in one wide voice
      Like music from Elysian winds.
                                      And thou
      Ascend beside me, veil'd in the light
      Of the desire which makes thee one with me,
      Thetis, bright image of eternity!
      When thou didst cry, 'Insufferable might!
      God! spare me! I sustain not the quick flames,
      The penetrating presence; all my being,
      Like him whom the Numidian seps did thaw                        40
      Into a dew with poison, is dissolved,
      Sinking through its foundations,'--even then
      Two mighty spirits, mingling, made a third
      Mightier than either, which, unbodied now,
      Between us floats, felt, although unbeheld,
      Waiting the incarnation, which ascends,
      (Hear ye the thunder of the fiery wheels
      Griding the winds?) from Demogorgon's throne.
      Victory! victory! Feel'st thou not, O world,
      The earthquake of his chariot thundering up                     50

[The Car of the HOUR arrives. DEMOGORGON
descends and moves towards the Throne of JUPITER. 

                Awful shape, what art thou? Speak!

      Eternity. Demand no direr name.
      Descend, and follow me down the abyss.
      I am thy child, as thou wert Saturn's child;
      Mightier than thee; and we must dwell together
      Henceforth in darkness. Lift thy lightnings not.
      The tyranny of heaven none may retain,
      Or reassume, or hold, succeeding thee;
      Yet if thou wilt, as 't is the destiny
      Of trodden worms to writhe till they are dead,                  60
      Put forth thy might.

                            Detested prodigy!
      Even thus beneath the deep Titanian prisons
      I trample thee! Thou lingerest?
                                       Mercy! mercy!
      No pity, no release, no respite! Oh,
      That thou wouldst make mine enemy my judge,
      Even where he hangs, seared by my long revenge,
      On Caucasus! he would not doom me thus.
      Gentle, and just, and dreadless, is he not
      The monarch of the world? What then art thou?
      No refuge! no appeal!
                             Sink with me then,                       70
      We two will sink on the wide waves of ruin,
      Even as a vulture and a snake outspent
      Drop, twisted in inextricable fight,
      Into a shoreless sea! Let hell unlock
      Its mounded oceans of tempestuous fire,
      And whelm on them into the bottomless void
      This desolated world, and thee, and me,
      The conqueror and the conquered, and the wreck
      Of that for which they combated!
                                        Ai, Ai!
      The elements obey me not. I sink                                80
      Dizzily down, ever, forever, down.
      And, like a cloud, mine enemy above
      Darkens my fall with victory! Ai, Ai!
SCENE II.-- The Mouth of a great River in the Island Atlantis. OCEAN is discovered reclining near the shore; APOLLO stands beside him.

      He fell, thou sayest, beneath his conqueror's frown?

      Ay, when the strife was ended which made dim
      The orb I rule, and shook the solid stars,
      The terrors of his eye illumined heaven
      With sanguine light, through the thick ragged skirts
      Of the victorious darkness, as he fell;
      Like the last glare of day's red agony,
      Which, from a rent among the fiery clouds,
      Burns far along the tempest-wrinkled deep.

      He sunk to the abyss? to the dark void?                         10

      An eagle so caught in some bursting cloud
      On Caucasus, his thunder-baffled wings
      Entangled in the whirlwind, and his eyes,
      Which gazed on the undazzling sun, now blinded
      By the white lightning, while the ponderous hail
      Beats on his struggling form, which sinks at length
      Prone, and the aerial ice clings over it.

      Henceforth the fields of Heaven-reflecting sea
      Which are my realm, will heave, unstained with blood,
      Beneath the uplifting winds, like plains of corn                20
      Swayed by the summer air; my streams will flow
      Round many-peopled continents, and round
      Fortunate isles; and from their glassy thrones
      Blue Proteus and his humid nymphs shall mark
      The shadow of fair ships, as mortals see
      The floating bark of the light-laden moon
      With that white star, its sightless pilot's crest,
      Borne down the rapid sunset's ebbing sea;
      Tracking their path no more by blood and groans,
      And desolation, and the mingled voice                           30
      Of slavery and command; but by the light
      Of wave-reflected flowers, and floating odors,
      And music soft, and mild, free, gentle voices,
      That sweetest music, such as spirits love.

      And I shall gaze not on the deeds which make
      My mind obscure with sorrow, as eclipse
      Darkens the sphere I guide. But list, I hear
      The small, clear, silver lute of the young Spirit
      That sits i' the morning star.

                                      Thou must away;
      Thy steeds will pause at even, till when farewell.              40
      The loud deep calls me home even now to feed it
      With azure calm out of the emerald urns
      Which stand forever full beside my throne.
      Behold the Nereids under the green sea,
      Their wavering limbs borne on the windlike stream,
      Their white arms lifted o'er their streaming hair,
      With garlands pied and starry sea-flower crowns,
      Hastening to grace their mighty sister's joy.
                                          [A sound of waves is heard. 
      It is the unpastured sea hungering for calm.
      Peace, monster; I come now. Farewell.

                                             Farewell.                50

SCENE III.-- Caucasus. PROMETHEUS, HERCULES, IONE, the EARTH, SPIRITS, ASIA, and PANTHEA, borne in the Car with the SPIRIT OF THE HOUR. HERCULES unbinds PROMETHEUS, who descends.

      Most glorious among spirits! thus doth strength
      To wisdom, courage, and long-suffering love,
      And thee, who art the form they animate,
      Minister like a slave.

                              Thy gentle words
      Are sweeter even than freedom long desired
      And long delayed.

                         Asia, thou light of life,
      Shadow of beauty unbeheld; and ye,
      Fair sister nymphs, who made long years of pain
      Sweet to remember, through your love and care;
      Henceforth we will not part. There is a cave,                   10
      All overgrown with trailing odorous plants,
      Which curtain out the day with leaves and flowers,
      And paved with vein'd emerald; and a fountain
      Leaps in the midst with an awakening sound.
      From its curved roof the mountain's frozen tears,
      Like snow, or silver, or long diamond spires,
      Hang downward, raining forth a doubtful light;
      And there is heard the ever-moving air
      Whispering without from tree to tree, and birds,
      And bees; and all around are mossy seats,                       20
      And the rough walls are clothed with long soft grass;
      A simple dwelling, which shall be our own;
      Where we will sit and talk of time and change,
      As the world ebbs and flows, ourselves unchanged.
      What can hide man from mutability?
      And if ye sigh, then I will smile; and thou,
      Ione, shalt chant fragments of sea-music,
      Until I weep, when ye shall smile away
      The tears she brought, which yet were sweet to shed.
      We will entangle buds and flowers and beams                     30
      Which twinkle on the fountain's brim, and make
      Strange combinations out of common things,
      Like human babes in their brief innocence;
      And we will search, with looks and words of love,
      For hidden thoughts, each lovelier than the last,
      Our unexhausted spirits; and, like lutes
      Touched by the skill of the enamoured wind,
      Weave harmonies divine, yet ever new,
      From difference sweet where discord cannot be;
      And hither come, sped on the charm'd winds,                     40
      Which meet from all the points of heaven--as bees
      From every flower aerial Enna feeds
      At their known island-homes in Himera--
      The echoes of the human world, which tell
      Of the low voice of love, almost unheard,
      And dove-eyed pity's murmured pain, and music,
      Itself the echo of the heart, and all
      That tempers or improves man's life, now free;
      And lovely apparitions,--dim at first,
      Then radiant, as the mind arising bright                        50
      From the embrace of beauty (whence the forms
      Of which these are the phantoms) casts on them
      The gathered rays which are reality--
      Shall visit us the progeny immortal
      Of Painting, Sculpture, and rapt Poesy,
      And arts, though unimagined, yet to be;
      The wandering voices and the shadows these
      Of all that man becomes, the mediators
      Of that best worship, love, by him and us
      Given and returned; swift shapes and sounds, which grow         60
      More fair and soft as man grows wise and kind,
      And, veil by veil, evil and error fall.
      Such virtue has the cave and place around.
                                  [Turning to the  SPIRIT OF THE HOUR.
      For thee, fair Spirit, one toil remains. Ione,
      Give her that curved shell, which Proteus old
      Made Asia's nuptial boon, breathing within it
      A voice to be accomplished, and which thou
      Didst hide in grass under the hollow rock.

      Thou most desired Hour, more loved and lovely
      Than all thy sisters, this is the mystic shell.                 70
      See the pale azure fading into silver
      Lining it with a soft yet glowing light.
      Looks it not like lulled music sleeping there?

      It seems in truth the fairest shell of Ocean:
      Its sound must be at once both sweet and strange.

      Go, borne over the cities of mankind
      On whirlwind-footed coursers; once again
      Outspeed the sun around the orbed world;
      And as thy chariot cleaves the kindling air,
      Thou breathe into the many-folded shell,                        80
      Loosening its mighty music; it shall be
      As thunder mingled with clear echoes; then
      Return; and thou shalt dwell beside our cave.

      And thou, O Mother Earth!--

                                   I hear, I feel;
      Thy lips are on me, and thy touch runs down
      Even to the adamantine central gloom
      Along these marble nerves; 't is life, 't is joy,
      And, through my withered, old, and icy frame
      The warmth of an immortal youth shoots down
      Circling. Henceforth the many children fair                     90
      Folded in my sustaining arms; all plants,
      And creeping forms, and insects rainbow-winged,
      And birds, and beasts, and fish, and human shapes,
      Which drew disease and pain from my wan bosom,
      Draining the poison of despair, shall take
      And interchange sweet nutriment; to me
      Shall they become like sister-antelopes
      By one fair dam, snow-white, and swift as wind,
      Nursed among lilies near a brimming stream.
      The dew-mists of my sunless sleep shall float                  100
      Under the stars like balm; night-folded flowers
      Shall suck unwithering hues in their repose;
      And men and beasts in happy dreams shall gather
      Strength for the coming day, and all its joy;
      And death shall be the last embrace of her
      Who takes the life she gave, even as a mother,
      Folding her child, says, 'Leave me not again.'

      Oh, mother! wherefore speak the name of death?
      Cease they to love, and move, and breathe, and speak,
      Who die?

                It would avail not to reply;                         110
      Thou art immortal and this tongue is known
      But to the uncommunicating dead.
      Death is the veil which those who live call life;
      They sleep, and it is lifted; and meanwhile
      In mild variety the seasons mild
      With rainbow-skirted showers, and odorous winds,
      And long blue meteors cleansing the dull night,
      And the life-kindling shafts of the keen sun's
      All-piercing bow, and the dew-mingled rain
      Of the calm moonbeams, a soft influence mild,                  120
      Shall clothe the forests and the fields, ay, even
      The crag-built deserts of the barren deep,
      With ever-living leaves, and fruits, and flowers.
      And thou! there is a cavern where my spirit
      Was panted forth in anguish whilst thy pain
      Made my heart mad, and those who did inhale it
      Became mad too, and built a temple there,
      And spoke, and were oracular, and lured
      The erring nations round to mutual war,
      And faithless faith, such as Jove kept with thee;              130
      Which breath now rises as amongst tall weeds
      A violet's exhalation, and it fills
      With a serener light and crimson air
      Intense, yet soft, the rocks and woods around;
      It feeds the quick growth of the serpent vine,
      And the dark linked ivy tangling wild,
      And budding, blown, or odor-faded blooms
      Which star the winds with points of colored light
      As they rain through them, and bright golden globes
      Of fruit suspended in their own green heaven,                  140
      And through their veined leaves and amber stems
      The flowers whose purple and translucid bowls
      Stand ever mantling with aerial dew,
      The drink of spirits; and it circles round,
      Like the soft waving wings of noonday dreams,
      Inspiring calm and happy thoughts, like mine,
      Now thou art thus restored. This cave is thine.
      Arise! Appear!
                   [A SPIRIT rises in the likeness of a winged child. 
                      This is my torch-bearer;
      Who let his lamp out in old time with gazing
      On eyes from which he kindled it anew                          150
      With love, which is as fire, sweet daughter mine,
      For such is that within thine own. Run, wayward,
      And guide this company beyond the peak
      Of Bacchic Nysa, Mænad-haunted mountain,
      And beyond Indus and its tribute rivers,
      Trampling the torrent streams and glassy lakes
      With feet unwet, unwearied, undelaying,
      And up the green ravine, across the vale,
      Beside the windless and crystalline pool,
      Where ever lies, on unerasing waves,                           160
      The image of a temple, built above,
      Distinct with column, arch, and architrave,
      And palm-like capital, and overwrought,
      And populous most with living imagery,
      Praxitelean shapes, whose marble smiles
      Fill the hushed air with everlasting love.
      It is deserted now, but once it bore
      Thy name, Prometheus; there the emulous youths
      Bore to thy honor through the divine gloom
      The lamp which was thine emblem; even as those                 170
      Who bear the untransmitted torch of hope
      Into the grave, across the night of life,
      As thou hast borne it most triumphantly
      To this far goal of Time. Depart, farewell!
      Beside that temple is the destined cave.
SCENE IV.-- A Forest. In the background a Cave. PROMETHEUS, ASIA, PANTHEA, IONE, and the SPIRIT OF THE EARTH.

      Sister, it is not earthly; how it glides
      Under the leaves! how on its head there burns
      A light, like a green star, whose emerald beams
      Are twined with its fair hair! how, as it moves,
      The splendor drops in flakes upon the grass!
      Knowest thou it?

                        It is the delicate spirit
      That guides the earth through heaven. From afar
      The populous constellations call that light
      The loveliest of the planets; and sometimes
      It floats along the spray of the salt sea,                      10
      Or makes its chariot of a foggy cloud,
      Or walks through fields or cities while men sleep,
      Or o'er the mountain tops, or down the rivers,
      Or through the green waste wilderness, as now,
      Wondering at all it sees. Before Jove reigned
      It loved our sister Asia, and it came
      Each leisure hour to drink the liquid light
      Out of her eyes, for which it said it thirsted
      As one bit by a dipsas, and with her
      It made its childish confidence, and told her                   20
      All it had known or seen, for it saw much,
      Yet idly reasoned what it saw; and called her,
      For whence it sprung it knew not, nor do I,
      Mother, dear mother.

                            Mother, dearest mother!
      May I then talk with thee as I was wont?
      May I then hide my eyes in thy soft arms,
      After thy looks have made them tired of joy?
      May I then play beside thee the long noons,
      When work is none in the bright silent air?

      I love thee, gentlest being, and henceforth                     30
      Can cherish thee unenvied. Speak, I pray;
      Thy simple talk once solaced, now delights.

      Mother, I am grown wiser, though a child
      Cannot be wise like thee, within this day;
      And happier too; happier and wiser both.
      Thou knowest that toads, and snakes, and loathly worms,
      And venomous and malicious beasts, and boughs
      That bore ill berries in the woods, were ever
      An hindrance to my walks o'er the green world;
      And that, among the haunts of humankind,                        40
      Hard-featured men, or with proud, angry looks,
      Or cold, staid gait, or false and hollow smiles,
      Or the dull sneer of self-loved ignorance,
      Or other such foul masks, with which ill thoughts
      Hide that fair being whom we spirits call man;
      And women too, ugliest of all things evil,
      (Though fair, even in a world where thou art fair,
      When good and kind, free and sincere like thee)
      When false or frowning made me sick at heart
      To pass them, though they slept, and I unseen.                  50
      Well, my path lately lay through a great city
      Into the woody hills surrounding it;
      A sentinel was sleeping at the gate;
      When there was heard a sound, so loud, it shook
      The towers amid the moonlight, yet more sweet
      Than any voice but thine, sweetest of all;
      A long, long sound, as it would never end;
      And all the inhabitants leapt suddenly
      Out of their rest, and gathered in the streets,
      Looking in wonder up to Heaven, while yet                       60
      The music pealed along. I hid myself
      Within a fountain in the public square,
      Where I lay like the reflex of the moon
      Seen in a wave under green leaves; and soon
      Those ugly human shapes and visages
      Of which I spoke as having wrought me pain,
      Passed floating through the air and fading still
      Into the winds that scattered them; and those
      From whom they passed seemed mild and lovely forms
      After some foul disguise had fallen, and all                    70
      Were somewhat changed, and after brief surprise
      And greetings of delighted wonder, all
      Went to their sleep again; and when the dawn
      Came, wouldst thou think that toads, and snakes, and efts,
      Could e'er be beautiful? yet so they were,
      And that with little change of shape or hue;
      All things had put their evil nature off;
      I cannot tell my joy, when o'er a lake,
      Upon a drooping bough with nightshade twined,
      I saw two azure halcyons clinging downward                      80
      And thinning one bright bunch of amber berries,
      With quick long beaks, and in the deep there lay
      Those lovely forms imaged as in a sky;
      So with my thoughts full of these happy changes,
      We meet again, the happiest change of all.

      And never will we part, till thy chaste sister,
      Who guides the frozen and inconstant moon,
      Will look on thy more warm and equal light
      Till her heart thaw like flakes of April snow,
      And love thee.

                      What! as Asia loves Prometheus?                 90

      Peace, wanton! thou art yet not old enough.
      Think ye by gazing on each other's eyes
      To multiply your lovely selves, and fill
      With spher'd fires the interlunar air?

      Nay, mother, while my sister trims her lamp
      'T is hard I should go darkling.

                                        Listen; look!


      We feel what thou hast heard and seen; yet speak.

      Soon as the sound had ceased whose thunder filled
      The abysses of the sky and the wide earth,
      There was a change; the impalpable thin air                    100
      And the all-circling sunlight were transformed,
      As if the sense of love, dissolved in them,
      Had folded itself round the spher'd world.
      My vision then grew clear, and I could see
      Into the mysteries of the universe.
      Dizzy as with delight I floated down;
      Winnowing the lightsome air with languid plumes,
      My coursers sought their birthplace in the sun,
      Where they henceforth will live exempt from toil,
      Pasturing flowers of vegetable fire,                           110
      And where my moonlike car will stand within
      A temple, gazed upon by Phidian forms
      Of thee, and Asia, and the Earth, and me,
      And you, fair nymphs, looking the love we feel,--
      In memory of the tidings it has borne,--
      Beneath a dome fretted with graven flowers,
      Poised on twelve columns of resplendent stone,
      And open to the bright and liquid sky.
      Yoked to it by an amphisbænic snake
      The likeness of those winged steeds will mock                  120
      The flight from which they find repose. Alas,
      Whither has wandered now my partial tongue
      When all remains untold which ye would hear?
      As I have said, I floated to the earth;
      It was, as it is still, the pain of bliss
      To move, to breathe, to be. I wandering went
      Among the haunts and dwellings of mankind,
      And first was disappointed not to see
      Such mighty change as I had felt within
      Expressed in outward things; but soon I looked,                130
      And behold, thrones were kingless, and men walked
      One with the other even as spirits do--
      None fawned, none trampled; hate, disdain, or fear,
      Self-love or self-contempt, on human brows
      No more inscribed, as o'er the gate of hell,
      'All hope abandon, ye who enter here.'
      None frowned, none trembled, none with eager fear
      Gazed on another's eye of cold command,
      Until the subject of a tyrant's will
      Became, worse fate, the abject of his own,                     140
      Which spurred him, like an outspent horse, to death.
      None wrought his lips in truth-entangling lines
      Which smiled the lie his tongue disdained to speak.
      None, with firm sneer, trod out in his own heart
      The sparks of love and hope till there remained
      Those bitter ashes, a soul self-consumed,
      And the wretch crept a vampire among men,
      Infecting all with his own hideous ill.
      None talked that common, false, cold, hollow talk
      Which makes the heart deny the yes  it breathes,               150
      Yet question that unmeant hypocrisy
      With such a self-mistrust as has no name.
      And women, too, frank, beautiful, and kind,
      As the free heaven which rains fresh light and dew
      On the wide earth, passed; gentle, radiant forms,
      From custom's evil taint exempt and pure;
      Speaking the wisdom once they could not think,
      Looking emotions once they feared to feel,
      And changed to all which once they dared not be,
      Yet being now, made earth like heaven; nor pride,              160
      Nor jealousy, nor envy, nor ill shame,
      The bitterest of those drops of treasured gall,
      Spoiled the sweet taste of the nepenthe, love.

      Thrones, altars, judgment-seats, and prisons, wherein,
      And beside which, by wretched men were borne
      Sceptres, tiaras, swords, and chains, and tomes
      Of reasoned wrong, glozed on by ignorance,
      Were like those monstrous and barbaric shapes,
      The ghosts of a no-more-remembered fame
      Which from their unworn obelisks, look forth                   170
      In triumph o'er the palaces and tombs
      Of those who were their conquerors; mouldering round,
      Those imaged to the pride of kings and priests
      A dark yet mighty faith, a power as wide
      As is the world it wasted, and are now
      But an astonishment; even so the tools
      And emblems of its last captivity,
      Amid the dwellings of the peopled earth,
      Stand, not o'erthrown, but unregarded now.
      And those foul shapes,--abhorred by god and man,               180
      Which, under many a name and many a form
      Strange, savage, ghastly, dark, and execrable,
      Were Jupiter, the tyrant of the world,
      And which the nations, panic-stricken, served
      With blood, and hearts broken by long hope, and love
      Dragged to his altars soiled and garlandless,
      And slain among men's unreclaiming tears,
      Flattering the thing they feared, which fear was hate,--
      Frown, mouldering fast, o'er their abandoned shrines.
      The painted veil, by those who were, called life,              190
      Which mimicked, as with colors idly spread,
      All men believed and hoped, is torn aside;
      The loathsome mask has fallen, the man remains
      Sceptreless, free, uncircumscribed, but man
      Equal, unclassed, tribeless, and nationless,
      Exempt from awe, worship, degree, the king
      Over himself; just, gentle, wise; but man
      Passionless--no, yet free from guilt or pain,
      Which were, for his will made or suffered them;
      Nor yet exempt, though ruling them like slaves,                200
      From chance, and death, and mutability,
      The clogs of that which else might oversoar
      The loftiest star of unascended heaven,
      Pinnacled dim in the intense inane.