Percy Bysshe Shelley Poems >>
Queen Mab: Part I.

HOW wonderful is Death,
   Death, and his brother Sleep!
  One, pale as yonder waning moon
   With lips of lurid blue;
   The other, rosy as the morn
  When throned on ocean's wave
     It blushes o'er the world;
  Yet both so passing wonderful!

   Hath then the gloomy Power
 Whose reign is in the tainted sepulchres
   Seized on her sinless soul?
   Must then that peerless form
 Which love and admiration cannot view
 Without a beating heart, those azure veins
 Which steal like streams along a field of snow,
  That lovely outline which is fair
   As breathing marble, perish?
   Must putrefaction's breath
  Leave nothing of this heavenly sight
   But loathsomeness and ruin?
  Spare nothing but a gloomy theme,
 On which the lightest heart might moralize?
   Or is it only a sweet slumber
   Stealing o'er sensation,
  Which the breath of roseate morning
     Chaseth into darkness?
     Will Ianthe wake again,
   And give that faithful bosom joy
  Whose sleepless spirit waits to catch
  Light, life and rapture, from her smile?

     Yes! she will wake again,
 Although her glowing limbs are motionless,
     And silent those sweet lips,
     Once breathing eloquence
  That might have soothed a tiger's rage
 Or thawed the cold heart of a conqueror.
     Her dewy eyes are closed,
  And on their lids, whose texture fine
  Scarce hides the dark blue orbs beneath,
     The baby Sleep is pillowed;
     Her golden tresses shade
     The bosom's stainless pride,
   Curling like tendrils of the parasite
     Around a marble column.

   Hark! whence that rushing sound?
     'T is like the wondrous strain
   That round a lonely ruin swells,
   Which, wandering on the echoing shore,
     The enthusiast hears at evening;
   'T is softer than the west wind's sigh;
   'T is wilder than the unmeasured notes
   Of that strange lyre whose strings
   The genii of the breezes sweep;
     Those lines of rainbow light
   Are like the moonbeams when they fall
 Through some cathedral window, but the tints
     Are such as may not find
     Comparison on earth.

 Behold the chariot of the Fairy Queen!
 Celestial coursers paw the unyielding air;
 Their filmy pennons at her word they furl,
 And stop obedient to the reins of light;
  These the Queen of Spells drew in;
  She spread a charm around the spot,
 And, leaning graceful from the ethereal car,
  Long did she gaze, and silently,
     Upon the slumbering maid.

 Oh! not the visioned poet in his dreams,
 When silvery clouds float through the wildered brain,
 When every sight of lovely, wild and grand
  Astonishes, enraptures, elevates,
   When fancy at a glance combines
   The wondrous and the beautiful,--
  So bright, so fair, so wild a shape
     Hath ever yet beheld,
 As that which reined the coursers of the air
  And poured the magic of her gaze
     Upon the maiden's sleep.

   The broad and yellow moon
   Shone dimly through her form--
  That form of faultless symmetry;
  The pearly and pellucid car
   Moved not the moonlight's line.
   'T was not an earthly pageant.
  Those, who had looked upon the sight
   Passing all human glory,
   Saw not the yellow moon,
   Saw not the mortal scene,
   Heard not the night-wind's rush,
   Heard not an earthly sound,
   Saw but the fairy pageant,
   Heard but the heavenly strains
   That filled the lonely dwelling.

 The Fairy's frame was slight--yon fibrous cloud,
 That catches but the palest tinge of even,
 And which the straining eye can hardly seize
 When melting into eastern twilight's shadow,
 Were scarce so thin, so slight; but the fair star
 That gems the glittering coronet of morn,
 Sheds not a light so mild, so powerful,
 As that which, bursting from the Fairy's form,
 Spread a purpureal halo round the scene,
   Yet with an undulating motion,
   Swayed to her outline gracefully.

   From her celestial car
   The Fairy Queen descended,
   And thrice she waved her wand
  Circled with wreaths of amaranth;
   Her thin and misty form
   Moved with the moving air,
   And the clear silver tones,
   As thus she spoke, were such
  As are unheard by all but gifted ear.

FAIRY
  'Stars! your balmiest influence shed!
  Elements! your wrath suspend!
  Sleep, Ocean, in the rocky bounds
   That circle thy domain!
  Let not a breath be seen to stir
  Around yon grass-grown ruin's height!
   Let even the restless gossamer
   Sleep on the moveless air!
   Soul of Ianthe! thou,
 Judged alone worthy of the envied boon
 That waits the good and the sincere; that waits
 Those who have struggled, and with resolute will
 Vanquished earth's pride and meanness, burst the chains,
 The icy chains of custom, and have shone
 The day-stars of their age;--Soul of
    Ianthe!
     Awake! arise!'

     Sudden arose 
   Ianthe's Soul; it stood
  All beautiful in naked purity,
 The perfect semblance of its bodily frame;
 Instinct with inexpressible beauty and grace--
    Each stain of earthliness
   Had passed away--it reassumed
   Its native dignity and stood
    Immortal amid ruin.

   Upon the couch the body lay,
   Wrapt in the depth of slumber;
 Its features were fixed and meaningless,
   Yet animal life was there,
   And every organ yet performed
   Its natural functions; 'twas a sight
 Of wonder to behold the body and the soul.
   The self-same lineaments, the same
   Marks of identity were there;
 Yet, oh, how different! One aspires to Heaven,
 Pants for its sempiternal heritage,
 And, ever changing, ever rising still,
   Wantons in endless being:
 The other, for a time the unwilling sport
 Of circumstance and passion, struggles on;
 Fleets through its sad duration rapidly;
 Then like an useless and worn-out machine,
   Rots, perishes, and passes.

FAIRY
   'Spirit! who hast dived so deep;
   Spirit! who hast soared so high;
   Thou the fearless, thou the mild,
  Accept the boon thy worth hath earned,
   Ascend the car with me!'

SPIRIT
   'Do I dream? Is this new feeling
   But a visioned ghost of slumber?
     If indeed I am a soul,
   A free, a disembodied soul,
     Speak again to me.'

FAIRY
  'I am the Fairy MAB: to me 'tis given
  The wonders of the human world to keep;
  The secrets of the immeasurable past,
  In the unfailing consciences of men,
  Those stern, unflattering chroniclers, I find;
  The future, from the causes which arise
  In each event, I gather; not the sting
  Which retributive memory implants
  In the hard bosom of the selfish man,
  Nor that ecstatic and exulting throb
  Which virtue's votary feels when he sums up
  The thoughts and actions of a well-spent day,
  Are unforeseen, unregistered by me;
  And it is yet permitted me to rend
  The veil of mortal frailty, that the spirit,
  Clothed in its changeless purity, may know
  How soonest to accomplish the great end
  For which it hath its being, and may taste
  That peace which in the end all life will share.
  This is the meed of virtue; happy Soul,
    Ascend the car with me!'

  The chains of earth's immurement
   Fell from Ianthe's spirit;
 They shrank and brake like bandages of straw
  Beneath a wakened giant's strength.
   She knew her glorious change,
  And felt in apprehension uncontrolled
   New raptures opening round;
  Each day-dream of her mortal life,
  Each frenzied vision of the slumbers
   That closed each well-spent day,
   Seemed now to meet reality.
  The Fairy and the Soul proceeded;
   The silver clouds disparted;
  And as the car of magic they ascended,
   Again the speechless music swelled,
   Again the coursers of the air
 Unfurled their azure pennons, and the Queen,
   Shaking the beamy reins,
   Bade them pursue their way.

   The magic car moved on.
  The night was fair, and countless stars
  Studded heaven's dark blue vault;
   Just o'er the eastern wave
  Peeped the first faint smile of morn.
   The magic car moved on—
   From the celestial hoofs
  The atmosphere in flaming sparkles flew,
   And where the burning wheels
  Eddied above the mountain's loftiest peak,
   Was traced a line of lightning.
   Now it flew far above a rock,
   The utmost verge of earth,
  The rival of the Andes, whose dark brow
   Lowered o'er the silver sea.

   Far, far below the chariot's path,
    Calm as a slumbering babe,
    Tremendous Ocean lay.
   The mirror of its stillness showed
    The pale and waning stars,
    The chariot's fiery track,
    And the gray light of morn
    Tinging those fleecy clouds
    That canopied the dawn. 

  Seemed it that the chariot's way
 Lay through the midst of an immense concave
 Radiant with million constellations, tinged
   With shades of infinite color,
   And semicircled with a belt
   Flashing incessant meteors.

   The magic car moved on.
   As they approached their goal,
  The coursers seemed to gather speed;
 The sea no longer was distinguished; earth
  Appeared a vast and shadowy sphere;
   The sun's unclouded orb
   Rolled through the black concave;
   Its rays of rapid light
 Parted around the chariot's swifter course,
  And fell, like ocean's feathery spray
   Dashed from the boiling surge
   Before a vessel's prow.

   The magic car moved on.
   Earth's distant orb appeared
 The smallest light that twinkles in the heaven;
   Whilst round the chariot's way
   Innumerable systems rolled
   And countless spheres diffused
   An ever-varying glory.
  It was a sight of wonder: some
  Were hornèd like the crescent moon;
  Some shed a mild and silver beam
  Like Hesperus o'er the western sea;
  Some dashed athwart with trains of flame,
  Like worlds to death and ruin driven;
 Some shone like suns, and as the chariot passed,
   Eclipsed all other light.

     Spirit of Nature! here—
   In this interminable wilderness
   Of worlds, at whose immensity
     Even soaring fancy staggers,
     Here is thy fitting temple!
      Yet not the lightest leaf
    That quivers to the passing breeze
     Is less instinct with thee;
     Yet not the meanest worm
  That lurks in graves and fattens on the dead,
   Less shares thy eternal breath!
    Spirit of Nature! thou,
   Imperishable as this scene--
    Here is thy fitting temple!