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

'Fairy!' the Spirit said,
   And on the Queen of Spells
   Fixed her ethereal eyes,
   'I thank thee. Thou hast given
 A boon which I will not resign, and taught
 A lesson not to be unlearned. I know
 The past, and thence I will essay to glean
 A warning for the future, so that man
 May profit by his errors and derive
   Experience from his folly;
 For, when the power of imparting joy
 Is equal to the will, the human soul
   Requires no other heaven.'

   'Turn thee, surpassing Spirit!
   Much yet remains unscanned.
   Thou knowest how great is man,
   Thou knowest his imbecility;
   Yet learn thou what he is;
   Yet learn the lofty destiny
   Which restless Time prepares
   For every living soul.

 'Behold a gorgeous palace that amid
 Yon populous city rears its thousand towers
 And seems itself a city. Gloomy troops
 Of sentinels in stern and silent ranks
 Encompass it around; the dweller there
 Cannot be free and happy; hearest thou not
 The curses of the fatherless, the groans
 Of those who have no friend? He passes on—
 The King, the wearer of a gilded chain
 That binds his soul to abjectness, the fool
 Whom courtiers nickname monarch, whilst a slave
 Even to the basest appetites—that man
 Heeds not the shriek of penury; he smiles
 At the deep curses which the destitute
 Mutter in secret, and a sullen joy
 Pervades his bloodless heart when thousands groan
 But for those morsels which his wantonness
 Wastes in unjoyous revelry, to save
 All that they love from famine; when he hears
 The tale of horror, to some ready-made face
 Of hypocritical assent he turns,
 Smothering the glow of shame, that, spite of him,
 Flushes his bloated cheek.

               Now to the meal
 Of silence, grandeur and excess he drags
 His palled unwilling appetite. If gold,
 Gleaming around, and numerous viands culled
 From every clime could force the loathing sense
 To overcome satiety,—if wealth
 The spring it draws from poisons not,—or vice,
 Unfeeling, stubborn vice, converteth not
 Its food to deadliest venom; then that king
 Is happy; and the peasant who fulfils
 His unforced task, when he returns at even
 And by the blazing fagot meets again
 Her welcome for whom all his toil is sped,
 Tastes not a sweeter meal.

               Behold him now
 Stretched on the gorgeous couch; his fevered brain
 Reels dizzily awhile; but ah! too soon
 The slumber of intemperance subsides,
 And conscience, that undying serpent, calls
 Her venomous brood to their nocturnal task.
 Listen! he speaks! oh! mark that frenzied eye—
 Oh! mark that deadly visage!'

                 'No cessation!
 Oh! must this last forever! Awful death,
 I wish, yet fear to clasp thee!—Not one moment
 Of dreamless sleep! O dear and blessèd Peace,
 Why dost thou shroud thy vestal purity
 In penury and dungeons? Wherefore lurkest
 With danger, death, and solitude; yet shun'st
 The palace I have built thee? Sacred Peace!
 Oh, visit me but once,—but pitying shed
 One drop of balm upon my withered soul!'

 'Vain man! that palace is the virtuous heart,
 And Peace defileth not her snowy robes
 In such a shed as thine. Hark! yet he mutters;
 His slumbers are but varied agonies;
 They prey like scorpions on the springs of life.
 There needeth not the hell that bigots frame
 To punish those who err; earth in itself
 Contains at once the evil and the cure;
 And all-sufficing Nature can chastise
 Those who transgress her law; she only knows
 How justly to proportion to the fault
 The punishment it merits.

               Is it strange
 That this poor wretch should pride him in his woe?
 Take pleasure in his abjectness, and hug
 The scorpion that consumes him? Is it strange
 That, placed on a conspicuous throne of thorns,
 Grasping an iron sceptre, and immured
 Within a splendid prison whose stern bounds
 Shut him from all that's good or dear on earth,
 His soul asserts not its humanity?
 That man's mild nature rises not in war
 Against a king's employ? No—'tis not strange.
 He, like the vulgar, thinks, feels, acts, and lives
 Just as his father did; the unconquered powers
 Of precedent and custom interpose
 Between a king and virtue. Stranger yet,
 To those who know not Nature nor deduce
 The future from the present, it may seem,
 That not one slave, who suffers from the crimes
 Of this unnatural being, not one wretch,
 Whose children famish and whose nuptial bed
 Is earth's unpitying bosom, rears an arm
 To dash him from his throne!

                Those gilded flies
 That, basking in the sunshine of a court,
 Fatten on its corruption! what are they?—
 The drones of the community; they feed
 On the mechanic's labor; the starved hind
 For them compels the stubborn glebe to yield
 Its unshared harvests; and yon squalid form,
 Leaner than fleshless misery, that wastes
 A sunless life in the unwholesome mine,
 Drags out in labor a protracted death
 To glut their grandeur; many faint with toil
 That few may know the cares and woe of sloth.

 Whence, thinkest thou, kings and parasites arose?
 Whence that unnatural line of drones who heap
 Toil and unvanquishable penury
 On those who build their palaces and bring
 Their daily bread?—From vice, black loathsome vice;
 From rapine, madness, treachery, and wrong;
 From all that genders misery, and makes
 Of earth this thorny wilderness; from lust,
 Revenge, and murder.—And when reason's voice,
 Loud as the voice of Nature, shall have waked
 The nations; and mankind perceive that vice
 Is discord, war and misery; that virtue
 Is peace and happiness and harmony;
 When man's maturer nature shall disdain
 The playthings of its childhood;—kingly glare
 Will lose its power to dazzle, its authority
 Will silently pass by; the gorgeous throne
 Shall stand unnoticed in the regal hall,
 Fast falling to decay; whilst falsehood's trade
 Shall be as hateful and unprofitable
 As that of truth is now.

              Where is the fame
 Which the vain-glorious mighty of the earth
 Seek to eternize? Oh! the faintest sound
 From time's light footfall, the minutest wave
 That swells the flood of ages, whelms in nothing
 The unsubstantial bubble. Ay! to-day
 Stern is the tyrant's mandate, red the gaze
 That flashes desolation, strong the arm
 That scatters multitudes. To-morrow comes!
 That mandate is a thunder-peal that died
 In ages past; that gaze, a transient flash
 On which the midnight closed; and on that arm
 The worm has made his meal.

                The virtuous man,
 Who, great in his humility as kings
 Are little in their grandeur; he who leads
 Invincibly a life of resolute good
 And stands amid the silent dungeon-depths
 More free and fearless than the trembling judge
 Who, clothed in venal power, vainly strove
 To bind the impassive spirit;—when he falls,
 His mild eye beams benevolence no more;
 Withered the hand outstretched but to relieve;
 Sunk reason's simple eloquence that rolled
 But to appall the guilty. Yes! the grave
 Hath quenched that eye and death's relentless frost
 Withered that arm; but the unfading fame
 Which virtue hangs upon its votary's tomb,
 The deathless memory of that man whom kings
 Call to their minds and tremble, the remembrance
 With which the happy spirit contemplates
 Its well-spent pilgrimage on earth,
 Shall never pass away.

 'Nature rejects the monarch, not the man;
 The subject, not the citizen; for kings
 And subjects, mutual foes, forever play
 A losing game into each other's hands,
 Whose stakes are vice and misery. The man
 Of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys.
 Power, like a desolating pestilence,
 Pollutes whate'er it touches; and obedience,
 Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
 Makes slaves of men, and of the human frame
 A mechanized automaton.

              When Nero
 High over flaming Rome with savage joy
 Lowered like a fiend, drank with enraptured ear
 The shrieks of agonizing death, beheld
 The frightful desolation spread, and felt
 A new-created sense within his soul
 Thrill to the sight and vibrate to the sound,—
 Thinkest thou his grandeur had not overcome
 The force of human kindness? And when Rome
 With one stern blow hurled not the tyrant down,
 Crushed not the arm red with her dearest blood,
 Had not submissive abjectness destroyed
 Nature's suggestions?

             Look on yonder earth:
 The golden harvests spring; the unfailing sun
 Sheds light and life; the fruits, the flowers, the trees,
 Arise in due succession; all things speak
 Peace, harmony and love. The universe,
 In Nature's silent eloquence, declares
 That all fulfil the works of love and joy,—
 All but the outcast, Man. He fabricates
 The sword which stabs his peace; he cherisheth
 The snakes that gnaw his heart; he raiseth up
 The tyrant whose delight is in his woe,
 Whose sport is in his agony. Yon sun,
 Lights it the great alone? Yon silver beams,
 Sleep they less sweetly on the cottage thatch
 Than on the dome of kings? Is mother earth
 A step-dame to her numerous sons who earn
 Her unshared gifts with unremitting toil;
 A mother only to those puling babes
 Who, nursed in ease and luxury, make men
 The playthings of their babyhood and mar
 In self-important childishness that peace
 Which men alone appreciate?

   'Spirit of Nature, no!
 The pure diffusion of thy essence throbs
  Alike in every human heart.
   Thou aye erectest there
  Thy throne of power unappealable;
  Thou art the judge beneath whose nod
  Man's brief and frail authority
   Is powerless as the wind
   That passeth idly by;
  Thine the tribunal which surpasseth
   The show of human justice
   As God surpasses man!

   'Spirit of Nature! thou
 Life of interminable multitudes;
  Soul of those mighty spheres
 Whose changeless paths through Heaven's deep silence lie;
  Soul of that smallest being,
   The dwelling of whose life
  Is one faint April sun-gleam;—
   Man, like these passive things,
 Thy will unconsciously fulfilleth;
  Like theirs, his age of endless peace,
   Which time is fast maturing,
   Will swiftly, surely, come;
 And the unbounded frame which thou pervadest,
   Will be without a flaw
  Marring its perfect symmetry!