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

'How beautiful this night! the balmiest sigh,
 Which vernal zephyrs breathe in evening's ear,
 Were discord to the speaking quietude
 That wraps this moveless scene. Heaven's ebon vault,
 Studded with stars unutterably bright,
 Through which the moon's unclouded grandeur rolls,
 Seems like a canopy which love had spread
 To curtain her sleeping world. Yon gentle hills.
 Robed in a garment of untrodden snow;
 Yon darksome rocks, whence icicles depend
 So stainless that their white and glittering spires
 Tinge not the moon's pure beam; yon castled steep
 Whose banner hangeth o'er the time-worn tower
 So idly that rapt fancy deemeth it
 A metaphor of peace;—all form a scene
 Where musing solitude might love to lift
 Her soul above this sphere of earthliness;
 Where silence undisturbed might watch alone—
 So cold, so bright, so still.

                 The orb of day
 In southern climes o'er ocean's waveless field
 Sinks sweetly smiling; not the faintest breath
 Steals o'er the unruffled deep; the clouds of eve
 Reflect unmoved the lingering beam of day;
 And Vesper's image on the western main
 Is beautifully still. To-morrow comes:
 Cloud upon cloud, in dark and deepening mass,
 Roll o'er the blackened waters; the deep roar
 Of distant thunder mutters awfully;
 Tempest unfolds its pinion o'er the gloom
 That shrouds the boiling surge; the pitiless fiend,
 With all his winds and lightnings, tracks his prey;
 The torn deep yawns,—the vessel finds a grave
 Beneath its jagged gulf.

              Ah! whence yon glare
 That fires the arch of heaven? that dark red smoke
 Blotting the silver moon? The stars are quenched
 In darkness, and the pure and spangling snow
 Gleams faintly through the gloom that gathers round.
 Hark to that roar whose swift and deafening peals
 In countless echoes through the mountains ring,
 Startling pale Midnight on her starry throne!
 Now swells the intermingling din; the jar
 Frequent and frightful of the bursting bomb;
 The falling beam, the shriek, the groan, the shout,
 The ceaseless clangor, and the rush of men
 Inebriate with rage:—loud and more loud
 The discord grows; till pale Death shuts the scene
 And o'er the conqueror and the conquered draws
 His cold and bloody shroud.—Of all the men
 Whom day's departing beam saw blooming there
 In proud and vigorous health; of all the hearts
 That beat with anxious life at sunset there;
 How few survive, how few are beating now!
 All is deep silence, like the fearful calm
 That slumbers in the storm's portentous pause;
 Save when the frantic wail of widowed love
 Comes shuddering on the blast, or the faint moan
 With which some soul bursts from the frame of clay
 Wrapt round its struggling powers.

                   The gray morn
 Dawns on the mournful scene; the sulphurous smoke
 Before the icy wind slow rolls away,
 And the bright beams of frosty morning dance
 Along the spangling snow. There tracks of blood
 Even to the forest's depth, and scattered arms,
 And lifeless warriors, whose hard lineaments
 Death's self could change not, mark the dreadful path
 Of the outsallying victors; far behind
 Black ashes note where their proud city stood.
 Within yon forest is a gloomy glen—
 Each tree which guards its darkness from the day,
 Waves o'er a warrior's tomb.

                I see thee shrink,
 Surpassing Spirit!—wert thou human else?
 I see a shade of doubt and horror fleet
 Across thy stainless features; yet fear not;
 This is no unconnected misery,
 Nor stands uncaused and irretrievable.
 Man's evil nature, that apology
 Which kings who rule, and cowards who crouch, set up
 For their unnumbered crimes, sheds not the blood
 Which desolates the discord-wasted land.
 From kings and priests and statesmen war arose,
 Whose safety is man's deep unbettered woe,
 Whose grandeur his debasement. Let the axe
 Strike at the root, the poison-tree will fall;
 And where its venomed exhalations spread
 Ruin, and death, and woe, where millions lay
 Quenching the serpent's famine, and their bones
 Bleaching unburied in the putrid blast,
 A garden shall arise, in loveliness
 Surpassing fabled Eden.

              Hath Nature's soul,—
 That formed this world so beautiful, that spread
 Earth's lap with plenty, and life's smallest chord
 Strung to unchanging unison, that gave
 The happy birds their dwelling in the grove,
 That yielded to the wanderers of the deep
 The lovely silence of the unfathomed main,
 And filled the meanest worm that crawls in dust
 With spirit, thought and love,—on Man alone,
 Partial in causeless malice, wantonly
 Heaped ruin, vice, and slavery; his soul
 Blasted with withering curses; placed afar
 The meteor-happiness, that shuns his grasp,
 But serving on the frightful gulf to glare
 Rent wide beneath his footsteps?

 Kings, priests and statesmen blast the human flower
 Even in its tender bud; their influence darts
 Like subtle poison through the bloodless veins
 Of desolate society. The child,
 Ere he can lisp his mother's sacred name,
 Swells with the unnatural pride of crime, and lifts
 His baby-sword even in a hero's mood.
 This infant arm becomes the bloodiest scourge
 Of devastated earth; whilst specious names,
 Learnt in soft childhood's unsuspecting hour,
 Serve as the sophisms with which manhood dims
 Bright reason's ray and sanctifies the sword
 Upraised to shed a brother's innocent blood.
 Let priest-led slaves cease to proclaim that man
 Inherits vice and misery, when force
 And falsehood hang even o'er the cradled babe,
 Stifling with rudest grasp all natural good.

 'Ah! to the stranger-soul, when first it peeps
 From its new tenement and looks abroad
 For happiness and sympathy, how stern
 And desolate a tract is this wide world!
 How withered all the buds of natural good!
 No shade, no shelter from the sweeping storms
 Of pitiless power! On its wretched frame
 Poisoned, perchance, by the disease and woe
 Heaped on the wretched parent whence it sprung
 By morals, law and custom, the pure winds
 Of heaven, that renovate the insect tribes,
 May breathe not. The untainting light of day
 May visit not its longings. It is bound
 Ere it has life; yea, all the chains are forged
 Long ere its being; all liberty and love
 And peace is torn from its defencelessness;
 Cursed from its birth, even from its cradle doomed
 To abjectness and bondage!

 'Throughout this varied and eternal world
 Soul is the only element, the block
 That for uncounted ages has remained.
 The moveless pillar of a mountain's weight
 Is active living spirit. Every grain
 Is sentient both in unity and part,
 And the minutest atom comprehends
 A world of loves and hatreds; these beget
 Evil and good; hence truth and falsehood spring;
 Hence will and thought and action, all the germs
 Of pain or pleasure, sympathy or hate,
 That variegate the eternal universe.
 Soul is not more polluted than the beams
 Of heaven's pure orb ere round their rapid lines
 The taint of earth-born atmospheres arise.

 'Man is of soul and body, formed for deeds
 Of high resolve; on fancy's boldest wing
 To soar unwearied, fearlessly to turn
 The keenest pangs to peacefulness, and taste
 The joys which mingled sense and spirit yield;
 Or he is formed for abjectness and woe,
 To grovel on the dunghill of his fears,
 To shrink at every sound, to quench the flame
 Of natural love in sensualism, to know
 That hour as blest when on his worthless days
 The frozen hand of death shall set its seal,
 Yet fear the cure, though hating the disease.
 The one is man that shall hereafter be;
 The other, man as vice has made him now.

 'War is the statesman's game, the priest's delight,
 The lawyer's jest, the hired assassin's trade,
 And to those royal murderers whose mean thrones
 Are bought by crimes of treachery and gore,
 The bread they eat, the staff on which they lean.
 Guards, garbed in blood-red livery, surround
 Their palaces, participate the crimes
 That force defends and from a nation's rage
 Secures the crown, which all the curses reach
 That famine, frenzy, woe and penury breathe.
 These are the hired bravos who defend
 The tyrant's throne—the bullies of his fear;
 These are the sinks and channels of worst vice,
 The refuse of society, the dregs
 Of all that is most vile; their cold hearts blend
 Deceit with sternness, ignorance with pride,
 All that is mean and villainous with rage
 Which hopelessness of good and self-contempt
 Alone might kindle; they are decked in wealth,
 Honor and power, then are sent abroad
 To do their work. The pestilence that stalks
 In gloomy triumph through some eastern land
 Is less destroying. They cajole with gold
 And promises of fame the thoughtless youth
 Already crushed with servitude; he knows
 His wretchedness too late, and cherishes
 Repentance for his ruin, when his doom
 Is sealed in gold and blood!
 Those too the tyrant serve, who, skilled to snare
 The feet of justice in the toils of law,
 Stand ready to oppress the weaker still,
 And right or wrong will vindicate for gold,
 Sneering at public virtue, which beneath
 Their pitiless tread lies torn and trampled where
 Honor sits smiling at the sale of truth.

 'Then grave and hoary-headed hypocrites,
 Without a hope, a passion or a love,
 Who through a life of luxury and lies
 Have crept by flattery to the seats of power,
 Support the system whence their honors flow.
 They have three words—well tyrants know their use,
 Well pay them for the loan with usury
 Torn from a bleeding world!—God, Hell and Heaven:
 A vengeful, pitiless, and almighty fiend,
 Whose mercy is a nickname for the rage
 Of tameless tigers hungering for blood;
 Hell, a red gulf of everlasting fire,
 Where poisonous and undying worms prolong
 Eternal misery to those hapless slaves
 Whose life has been a penance for its crimes;
 And Heaven, a meed for those who dare belie
 Their human nature, quake, believe and cringe
 Before the mockeries of earthly power.

 'These tools the tyrant tempers to his work,
 Wields in his wrath, and as he wills destroys,
 Omnipotent in wickedness; the while
 Youth springs, age moulders, manhood tamely does
 His bidding, bribed by short-lived joys to lend
 Force to the weakness of his trembling arm.
 They rise, they fall; one generation comes
 Yielding its harvest to destruction's scythe.
 It fades, another blossoms; yet behold!
 Red glows the tyrant's stamp-mark on its bloom,
 Withering and cankering deep its passive prime.
 He has invented lying words and modes,
 Empty and vain as his own coreless heart;
 Evasive meanings, nothings of much sound,
 To lure the heedless victim to the toils
 Spread round the valley of its paradise.

 'Look to thyself, priest, conqueror or prince!
 Whether thy trade is falsehood, and thy lusts
 Deep wallow in the earnings of the poor,
 With whom thy master was; or thou delight'st
 In numbering o'er the myriads of thy slain,
 All misery weighing nothing in the scale
 Against thy short-lived fame; or thou dost load
 With cowardice and crime the groaning land,
 A pomp-fed king. Look to thy wretched self!
 Ay, art thou not the veriest slave that e'er
 Crawled on the loathing earth? Are not thy days
 Days of unsatisfying listlessness?
 Dost thou not cry, ere night's long rack is o'er,
 "When will the morning come?" Is not thy youth
 A vain and feverish dream of sensualism?
 Thy manhood blighted with unripe disease?
 Are not thy views of unregretted death
 Drear, comfortless and horrible? Thy mind,
 Is it not morbid as thy nerveless frame,
 Incapable of judgment, hope or love?
 And dost thou wish the errors to survive,
 That bar thee from all sympathies of good,
 After the miserable interest
 Thou hold'st in their protraction? When the grave
 Has swallowed up thy memory and thyself,
 Dost thou desire the bane that poisons earth
 To twine its roots around thy coffined clay,
 Spring from thy bones, and blossom on thy tomb,
 That of its fruit thy babes may eat and die?