If solitude hath ever led thy steps
To the wild ocean’s echoing shore,
And thou hast lingered there,
Until the sun’s broad orb
Seemed resting on the burnished wave,
Thou must have marked the lines
Of purple gold that motionless
Hung o’er the sinking sphere;
Thou must have marked the billowy clouds,
Edged with intolerable radiancy, 10
Towering like rocks of jet
Crowned with a diamond wreath;
And yet there is a moment,
When the sun’s highest point
Peeps like a star o’er ocean’s western edge,
When those far clouds of feathery gold,
Shaded with deepest purple, gleam
Like islands on a dark blue sea;
Then has thy fancy soared above the earth
And furled its wearied wing 20
Within the Fairy’s fane.
Yet not the golden islands
Gleaming in yon flood of light,
Nor the feathery curtains
Stretching o’er the sun’s bright couch,
Nor the burnished ocean-waves
Paving that gorgeous dome,
So fair, so wonderful a sight
As Mab’s ethereal palace could afford.
Yet likest evening’s vault, that faëry Hall! 30
As Heaven, low resting on the wave, it spread
Its floors of flashing light,
Its vast and azure dome,
Its fertile golden islands
Floating on a silver sea;
Whilst suns their mingling beamings darted
Through clouds of circumambient darkness,
And pearly battlements around
Looked o’er the immense of Heaven.
The magic car no longer moved. 40
The Fairy and the Spirit
Entered the Hall of Spells.
Those golden clouds
That rolled in glittering billows
Beneath the azure canopy,
With the ethereal footsteps trembled not;
The light and crimson mists,
Floating to strains of thrilling melody
Through that unearthly dwelling,
Yielded to every movement of the will; 50
Upon their passive swell the Spirit leaned,
And, for the varied bliss that pressed around,
Used not the glorious privilege
Of virtue and of wisdom.
‘Spirit!’ the Fairy said,
And pointed to the gorgeous dome,
‘This is a wondrous sight
And mocks all human grandeur;
But, were it virtue’s only meed to dwell
In a celestial palace, all resigned 60
To pleasurable impulses, immured
Within the prison of itself, the will
Of changeless Nature would be unfulfilled.
Learn to make others happy. Spirit, come!
This is thine high reward:–the past shall rise;
Thou shalt behold the present; I will teach
The secrets of the future.’
The Fairy and the Spirit
Approached the overhanging battlement.
Below lay stretched the universe! 70
There, far as the remotest line
That bounds imagination’s flight,
Countless and unending orbs
In mazy motion intermingled,
Yet still fulfilled immutably
Eternal Nature’s law.
Above, below, around,
The circling systems formed
A wilderness of harmony;
Each with undeviating aim, 80
In eloquent silence, through the depths of space
Pursued its wondrous way.
There was a little light
That twinkled in the misty distance.
None but a spirit’s eye
Might ken that rolling orb.
None but a spirit’s eye,
And in no other place
But that celestial dwelling, might behold
Each action of this earth’s inhabitants. 90
But matter, space, and time,
In those aërial mansions cease to act;
And all-prevailing wisdom, when it reaps
The harvest of its excellence, o’erbounds
Those obstacles of which an earthly soul
Fears to attempt the conquest.
The Fairy pointed to the earth.
The Spirit’s intellectual eye
Its kindred beings recognized.
The thronging thousands, to a passing view, 100
Seemed like an ant-hill’s citizens.
How wonderful! that even
The passions, prejudices, interests,
That sway the meanest being–the weak touch
That moves the finest nerve
And in one human brain
Causes the faintest thought, becomes a link
In the great chain of Nature!
‘Behold,’ the Fairy cried,
‘Palmyra’s ruined palaces! 110
Behold where grandeur frowned!
Behold where pleasure smiled!
What now remains?–the memory
Of senselessness and shame.
What is immortal there?
Nothing–it stands to tell
A melancholy tale, to give
An awful warning; soon
Oblivion will steal silently
The remnant of its fame. 120
Monarchs and conquerors there
Proud o’er prostrate millions trod–
The earthquakes of the human race;
Like them, forgotten when the ruin
That marks their shock is past.
‘Beside the eternal Nile
The Pyramids have risen.
Nile shall pursue his changeless way;
Those Pyramids shall fall.
Yea! not a stone shall stand to tell 130
The spot whereon they stood;
Their very site shall be forgotten,
As is their builder’s name!
‘Behold yon sterile spot,
Where now the wandering Arab’s tent
Flaps in the desert blast!
There once old Salem’s haughty fane
Reared high to heaven its thousand golden domes,
And in the blushing face of day
Exposed its shameful glory. 140
Oh! many a widow, many an orphan cursed
The building of that fane; and many a father,
Worn out with toil and slavery, implored
The poor man’s God to sweep it from the earth
And spare his children the detested task
Of piling stone on stone and poisoning
The choicest days of life
To soothe a dotard’s vanity.
There an inhuman and uncultured race
Howled hideous praises to their Demon-God; 150
They rushed to war, tore from the mother’s womb
The unborn child–old age and infancy
Promiscuous perished; their victorious arms
Left not a soul to breathe. Oh! they were fiends!
But what was he who taught them that the God
Of Nature and benevolence had given
A special sanction to the trade of blood?
His name and theirs are fading, and the tales
Of this barbarian nation, which imposture
Recites till terror credits, are pursuing 160
Itself into forgetfulness.
‘Where Athens, Rome, and Sparta stood,
There is a moral desert now.
The mean and miserable huts,
The yet more wretched palaces,
Contrasted with those ancient fanes
Now crumbling to oblivion,–
The long and lonely colonnades
Through which the ghost of Freedom stalks,–
Seem like a well-known tune, 170
Which in some dear scene we have loved to hear,
Remembered now in sadness.
But, oh! how much more changed,
How gloomier is the contrast
Of human nature there!
Where Socrates expired, a tyrant’s slave,
A coward and a fool, spreads death around–
Then, shuddering, meets his own.
Where Cicero and Antoninus lived,
A cowled and hypocritical monk 180
Prays, curses and deceives.
‘Spirit! ten thousand years
Have scarcely passed away,
Since in the waste, where now the savage drinks
His enemy’s blood, and, aping Europe’s sons,
Wakes the unholy song of war,
Arose a stately city,
Metropolis of the western continent.
There, now, the mossy column-stone,
Indented by time’s unrelaxing grasp, 190
Which once appeared to brave
All, save its country’s ruin,–
There the wide forest scene,
Rude in the uncultivated loveliness
Of gardens long run wild,–
Seems, to the unwilling sojourner whose steps
Chance in that desert has delayed,
Thus to have stood since earth was what it is.
Yet once it was the busiest haunt,
Whither, as to a common centre, flocked 200
Strangers, and ships, and merchandise;
Once peace and freedom blest
The cultivated plain;
But wealth, that curse of man,
Blighted the bud of its prosperity;
Virtue and wisdom, truth and liberty,
Fled, to return not, until man shall know
That they alone can give the bliss
Worthy a soul that claims
Its kindred with eternity. 210
‘There ‘s not one atom of yon earth
But once was living man;
Nor the minutest drop of rain,
That hangeth in its thinnest cloud,
But flowed in human veins;
And from the burning plains
Where Libyan monsters yell,
From the most gloomy glens
Of Greenland’s sunless clime,
To where the golden fields 220
Of fertile England spread
Their harvest to the day,
Thou canst not find one spot
Whereon no city stood.
‘How strange is human pride!
I tell thee that those living things,
To whom the fragile blade of grass
That springeth in the morn
And perisheth ere noon,
Is an unbounded world; 230
I tell thee that those viewless beings,
Whose mansion is the smallest particle
Of the impassive atmosphere,
Think, feel and live like man;
That their affections and antipathies,
Like his, produce the laws
Ruling their moral state;
And the minutest throb
That through their frame diffuses
The slightest, faintest motion, 240
Is fixed and indispensable
As the majestic laws
That rule yon rolling orbs.’
The Fairy paused. The Spirit,
In ecstasy of admiration, felt
All knowledge of the past revived; the events
Of old and wondrous times,
Which dim tradition interruptedly
Teaches the credulous vulgar, were unfolded
In just perspective to the view; 250
Yet dim from their infinitude.
The Spirit seemed to stand
High on an isolated pinnacle;
The flood of ages combating below,
The depth of the unbounded universe
Above, and all around
Nature’s unchanging harmony.