Queen Mab Part 8

VIII
THE FAIRY
‘The present and the past thou hast beheld.
It was a desolate sight. Now, Spirit, learn,
The secrets of the future.–Time!
Unfold the brooding pinion of thy gloom,
Render thou up thy half-devoured babes,
And from the cradles of eternity,
Where millions lie lulled to their portioned sleep
By the deep murmuring stream of passing things,
Tear thou that gloomy shroud.–Spirit, behold
Thy glorious destiny!’

Joy to the Spirit came.
Through the wide rent in Time’s eternal veil,
Hope was seen beaming through the mists of fear;
Earth was no longer hell;
Love, freedom, health had given
Their ripeness to the manhood of its prime,
And all its pulses beat
Symphonious to the planetary spheres;
Then dulcet music swelled
Concordant with the life-strings of the soul; 20
It throbbed in sweet and languid beatings there,
Catching new life from transitory death;
Like the vague sighings of a wind at even
That wakes the wavelets of the slumbering sea
And dies on the creation of its breath,
And sinks and rises, falls and swells by fits,
Was the pure stream of feeling
That sprung from these sweet notes,
And o’er the Spirit’s human sympathies
With mild and gentle motion calmly flowed. 30

Joy to the Spirit came,–
Such joy as when a lover sees
The chosen of his soul in happiness
And witnesses her peace
Whose woe to him were bitterer than death;
Sees her unfaded cheek
Glow mantling in first luxury of health,
Thrills with her lovely eyes,
Which like two stars amid the heaving main
Sparkle through liquid bliss. 40

Then in her triumph spoke the Fairy Queen:
‘I will not call the ghost of ages gone
To unfold the frightful secrets of its lore;
The present now is past,
And those events that desolate the earth
Have faded from the memory of Time,
Who dares not give reality to that
Whose being I annul. To me is given
The wonders of the human world to keep,
Space, matter, time and mind. Futurity 50
Exposes now its treasure; let the sight
Renew and strengthen all thy failing hope.
O human Spirit! spur thee to the goal
Where virtue fixes universal peace,
And, ‘midst the ebb and flow of human things,
Show somewhat stable, somewhat certain still,
A light-house o’er the wild of dreary waves.

‘The habitable earth is full of bliss;
Those wastes of frozen billows that were hurled
By everlasting snow-storms round the poles, 60
Where matter dared not vegetate or live,
But ceaseless frost round the vast solitude
Bound its broad zone of stillness, are unloosed;
And fragrant zephyrs there from spicy isles
Ruffle the placid ocean-deep, that rolls
Its broad, bright surges to the sloping sand,
Whose roar is wakened into echoings sweet
To murmur through the heaven-breathing groves
And melodize with man’s blest nature there.

‘Those deserts of immeasurable sand, 70
Whose age-collected fervors scarce allowed
A bird to live, a blade of grass to spring,
Where the shrill chirp of the green lizard’s love
Broke on the sultry silentness alone,
Now teem with countless rills and shady woods,
Cornfields and pastures and white cottages;
And where the startled wilderness beheld
A savage conqueror stained in kindred blood,
A tigress sating with the flesh of lambs
The unnatural famine of her toothless cubs, 80
Whilst shouts and howlings through the desert rang,–
Sloping and smooth the daisy-spangled lawn,
Offering sweet incense to the sunrise, smiles
To see a babe before his mother’s door,
Sharing his morning’s meal
With the green and golden basilisk
That comes to lick his feet.

‘Those trackless deeps, where many a weary sail
Has seen above the illimitable plain
Morning on night and night on morning rise, 90
Whilst still no land to greet the wanderer spread
Its shadowy mountains on the sun-bright sea,
Where the loud roarings of the tempest-waves
So long have mingled with the gusty wind
In melancholy loneliness, and swept
The desert of those ocean solitudes
But vocal to the sea-bird’s harrowing shriek,
The bellowing monster, and the rushing storm;
Now to the sweet and many-mingling sounds
Of kindliest human impulses respond. 100
Those lonely realms bright garden-isles begem,
With lightsome clouds and shining seas between,
And fertile valleys, resonant with bliss,
Whilst green woods overcanopy the wave,
Which like a toil-worn laborer leaps to shore
To meet the kisses of the flowrets there.

‘All things are recreated, and the flame
Of consentaneous love inspires all life.
The fertile bosom of the earth gives suck
To myriads, who still grow beneath her care, 110
Rewarding her with their pure perfectness;
The balmy breathings of the wind inhale
Her virtues and diffuse them all abroad;
Health floats amid the gentle atmosphere,
Glows in the fruits and mantles on the stream;
No storms deform the beaming brow of heaven,
Nor scatter in the freshness of its pride
The foliage of the ever-verdant trees;
But fruits are ever ripe, flowers ever fair,
And autumn proudly bears her matron grace, 120
Kindling a flush on the fair cheek of spring,
Whose virgin bloom beneath the ruddy fruit
Reflects its tint and blushes into love.

‘The lion now forgets to thirst for blood;
There might you see him sporting in the sun
Beside the dreadless kid; his claws are sheathed,
His teeth are harmless, custom’s force has made
His nature as the nature of a lamb.
Like passion’s fruit, the nightshade’s tempting bane
Poisons no more the pleasure it bestows; 130
All bitterness is past; the cup of joy
Unmingled mantles to the goblet’s brim
And courts the thirsty lips it fled before.

But chief, ambiguous man, he that can know
More misery, and dream more joy than all;
Whose keen sensations thrill within his breast
To mingle with a loftier instinct there,
Lending their power to pleasure and to pain,
Yet raising, sharpening, and refining each;
Who stands amid the ever-varying world, 140
The burden or the glory of the earth;
He chief perceives the change; his being notes
The gradual renovation and defines
Each movement of its progress on his mind.

‘Man, where the gloom of the long polar night
Lowers o’er the snow-clad rocks and frozen soil,
Where scarce the hardiest herb that braves the frost
Basks in the moonlight’s ineffectual glow,
Shrank with the plants, and darkened with the night;
His chilled and narrow energies, his heart 150
Insensible to courage, truth or love,
His stunted stature and imbecile frame,
Marked him for some abortion of the earth,
Fit compeer of the bears that roamed around,
Whose habits and enjoyments were his own;
His life a feverish dream of stagnant woe,
Whose meagre wants, but scantily fulfilled,
Apprised him ever of the joyless length
Which his short being’s wretchedness had reached;
His death a pang which famine, cold and toil 160
Long on the mind, whilst yet the vital spark
Clung to the body stubbornly, had brought:
All was inflicted here that earth’s revenge
Could wreak on the infringers of her law;
One curse alone was spared–the name of God.

‘Nor, where the tropics bound the realms of day
With a broad belt of mingling cloud and flame,
Where blue mists through the unmoving atmosphere
Scattered the seeds of pestilence and fed
Unnatural vegetation, where the land 170
Teemed with all earthquake, tempest and disease,
Was man a nobler being; slavery
Had crushed him to his country’s blood-stained dust;
Or he was bartered for the fame of power,
Which, all internal impulses destroying,
Makes human will an article of trade;
Or he was changed with Christians for their gold
And dragged to distant isles, where to the sound
Of the flesh-mangling scourge he does the work
Of all-polluting luxury and wealth, 180
Which doubly visits on the tyrants’ heads
The long-protracted fulness of their woe;
Or he was led to legal butchery,
To turn to worms beneath that burning sun
Where kings first leagued against the rights of men
And priests first traded with the name of God.

‘Even where the milder zone afforded man
A seeming shelter, yet contagion there,
Blighting his being with unnumbered ills,
Spread like a quenchless fire; nor truth till late 190
Availed to arrest its progress or create
That peace which first in bloodless victory waved
Her snowy standard o’er this favored clime;
There man was long the train-bearer of slaves,
The mimic of surrounding misery,
The jackal of ambition’s lion-rage,
The bloodhound of religion’s hungry zeal.

‘Here now the human being stands adorning
This loveliest earth with taintless body and mind;
Blest from his birth with all bland impulses, 200
Which gently in his noble bosom wake
All kindly passions and all pure desires.
Him, still from hope to hope the bliss pursuing
Which from the exhaustless store of human weal
Draws on the virtuous mind, the thoughts that rise
In time-destroying infiniteness gift
With self-enshrined eternity, that mocks
The unprevailing hoariness of age;
And man, once fleeting o’er the transient scene
Swift as an unremembered vision, stands 210
Immortal upon earth; no longer now
He slays the lamb that looks him in the face,
And horribly devours his mangled flesh,
Which, still avenging Nature’s broken law,
Kindled all putrid humors in his frame,
All evil passions and all vain belief,
Hatred, despair and loathing in his mind,
The germs of misery, death, disease and crime.
No longer now the wingèd habitants,
That in the woods their sweet lives sing away, 220
Flee from the form of man; but gather round,
And prune their sunny feathers on the hands
Which little children stretch in friendly sport
Towards these dreadless partners of their play.
All things are void of terror; man has lost
His terrible prerogative, and stands
An equal amidst equals; happiness
And science dawn, though late, upon the earth;
Peace cheers the mind, health renovates the frame;
Disease and pleasure cease to mingle here, 230
Reason and passion cease to combat there;
Whilst each unfettered o’er the earth extend
Their all-subduing energies, and wield
The sceptre of a vast dominion there;
Whilst every shape and mode of matter lends
Its force to the omnipotence of mind,
Which from its dark mine drags the gem of truth
To decorate its paradise of peace.’

IX
‘O happy Earth, reality of Heaven!
To which those restless souls that ceaselessly
Throng through the human universe, aspire!
Thou consummation of all mortal hope!
Thou glorious prize of blindly working will,
Whose rays, diffused throughout all space and time,
Verge to one point and blend forever there!
Of purest spirits thou pure dwelling-place
Where care and sorrow, impotence and crime,
Languor, disease and ignorance dare not come! 10
O happy Earth, reality of Heaven!

‘Genius has seen thee in her passionate dreams;
And dim forebodings of thy loveliness,
Haunting the human heart, have there entwined
Those rooted hopes of some sweet place of bliss,
Where friends and lovers meet to part no more.
Thou art the end of all desire and will,
The product of all action; and the souls,
That by the paths of an aspiring change
Have reached thy haven of perpetual peace, 20
There rest from the eternity of toil
That framed the fabric of thy perfectness.

‘Even Time, the conqueror, fled thee in his fear;
That hoary giant, who in lonely pride
So long had ruled the world that nations fell
Beneath his silent footstep. Pyramids,
That for millenniums had withstood the tide
Of human things, his storm-breath drove in sand
Across that desert where their stones survived
The name of him whose pride had heaped them there. 30
Yon monarch, in his solitary pomp,
Was but the mushroom of a summer day,
That his light-wingèd footstep pressed to dust;
Time was the king of earth; all things gave way
Before him but the fixed and virtuous will,
The sacred sympathies of soul and sense,
That mocked his fury and prepared his fall.

‘Yet slow and gradual dawned the morn of love;
Long lay the clouds of darkness o’er the scene,
Till from its native heaven they rolled away: 40
First, crime triumphant o’er all hope careered
Unblushing, undisguising, bold and strong,
Whilst falsehood, tricked in virtue’s attributes,
Long sanctified all deeds of vice and woe,
Till, done by her own venomous sting to death,
She left the moral world without a law,
No longer fettering passion’s fearless wing,
Nor searing reason with the brand of God.
Then steadily the happy ferment worked;
Reason was free; and wild though passion went 50
Through tangled glens and wood-embosomed meads,
Gathering a garland of the strangest flowers,
Yet, like the bee returning to her queen,
She bound the sweetest on her sister’s brow,
Who meek and sober kissed the sportive child,
No longer trembling at the broken rod.

‘Mild was the slow necessity of death.
The tranquil spirit failed beneath its grasp,
Without a groan, almost without a fear,
Calm as a voyager to some distant land, 60
And full of wonder, full of hope as he.
The deadly germs of languor and disease
Died in the human frame, and purity
Blessed with all gifts her earthly worshippers.
How vigorous then the athletic form of age!
How clear its open and unwrinkled brow!
Where neither avarice, cunning, pride or care
Had stamped the seal of gray deformity
On all the mingling lineaments of time.
How lovely the intrepid front of youth, 70
Which meek-eyed courage decked with freshest grace;
Courage of soul, that dreaded not a name,
And elevated will, that journeyed on
Through life’s phantasmal scene in fearlessness,
With virtue, love and pleasure, hand in hand!

‘Then, that sweet bondage which is freedom’s self,
And rivets with sensation’s softest tie
The kindred sympathies of human souls,
Needed no fetters of tyrannic law.
Those delicate and timid impulses 80
In Nature’s primal modesty arose,
And with undoubting confidence disclosed
The growing longings of its dawning love,
Unchecked by dull and selfish chastity,
That virtue of the cheaply virtuous,
Who pride themselves in senselessness and frost.
No longer prostitution’s venomed bane
Poisoned the springs of happiness and life;
Woman and man, in confidence and love,
Equal and free and pure together trod 90
The mountain-paths of virtue, which no more
Were stained with blood from many a pilgrim’s feet.

‘Then, where, through distant ages, long in pride
The palace of the monarch-slave had mocked
Famine’s faint groan and penury’s silent tear,
A heap of crumbling ruins stood, and threw
Year after year their stones upon the field,
Wakening a lonely echo; and the leaves
Of the old thorn, that on the topmost tower
Usurped the royal ensign’s grandeur, shook 100
In the stern storm that swayed the topmost tower,
And whispered strange tales in the whirlwind’s ear.

‘Low through the lone cathedral’s roofless aisles
The melancholy winds a death-dirge sung.
It were a sight of awfulness to see
The works of faith and slavery, so vast,
So sumptuous, yet so perishing withal,
Even as the corpse that rests beneath its wall!
A thousand mourners deck the pomp of death
To-day, the breathing marble glows above 110
To decorate its memory, and tongues
Are busy of its life; to-morrow, worms
In silence and in darkness seize their prey.

‘Within the massy prison’s mouldering courts,
Fearless and free the ruddy children played,
Weaving gay chaplets for their innocent brows
With the green ivy and the red wall-flower
That mock the dungeon’s unavailing gloom;
The ponderous chains and gratings of strong iron
There rusted amid heaps of broken stone 120
That mingled slowly with their native earth;
There the broad beam of day, which feebly once
Lighted the cheek of lean captivity
With a pale and sickly glare, then freely shone
On the pure smiles of infant playfulness;
No more the shuddering voice of hoarse despair
Pealed through the echoing vaults, but soothing notes
Of ivy-fingered winds and gladsome birds
And merriment were resonant around.

‘These ruins soon left not a wreck behind; 130
Their elements, wide-scattered o’er the globe,
To happier shapes were moulded, and became
Ministrant to all blissful impulses;
Thus human things were perfected, and earth,
Even as a child beneath its mother’s love,
Was strengthened in all excellence, and grew
Fairer and nobler with each passing year.

‘Now Time his dusky pennons o’er the scene
Closes in steadfast darkness, and the past
Fades from our charmèd sight. My task is done; 140
Thy lore is learned. Earth’s wonders are thine own
With all the fear and all the hope they bring.
My spells are passed; the present now recurs.
Ah me! a pathless wilderness remains
Yet unsubdued by man’s reclaiming hand.

‘Yet, human Spirit! bravely hold thy course;
Let virtue teach thee firmly to pursue
The gradual paths of an aspiring change;
For birth and life and death, and that strange state
Before the naked soul has found its home, 150
All tend to perfect happiness, and urge
The restless wheels of being on their way,
Whose flashing spokes, instinct with infinite life,
Bicker and burn to gain their destined goal;
For birth but wakes the spirit to the sense
Of outward shows, whose unexperienced shape
New modes of passion to its frame may lend;
Life is its state of action, and the store
Of all events is aggregated there
That variegate the eternal universe; 160
Death is a gate of dreariness and gloom,
That leads to azure isles and beaming skies
And happy regions of eternal hope.
Therefore, O Spirit! fearlessly bear on.
Though storms may break the primrose on its stalk,
Though frosts may blight the freshness of its bloom,
Yet spring’s awakening breath will woo the earth
To feed with kindliest dews its favorite flower,
That blooms in mossy bank and darksome glens,
Lighting the greenwood with its sunny smile. 170

‘Fear not then, Spirit, death’s disrobing hand,
So welcome when the tyrant is awake,
So welcome when the bigot’s hell-torch burns;
‘T is but the voyage of a darksome hour,
The transient gulf-dream of a startling sleep.
Death is no foe to virtue; earth has seen
Love’s brightest roses on the scaffold bloom,
Mingling with freedom’s fadeless laurels there,
And presaging the truth of visioned bliss.
Are there not hopes within thee, which this scene 180
Of linked and gradual being has confirmed?
Whose stingings bade thy heart look further still,
When, to the moonlight walk by Henry led,
Sweetly and sadly thou didst talk of death?
And wilt thou rudely tear them from thy breast,
Listening supinely to a bigot’s creed,
Or tamely crouching to the tyrant’s rod,
Whose iron thongs are red with human gore?
Never: but bravely bearing on, thy will
Is destined an eternal war to wage 190
With tyranny and falsehood, and uproot
The germs of misery from the human heart.
Thine is the hand whose piety would soothe
The thorny pillow of unhappy crime,
Whose impotence an easy pardon gains,
Watching its wanderings as a friend’s disease;
Thine is the brow whose mildness would defy
Its fiercest rage, and brave its sternest will,
When fenced by power and master of the world.
Thou art sincere and good; of resolute mind, 200
Free from heart-withering custom’s cold control,
Of passion lofty, pure and unsubdued.
Earth’s pride and meanness could not vanquish thee,
And therefore art thou worthy of the boon
Which thou hast now received; virtue shall keep
Thy footsteps in the path that thou hast trod,
And many days of beaming hope shall bless
Thy spotless life of sweet and sacred love.
Go, happy one, and give that bosom joy,
Whose sleepless spirit waits to catch 210
Light, life and rapture from thy smile!’

The Fairy waves her wand of charm.
Speechless with bliss the Spirit mounts the car,
That rolled beside the battlement,
Bending her beamy eyes in thankfulness.
Again the enchanted steeds were yoked;
Again the burning wheels inflame
The steep descent of heaven’s untrodden way.
Fast and far the chariot flew;
The vast and fiery globes that rolled 220
Around the Fairy’s palace-gate
Lessened by slow degrees, and soon appeared
Such tiny twinklers as the planet orbs
That there attendant on the solar power
With borrowed light pursued their narrower way.

Earth floated then below;
The chariot paused a moment there;
The Spirit then descended;
The restless coursers pawed the ungenial soil,
Snuffed the gross air, and then, their errand done, 230
Unfurled their pinions to the winds of heaven.

The Body and the Soul united then.
A gentle start convulsed Ianthe’s frame;
Her veiny eyelids quietly unclosed;
Moveless awhile the dark blue orbs remained.
She looked around in wonder, and beheld
Henry, who kneeled in silence by her couch,
Watching her sleep with looks of speechless love,
And the bright beaming stars
That through the casement shone.

- Percy Bysshe Shelley

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