The Revolt of Islam. A Poem in Twelve Cantos.
I WHAT thoughts had sway o'er Cythna's lonely slumber That night, I know not; but my own did seem As if they might ten thousand years outnumber Of waking life, the visions of a dream Which hid in one dim gulf the troubled stream Of mind; a boundless chaos wild and vast, Whose limits yet were never memory's theme; And I lay struggling as its whirlwinds passed, Sometimes for rapture sick, sometimes for pain aghast. II Two hours, whose mighty circle did embrace More time than might make gray the infant world, Rolled thus, a weary and tumultuous space; When the third came, like mist on breezes curled, From my dim sleep a shadow was unfurled; Methought, upon the threshold of a cave I sate with Cythna; drooping briony, pearled With dew from the wild streamlet's shattered wave, Hung, where we sate to taste the joys which Nature gave. III We lived a day as we were wont to live, But Nature had a robe of glory on, And the bright air o'er every shape did weave Intenser hues, so that the herbless stone, The leafless bough among the leaves alone, Had being clearer than its own could be; And Cythna's pure and radiant self was shown, In this strange vision, so divine to me, That if I loved before, now love was agony. IV Morn fled, noon came, evening, then night, descended, And we prolonged calm talk beneath the sphere Of the calm moon--when suddenly was blended With our repose a nameless sense of fear; And from the cave behind I seemed to hear Sounds gathering upwards--accents incomplete, And stifled shrieks,--and now, more near and near, A tumult and a rush of thronging feet The cavern's secret depths beneath the earth did beat. V The scene was changed, and away, away, away! Through the air and over the sea we sped, And Cythna in my sheltering bosom lay, And the winds bore me; through the darkness spread Around, the gaping earth then vomited Legions of foul and ghastly shapes, which hung Upon my flight; and ever as we fled They plucked at Cythna; soon to me then clung A sense of actual things those monstrous dreams among. VI And I lay struggling in the impotence Of sleep, while outward life had burst its bound, Though, still deluded, strove the tortured sense To its dire wanderings to adapt the sound Which in the light of morn was poured around Our dwelling; breathless, pale and unaware I rose, and all the cottage crowded found With armèd men, whose glittering swords were bare, And whose degraded limbs the Tyrant's garb did wear. VII And ere with rapid lips and gathered brow I could demand the cause, a feeble shriek-- It was a feeble shriek, faint, far and low-- Arrested me; my mien grew calm and meek, And grasping a small knife I went to seek That voice among the crowd--'t was Cythna's cry! Beneath most calm resolve did agony wreak Its whirlwind rage:--so I passed quietly Till I beheld where bound that dearest child did lie. VIII I started to behold her, for delight And exultation, and a joyance free, Solemn, serene and lofty, filled the light Of the calm smile with which she looked on me; So that I feared some brainless ecstasy, Wrought from that bitter woe, had wildered her. 'Farewell! farewell!' she said, as I drew nigh; 'At first my peace was marred by this strange stir, Now I am calm as truth--its chosen minister. IX 'Look not so, Laon--say farewell in hope; These bloody men are but the slaves who bear Their mistress to her task; it was my scope The slavery where they drag me now to share, And among captives willing chains to wear Awhile--the rest thou knowest. Return, dear friend! Let our first triumph trample the despair Which would ensnare us now, for, in the end, In victory or in death our hopes and fears must blend.' X These words had fallen on my unheeding ear, Whilst I had watched the motions of the crew With seeming careless glance; not many were Around her, for their comrades just withdrew To guard some other victim; so I drew My knife, and with one impulse, suddenly, All unaware three of their number slew, And grasped a fourth by the throat, and with loud cry My countrymen invoked to death or liberty. XI What followed then I know not, for a stroke, On my raised arm and naked head came down, Filling my eyes with blood.--When I awoke, I felt that they had bound me in my swoon, And up a rock which overhangs the town By the steep path were bearing me; below The plain was filled with slaughter,--overthrown The vineyards and the harvests, and the glow Of blazing roofs shone far o'er the white Ocean's flow. XII Upon that rock a mighty column stood, Whose capital seemed sculptured in the sky, Which to the wanderers o'er the solitude Of distant seas, from ages long gone by, Had made a landmark; o'er its height to fly Scarcely the cloud, the vulture or the blast Has power, and when the shades of evening lie On Earth and Ocean, its carved summits cast The sunken daylight far through the aërial waste. XIII They bore me to a cavern in the hill Beneath that column, and unbound me there; And one did strip me stark; and one did fill A vessel from the putrid pool; one bare A lighted torch, and four with friendless care Guided my steps the cavern-paths along; Then up a steep and dark and narrow stair We wound, until the torch's fiery tongue Amid the gushing day beamless and pallid hung. XIV They raised me to the platform of the pile, That column's dizzy height; the grate of brass, Through which they thrust me, open stood the while, As to its ponderous and suspended mass, With chains which eat into the flesh, alas! With brazen links, my naked limbs they bound; The grate, as they departed to repass, With horrid clangor fell, and the far sound Of their retiring steps in the dense gloom was drowned. XV The noon was calm and bright:--around that column The overhanging sky and circling sea, Spread forth in silentness profound and solemn, The darkness of brief frenzy cast on me, So that I knew not my own misery; The islands and the mountains in the day Like clouds reposed afar; and I could see The town among the woods below that lay, And the dark rocks which bound the bright and glassy bay. XVI It was so calm, that scarce the feathery weed Sown by some eagle on the topmost stone Swayed in the air:--so bright, that noon did breed No shadow in the sky beside mine own-- Mine, and the shadow of my chain alone. Below, the smoke of roofs involved in flame Rested like night; all else was clearly shown In that broad glare; yet sound to me none came, But of the living blood that ran within my frame. XVII The peace of madness fled, and ah, too soon! A ship was lying on the sunny main; Its sails were flagging in the breathless noon; Its shadow lay beyond. That sight again Waked with its presence in my trancèd brain The stings of a known sorrow, keen and cold; I knew that ship bore Cythna o'er the plain Of waters, to her blighting slavery sold, And watched it with such thoughts as must remain untold. XVIII I watched until the shades of evening wrapped Earth like an exhalation; then the bark Moved, for that calm was by the sunset snapped. It moved a speck upon the Ocean dark; Soon the wan stars came forth, and I could mark Its path no more! I sought to close mine eyes, But, like the balls, their lids were stiff and stark; I would have risen, but ere that I could rise My parchèd skin was split with piercing agonies. XIX I gnawed my brazen chain, and sought to sever Its adamantine links, that I might die. O Liberty! forgive the base endeavor, Forgive me, if, reserved for victory, The Champion of thy faith e'er sought to fly! That starry night, with its clear silence, sent Tameless resolve which laughed at misery Into my soul--linkèd remembrance lent To that such power, to me such a severe content. XX To breathe, to be, to hope, or to despair And die, I questioned not; nor, though the Sun, Its shafts of agony kindling through the air, Moved over me, nor though in evening dun, Or when the stars their visible courses run, Or morning, the wide universe was spread In dreary calmness round me, did I shun Its presence, nor seek refuge with the dead From one faint hope whose flower a dropping poison shed. XXI Two days thus passed--I neither raved nor died; Thirst raged within me, like a scorpion's nest Built in mine entrails; I had spurned aside The water-vessel, while despair possessed My thoughts, and now no drop remained. The uprest Of the third sun brought hunger--but the crust Which had been left was to my craving breast Fuel, not food. I chewed the bitter dust, And bit my bloodless arm, and licked the brazen rust. XXII My brain began to fail when the fourth morn Burst o'er the golden isles. A fearful sleep, Which through the caverns dreary and forlorn Of the riven soul sent its foul dreams to sweep With whirlwind swiftness--a fall far and deep-- A gulf, a void, a sense of senselessness-- These things dwelt in me, even as shadows keep Their watch in some dim charnel's loneliness,-- A shoreless sea, a sky sunless and planetless! XXIII The forms which peopled this terrific trance I well remember. Like a choir of devils, Around me they involved a giddy dance; Legions seemed gathering from the misty levels Of Ocean, to supply those ceaseless revels,-- Foul, ceaseless shadows; thought could not divide The actual world from these entangling evils, Which so bemocked themselves that I descried All shapes like mine own self hideously multiplied. XXIV The sense of day and night, of false and true, Was dead within me. Yet two visions burst That darkness; one, as since that hour I knew, Was not a phantom of the realms accursed, Where then my spirit dwelt--but of the first I know not yet, was it a dream or no; But both, though not distincter, were immersed In hues which, when through memory's waste they flow, Make their divided streams more bright and rapid now. XXV Methought that grate was lifted, and the seven, Who brought me thither, four stiff corpses bare, And from the frieze to the four winds of Heaven Hung them on high by the entangled hair; Swarthy were three--the fourth was very fair; As they retired, the golden moon upsprung, And eagerly, out in the giddy air, Leaning that I might eat, I stretched and clung Over the shapeless depth in which those corpses hung. XXVI A woman's shape, now lank and cold and blue, The dwelling of the many-colored worm, Hung there; the white and hollow cheek I drew To my dry lips--What radiance did inform Those horny eyes? whose was that withered form? Alas, alas! it seemed that Cythna's ghost Laughed in those looks, and that the flesh was warm Within my teeth!--a whirlwind keen as frost Then in its sinking gulfs my sickening spirit tossed. XXVII Then seemed it that a tameless hurricane Arose, and bore me in its dark career Beyond the sun, beyond the stars that wane On the verge of formless pace--it languished there, And, dying, left a silence lone and drear, More horrible than famine. In the deep The shape of an old man did then appear, Stately and beautiful; that dreadful sleep His heavenly smiles dispersed, and I could wake and weep. XXVIII And, when the blinding tears had fallen, I saw That column, and those corpses, and the moon, And felt the poisonous tooth of hunger gnaw My vitals; I rejoiced, as if the boon Of senseless death would be accorded soon, When from that stony gloom a voice arose, Solemn and sweet as when low winds attune The midnight pines; the grate did then unclose, And on that reverend form the moonlight did repose. XXIX He struck my chains, and gently spake and smiled; As they were loosened by that Hermit old, Mine eye were of their madness half beguiled To answer those kind looks; he did enfold His giant arms around me to uphold My wretched frame; my scorchèd limbs he wound In linen moist and balmy, and as cold As dew to drooping leaves; the chain, with sound Like earthquake, through the chasm of that steep stair did bound, XXX As, lifting me, it fell!--What next I heard Were billow leaping on the harbor bar, And the shrill sea-wind whose breath idly stirred My hair; I looked abroad, and saw a star Shining beside a sail, and distant far That mountain and its column, the known mark Of those who in the wide deep wandering are,-- So that I feared some Spirit, fell and dark, In trance had lain me thus within a fiendish bark. XXXI For now, indeed, over the salt sea billow I sailed; yet dared not look upon the shape Of him who ruled the helm, although the pillow For my light head was hollowed in his lap, And my bare limbs his mantle did enwrap,-- Fearing it was a fiend; at last, he bent O'er me his aged face; as if to snap Those dreadful thoughts, the gentle grandsire bent, And to my inmost soul his soothing looks he sent. XXXII A soft and healing potion to my lips At intervals he raised--now looked on high To mark if yet the starry giant dips His zone in the dim sea--now cheeringly, Though he said little, did he speak to me. It is a friend beside thee--take good cheer 'Poor victim, thou art now at liberty!' I joyed as those a human tone to hear Who in cells deep and lone have languished many a year. XXXIII A dim and feeble joy, whose glimpses oft Were quenched in a relapse of wildering dreams; Yet still methought we sailed, until aloft The stars of night grew pallid, and the beams Of morn descended on the ocean-streams; And still that aged man, so grand and mild, Tended me, even as some sick mother seems To hang in hope over a dying child, Till in the azure East darkness again was piled. XXXIV And then the night-wind, steaming from the shore, Sent odors dying sweet across the sea, And the swift boat the little waves which bore, Were cut by its keen keel, though slantingly; Soon I could hear the leaves sigh, and could see The myrtle-blossoms starring the dim grove, As past the pebbly beach the boat did flee On sidelong wing into a silent cove Where ebon pines a shade under the starlight wove.