The Revolt of Islam. A Poem in Twelve Cantos.
I THE old man took the oars, and soon the bark Smote on the beach beside a tower of stone. It was a crumbling heap whose portal dark With blooming ivy-trails was overgrown; Upon whose floor the spangling sands were strown, And rarest sea-shells, which the eternal flood, Slave to the mother of the months, had thrown Within the walls of that gray tower, which stood A changeling of man's art nursed amid Nature's brood. II When the old man his boat had anchorèd, He wound me in his arms with tender care, And very few but kindly words he said, And bore me through the tower adown a stair, Whose smooth descent some ceaseless step to wear For many a year had fallen. We came at last To a small chamber which with mosses rare Was tapestried, where me his soft hands placed Upon a couch of grass and oak-leaves interlaced. III The moon was darting through the lattices Its yellow light, warm as the beams of day-- So warm that to admit the dewy breeze The old man opened them; the moonlight lay Upon a lake whose waters wove their play Even to the threshold of that lonely home; Within was seen in the dim wavering ray The antique sculptured roof, and many a tome Whose lore had made that sage all that he had become. IV The rock-built barrier of the sea was passed And I was on the margin of a lake, A lonely lake, amid the forests vast And snowy mountains. Did my spirit wake From sleep as many-colored as the snake That girds eternity? in life and truth Might not my heart its cravings ever slake? Was Cythna then a dream, and all my youth, And all its hopes and fears, and all its joy and ruth? V Thus madness came again,--a milder madness, Which darkened nought but time's unquiet flow With supernatural shades of clinging sadness; That gentle Hermit, in my helpless woe, By my sick couch was busy to and fro, Like a strong spirit ministrant of good; When I was healed, he led me forth to show The wonders of his sylvan solitude, And we together sate by that isle-fretted flood. VI He knew his soothing words to weave with skill From all my madness told; like mine own heart, Of Cythna would he question me, until That thrilling name had ceased to make me start, From his familiar lips; it was not art, Of wisdom and of justice when he spoke-- When 'mid soft looks of pity, there would dart A glance as keen as is the lightning's stroke When it doth rive the knots of some ancestral oak. VII Thus slowly from my brain the darkness rolled; My thoughts their due array did reassume Through the enchantments of that Hermit old. Then I bethought me of the glorious doom Of those who sternly struggle to relume The lamp of Hope o'er man's bewildered lot; And, sitting by the waters, in the gloom Of eve, to that friend's heart I told my thought-- That heart which had grown old, but had corrupted not. VIII That hoary man had spent his livelong age In converse with the dead who leave the stamp Of ever-burning thoughts on many a page, When they are gone into the senseless damp Of graves; his spirit thus became a lamp Of splendor, like to those on which it fed; Through peopled haunts, the City and the Camp, Deep thirst for knowledge had his footsteps led, And all the ways of men among mankind he read. IX But custom maketh blind and obdurate The loftiest hearts; he had beheld the woe In which mankind was bound, but deemed that fate Which made them abject would preserve them so; And in such faith, some steadfast joy to know, He sought this cell; but when fame went abroad That one in Argolis did undergo Torture for liberty, and that the crowd High truths from gifted lips had heard and understood, X And that the multitude was gathering wide,-- His spirit leaped within his aged frame; In lonely peace he could no more abide, But to the land on which the victor's flame Had fed, my native land, the Hermit came; Each heart was there a shield, and every tongue Was as a sword of truth--young Laon's name Rallied their secret hopes, though tyrants sung Hymns of triumphant joy our scattered tribes among. XI He came to the lone column on the rock, And with his sweet and mighty eloquence The hearts of those who watched it did unlock, And made them melt in tears of penitence. They gave him entrance free to bear me thence. 'Since this,' the old man said, 'seven years are spent, While slowly truth on thy benighted sense Has crept; the hope which wildered it has lent, Meanwhile, to me the power of a sublime intent. XII 'Yes, from the records of my youthful state, And from the lore of bards and sages old, From whatsoe'er my wakened thoughts create Out of the hopes of thine aspirings bold, Have I collected language to unfold Truth to my countrymen; from shore to shore Doctrines of human power my words have told; They have been heard, and men aspire to more Than they have ever gained or ever lost of yore. XIII 'In secret chambers parents read, and weep, My writings to their babes, no longer blind; And young men gather when their tyrants sleep, And vows of faith each to the other bind; And marriageable maidens, who have pined With love till life seemed melting through their look, A warmer zeal, a nobler hope, now find; And every bosom thus is rapt and shook, Like autumn's myriad leaves in one swoln mountain brook. XIV 'The tyrants of the Golden City tremble At voices which are heard about the streets; The ministers of fraud can scarce dissemble The lies of their own heart, but when one meets Another at the shrine, he inly weets, Though he says nothing, that the truth is known; Murderers are pale upon the judgment-seats, And gold grows vile even to the wealthy crone, And laughter fills the Fane, and curses shake the Throne. XV 'Kind thoughts, and mighty hopes, and gentle deeds Abound; for fearless love, and the pure law Of mild equality and peace, succeeds To faiths which long have held the world in awe, Bloody, and false, and cold. As whirlpools draw All wrecks of Ocean to their chasm, the sway Of thy strong genius, Laon, which foresaw This hope, compels all spirits to obey, Which round thy secret strength now throng in wide array. XVI 'For I have been thy passive instrument'-- (As thus the old man spake, his countenance Gleamed on me like a spirit's)--'thou hast lent To me, to all, the power to advance Towards this unforeseen deliverance From our ancestral chains--ay, thou didst rear That lamp of hope on high, which time nor chance Nor change may not extinguish, and my share Of good was o'er the world its gathered beams to bear. XVII 'But I, alas! am both unknown and old, And though the woof of wisdom I know well To dye in hues of language, I am cold In seeming, and the hopes which inly dwell My manners note that I did long repel; But Laon's name to the tumultuous throng Were like the star whose beams the waves compel And tempests, and his soul-subduing tongue Were as a lance to quell the mailèd crest of wrong. XVIII 'Perchance blood need not flow; if thou at length Wouldst rise, perchance the very slaves would spare Their brethren and themselves; great is the strength Of words--for lately did a maiden fair, Who from her childhood has been taught to bear The Tyrant's heaviest yoke, arise, and make Her sex the law of truth and freedom hear, And with these quiet words--"for thine own sake I prithee spare me,"--did with ruth so take XIX 'All hearts that even the torturer, who had bound Her meek calm frame, ere it was yet impaled, Loosened her weeping then; nor could be found One human hand to harm her. Unassailed Therefore she walks through the great City, veiled In virtue's adamantine eloquence, 'Gainst scorn and death and pain thus trebly mailed, And blending in the smiles of that defence The serpent and the dove, wisdom and innocence. XX 'The wild-eyed women throng around her path; From their luxurious dungeons, from the dust Of meaner thralls, from the oppressor's wrath, Or the caresses of his sated lust, They congregate; in her they put their trust. The tyrants send their armèd slaves to quell Her power; they, even like a thunder-gust Caught by some forest, bend beneath the spell Of that young maiden's speech, and to their chiefs rebel. XXI 'Thus she doth equal laws and justice teach To woman, outraged and polluted long; Gathering the sweetest fruit in human reach For those fair hands now free, while armèd wrong Trembles before her look, though it be strong; Thousands thus dwell beside her, virgins bright And matrons with their babes, a stately throng! Lovers renew the vows which they did plight In early faith, and hearts long parted now unite; XXII 'And homeless orphans find a home near her, And those poor victims of the proud, no less, Fair wrecks, on whom the smiling world with stir Thrusts the redemption of its wickedness. In squalid huts, and in its palaces, Sits Lust alone, while o'er the land is borne Her voice, whose awful sweetness doth repress All evil; and her foes relenting turn, And cast the vote of love in hope's abandoned urn. XXIII 'So in the populous City, a young maiden Has baffled Havoc of the prey which he Marks as his own, whene'er with chains o'erladen Men make them arms to hurl down tyranny,-- False arbiter between the bound and free; And o'er the land, in hamlets and in towns The multitudes collect tumultuously, And throng in arms; but tyranny disowns Their claim, and gathers strength around its trembling thrones. XXIV 'Blood soon, although unwillingly, to shed The free cannot forbear. The Queen of Slaves, The hood-winked Angel of the blind and dead, Custom, with iron mace points to the graves Where her own standard desolately waves Over the dust of Prophets and of Kings. Many yet stand in her array--"she paves Her path with human hearts," and o'er it flings The wildering gloom of her immeasurable wings. XXV 'There is a plain beneath the City's wall, Bounded by misty mountains, wide and vast; Millions there lift at Freedom's thrilling call Ten thousand standards wide; they load the blast Which bears one sound of many voices past, And startles on his throne their sceptred foe; He sits amid his idle pomp aghast, And that his power hath passed away, doth know-- Why pause the victor swords to seal his overthrow? XXVI 'The Tyrant's guards resistance yet maintain, Fearless, and fierce, and hard as beasts of blood; They stand a speck amid the peopled plain; Carnage and ruin have been made their food From infancy; ill has become their good, And for its hateful sake their will has wove The chains which eat their hearts. The multitude, Surrounding them, with words of human love Seek from their own decay their stubborn minds to move. XXVII 'Over the land is felt a sudden pause, As night and day those ruthless bands around The watch of love is kept--a trance which awes The thoughts of men with hope; as when the sound Of whirlwind, whose fierce blasts the waves and clouds confound, Dies suddenly, the mariner in fear Feels silence sink upon his heart--thus bound The conquerors pause; and oh! may freemen ne'er Clasp the relentless knees of Dread, the murderer! XXVIII 'If blood be shed, 't is but a change and choice Of bonds--from slavery to cowardice,-- A wretched fall! Uplift thy charmèd voice, Pour on those evil men the love that lies Hovering within those spirit-soothing eyes! Arise, my friend, farewell!'--As thus he spake, From the green earth lightly I did arise, As one out of dim dreams that doth awake, And looked upon the depth of that reposing lake. XXIX I saw my countenance reflected there;-- And then my youth fell on me like a wind Descending on still waters. My thin hair Was prematurely gray; my face was lined With channels, such as suffering leaves behind, Not age; my brow was pale, but in my cheek And lips a flush of gnawing fire did find Their food and dwelling; though mine eyes might speak A subtle mind and strong within a frame thus weak. XXX And though their lustre now was spent and faded, Yet in my hollow looks and withered mien The likeness of a shape for which was braided The brightest woof of genius still was seen-- One who, methought, had gone from the world's scene, And left it vacant--'t was her lover's face-- It might resemble her--it once had been The mirror of her thoughts, and still the grace Which her mind's shadow cast left there a lingering trace. XXXI What then was I? She slumbered with the dead. Glory and joy and peace had come and gone. Doth the cloud perish when the beams are fled Which steeped its skirts in gold? or, dark and lone, Doth it not through the paths of night unknown, On outspread wings of its own wind upborne, Pour rain upon the earth? the stars are shown, When the cold moon sharpens her silver horn Under the sea, and make the wide night not forlorn. XXXII Strengthened in heart, yet sad, that aged man I left, with interchange of looks and tears And lingering speech, and to the Camp began My war. O'er many a mountain-chain which rears Its hundred crests aloft my spirit bears My frame, o'er many a dale and many a moor; And gayly now meseems serene earth wears The blosmy spring's star-bright investiture,-- A vision which aught sad from sadness might allure. XXXIII My powers revived within me, and I went, As one whom winds waft o'er the bending grass, Through many a vale of that broad continent. At night when I reposed, fair dreams did pass Before my pillow; my own Cythna was, Not like a child of death, among them ever; When I arose from rest, a woful mass That gentlest sleep seemed from my life to sever, As if the light of youth were not withdrawn forever. XXXIV Aye as I went, that maiden who had reared The torch of Truth afar, of whose high deeds The Hermit in his pilgrimage had heard, Haunted my thoughts. Ah, Hope its sickness feeds With whatsoe'er it finds, or flowers or weeds! Could she be Cythna? Was that corpse a shade Such as self-torturing thought from madness breeds? Why was this hope not torture? Yet it made A light around my step which would not ever fade.