The Revolt of Islam. A Poem in Twelve Cantos.
I BESIDE the dimness of the glimmering sea, Weaving swift language from impassioned themes, With that dear friend I lingered, who to me So late had been restored, beneath the gleams Of the silver stars; and ever in soft dreams Of future love and peace sweet converse lapped Our willing fancies, till the pallid beams Of the last watch-fire fell, and darkness wrapped The waves, and each bright chain of floating fire was snapped, II And till we came even to the City's wall And the great gate. Then, none knew whence or why, Disquiet on the multitudes did fall; And first, one pale and breathless passed us by, And stared and spoke not; then with piercing cry A troop of wild-eyed women--by the shrieks Of their own terror driven, tumultuously Hither and thither hurrying with pale cheeks-- Each one from fear unknown a sudden refuge seeks III Then, rallying cries of treason and of danger Resounded, and--'They come! to arms! to arms! The Tyrant is amongst us, and the stranger Comes to enslave us in his name! to arms!' In vain: for Panic, the pale fiend who charms Strength to forswear her right, those millions swept Like waves before the tempest. These alarms Came to me, as to know their cause I leapt On the gate's turret, and in rage and grief and scorn I wept! IV For to the north I saw the town on fire, And its red light made morning pallid now, Which burst over wide Asia;--louder, higher, The yells of victory and the screams of woe I heard approach, and saw the throng below Stream through the gates like foam-wrought waterfalls Fed from a thousand storms--the fearful glow Of bombs flares overhead--at intervals The red artillery's bolt mangling among them falls. V And now the horsemen come--and all was done Swifter than I have spoken--I beheld Their red swords flash in the unrisen sun. I rushed among the rout to have repelled That miserable flight--one moment quelled By voice, and looks, and eloquent despair, As if reproach from their own hearts withheld Their steps, they stood; but soon came pouring there New multitudes, and did those rallied bands o'erbear. VI I strove, as drifted on some cataract By irresistible streams some wretch might strive Who hears its fatal roar; the files compact Whelmed me, and from the gate availed to drive With quickening impulse, as each bolt did rive Their ranks with bloodier chasm; into the plain Disgorged at length the dead and the alive In one dread mass were parted, and the stain Of blood from mortal steel fell o'er the fields like rain. VII For now the despot's bloodhounds with their prey, Unarmed and unaware, were gorging deep Their gluttony of death; the loose array Of horsemen o'er the wide fields murdering sweep, And with loud laughter for their Tyrant reap A harvest sown with other hopes; the while, Far overhead, ships from Propontis keep A killing rain of fire. When the waves smile As sudden earthquakes light many a volcano isle, VIII Thus sudden, unexpected feast was spread For the carrion fowls of Heaven. I saw the sight-- I moved--I lived--as o'er the heaps of dead, Whose stony eyes glared in the morning light, I trod; to me there came no thought of flight, But with loud cries of scorn, which whoso heard That dreaded death felt in his veins the might Of virtuous shame return, the crowd I stirred, And desperation's hope in many hearts recurred. IX A band of brothers gathering round me made, Although unarmed, a steadfast front, and, still Retreating, with stern looks beneath the shade Of gathered eyebrows, did the victors fill With doubt even in success; deliberate will Inspired our growing troop; not overthrown, It gained the shelter of a grassy hill,-- And ever still our comrades were hewn down, And their defenceless limbs beneath our footsteps strown. X Immovably we stood; in joy I found Beside me then, firm as a giant pine Among the mountain vapors driven around, The old man whom I loved; his eyes divine With a mild look of courage answered mine, And my young friend was near, and ardently His hand grasped mine a moment; now the line Of war extended, to our rallying cry As myriads flocked in love and brotherhood to die. XI For ever while the sun was climbing Heaven The horseman hewed our unarmed myriads down Safely, though when by thirst of carnage driven Too near, those slaves were swiftly overthrown By hundreds leaping on them; flesh and bone Soon made our ghastly ramparts; then the shaft Of the artillery from the sea was thrown More fast and fiery, and the conquerors laughed In pride to hear the wind our screams of torment waft. XII For on one side alone the hill gave shelter, So vast that phalanx of unconquered men, And there the living in the blood did welter Of the dead and dying, which in that green glen, Like stifled torrents, made a plashy fen Under the feet. Thus was the butchery waged While the sun clomb Heaven's eastern steep; but, when It 'gan to sink, a fiercer combat raged, For in more doubtful strife the armies were engaged. XIII Within a cave upon the hill were found A bundle of rude pikes, the instrument Of those who war but on their native ground For natural rights; a shout of joyance, sent Even from our hearts, the wide air pierced and rent, As those few arms the bravest and the best Seized, and each sixth, thus armed, did now present A line which covered and sustained the rest, A confident phalanx which the foes on every side invest. XIV That onset turned the foes to flight almost; But soon they saw their present strength, and knew That coming night would to our resolute host Bring victory; so, dismounting, close they drew Their glittering files, and then the combat grew Unequal but most horrible; and ever Our myriads, whom the swift bolt overthrew, Or the red sword, failed like a mountain river Which rushes forth in foam to sink in sands forever. XV Sorrow and shame, to see with their own kind Our human brethren mix, like beasts of blood, To mutual ruin armed by one behind Who sits and scoffs!--that friend so mild and good, Who like its shadow near my youth had stood, Was stabbed!--my old preserver's hoary hair, With the flesh clinging to its roots, was strewed Under my feet! I lost all sense or care, And like the rest I grew desperate and unaware. XVI The battle became ghastlier; in the midst I paused, and saw how ugly and how fell, O Hate! thou art, even when thy life thou shedd'st For love. The ground in many a little dell Was broken, up and down whose steeps befell Alternate victory and defeat; and there The combatants with rage most horrible Strove, and their eyes started with cracking stare, And impotent their tongues they lolled into the air, XVII Flaccid and foamy, like a mad dog's hanging. Want, and Moon-madness, and the pest's swift Bane, When its shafts smite--while yet its bow is twanging-- Have each their mark and sign, some ghastly stain; And this was thine, O War! of hate and pain Thou loathèd slave! I saw all shapes of death, And ministered to many, o'er the plain While carnage in the sunbeam's warmth did seethe, Till Twilight o'er the east wove her serenest wreath. XVIII The few who yet survived, resolute and firm, Around me fought. At the decline of day, Winding above the mountain's snowy term, New banners shone; they quivered in the ray Of the sun's unseen orb; ere night the array Of fresh troops hemmed us in--of those brave bands I soon survived alone--and now I lay Vanquished and faint, the grasp of bloody hands I felt, and saw on high the glare of falling brands, XIX When on my foes a sudden terror came, And they fled, scattering.--Lo! with reinless speed A black Tartarian horse of giant frame, Comes trampling over the dead; the living bleed Beneath the hoofs of that tremendous steed, On which, like to an Angel, robed in white, Sate one waving a sword; the hosts recede And fly, as through their ranks, with awful might Sweeps in the shadow of eve that Phantom swift and bright; XX And its path made a solitude. I rose And marked its coming; it relaxed its course As it approached me, and the wind that flows Through night bore accents to mine ear whose force Might create smiles in death. The Tartar horse Paused, and I saw the shape its might which swayed, And heard her musical pants, like the sweet source Of waters in the desert, as she said, 'Mount with me, Laon, now'--I rapidly obeyed. XXI Then, 'Away! away!' she cried, and stretched her sword As 't were a scourge over the courser's head, And lightly shook the reins. We spake no word, But like the vapor of the tempest fled Over the plain; her dark hair was dispread Like the pine's locks upon the lingering blast; Over mine eyes its shadowy strings it spread Fitfully, and the hills and streams fled fast, As o'er their glimmering forms the steed's broad shadow passed. XXII And his hoofs ground the rocks to fire and dust, His strong sides made the torrents rise in spray, And turbulence, as of a whirlwind's gust, Surrounded us;--and still away, away, Through the desert night we sped, while she alway Gazed on a mountain which we neared, whose crest, Crowned with a marble ruin, in the ray Of the obscure stars gleamed; its rugged breast The steed strained up, and then his impulse did arrest. XXIII A rocky hill which overhung the Ocean:-- From that lone ruin, when the steed that panted Paused, might be heard the murmur of the motion Of waters, as in spots forever haunted By the choicest winds of Heaven which are enchanted To music by the wand of Solitude, That wizard wild,--and the far tents implanted Upon the plain, be seen by those who stood Thence marking the dark shore of Ocean's curvèd flood. XXIV One moment these were heard and seen--another Passed; and the two who stood beneath that night Each only heard or saw or felt the other. As from the lofty steed she did alight, Cythna (for, from the eyes whose deepest light Of love and sadness made my lips feel pale With influence strange of mournfullest delight, My own sweet Cythna looked) with joy did quail, And felt her strength in tears of human weakness fail. XXV And for a space in my embrace she rested, Her head on my unquiet heart reposing, While my faint arms her languid frame invested; At length she looked on me, and, half unclosing Her tremulous lips, said, 'Friend, thy bands were losing The battle, as I stood before the King In bonds. I burst them then, and, swiftly choosing The time, did seize a Tartar's sword, and spring Upon his horse, and swift as on the whirlwind's wing XXVI 'Have thou and I been borne beyond pursuer, And we are here.' Then, turning to the steed, She pressed the white moon on his front with pure And rose-like lips, and many a fragrant weed From the green ruin plucked that he might feed; But I to a stone seat that Maiden led, And, kissing her fair eyes, said, 'Thou hast need Of rest,' and I heaped up the courser's bed In a green mossy nook, with mountain flowers dispread. XXVII Within that ruin, where a shattered portal Looks to the eastern stars--abandoned now By man to be the home of things immortal, Memories, like awful ghosts which come and go, And must inherit all he builds below When he is gone--a hall stood; o'er whose roof Fair clinging weeds with ivy pale did grow, Clasping its gray rents with a verdurous woof, A hanging dome of leaves, a canopy moon-proof. XXVIII The autumnal winds, as if spell-bound, had made A natural couch of leaves in that recess, Which seasons none disturbed; but, in the shade Of flowering parasites, did Spring love to dress With their sweet blooms the wintry loneliness Of those dead leaves, shedding their stars whene'er The wandering wind her nurslings might caress; Whose intertwining fingers ever there Made music wild and soft that filled the listening air. XXIX We know not where we go, or what sweet dream May pilot us through caverns strange and fair Of far and pathless passion, while the stream Of life our bark doth on its whirlpools bear, Spreading swift wings as sails to the dim air; Nor should we seek to know, so the devotion Of love and gentle thoughts be heard still there Louder and louder from the utmost Ocean Of universal life, attuning its commotion. XXX To the pure all things are pure! Oblivion wrapped Our spirits, and the fearful overthrow Of public hope was from our being snapped, Though linkèd years had bound it there; for now A power, a thirst, a knowledge, which below All thoughts, like light beyond the atmosphere Clothing its clouds with grace, doth ever flow, Came on us, as we sate in silence there, Beneath the golden stars of the clear azure air;-- XXXI In silence which doth follow talk that causes The baffled heart to speak with sighs and tears, When wildering passion swalloweth up the pauses Of inexpressive speech;--the youthful years Which we together passed, their hopes and fears, The blood itself which ran within our frames, That likeness of the features which endears The thoughts expressed by them, our very names, And all the wingèd hours which speechless memory claims, XXXII Had found a voice; and ere that voice did pass, The night grew damp and dim, and, through a rent Of the ruin where we sate, from the morass A wandering Meteor by some wild wind sent Hung high in the green dome, to which it lent A faint and pallid lustre; while the song Of blasts, in which its blue hair quivering bent, Strewed strangest sounds the moving leaves among; A wondrous light, the sound as of a spirit's tongue. XXXIII The Meteor showed the leaves on which we sate, And Cythna's glowing arms, and the thick ties Of her soft hair which bent with gathered weight My neck near hers; her dark and deepening eyes, Which, as twin phantoms of one star that lies O'er a dim well move though the star reposes, Swam in our mute and liquid ecstasies; Her marble brow, and eager lips, like roses, With their own fragrance pale, which Spring but half uncloses. XXXIV The Meteor to its far morass returned. The beating of our veins one interval Made still; and then I felt the blood that burned Within her frame mingle with mine, and fall Around my heart like fire; and over all A mist was spread, the sickness of a deep And speechless swoon of joy, as might befall Two disunited spirits when they leap In union from this earth's obscure and fading sleep. XXXV Was it one moment that confounded thus All thought, all sense, all feeling, into one Unutterable power, which shielded us Even from our own cold looks, when we had gone Into a wide and wild oblivion Of tumult and of tenderness? or now Had ages, such as make the moon and sun, The seasons, and mankind their changes know, Left fear and time unfelt by us alone below? XXXVI I know not. What are kisses whose fire clasps The failing heart in languishment, or limb Twined within limb? or the quick dying gasps Of the life meeting, when the faint eyes swim Through tears of a wide mist boundless and dim, In one caress? What is the strong control Which leads the heart that dizzy steep to climb Where far over the world those vapors roll Which blend two restless frames in one reposing soul? XXXVII It is the shadow which doth float unseen, But not unfelt, o'er blind mortality, Whose divine darkness fled not from that green And lone recess, where lapped in peace did lie Our linkèd frames, till, from the changing sky That night and still another day had fled; And then I saw and felt. The moon was high, And clouds, as of a coming storm, were spread Under its orb,--loud winds were gathering overhead. XXXVIII Cythna's sweet lips seemed lurid in the moon, Her fairest limbs with the night wind were chill, And her dark tresses were all loosely strewn O'er her pale bosom; all within was still, And the sweet peace of joy did almost fill The depth of her unfathomable look; And we sate calmly, though that rocky hill The waves contending in its caverns strook, For they foreknew the storm, and the gray ruin shook. XXXIX There we unheeding sate in the communion Of interchangèd vows, which, with a rite Of faith most sweet and sacred, stamped our union. Few were the living hearts which could unite Like ours, or celebrate a bridal night With such close sympathies, for they had sprung From linkèd youth, and from the gentle might Of earliest love, delayed and cherished long, Which common hopes and fears made, like a tempest, strong. XL And such is Nature's law divine that those Who grow together cannot choose but love, If faith or custom do not interpose, Or common slavery mar what else might move All gentlest thoughts. As in the sacred grove Which shades the springs of Æthiopian Nile, That living tree which, if the arrowy dove Strike with her shadow, shrinks in fear awhile, But its own kindred leaves clasps while the sunbeams smile, XLI And clings to them when darkness may dissever The close caresses of all duller plants Which bloom on the wide earth;--thus we forever Were linked, for love had nursed us in the haunts Where knowledge from its secret source enchants Young hearts with the fresh music of its springing, Ere yet its gathered flood feeds human wants As the great Nile feeds Egypt,--ever flinging Light on the woven boughs which o'er its waves are swinging. XLII The tones of Cythna's voice like echoes were Of those far murmuring streams; they rose and fell, Mixed with mine own in the tempestuous air; And so we sate, until our talk befell Of the late ruin, swift and horrible, And how those seeds of hope might yet be sown, Whose fruit is Evil's mortal poison. Well, For us, this ruin made a watch-tower lone, But Cythna's eyes looked faint, and now two days were gone XLIII Since she had food. Therefore I did awaken The Tartar steed, who, from his ebon mane Soon as the clinging slumbers he had shaken, Bent his thin head to seek the brazen rein, Following me obediently. With pain Of heart so deep and dread that one caress, When lips and heart refuse to part again Till they have told their fill, could scarce express The anguish of her mute and fearful tenderness, XLIV Cythna beheld me part, as I bestrode That willing steed. The tempest and the night, Which gave my path its safety as I rode Down the ravine of rocks, did soon unite The darkness and the tumult of their might Borne on all winds.--Far through the streaming rain Floating, at intervals the garments white Of Cythna gleamed, and her voice once again Came to me on the gust, and soon I reached the plain. XLV I dreaded not the tempest, nor did he Who bore me, but his eyeballs wide and red Turned on the lightning's cleft exultingly; And when the earth beneath his tameless tread Shook with the sullen thunder, he would spread His nostrils to the blast, and joyously Mock the fierce peal with neighings;--thus we sped O'er the lit plain, and soon I could descry Where Death and Fire had gorged the spoil of victory. XLVI There was a desolate village in a wood, Whose bloom-inwoven leaves now scattering fed The hungry storm; it was a place of blood, A heap of hearthless walls;--the flames were dead Within those dwellings now,--the life had fled From all those corpses now,--but the wide sky Flooded with lightning was ribbed overhead By the black rafters, and around did lie Women and babes and men, slaughtered confusedly. XLVII Beside the fountain in the market-place Dismounting, I beheld those corpses stare With horny eyes upon each other's face, And on the earth, and on the vacant air, And upon me, close to the waters where I stooped to slake my thirst;--I shrank to taste, For the salt bitterness of blood was there! But tied the steed beside, and sought in haste If any yet survived amid that ghastly waste. XLVIII No living thing was there beside one woman Whom I found wandering in the streets, and she Was withered from a likeness of aught human Into a fiend, by some strange misery; Soon as she heard my steps she leaped on me, And glued her burning lips to mine, and laughed With a loud, long and frantic laugh of glee, And cried, 'Now, mortal, thou hast deeply quaffed The Plague's blue kisses--soon millions shall pledge the draught! XLIX 'My name is Pestilence; this bosom dry Once fed two babes--a sister and a brother; When I came home, one in the blood did lie Of three death-wounds--the flames had ate the other! Since then I have no longer been a mother, But I am Pestilence; hither and thither I flit about, that I may slay and smother; All lips which I have kissed must surely wither, But Death's--if thou art he, we 'll go to work together! L 'What seek'st thou here? the moonlight comes in flashes; The dew is rising dankly from the dell; 'T will moisten her! and thou shalt see the gashes In my sweet boy, now full of worms. But tell First what thou seek'st.'--'I seek for food.'--''T is well, Thou shalt have food. Famine, my paramour, Waits for us at the feast--cruel and fell Is Famine, but he drives not from his door Those whom these lips have kissed, alone. No more, no more!' LI As thus she spake, she grasped me with the strength Of madness, and by many a ruined hearth She led, and over many a corpse. At length We came to a lone hut, where on the earth Which made its floor she in her ghastly mirth, Gathering from all those homes now desolate, Had piled three heaps of loaves, making a dearth Among the dead--round which she set in state A ring of cold, stiff babes; silent and stark they sate. LII She leaped upon a pile, and lifted high Her mad looks to the lightning, and cried, 'Eat! Share the great feast--to-morrow we must die!' And then she spurned the loaves with her pale feet Towards her bloodless guests;--that sight to meet, Mine eyes and my heart ached, and but that she Who loved me did with absent looks defeat Despair, I might have raved in sympathy; But now I took the food that woman offered me; LIII And vainly having with her madness striven If I might win her to return with me, Departed. In the eastern beams of Heaven The lightning now grew pallid, rapidly As by the shore of the tempestuous sea The dark steed bore me; and the mountain gray Soon echoed to his hoofs, and I could see Cythna among the rocks, where she alway Had sate with anxious eyes fixed on the lingering day. LIV And joy was ours to meet. She was most pale, Famished and wet and weary; so I cast My arms around her, lest her steps should fail As to our home we went,--and, thus embraced, Her full heart seemed a deeper joy to taste Than e'er the prosperous know; the steed behind Trod peacefully along the mountain waste; We reached our home ere morning could unbind Night's latest veil, and on our bridal couch reclined. LV Her chilled heart having cherished in my bosom, And sweetest kisses past, we two did share Our peaceful meal; as an autumnal blossom, Which spreads its shrunk leaves in the sunny air After cold showers, like rainbows woven there, Thus in her lips and cheeks the vital spirit Mantled, and in her eyes an atmosphere Of health and hope; and sorrow languished near it, And fear, and all that dark despondence doth inherit.