The Revolt of Islam. A Poem in Twelve Cantos.
I WAS there a human spirit in the steed That thus with his proud voice, ere night was gone, He broke our linkèd rest? or do indeed All living things a common nature own, And thought erect an universal throne, Where many shapes one tribute ever bear? And Earth, their mutual mother, does she groan To see her sons contend? and makes she bare Her breast that all in peace its drainless stores may share? II I have heard friendly sounds from many a tongue Which was not human; the lone nightingale Has answered me with her most soothing song, Out of her ivy bower, when I sate pale With grief, and sighed beneath; from many a dale The antelopes who flocked for food have spoken With happy sounds and motions that avail Like man's own speech; and such was now the token Of waning night, whose calm by that proud neigh was broken. III Each night that mighty steed bore me abroad, And I returned with food to our retreat, And dark intelligence; the blood which flowed Over the fields had stained the courser's feet; Soon the dust drinks that bitter dew,--then meet The vulture, and the wild-dog, and the snake, The wolf, and the hyena gray, and eat The dead in horrid truce; their throngs did make Behind the steed a chasm like waves in a ship's wake. IV For from the utmost realms of earth came pouring The banded slaves whom every despot sent At that throned traitor's summons; like the roaring Of fire, whose floods the wild deer circumvent In the scorched pastures of the south, so bent The armies of the leaguèd kings around Their files of steel and flame; the continent Trembled, as with a zone of ruin bound, Beneath their feet--the sea shook with their Navies' sound. V From every nation of the earth they came, The multitude of moving heartless things, Whom slaves call men; obediently they came, Like sheep whom from the fold the shepherd brings To the stall, red with blood; their many kings Led them, thus erring, from their native land-- Tartar and Frank, and millions whom the wings Of Indian breezes lull; and many a band The Arctic Anarch sent, and Idumea's sand VI Fertile in prodigies and lies. So there Strange natures made a brotherhood of ill. The desert savage ceased to grasp in fear His Asian shield and bow when, at the will Of Europe's subtler son, the bolt would kill Some shepherd sitting on a rock secure; But smiles of wondering joy his face would fill, And savage sympathy; those slaves impure Each one the other thus from ill to ill did lure. VII For traitorously did that foul Tyrant robe His countenance in lies; even at the hour When he was snatched from death, then o'er the globe, With secret signs from many a mountain tower, With smoke by day, and fire by night, the power Of Kings and Priests, those dark conspirators, He called; they knew his cause their own, and swore Like wolves and serpents to their mutual wars Strange truce, with many a rite which Earth and Heaven abhors. VIII Myriads had come--millions were on their way; The Tyrant passed, surrounded by the steel Of hired assassins, through the public way, Choked with his country's dead; his footsteps reel On the fresh blood--he smiles. 'Ay, now I feel I am a King in truth!' he said, and took His royal seat, and bade the torturing wheel Be brought, and fire, and pincers, and the hook, And scorpions, that his soul on its revenge might look. IX 'But first, go slay the rebels--why return The victor bands?' he said, 'millions yet live, Of whom the weakest with one word might turn The scales of victory yet; let none survive But those within the walls--each fifth shall give The expiation for his brethren here. Go forth, and waste and kill!'--'O king, forgive My speech,' a soldier answered, 'but we fear The spirits of the night, and morn is drawing near; X 'For we were slaying still without remorse, And now that dreadful chief beneath my hand Defenceless lay, when on a hell-black horse An Angel bright as day, waving a brand Which flashed among the stars, passed.'--'Dost thou stand Parleying with me, thou wretch?' the king replied; 'Slaves, bind him to the wheel; and of this band Whoso will drag that woman to his side That scared him thus may burn his dearest foe beside; XI 'And gold and glory shall be his. Go forth!' They rushed into the plain. Loud was the roar Of their career; the horsemen shook the earth; The wheeled artillery's speed the pavement tore; The infantry, file after file, did pour Their clouds on the utmost hills. Five days they slew Among the wasted fields; the sixth saw gore Stream through the City; on the seventh the dew Of slaughter became stiff, and there was peace anew: XII Peace in the desert fields and villages, Between the glutted beasts and mangled dead! Peace in the silent streets! save when the cries Of victims, to their fiery judgment led, Made pale their voiceless lips who seemed to dread, Even in their dearest kindred, lest some tongue Be faithless to the fear yet unbetrayed; Peace in the Tyrant's palace, where the throng Waste the triumphal hours in festival and song! XIII Day after day the burning Sun rolled on Over the death-polluted land. It came Out of the east like fire, and fiercely shone A lamp of autumn, ripening with its flame The few lone ears of corn; the sky became Stagnate with heat, so that each cloud and blast Languished and died; the thirsting air did claim All moisture, and a rotting vapor passed From the unburied dead, invisible and fast. XIV First Want, then Plague, came on the beasts; their food Failed, and they drew the breath of its decay. Millions on millions, whom the scent of blood Had lured, or who from regions far away Had tracked the hosts in festival array, From their dark deserts, gaunt and wasting now Stalked like fell shades among their perished prey; In their green eyes a strange disease did glow-- They sank in hideous spasm, or pains severe and slow. XV The fish were poisoned in the streams; the birds In the green woods perished; the insect race Was withered up; the scattered flocks and herds Who had survived the wild beasts' hungry chase Died moaning, each upon the other's face In helpless agony gazing; round the City All night, the lean hyenas their sad case Like starving infants wailed--a woful ditty; And many a mother wept, pierced with unnatural pity. XVI Amid the aërial minarets on high The Æthiopian vultures fluttering fell From their long line of brethren in the sky, Startling the concourse of mankind. Too well These signs the coming mischief did foretell. Strange panic first, a deep and sickening dread, Within each heart, like ice, did sink and dwell, A voiceless thought of evil, which did spread With the quick glance of eyes, like withering lightnings shed. XVII Day after day, when the year wanes, the frosts Strip its green crown of leaves till all is bare; So on those strange and congregated hosts Came Famine, a swift shadow, and the air Groaned with the burden of a new despair; Famine, than whom Misrule no deadlier daughter Feeds from her thousand breasts, though sleeping there With lidless eyes lie Faith and Plague and Slaughter-- A ghastly brood conceived of Lethe's sullen water. XVIII There was no food; the corn was trampled down, The flocks and herds had perished; on the shore The dead and putrid fish were ever thrown; The deeps were foodless, and the winds no more Creaked with the weight of birds, but as before Those wingèd things sprang forth, were void of shade; The vines and orchards, autumn's golden store, Were burned; so that the meanest food was weighed With gold, and avarice died before the god it made. XIX There was no corn--in the wide marketplace All loathliest things, even human flesh, was sold; They weighed it in small scales--and many a face Was fixed in eager horror then. His gold The miser brought; the tender maid, grown bold Through hunger, bared her scornèd charms in vain; The mother brought her eldest born, controlled By instinct blind as love, but turned again And bade her infant suck, and died in silent pain. XX Then fell blue Plague upon the race of man. 'Oh, for the sheathèd steel, so late which gave Oblivion to the dead when the streets ran With brothers' blood! Oh, that the earthquake's grave Would gape, or Ocean lift its stifling wave!' Vain cries--throughout the streets thousands pursued Each by his fiery torture howl and rave Or sit in frenzy's unimagined mood Upon fresh heaps of dead--a ghastly multitude. XXI It was not hunger now, but thirst. Each well Was choked with rotting corpses, and became A caldron of green mist made visible At sunrise. Thither still the myriads came, Seeking to quench the agony of the flame Which raged like poison through their bursting veins; Naked they were from torture, without shame, Spotted with nameless scars and lurid blains-- Childhood, and youth, and age, writhing in savage pains. XXII It was not thirst, but madness! Many saw Their own lean image everywhere--it went A ghastlier self beside them, till the awe Of that dread sight to self-destruction sent Those shrieking victims; some, ere life was spent, Sought, with a horrid sympathy, to shed Contagion on the sound; and others rent Their matted hair, and cried aloud, 'We tread On fire! the avenging Power his hell on earth has spread.' XXIII Sometimes the living by the dead were hid. Near the great fountain in the public square, Where corpses made a crumbling pyramid Under the sun, was heard one stifled prayer For life, in the hot silence of the air; And strange 't was 'mid that hideous heap to see Some shrouded in their long and golden hair, As if not dead, but slumbering quietly, Like forms which sculptors carve, then love to agony. XXIV Famine had spared the palace of the King; He rioted in festival the while, He and his guards and Priests; but Plague did fling One shadow upon all. Famine can smile On him who brings it food, and pass, with guile Of thankful falsehood, like a courtier gray, The house-dog of the throne; but many a mile Comes Plague, a wingèd wolf, who loathes alway The garbage and the scum that strangers make her prey. XXV So, near the throne, amid the gorgeous feast, Sheathed in resplendent arms, or loosely dight To luxury, ere the mockery yet had ceased That lingered on his lips, the warrior's might Was loosened, and a new and ghastlier night In dreams of frenzy lapped his eyes; he fell Headlong, or with stiff eyeballs sate upright Among the guests, or raving mad did tell Strange truths--a dying seer of dark oppression's hell. XXVI The Princes and the Priests were pale with terror; That monstrous faith wherewith they ruled mankind Fell, like a shaft loosed by the bowman's error, On their own hearts; they sought and they could find No refuge--'t was the blind who led the blind! So, through the desolate streets to the high fane, The many-tongued and endless armies wind In sad procession; each among the train To his own idol lifts his supplications vain. XXVII 'O God!' they cried, 'we know our secret pride Has scorned thee, and thy worship, and thy name; Secure in human power, we have defied Thy fearful might; we bend in fear and shame Before thy presence; with the dust we claim Kindred; be merciful, O King of Heaven! Most justly have we suffered for thy fame Made dim, but be at length our sins forgiven, Ere to despair and death thy worshippers be driven! XXVIII 'O King of Glory! Thou alone hast power! Who can resist thy will? who can restrain Thy wrath when on the guilty thou dost shower The shafts of thy revenge, a blistering rain? Greatest and best, be merciful again! Have we not stabbed thine enemies, and made The Earth an altar, and the Heavens a fane, Where thou wert worshipped with their blood, and laid Those hearts in dust which would thy searchless works have weighed? XXIX 'Well didst thou loosen on this impious City Thine angels of revenge! recall them now; Thy worshippers abased here kneel for pity, And bind their souls by an immortal vow. We swear by thee--and to our oath do thou Give sanction from thine hell of fiends and flame-- That we will kill with fire and torments slow The last of those who mocked thy holy name And scorned the sacred laws thy prophets did proclaim.' XXX Thus they with trembling limbs and pallid lips Worshipped their own hearts' image, dim and vast, Scared by the shade wherewith they would eclipse The light of other minds; troubled they passed From the great Temple; fiercely still and fast The arrows of the plague among them fell, And they on one another gazed aghast, And through the hosts contention wild befell, As each of his own god the wondrous works did tell. XXXI And Oromaze, Joshua, and Mahomet, Moses, and Buddh, Zerdusht, and Brahm, and Foh, A tumult of strange names, which never met Before, as watchwords of a single woe, Arose; each raging votary 'gan to throw Aloft his armèd hands, and each did howl 'Our God alone is God!' and slaughter now Would have gone forth, when from beneath a cowl A voice came forth which pierced like ice through every soul. XXXII 'T was an Iberian Priest from whom it came, A zealous man, who led the legioned West, With words which faith and pride had steeped in flame, To quell the unbelievers; a dire guest Even to his friends was he, for in his breast Did hate and guile lie watchful, intertwined, Twin serpents in one deep and winding nest; He loathed all faith beside his own, and pined To wreak his fear of Heaven in vengeance on mankind. XXXIII But more he loathed and hated the clear light Of wisdom and free thought, and more did fear, Lest, kindled once, its beams might pierce the night, Even where his Idol stood; for far and near Did many a heart in Europe leap to hear That faith and tyranny were trampled down,-- Many a pale victim, doomed for truth to share The murderer's cell, or see with helpless groan The Priests his children drag for slaves to serve their own. XXXIV He dared not kill the infidels with fire Or steel, in Europe; the slow agonies Of legal torture mocked his keen desire; So he made truce with those who did despise The expiation and the sacrifice, That, though detested, Islam's kindred creed Might crush for him those deadlier enemies; For fear of God did in his bosom breed A jealous hate of man, an unreposing need. XXXV 'Peace! Peace!' he cried, 'when we are dead, the Day Of Judgment comes, and all shall surely know Whose God is God; each fearfully shall pay The errors of his faith in endless woe! But there is sent a mortal vengeance now On earth, because an impious race had spurned Him whom we all adore,--a subtle foe, By whom for ye this dread reward was earned, And kingly thrones, which rest on faith, nigh overturned. XXXVI 'Think ye, because ye weep and kneel and pray, That God will lull the pestilence? It rose Even from beneath his throne, where, many a day, His mercy soothed it to a dark repose; It walks upon the earth to judge his foes, And what art thou and I, that he should deign To curb his ghastly minister, or close The gates of death, ere they receive the twain Who shook with mortal spells his undefended reign? XXXVII 'Ay, there is famine in the gulf of hell, Its giant worms of fire forever yawn,-- Their lurid eyes are on us! those who fell By the swift shafts of pestilence ere dawn Are in their jaws! they hunger for the spawn Of Satan, their own brethren, who were sent To make our souls their spoil. See, see! they fawn Like dogs, and they will sleep, with luxury spent, When those detested hearts their iron fangs have rent! XXXVIII 'Our God may then lull Pestilence to sleep. Pile high the pyre of expiation now! A forest's spoil of boughs; and on the heap Pour venomous gums, which sullenly and slow, When touched by flame, shall burn, and melt, and flow, A stream of clinging fire--and fix on high A net of iron, and spread forth below A couch of snakes, and scorpions, and the fry Of centipedes and worms, earth's hellish progeny! XXXIX 'Let Laon and Laone on that pyre, Linked tight with burning brass, perish!--then pray That with this sacrifice the withering ire Of Heaven may be appeased.' He ceased, and they A space stood silent, as far, far away The echoes of his voice among them died; And he knelt down upon the dust, alway Muttering the curses of his speechless pride, Whilst shame, and fear, and awe, the armies did divide. XL His voice was like a blast that burst the portal Of fabled hell; and as he spake, each one Saw gape beneath the chasms of fire immortal, And Heaven above seemed cloven, where, on a throne Girt round with storms and shadows, sate alone Their King and Judge. Fear killed in every breast All natural pity then, a fear unknown Before, and with an inward fire possessed They raged like homeless beasts whom burning woods invest. XLI 'T was morn.--At noon the public crier went forth, Proclaiming through the living and the dead,-- 'The Monarch saith that his great empire's worth Is set on Laon and Laone's head; He who but one yet living here can lead, Or who the life from both their hearts can wring, Shall be the kingdom's heir--a glorious meed! But he who both alive can hither bring The Princess shall espouse, and reign an equal King.' XLII Ere night the pyre was piled, the net of iron Was spread above, the fearful couch below; It overtopped the towers that did environ That spacious square; for Fear is never slow To build the thrones of Hate, her mate and foe; So she scourged forth the maniac multitude To rear this pyramid--tottering and slow, Plague-stricken, foodless, like lean herds pursued By gadflies, they have piled the heath and gums and wood. XLIII Night came, a starless and a moonless gloom. Until the dawn, those hosts of many a nation Stood round that pile, as near one lover's tomb Two gentle sisters mourn their desolation; And in the silence of that expectation Was heard on high the reptiles' hiss and crawl-- It was so deep, save when the devastation Of the swift pest with fearful interval, Marking its path with shrieks, among the crowd would fall. XLIV Morn came.--Among those sleepless multitudes, Madness, and Fear, and Plague, and Famine, still Heaped corpse on corpse, as in autumnal woods The frosts of many a wind with dead leaves fill Earth's cold and sullen brooks; in silence still, The pale survivors stood; ere noon the fear Of Hell became a panic, which did kill Like hunger or disease, with whispers drear, As 'Hush! hark! come they yet?--Just Heaven, thine hour is near!' XLV And Priests rushed through their ranks, some counterfeiting The rage they did inspire, some mad indeed With their own lies. They said their god was waiting To see his enemies writhe, and burn, and bleed,-- And that, till then, the snakes of Hell had need Of human souls; three hundred furnaces Soon blazed through the wide City, where, with speed, Men brought their infidel kindred to appease God's wrath, and, while they burned, knelt round on quivering knees. XLVI The noontide sun was darkened with that smoke; The winds of eve dispersed those ashes gray. The madness, which these rites had lulled, awoke Again at sunset. Who shall dare to say The deeds which night and fear brought forth, or weigh In balance just the good and evil there? He might man's deep and searchless heart display, And cast a light on those dim labyrinths where Hope near imagined chasm is struggling with despair. XLVII 'T is said a mother dragged three children then To those fierce flames which roast the eyes in the head, And laughed, and died; and that unholy men, Feasting like fiends upon the infidel dead, Looked from their meal, and saw an angel tread The visible floor of Heaven, and it was she! And, on that night, one without doubt or dread Came to the fire, and said, 'Stop, I am he! Kill me!'--They burned them both with hellish mockery. XLVIII And, one by one, that night, young maidens came, Beauteous and calm, like shapes of living stone Clothed in the light of dreams, and by the flame, Which shrank as overgorged, they laid them down, And sung a low sweet song, of which alone One word was heard, and that was Liberty; And that some kissed their marble feet, with moan Like love, and died, and then that they did die With happy smiles, which sunk in white tranquillity.