The Revolt of Islam. A Poem in Twelve Cantos.
I THE transport of a fierce and monstrous gladness Spread through the multitudinous streets, fast flying Upon the winds of fear; from his dull madness The starveling waked, and died in joy; the dying, Among the corpses in stark agony lying, Just heard the happy tidings, and in hope Closed their faint eyes; from house to house replying With loud acclaim, the living shook Heaven's cope, And filled the startled Earth with echoes. Morn did ope II Its pale eyes then; and lo! the long array Of guards in golden arms, and Priests beside, Singing their bloody hymns, whose garbs betray The blackness of the faith it seems to hide; And see the Tyrant's gem-wrought chariot glide Among the gloomy cowls and glittering spears-- A Shape of light is sitting by his side, A child most beautiful. I' the midst appears Laon--exempt alone from mortal hopes and fears. III His head and feet are bare, his hands are bound Behind with heavy chains, yet none do wreak Their scoffs on him, though myriads throng around; There are no sneers upon his lip which speak That scorn or hate has made him bold; his cheek Resolve has not turned pale; his eyes are mild And calm, and, like the morn about to break, Smile on mankind; his heart seems reconciled To all things and itself, like a reposing child. IV Tumult was in the soul of all beside, Ill joy, or doubt, or fear; but those who saw Their tranquil victim pass felt wonder glide Into their brain, and became calm with awe.-- See, the slow pageant near the pile doth draw. A thousand torches in the spacious square, Borne by the ready slaves of ruthless law, Await the signal round; the morning fair Is changed to a dim night by that unnatural glare. V And see! beneath a sun-bright canopy, Upon a platform level with the pile, The anxious Tyrant sit, enthroned on high, Girt by the chieftains of the host; all smile In expectation but one child: the while I, Laon, led by mutes, ascend my bier Of fire, and look around;--each distant isle Is dark in the bright dawn; towers far and near Pierce like reposing flames the tremulous atmosphere. VI There was such silence through the host as when An earthquake, trampling on some populous town, Has crushed ten thousand with one tread, and men Expect the second; all were mute but one, That fairest child, who, bold with love, alone Stood up before the king, without avail, Pleading for Laon's life--her stifled groan Was heard--she trembled like one aspen pale Among the gloomy pines of a Norwegian vale. VII What were his thoughts linked in the morning sun, Among those reptiles, stingless with delay, Even like a tyrant's wrath?--the signal-gun Roared--hark, again! in that dread pause he lay As in a quiet dream--the slaves obey-- A thousand torches drop,--and hark, the last Bursts on that awful silence; far away Millions, with hearts that beat both loud and fast, Watch for the springing flame expectant and aghast. VIII They fly--the torches fall--a cry of fear Has startled the triumphant!--they recede! For, ere the cannon's roar has died, they hear The tramp of hoofs like earthquake, and a steed Dark and gigantic, with the tempest's speed, Bursts through their ranks; a woman sits thereon, Fairer it seems than aught that earth can breed, Calm, radiant, like the phantom of the dawn, A spirit from the caves of daylight wandering gone. IX All thought it was God's Angel come to sweep The lingering guilty to their fiery grave; The Tyrant from his throne in dread did leap,-- Her innocence his child from fear did save; Scared by the faith they feigned, each priestly slave Knelt for His mercy whom they served with blood, And, like the refluence of a mighty wave Sucked into the loud sea, the multitude With crushing panic fled in terror's altered mood. X They pause, they blush, they gaze; a gathering shout Bursts like one sound from the ten thousand streams Of a tempestuous sea; that sudden rout One checked who never in his mildest dreams Felt awe from grace or loveliness, the seams Of his rent heart so hard and cold a creed Had seared with blistering ice; but he misdeems That he is wise whose wounds do only bleed Inly for self,--thus thought the Iberian Priest indeed, XI And others, too, thought he was wise to see In pain, and fear, and hate, something divine-- In love and beauty, no divinity. Now with a bitter smile, whose light did shine Like a fiend's hope upon his lips and eyne, He said, and the persuasion of that sneer Rallied his trembling comrades--'Is it mine To stand alone, when kings and soldiers fear A woman? Heaven has sent its other victim here.' XII 'Were it not impious,' said the King, 'to break Our holy oath?'--'Impious to keep it, say!' Shrieked the exulting Priest:--'Slaves, to the stake Bind her, and on my head the burden lay Of her just torments; at the Judgment Day Will I stand up before the golden throne Of Heaven, and cry,--"To Thee did I betray An infidel! but for me she would have known Another moment's joy!" the glory be thine own.' XIII They trembled, but replied not, nor obeyed, Pausing in breathless silence. Cythna sprung From her gigantic steed, who, like a shade Chased by the winds, those vacant streets among Fled tameless, as the brazen rein she flung Upon his neck, and kissed his moonèd brow. A piteous sight, that one so fair and young The clasp of such a fearful death should woo With smiles of tender joy as beamed from Cythna now. XIV The warm tears burst in spite of faith and fear From many a tremulous eye, but, like soft dews Which feed spring's earliest buds, hung gathered there, Frozen by doubt,--alas! they could not choose But weep; for, when her faint limbs did refuse To climb the pyre, upon the mutes she smiled; And with her eloquent gestures, and the hues Of her quick lips, even as a weary child Wins sleep from some fond nurse with its caresses mild, XV She won them, though unwilling, her to bind Near me, among the snakes. When then had fled One soft reproach that was most thrilling kind, She smiled on me, and nothing then we said, But each upon the other's countenance fed Looks of insatiate love; the mighty veil Which doth divide the living and the dead Was almost rent, the world grew dim and pale-- All light in Heaven or Earth beside our love did fail. XVI Yet--yet--one brief relapse, like the last beam Of dying flames, the stainless air around Hung silent and serene--a blood-red gleam Burst upwards, hurling fiercely from the ground The globèd smoke; I heard the mighty sound Of its uprise, like a tempestuous ocean; And, through its chasms I saw, as in a swound, The Tyrant's child fall without life or motion Before his throne, subdued by some unseen emotion.-- XVII And is this death?--The pyre has disappeared, The Pestilence, the Tyrant, and the throng; The flames grow silent--slowly there is heard The music of a breath-suspending song, Which, like the kiss of love when life is young, Steeps the faint eyes in darkness sweet and deep; With ever-changing notes it floats along, Till on my passive soul there seemed to creep A melody, like waves on wrinkled sands that leap. XVIII The warm touch of a soft and tremulous hand Wakened me then; lo, Cythna sate reclined Beside me, on the waved and golden sand Of a clear pool, upon a bank o'ertwined With strange and star-bright flowers which to the wind Breathed divine odor; high above was spread The emerald heaven of trees of unknown kind, Whose moonlike blooms and bright fruit overhead A shadow, which was light, upon the waters shed. XIX And round about sloped many a lawny mountain With incense-bearing forests and vast caves Of marble radiance, to that mighty fountain; And, where the flood its own bright margin laves, Their echoes talk with its eternal waves, Which from the depths whose jagged caverns breed Their unreposing strife it lifts and heaves, Till through a chasm of hills they roll, and feed A river deep, which flies with smooth but arrowy speed. XX As we sate gazing in a trance of wonder, A boat approached, borne by the musical air Along the waves which sung and sparkled under Its rapid keel. A wingèd Shape sate there, A child with silver-shining wings, so fair That, as her bark did through the waters glide, The shadow of the lingering waves did wear Light, as from starry beams; from side to side While veering to the wind her plumes the bark did guide. XXI The boat was one curved shell of hollow pearl, Almost translucent with the light divine Of her within; the prow and stern did curl, Hornèd on high, like the young moon supine, When o'er dim twilight mountains dark with pine It floats upon the sunset's sea of beams, Whose golden waves in many a purple line Fade fast, till, borne on sunlight's ebbing streams, Dilating, on earth's verge the sunken meteor gleams. XXII Its keel has struck the sands beside our feet. Then Cythna turned to me, and from her eyes, Which swam with unshed tears, a look more sweet Than happy love, a wild and glad surprise, Glanced as she spake: 'Ay, this is Paradise And not a dream, and we are all united! Lo, that is mine own child, who in the guise Of madness came, like day to one benighted In lonesome woods; my heart is now too well requited!' XXIII And then she wept aloud, and in her arms Clasped that bright Shape, less marvellously fair Than her own human hues and living charms, Which, as she leaned in passion's silence there, Breathed warmth on the cold bosom of the air, Which seemed to blush and tremble with delight; The glossy darkness of her streaming hair Fell o'er that snowy child, and wrapped from sight The fond and long embrace which did their hearts unite. XXIV Then the bright child, the plumèd Seraph, came, And fixed its blue and beaming eyes on mine, And said, 'I was disturbed by tremulous shame When once we met, yet knew that I was thine From the same hour in which thy lips divine Kindled a clinging dream within my brain, Which ever waked when I might sleep, to twine Thine image with her memory dear; again We meet, exempted now from mortal fear or pain. XXV 'When the consuming flames had wrapped ye round, The hope which I had cherished went away; I fell in agony on the senseless ground, And hid mine eyes in dust, and far astray My mind was gone, when bright, like dawning day, The Spectre of the Plague before me flew, And breathed upon my lips, and seemed to say, "They wait for thee, belovèd!"--then I knew The death-mark on my breast, and became calm anew. XXVI 'It was the calm of love--for I was dying. I saw the black and half-extinguished pyre In its own gray and shrunken ashes lying; The pitchy smoke of the departed fire Still hung in many a hollow dome and spire Above the towers, like night,--beneath whose shade, Awed by the ending of their own desire, The armies stood; a vacancy was made In expectation's depth, and so they stood dismayed. XXVII 'The frightful silence of that altered mood The tortures of the dying clove alone, Till one uprose among the multitude, And said--"The flood of time is rolling on; We stand upon its brink, whilst they are gone To glide in peace down death's mysterious stream. Have ye done well? they moulder, flesh and bone, Who might have made this life's envenomed dream A sweeter draught than ye will ever taste, I deem. XXVIII '"These perish as the good and great of yore Have perished, and their murderers will repent; Yes, vain and barren tears shall flow before Yon smoke has faded from the firmament, Even for this cause, that ye, who must lament The death of those that made this world so fair, Cannot recall them now; but then is lent To man the wisdom of a high despair, When such can die, and he live on and linger here. XXIX '"Ay, ye may fear not now the Pestilence, From fabled hell as by a charm withdrawn; All power and faith must pass, since calmly hence In pain and fire have unbelievers gone; And ye must sadly turn away, and moan In secret, to his home each one returning; And to long ages shall this hour be known, And slowly shall its memory, ever burning, Fill this dark night of things with an eternal morning. XXX '"For me that world is grown too void and cold, Since hope pursues immortal destiny With steps thus slow--therefore shall ye behold How those who love, yet fear not, dare to die; Tell to your children this!" then suddenly He sheathed a dagger in his heart, and fell; My brain grew dark in death, and yet to me There came a murmur from the crowd to tell Of deep and mighty change which suddenly befell. XXXI 'Then suddenly I stood, a wingèd Thought, Before the immortal Senate, and the seat Of that star-shining Spirit, whence is wrought The strength of its dominion, good and great, The Better Genius of this world's estate. His realm around one mighty Fane is spread, Elysian islands bright and fortunate, Calm dwellings of the free and happy dead, Where I am sent to lead!' These wingèd words she said, XXXII And with the silence of her eloquent smile, Bade us embark in her divine canoe; Then at the helm we took our seat, the while Above her head those plumes of dazzling hue Into the winds' invisible stream she threw, Sitting beside the prow; like gossamer On the swift breath of morn the vessel flew O'er the bright whirlpools of that fountain fair, Whose shores receded fast while we seemed lingering there; XXXIII Till down that mighty stream dark, calm and fleet, Between a chasm of cedarn mountains riven, Chased by the thronging winds whose viewless feet, As swift as twinkling beams, had under Heaven From woods and waves wild sounds and odors driven, The boat fled visibly; three nights and days, Borne like a cloud through morn, and noon, and even, We sailed along the winding watery ways Of the vast stream, a long and labyrinthine maze. XXXIV A scene of joy and wonder to behold,-- That river's shapes and shadows changing ever, Where the broad sunrise filled with deepening gold Its whirlpools where all hues did spread and quiver; And where melodious falls did burst and shiver Among rocks clad with flowers, the foam and spray Sparkled like stars upon the sunny river; Or, when the moonlight poured a holier day, One vast and glittering lake around green islands lay. XXXV Morn, noon and even, that boat of pearl outran The streams which bore it, like the arrowy cloud Of tempest, or the speedier thought of man, Which flieth forth and cannot make abode; Sometimes through forests, deep like night, we glode, Between the walls of mighty mountains crowned With Cyclopean piles, whose turrets proud, The homes of the departed, dimly frowned O'er the bright waves which girt their dark foundations round. XXXVI Sometimes between the wide and flowering meadows Mile after mile we sailed, and 't was delight To see far off the sunbeams chase the shadows Over the grass; sometimes beneath the night Of wide and vaulted caves, whose roofs were bright With starry gems, we fled, whilst from their deep And dark green chasms shades beautiful and white, Amid sweet sounds across our path would sweep, Like swift and lovely dreams that walk the waves of sleep. XXXVII And ever as we sailed, our minds were full Of love and wisdom, which would overflow In converse wild, and sweet, and wonderful; And in quick smiles whose light would come and go, Like music o'er wide waves, and in the flow Of sudden tears, and in the mute caress; For a deep shade was cleft, and we did know, That virtue, though obscured on Earth, not less Survives all mortal change in lasting loveliness. XXXVIII Three days and nights we sailed, as thought and feeling Number delightful hours--for through the sky The spherèd lamps of day and night, revealing New changes and new glories, rolled on high, Sun, Moon and moonlike lamps, the progeny Of a diviner Heaven, serene and fair; On the fourth day, wild as a wind-wrought sea The stream became, and fast and faster bare The spirit-wingèd boat, steadily speeding there. XXXIX Steady and swift, where the waves rolled like mountains Within the vast ravine, whose rifts did pour Tumultuous floods from their ten thousand fountains, The thunder of whose earth-uplifting roar Made the air sweep in whirlwinds from the shore, Calm as a shade, the boat of that fair child Securely fled that rapid stress before, Amid the topmost spray and sunbows wild Wreathed in the silver mist; in joy and pride we smiled. XL The torrent of that wide and raging river Is passed, and our aërial speed suspended. We look behind; a golden mist did quiver When its wild surges with the lake were blended; Our bark hung there, as on a line suspended Between two heavens,--that windless, waveless lake, Which four great cataracts from four vales, attended By mists, aye feed; from rocks and clouds they break, And of that azure sea a silent refuge make. XLI Motionless resting on the lake awhile, I saw its marge of snow-bright mountains rear Their peaks aloft; I saw each radiant isle; And in the midst, afar, even like a sphere Hung in one hollow sky, did there appear The Temple of the Spirit; on the sound Which issued thence drawn nearer and more near Like the swift moon this glorious earth around, The charmèd boat approached, and there its haven found.