Queen Mab: Part III.

written by

« Reload image

'Fairy!' the Spirit said,
  And on the Queen of Spells
  Fixed her ethereal eyes,
 'I thank thee. Thou hast given
  A boon which I will not resign, and taught
  A lesson not to be unlearned. I know
  The past, and thence I will essay to glean
  A warning for the future, so that man
  May profit by his errors and derive
  Experience from his folly;
  For, when the power of imparting joy
  Is equal to the will, the human soul
  Requires no other heaven.'

 'Turn thee, surpassing Spirit!
  Much yet remains unscanned.
  Thou knowest how great is man,
  Thou knowest his imbecility;
  Yet learn thou what he is;
  Yet learn the lofty destiny
  Which restless Time prepares
  For every living soul.

  'Behold a gorgeous palace that amid
  Yon populous city rears its thousand towers
  And seems itself a city. Gloomy troops
  Of sentinels in stern and silent ranks
  Encompass it around; the dweller there
  Cannot be free and happy; hearest thou not
  The curses of the fatherless, the groans
  Of those who have no friend? He passes on-
  The King, the wearer of a gilded chain
  That binds his soul to abjectness, the fool
  Whom courtiers nickname monarch, whilst a slave
  Even to the basest appetites-that man
  Heeds not the shriek of penury; he smiles
  At the deep curses which the destitute
  Mutter in secret, and a sullen joy
  Pervades his bloodless heart when thousands groan
  But for those morsels which his wantonness
  Wastes in unjoyous revelry, to save
  All that they love from famine; when he hears
  The tale of horror, to some ready-made face
  Of hypocritical assent he turns,
  Smothering the glow of shame, that, spite of him,
  Flushes his bloated cheek.

  Now to the meal
  Of silence, grandeur and excess he drags
  His palled unwilling appetite. If gold,
  Gleaming around, and numerous viands culled
  From every clime could force the loathing sense
  To overcome satiety,-if wealth
  The spring it draws from poisons not,-or vice,
  Unfeeling, stubborn vice, converteth not
  Its food to deadliest venom; then that king
  Is happy; and the peasant who fulfils
  His unforced task, when he returns at even
  And by the blazing fagot meets again
  Her welcome for whom all his toil is sped,
  Tastes not a sweeter meal.

  Behold him now
  Stretched on the gorgeous couch; his fevered brain
  Reels dizzily awhile; but ah! too soon
  The slumber of intemperance subsides,
  And conscience, that undying serpent, calls
  Her venomous brood to their nocturnal task.
  Listen! he speaks! oh! mark that frenzied eye-
  Oh! mark that deadly visage!'

 'No cessation!
  Oh! must this last forever! Awful death,
  I wish, yet fear to clasp thee!-Not one moment
  Of dreamless sleep! O dear and blessèd Peace,
  Why dost thou shroud thy vestal purity
  In penury and dungeons? Wherefore lurkest
  With danger, death, and solitude; yet shun'st
  The palace I have built thee? Sacred Peace!
  Oh, visit me but once,-but pitying shed
  One drop of balm upon my withered soul!'

  'Vain man! that palace is the virtuous heart,
  And Peace defileth not her snowy robes
  In such a shed as thine. Hark! yet he mutters;
  His slumbers are but varied agonies;
  They prey like scorpions on the springs of life.
  There needeth not the hell that bigots frame
  To punish those who err; earth in itself
  Contains at once the evil and the cure;
  And all-sufficing Nature can chastise
  Those who transgress her law; she only knows
  How justly to proportion to the fault
  The punishment it merits.

 Is it strange
  That this poor wretch should pride him in his woe?
  Take pleasure in his abjectness, and hug
  The scorpion that consumes him? Is it strange
  That, placed on a conspicuous throne of thorns,
  Grasping an iron sceptre, and immured
  Within a splendid prison whose stern bounds
  Shut him from all that's good or dear on earth,
  His soul asserts not its humanity?
  That man's mild nature rises not in war
  Against a king's employ? No-'tis not strange.
  He, like the vulgar, thinks, feels, acts, and lives
  Just as his father did; the unconquered powers
  Of precedent and custom interpose
  Between a king and virtue. Stranger yet,
  To those who know not Nature nor deduce
  The future from the present, it may seem,
  That not one slave, who suffers from the crimes
  Of this unnatural being, not one wretch,
  Whose children famish and whose nuptial bed
  Is earth's unpitying bosom, rears an arm
  To dash him from his throne!

  Those gilded flies
  That, basking in the sunshine of a court,
  Fatten on its corruption! what are they?-
  The drones of the community; they feed
  On the mechanic's labor; the starved hind
  For them compels the stubborn glebe to yield
  Its unshared harvests; and yon squalid form,
  Leaner than fleshless misery, that wastes
  A sunless life in the unwholesome mine,
  Drags out in labor a protracted death
  To glut their grandeur; many faint with toil
  That few may know the cares and woe of sloth.

  Whence, thinkest thou, kings and parasites arose?
  Whence that unnatural line of drones who heap
  Toil and unvanquishable penury
  On those who build their palaces and bring
  Their daily bread?-From vice, black loathsome vice;
  From rapine, madness, treachery, and wrong;
  From all that genders misery, and makes
  Of earth this thorny wilderness; from lust,
  Revenge, and murder.-And when reason's voice,
  Loud as the voice of Nature, shall have waked
  The nations; and mankind perceive that vice
  Is discord, war and misery; that virtue
  Is peace and happiness and harmony;
  When man's maturer nature shall disdain
  The playthings of its childhood;-kingly glare
  Will lose its power to dazzle, its authority
  Will silently pass by; the gorgeous throne
  Shall stand unnoticed in the regal hall,
  Fast falling to decay; whilst falsehood's trade
  Shall be as hateful and unprofitable
  As that of truth is now.

  Where is the fame
  Which the vain-glorious mighty of the earth
  Seek to eternize? Oh! the faintest sound
  From time's light footfall, the minutest wave
  That swells the flood of ages, whelms in nothing
  The unsubstantial bubble. Ay! to-day
  Stern is the tyrant's mandate, red the gaze
  That flashes desolation, strong the arm
  That scatters multitudes. To-morrow comes!
  That mandate is a thunder-peal that died
  In ages past; that gaze, a transient flash
  On which the midnight closed; and on that arm
  The worm has made his meal.

 The virtuous man,
  Who, great in his humility as kings
  Are little in their grandeur; he who leads
  Invincibly a life of resolute good
  And stands amid the silent dungeon-depths
  More free and fearless than the trembling judge
  Who, clothed in venal power, vainly strove
  To bind the impassive spirit;-when he falls,
  His mild eye beams benevolence no more;
  Withered the hand outstretched but to relieve;
  Sunk reason's simple eloquence that rolled
  But to appall the guilty. Yes! the grave
  Hath quenched that eye and death's relentless frost
  Withered that arm; but the unfading fame
  Which virtue hangs upon its votary's tomb,
  The deathless memory of that man whom kings
  Call to their minds and tremble, the remembrance
  With which the happy spirit contemplates
  Its well-spent pilgrimage on earth,
  Shall never pass away.

  'Nature rejects the monarch, not the man;
  The subject, not the citizen; for kings
  And subjects, mutual foes, forever play
  A losing game into each other's hands,
  Whose stakes are vice and misery. The man
  Of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys.
  Power, like a desolating pestilence,
  Pollutes whate'er it touches; and obedience,
  Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
  Makes slaves of men, and of the human frame
  A mechanized automaton.

 When Nero
  High over flaming Rome with savage joy
  Lowered like a fiend, drank with enraptured ear
  The shrieks of agonizing death, beheld
  The frightful desolation spread, and felt
  A new-created sense within his soul
  Thrill to the sight and vibrate to the sound,-
  Thinkest thou his grandeur had not overcome
  The force of human kindness? And when Rome
  With one stern blow hurled not the tyrant down,
  Crushed not the arm red with her dearest blood,
  Had not submissive abjectness destroyed
  Nature's suggestions?

 Look on yonder earth:
  The golden harvests spring; the unfailing sun
  Sheds light and life; the fruits, the flowers, the trees,
  Arise in due succession; all things speak
  Peace, harmony and love. The universe,
  In Nature's silent eloquence, declares
  That all fulfil the works of love and joy,-
  All but the outcast, Man. He fabricates
  The sword which stabs his peace; he cherisheth
  The snakes that gnaw his heart; he raiseth up
  The tyrant whose delight is in his woe,
  Whose sport is in his agony. Yon sun,
  Lights it the great alone? Yon silver beams,
  Sleep they less sweetly on the cottage thatch
  Than on the dome of kings? Is mother earth
  A step-dame to her numerous sons who earn
  Her unshared gifts with unremitting toil;
  A mother only to those puling babes
  Who, nursed in ease and luxury, make men
  The playthings of their babyhood and mar
  In self-important childishness that peace
  Which men alone appreciate?

 'Spirit of Nature, no!
  The pure diffusion of thy essence throbs
  Alike in every human heart.
  Thou aye erectest there
  Thy throne of power unappealable;
  Thou art the judge beneath whose nod
  Man's brief and frail authority
  Is powerless as the wind
  That passeth idly by;
  Thine the tribunal which surpasseth
  The show of human justice
  As God surpasses man!

 'Spirit of Nature! thou
  Life of interminable multitudes;
  Soul of those mighty spheres
  Whose changeless paths through Heaven's deep silence lie;
  Soul of that smallest being,
  The dwelling of whose life
  Is one faint April sun-gleam;-
  Man, like these passive things,
  Thy will unconsciously fulfilleth;
  Like theirs, his age of endless peace,
  Which time is fast maturing,
  Will swiftly, surely, come;
  And the unbounded frame which thou pervadest,
  Will be without a flaw
  Marring its perfect symmetry!

© Percy Bysshe Shelley