by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Canto 1
Canto 3

Canto 2

 The starlight smile of children, the sweet looks Of women, the fair breast from which I fed, The murmur of the unreposing brooks, And the green light which, shifting overhead, Some tangled bower of vines around me shed, The shells on the sea-sand, and the wild flowers, The lamp-light through the rafters cheerly spread, And on the twining flax-in life's young hours These sights and sounds did nurse my spirit's folded powers. 
 In Argolis, beside the echoing sea, Such impulses within my mortal frame Arose, and they were dear to memory, Like tokens of the dead:-but others came Soon, in another shape: the wondrous fame Of the past world, the vital words and deeds Of minds whom neither time nor change can tame, Traditions dark and old, whence evil creeds Start forth, and whose dim shade a stream of poison feeds. 
 I heard, as all have heard, the various story Of human life, and wept unwilling tears. Feeble historians of its shame and glory, False disputants on all its hopes and fears, Victims who worshipped ruin, chroniclers Of daily scorn, and slaves who loathed their state Yet, flattering power, had given its ministers A throne of judgement in the grave:-'twas fate, That among such as these my youth should seek its mate. 
 The land in which I lived, by a fell bane Was withered up. Tyrants dwelt side by side, And stabled in our homes,-until the chain Stifled the captive's cry, and to abide That blasting curse men had no shame-all vied In evil, slave and despot; fear with lust Strange fellowship through mutual hate had tied, Like two dark serpents tangled in the dust, Which on the paths of men their mingling poison thrust. 
 Earth, our bright home, its mountains and its waters, And the ethereal shapes which are suspended Over its green expanse, and those fair daughters, The clouds, of Sun and Ocean, who have blended The colours of the air since first extended It cradled the young world, none wandered forth To see or feel; a darkness had descended On every heart; the light which shows its worth, Must among gentle thoughts and fearless take its birth. 
 This vital world, this home of happy spirits, Was as a dungeon to my blasted kind; All that despair from murdered hope inherits They sought, and in their helpless misery blind, A deeper prison and heavier chains did find, And stronger tyrants:-a dark gulf before, The realm of a stern Ruler, yawned; behind, Terror and Time conflicting drove, and bore On their tempestuous flood the shrieking wretch from shore. 
 Out of that Ocean's wrecks had Guilt and Woe Framed a dark dwelling for their homeless thought, And, starting at the ghosts which to and fro Glide o'er its dim and gloomy strand, had brought The worship thence which they each other taught. Well might men loathe their life, well might they turn Even to the ills again from which they sought Such refuge after death!-well might they learn To gaze on this fair world with hopeless unconcern! 
 For they all pined in bondage; body and soul, Tyrant and slave, victim and torturer, bent Before one Power, to which supreme control Over their will by their own weakness lent, Made all its many names omnipotent; All symbols of things evil, all divine; And hymns of blood or mockery, which rent The air from all its fanes, did intertwine Imposture's impious toils round each discordant shrine. 
 I heard, as all have heard, life's various story, And in no careless heart transcribed the tale; But, from the sneers of men who had grown hoary In shame and scorn, from groans of crowds made pale By famine, from a mother's desolate wail O'er her polluted child, from innocent blood Poured on the earth, and brows anxious and pale With the heart's warfare, did I gather food To feed my many thoughts-a tameless multitude! 
 I wandered through the wrecks of days departed Far by the desolated shore, when even O'er the still sea and jagged islets darted The light of moonrise; in the northern Heaven, Among the clouds near the horizon driven, The mountains lay beneath one planet pale; Around me, broken tombs and columns riven Looked vast in twilight, and the sorrowing gale Waked in those ruins gray its everlasting wail! 
 I knew not who had framed these wonders then, Nor had I heard the story of their deeds; But dwellings of a race of mightier men, And monuments of less ungentle creeds Tell their own tale to him who wisely heeds The language which they speak; and now, to me The moonlight making pale the blooming weeds, The bright stars shining in the breathless sea, Interpreted those scrolls of mortal mystery. 
 Such man has been, and such may yet become! Ay, wiser, greater, gentler even than they Who on the fragments of yon shattered dome Have stamped the sign of power-I felt the sway Of the vast stream of ages bear away My floating thoughts-my heart beat loud and fast- Even as a storm let loose beneath the ray Of the still moon, my spirit onward passed Beneath truth's steady beams upon its tumult cast. 
 It shall be thus no more! too long, too long, Sons of the glorious dead, have ye lain bound In darkness and in ruin!-Hope is strong, Justice and Truth their winged child have found- Awake! arise! until the mighty sound Of your career shall scatter in its gust The thrones of the oppressor, and the ground Hide the last altar's unregarded dust, Whose Idol has so long betrayed your impious trust! 
 It must be so-I will arise and waken The multitude, and like a sulphurous hill, Which on a sudden from its snows has shaken The swoon of ages, it shall burst and fill The world with cleansing fire; it must, it will- It may not be restrained!-and who shall stand Amid the rocking earthquake steadfast still, But Laon? on high Freedom's desert land A tower whose marble walls the leagued storms withstand! 
 One summer night, in commune with the hope Thus deeply fed, amid those ruins gray I watched, beneath the dark sky's starry cope; And ever from that hour upon me lay The burden of this hope, and night or day, In vision or in dream, clove to my breast: Among mankind, or when gone far away To the lone shores and mountains, 'twas a guest Which followed where I fled, and watched when I did rest. 
 These hopes found words through which my spirit sought To weave a bondage of such sympathy, As might create some response to the thought Which ruled me now-and as the vapours lie Bright in the outspread morning's radiancy, So were these thoughts invested with the light Of language: and all bosoms made reply On which its lustre streamed, whene'er it might Through darkness wide and deep those tranced spirits smite. 
 Yes, many an eye with dizzy tears was dim, And oft I thought to clasp my own heart's brother, When I could feel the listener's senses swim, And hear his breath its own swift gaspings smother Even as my words evoked them-and another, And yet another, I did fondly deem, Felt that we all were sons of one great mother; And the cold truth such sad reverse did seem As to awake in grief from some delightful dream. 
 Yes, oft beside the ruined labyrinth Which skirts the hoary caves of the green deep, Did Laon and his friend, on one gray plinth, Round whose worn base the wild waves hiss and leap, Resting at eve, a lofty converse keep: And that this friend was false, may now be said Calmly-that he like other men could weep Tears which are lies, and could betray and spread Snares for that guileless heart which for his own had bled. 
 Then, had no great aim recompensed my sorrow, I must have sought dark respite from its stress In dreamless rest, in sleep that sees no morrow- For to tread life's dismaying wilderness Without one smile to cheer, one voice to bless, Amid the snares and scoffs of human kind, Is hard-but I betrayed it not, nor less With love that scorned return sought to unbind The interwoven clouds which make its wisdom blind. 
 With deathless minds which leave where they have passed A path of light, my soul communion knew; Till from that glorious intercourse, at last, As from a mine of magic store, I drew Words which were weapons;-round my heart there grew The adamantine armour of their power; And from my fancy wings of golden hue Sprang forth-yet not alone from wisdom's tower, A minister of truth, these plumes young Laon bore. 
 An orphan with my parents lived, whose eyes Were lodestars of delight, which drew me home When I might wander forth; nor did I prize Aught human thing beneath Heaven's mighty dome Beyond this child; so when sad hours were come, And baffled hope like ice still clung to me, Since kin were cold, and friends had now become Heartless and false, I turned from all, to be, Cythna, the only source of tears and smiles to thee. 
 What wert thou then? A child most infantine, Yet wandering far beyond that innocent age In all but its sweet looks and mien divine; Even then, methought, with the world's tyrant rage A patient warfare thy young heart did wage, When those soft eyes of scarcely conscious thought Some tale, or thine own fancies, would engage To overflow with tears, or converse fraught With passion, o'er their depths its fleeting light had wrought. 
 She moved upon this earth a shape of brightness, A power, that from its objects scarcely drew One impulse of her being-in her lightness Most like some radiant cloud of morning dew, Which wanders through the waste air's pathless blue, To nourish some far desert; she did seem Beside me, gathering beauty as she grew, Like the bright shade of some immortal dream Which walks, when tempest sleeps, the wave of life's dark stream. 
 As mine own shadow was this child to me, A second self, far dearer and more fair; Which clothed in undissolving radiancy All those steep paths which languor and despair Of human things, had made so dark and bare, But which I trod alone-nor, till bereft Of friends, and overcome by lonely care, Knew I what solace for that loss was left, Though by a bitter wound my trusting heart was cleft. 
 Once she was dear, now she was all I had To love in human life-this playmate sweet, This child of twelve years old-so she was made My sole associate, and her willing feet Wandered with mine where earth and ocean meet, Beyond the aereal mountains whose vast cells The unreposing billows ever beat, Through forests wild and old, and lawny dells Where boughs of incense droop over the emerald wells. 
 And warm and light I felt her clasping hand When twined in mine; she followed where I went, Through the lone paths of our immortal land. It had no waste but some memorial lent Which strung me to my toil-some monument Vital with mind; then Cythna by my side, Until the bright and beaming day were spent, Would rest, with looks entreating to abide, Too earnest and too sweet ever to be denied. 
 And soon I could not have refused her-thus For ever, day and night, we two were ne'er Parted, but when brief sleep divided us: And when the pauses of the lulling air Of noon beside the sea had made a lair For her soothed senses, in my arms she slept, And I kept watch over her slumbers there, While, as the shifting visions over her swept, Amid her innocent rest by turns she smiled and wept. 
 And, in the murmur of her dreams was heard Sometimes the name of Laon:-suddenly She would arise, and, like the secret bird Whom sunset wakens, fill the shore and sky With her sweet accents, a wild melody! Hymns which my soul had woven to Freedom, strong The source of passion, whence they rose, to be; Triumphant strains, which, like a spirit's tongue, To the enchanted waves that child of glory sung- 
 Her white arms lifted through the shadowy stream Of her loose hair. Oh, excellently great Seemed to me then my purpose, the vast theme Of those impassioned songs, when Cythna sate Amid the calm which rapture doth create After its tumult, her heart vibrating, Her spirit o'er the Ocean's floating state From her deep eyes far wandering, on the wing Of visions that were mine, beyond its utmost spring! 
 For, before Cythna loved it, had my song Peopled with thoughts the boundless universe, A mighty congregation, which were strong Where'er they trod the darkness to disperse The cloud of that unutterable curse Which clings upon mankind:-all things became Slaves to my holy and heroic verse, Earth, sea and sky, the planets, life and fame And fate, or whate'er else binds the world's wondrous frame. 
 And this beloved child thus felt the sway Of my conceptions, gathering like a cloud The very wind on which it rolls away: Hers too were all my thoughts, ere yet, endowed With music and with light, their fountains flowed In poesy; and her still and earnest face, Pallid with feelings which intensely glowed Within, was turned on mine with speechless grace, Watching the hopes which there her heart had learned to trace. 
 In me, communion with this purest being Kindled intenser zeal, and made me wise In knowledge, which, in hers mine own mind seeing, Left in the human world few mysteries: How without fear of evil or disguise Was Cythna!-what a spirit strong and mild, Which death, or pain or peril could despise, Yet melt in tenderness! what genius wild Yet mighty, was enclosed within one simple child! 
 New lore was this-old age with its gray hair, And wrinkled legends of unworthy things, And icy sneers, is nought: it cannot dare To burst the chains which life for ever flings On the entangled soul's aspiring wings, So is it cold and cruel, and is made The careless slave of that dark power which brings Evil, like blight, on man, who, still betrayed, Laughs o'er the grave in which his living hopes are laid. 
 Nor are the strong and the severe to keep The empire of the world: thus Cythna taught Even in the visions of her eloquent sleep, Unconscious of the power through which she wrought The woof of such intelligible thought, As from the tranquil strength which cradled lay In her smile-peopled rest, my spirit sought Why the deceiver and the slave has sway O'er heralds so divine of truth's arising day. 
 Within that fairest form, the female mind, Untainted by the poison clouds which rest On the dark world, a sacred home did find: But else, from the wide earth's maternal breast, Victorious Evil, which had dispossessed All native power, had those fair children torn, And made them slaves to soothe his vile unrest, And minister to lust its joys forlorn, Till they had learned to breathe the atmosphere of scorn. 
 This misery was but coldly felt, till she Became my only friend, who had endued My purpose with a wider sympathy; Thus, Cythna mourned with me the servitude In which the half of humankind were mewed Victims of lust and hate, the slaves of slaves, She mourned that grace and power were thrown as food To the hyena lust, who, among graves, Over his loathed meal, laughing in agony, raves. 
 And I, still gazing on that glorious child, Even as these thoughts flushed o'er her:-'Cythna sweet, Well with the world art thou unreconciled; Never will peace and human nature meet Till free and equal man and woman greet Domestic peace; and ere this power can make In human hearts its calm and holy seat, This slavery must be broken'-as I spake, From Cythna's eyes a light of exultation brake. 
 She replied earnestly:-'It shall be mine, This task,-mine, Laon!-thou hast much to gain; Nor wilt thou at poor Cythna's pride repine, If she should lead a happy female train To meet thee over the rejoicing plain, When myriads at thy call shall throng around The Golden City.'-Then the child did strain My arm upon her tremulous heart, and wound Her own about my neck, till some reply she found. 
 I smiled, and spake not.-'Wherefore dost thou smile At what I say? Laon, I am not weak, And, though my cheek might become pale the while, With thee, if thou desirest, will I seek Through their array of banded slaves to wreak Ruin upon the tyrants. I had thought It was more hard to turn my unpractised cheek To scorn and shame, and this beloved spot And thee, O dearest friend, to leave and murmur not. 
 'Whence came I what I am? Thou, Laon, knowest How a young child should thus undaunted be; Methinks, it is a power which thou bestowest, Through which I seek, by most resembling thee, So to become most good and great and free; Yet far beyond this Ocean's utmost roar, In towers and huts are many like to me, Who, could they see thine eyes, or feel such lore As I have learnt from them, like me would fear no more. 
 'Think'st thou that I shall speak unskilfully, And none will heed me? I remember now, How once, a slave in tortures doomed to die, Was saved, because in accents sweet and low He sung a song his Judge loved long ago, As he was led to death.-All shall relent Who hear me-tears, as mine have flowed, shall flow, Hearts beat as mine now beats, with such intent As renovates the world; a will omnipotent! 
 'Yes, I will tread Pride's golden palaces, Through Penury's roofless huts and squalid cells Will I descend, where'er in abjectness Woman with some vile slave her tyrant dwells, There with the music of thine own sweet spells Will disenchant the captives, and will pour For the despairing, from the crystal wells Of thy deep spirit, reason's mighty lore, And power shall then abound, and hope arise once more. 
 'Can man be free if woman be a slave? Chain one who lives, and breathes this boundless air, To the corruption of a closed grave! Can they whose mates are beasts, condemned to bear Scorn, heavier far than toil or anguish, dare To trample their oppressors? in their home Among their babes, thou knowest a curse would wear The shape of woman-hoary Crime would come Behind, and Fraud rebuild religion's tottering dome. 
 'I am a child:-I would not yet depart. When I go forth alone, bearing the lamp Aloft which thou hast kindled in my heart, Millions of slaves from many a dungeon damp Shall leap in joy, as the benumbing cramp Of ages leaves their limbs-no ill may harm Thy Cythna ever-truth its radiant stamp Has fixed, as an invulnerable charm, Upon her children's brow, dark Falsehood to disarm. 
 'Wait yet awhile for the appointed day- Thou wilt depart, and I with tears shall stand Watching thy dim sail skirt the ocean gray; Amid the dwellers of this lonely land I shall remain alone-and thy command Shall then dissolve the world's unquiet trance, And, multitudinous as the desert sand Borne on the storm, its millions shall advance, Thronging round thee, the light of their deliverance. 
 'Then, like the forests of some pathless mountain, Which from remotest glens two warring winds Involve in fire which not the loosened fountain Of broadest floods might quench, shall all the kinds Of evil, catch from our uniting minds The spark which must consume them;-Cythna then Will have cast off the impotence that binds Her childhood now, and through the paths of men Will pass, as the charmed bird that haunts the serpent's den. 
 'We part!-O Laon, I must dare nor tremble, To meet those looks no more!-Oh, heavy stroke! Sweet brother of my soul! can I dissemble The agony of this thought?'-As thus she spoke The gathered sobs her quivering accents broke, And in my arms she hid her beating breast. I remained still for tears-sudden she woke As one awakes from sleep, and wildly pressed My bosom, her whole frame impetuously possessed. 
 'We part to meet again-but yon blue waste, Yon desert wide and deep, holds no recess, Within whose happy silence, thus embraced We might survive all ills in one caress: Nor doth the grave-I fear 'tis passionless- Nor yon cold vacant Heaven:-we meet again Within the minds of men, whose lips shall bless Our memory, and whose hopes its light retain When these dissevered bones are trodden in the plain.' 
 I could not speak, though she had ceased, for now The fountains of her feeling, swift and deep, Seemed to suspend the tumult of their flow; So we arose, and by the starlight steep Went homeward-neither did we speak nor weep, But, pale, were calm with passion-thus subdued Like evening shades that o'er the mountains creep, We moved towards our home; where, in this mood, Each from the other sought refuge in solitude.