by Percy Bysshe Shelley


 If solitude hath ever led thy steps To the wild Ocean's echoing shore, And thou hast lingered there, Until the sun's broad orb Seemed resting on the burnished wave,  Thou must have marked the lines Of purple gold, that motionless Hung o'er the sinking sphere: Thou must have marked the billowy clouds Edged with intolerable radiancy  Towering like rocks of jet Crowned with a diamond wreath. And yet there is a moment, When the sun's highest point Peeps like a star o'er Ocean's western edge,  When those far clouds of feathery gold, Shaded with deepest purple, gleam Like islands on a dark blue sea; Then has thy fancy soared above the earth, And furled its wearied wing  Within the Fairy's fane. 
 Yet not the golden islands Gleaming in yon flood of light, Nor the feathery curtains Stretching o'er the sun's bright couch,  Nor the burnished Ocean waves Paving that gorgeous dome, So fair, so wonderful a sight As Mab's aethereal palace could afford. Yet likest evening's vault, that faery Hall!  As Heaven, low resting on the wave,it spread Its floors of flashing light, Its vast and azure dome, Its fertile golden islands Floating on a silver sea;  Whilst suns their mingling beamings darted Through clouds of circumambient darkness, And pearly battlements around Looked o'er the immense of Heaven. 
 The magic car no longer moved.  The Fairy and the Spirit Entered the Hall of Spells: Those golden clouds That rolled in glittering billows Beneath the azure canopy  With the aethereal footsteps trembled not: The light and crimson mists, Floating to strains of thrilling melody Through that unearthly dwelling, Yielded to every movement of the will.  Upon their passive swell the Spirit leaned, And, for the varied bliss that pressed around, Used not the glorious privilege Of virtue and of wisdom. 
 'Spirit!' the Fairy said,  And pointed to the gorgeous dome, 'This is a wondrous sight And mocks all human grandeur; But, were it virtue's only meed, to dwell In a celestial palace, all resigned  To pleasurable impulses, immured Within the prison of itself, the will Of changeless Nature would be unfulfilled. Learn to make others happy. Spirit, come! This is thine high reward:-the past shall rise;  Thou shalt behold the present; I will teach The secrets of the future.' 
 The Fairy and the Spirit Approached the overhanging battlement.- Below lay stretched the universe!  There, far as the remotest line That bounds imagination's flight, Countless and unending orbs In mazy motion intermingled, Yet still fulfilled immutably  Eternal Nature's law. Above, below, around, The circling systems formed A wilderness of harmony; Each with undeviating aim,  In eloquent silence, through the depths of space Pursued its wondrous way. 
 There was a little light That twinkled in the misty distance: None but a spirit's eye  Might ken that rolling orb; None but a spirit's eye, And in no other place But that celestial dwelling, might behold Each action of this earth's inhabitants.  But matter, space and time In those aereal mansions cease to act; And all-prevailing wisdom, when it reaps The harvest of its excellence, o'er-bounds Those obstacles, of which an earthly soul  Fears to attempt the conquest. 
 The Fairy pointed to the earth. The Spirit's intellectual eye Its kindred beings recognized. The thronging thousands, to a passing view,  Seemed like an ant-hill's citizens. How wonderful! that even The passions, prejudices, interests, That sway the meanest being, the weak touch That moves the finest nerve,  And in one human brain Causes the faintest thought, becomes a link In the great chain of Nature. 
 'Behold,' the Fairy cried, 'Palmyra's ruined palaces!-  Behold! where grandeur frowned; Behold! where pleasure smiled; What now remains?-the memory Of senselessness and shame- What is immortal there?  Nothing-it stands to tell A melancholy tale, to give An awful warning: soon Oblivion will steal silently The remnant of its fame.  Monarchs and conquerors there Proud o'er prostrate millions trod- The earthquakes of the human race; Like them, forgotten when the ruin That marks their shock is past.  
 'Beside the eternal Nile, The Pyramids have risen. Nile shall pursue his changeless way: Those Pyramids shall fall; Yea! not a stone shall stand to tell  The spot whereon they stood! Their very site shall be forgotten, As is their builder's name! 
 'Behold yon sterile spot; Where now the wandering Arab's tent  Flaps in the desert-blast. There once old Salem's haughty fane Reared high to Heaven its thousand golden domes, And in the blushing face of day Exposed its shameful glory.  Oh! many a widow, many an orphan cursed The building of that fane; and many a father; Worn out with toil and slavery, implored The poor man's God to sweep it from the earth, And spare his children the detested task  Of piling stone on stone, and poisoning The choicest days of life, To soothe a dotard's vanity. There an inhuman and uncultured race Howled hideous praises to their Demon-God;  They rushed to war, tore from the mother's womb The unborn child,-old age and infancy Promiscuous perished; their victorious arms Left not a soul to breathe. Oh! they were fiends: But what was he who taught them that the God  Of nature and benevolence hath given A special sanction to the trade of blood? His name and theirs are fading, and the tales Of this barbarian nation, which imposture Recites till terror credits, are pursuing  Itself into forgetfulness. 
 'Where Athens, Rome, and Sparta stood, There is a moral desert now: The mean and miserable huts, The yet more wretched palaces,  Contrasted with those ancient fanes, Now crumbling to oblivion; The long and lonely colonnades, Through which the ghost of Freedom stalks, Seem like a well-known tune,  Which in some dear scene we have loved to hear, Remembered now in sadness. But, oh! how much more changed, How gloomier is the contrast Of human nature there!  Where Socrates expired, a tyrant's slave, A coward and a fool, spreads death around- Then, shuddering, meets his own. Where Cicero and Antoninus lived, A cowled and hypocritical monk  Prays, curses and deceives. 
 'Spirit, ten thousand years Have scarcely passed away, Since, in the waste where now the savage drinks His enemy's blood, and aping Europe's sons,  Wakes the unholy song of war, Arose a stately city, Metropolis of the western continent: There, now, the mossy column-stone, Indented by Time's unrelaxing grasp,  Which once appeared to brave All, save its country's ruin; There the wide forest scene, Rude in the uncultivated loveliness Of gardens long run wild,  Seems, to the unwilling sojourner, whose steps Chance in that desert has delayed, Thus to have stood since earth was what it is. Yet once it was the busiest haunt, Whither, as to a common centre, flocked  Strangers, and ships, and merchandise: Once peace and freedom blessed The cultivated plain: But wealth, that curse of man, Blighted the bud of its prosperity:  Virtue and wisdom, truth and liberty, Fled, to return not, until man shall know That they alone can give the bliss Worthy a soul that claims Its kindred with eternity.  
 'There's not one atom of yon earth But once was living man; Nor the minutest drop of rain, That hangeth in its thinnest cloud, But flowed in human veins:  And from the burning plains Where Libyan monsters yell, From the most gloomy glens Of Greenland's sunless clime, To where the golden fields  Of fertile England spread Their harvest to the day, Thou canst not find one spot Whereon no city stood. 
 'How strange is human pride!  I tell thee that those living things, To whom the fragile blade of grass, That springeth in the morn And perisheth ere noon, Is an unbounded world;  I tell thee that those viewless beings, Whose mansion is the smallest particle Of the impassive atmosphere, Think, feel and live like man; That their affections and antipathies,  Like his, produce the laws Ruling their moral state; And the minutest throb That through their frame diffuses The slightest, faintest motion,  Is fixed and indispensable As the majestic laws That rule yon rolling orbs.' 
 The Fairy paused. The Spirit, In ecstasy of admiration, felt  All knowledge of the past revived; the events Of old and wondrous times, Which dim tradition interruptedly Teaches the credulous vulgar, were unfolded In just perspective to the view;  Yet dim from their infinitude. The Spirit seemed to stand High on an isolated pinnacle; The flood of ages combating below, The depth of the unbounded universe  Above, and all around Nature's unchanging harmony.