by Percy Bysshe Shelley


 'How beautiful this night! the balmiest sigh, Which vernal zephyrs breathe in evening's ear, Were discord to the speaking quietude That wraps this moveless scene. Heaven's ebon vault, Studded with stars unutterably bright,  Through which the moon's unclouded grandeur rolls, Seems like a canopy which love had spread To curtain her sleeping world. Yon gentle hills, Robed in a garment of untrodden snow; Yon darksome rocks, whence icicles depend,  So stainless, that their white and glittering spires Tinge not the moon's pure beam; yon castled steep, Whose banner hangeth o'er the time-worn tower So idly, that rapt fancy deemeth it A metaphor of peace;-all form a scene  Where musing Solitude might love to lift Her soul above this sphere of earthliness; Where Silence undisturbed might watch alone, So cold, so bright, so still. The orb of day, In southern climes, o'er ocean's waveless field  Sinks sweetly smiling: not the faintest breath Steals o'er the unruffled deep; the clouds of eve Reflect unmoved the lingering beam of day; And vesper's image on the western main Is beautifully still. To-morrow comes:  Cloud upon cloud, in dark and deepening mass, Roll o'er the blackened waters; the deep roar Of distant thunder mutters awfully; Tempest unfolds its pinion o'er the gloom That shrouds the boiling surge; the pitiless fiend,  With all his winds and lightnings, tracks his prey; The torn deep yawns,-the vessel finds a grave Beneath its jagged gulf. Ah! whence yon glare That fires the arch of Heaven!-that dark red smoke Blotting the silver moon? The stars are quenched  In darkness, and the pure and spangling snow Gleams faintly through the gloom that gathers round! Hark to that roar, whose swift and deaf'ning peals In countless echoes through the mountains ring, Startling pale Midnight on her starry throne!  Now swells the intermingling din; the jar Frequent and frightful of the bursting bomb; The falling beam, the shriek, the groan, the shout, The ceaseless clangour, and the rush of men Inebriate with rage:-loud, and more loud  The discord grows; till pale Death shuts the scene, And o'er the conqueror and the conquered draws His cold and bloody shroud.-Of all the men Whom day's departing beam saw blooming there, In proud and vigorous health; of all the hearts  That beat with anxious life at sunset there; How few survive, how few are beating now! All is deep silence, like the fearful calm That slumbers in the storm's portentous pause; Save when the frantic wail of widowed love  Comes shuddering on the blast, or the faint moan With which some soul bursts from the frame of clay Wrapped round its struggling powers. The gray morn Dawns on the mournful scene; the sulphurous smoke Before the icy wind slow rolls away,  And the bright beams of frosty morning dance Along the spangling snow. There tracks of blood Even to the forest's depth, and scattered arms, And lifeless warriors, whose hard lineaments  Death's self could change not, mark the dreadful path Of the outsallying victors: far behind, Black ashes note where their proud city stood. Within yon forest is a gloomy glen- Each tree which guards its darkness from the day, Waves o'er a warrior's tomb. I see thee shrink,  Surpassing Spirit!-wert thou human else? I see a shade of doubt and horror fleet Across thy stainless features: yet fear not; This is no unconnected misery, Nor stands uncaused, and irretrievable.  Man's evil nature, that apology Which kings who rule, and cowards who crouch, set up For their unnumbered crimes, sheds not the blood Which desolates the discord-wasted land. From kings, and priests, and statesmen, war arose,  Whose safety is man's deep unbettered woe, Whose grandeur his debasement. Let the axe Strike at the root, the poison-tree will fall; And where its venomed exhalations spread Ruin, and death, and woe, where millions lay  Quenching the serpent's famine, and their bones Bleaching unburied in the putrid blast, A garden shall arise, in loveliness Surpassing fabled Eden. Hath Nature's soul, That formed this world so beautiful, that spread  Earth's lap with plenty, and life's smallest chord Strung to unchanging unison, that gave The happy birds their dwelling in the grove, That yielded to the wanderers of the deep The lovely silence of the unfathomed main,  And filled the meanest worm that crawls in dust With spirit, thought, and love; on Man alone, Partial in causeless malice, wantonly Heaped ruin, vice, and slavery; his soul Blasted with withering curses; placed afar  The meteor-happiness, that shuns his grasp, But serving on the frightful gulf to glare, Rent wide beneath his footsteps? Nature!-no! Kings, priests, and statesmen, blast the human flower Even in its tender bud; their influence darts  Like subtle poison through the bloodless veins Of desolate society. The child, Ere he can lisp his mother's sacred name, Swells with the unnatural pride of crime, and lifts His baby-sword even in a hero's mood.  This infant-arm becomes the bloodiest scourge Of devastated earth; whilst specious names, Learned in soft childhood's unsuspecting hour, Serve as the sophisms with which manhood dims Bright Reason's ray, and sanctifies the sword  Upraised to shed a brother's innocent blood. Let priest-led slaves cease to proclaim that man Inherits vice and misery, when Force And Falsehood hang even o'er the cradled babe Stifling with rudest grasp all natural good.  'Ah! to the stranger-soul, when first it peeps From its new tenement, and looks abroad For happiness and sympathy, how stern And desolate a tract is this wide world! How withered all the buds of natural good!  No shade, no shelter from the sweeping storms Of pitiless power! On its wretched frame, Poisoned, perchance, by the disease and woe Heaped on the wretched parent whence it sprung By morals, law, and custom, the pure winds  Of Heaven, that renovate the insect tribes, May breathe not. The untainting light of day May visit not its longings. It is bound Ere it has life: yea, all the chains are forged Long ere its being: all liberty and love  And peace is torn from its defencelessness; Cursed from its birth, even from its cradle doomed To abjectness and bondage! 
 'Throughout this varied and eternal world Soul is the only element: the block  That for uncounted ages has remained The moveless pillar of a mountain's weight Is active, living spirit. Every grain Is sentient both in unity and part, And the minutest atom comprehends  A world of loves and hatreds; these beget Evil and good: hence truth and falsehood spring; Hence will and thought and action, all the germs Of pain or pleasure, sympathy or hate, That variegate the eternal universe.  Soul is not more polluted than the beams Of Heaven's pure orb, ere round their rapid lines The taint of earth-born atmospheres arise. 
 'Man is of soul and body, formed for deeds Of high resolve, on fancy's boldest wing  To soar unwearied, fearlessly to turn The keenest pangs to peacefulness, and taste The joys which mingled sense and spirit yield. Or he is formed for abjectness and woe, To grovel on the dunghill of his fears,  To shrink at every sound, to quench the flame Of natural love in sensualism, to know That hour as blessed when on his worthless days The frozen hand of Death shall set its seal, Yet fear the cure, though hating the disease.  The one is man that shall hereafter be; The other, man as vice has made him now. 
 'War is the statesman's game, the priest's delight, The lawyer's jest, the hired assassin's trade, And, to those royal murderers, whose mean thrones  Are bought by crimes of treachery and gore, The bread they eat, the staff on which they lean. Guards, garbed in blood-red livery, surround Their palaces, participate the crimes That force defends, and from a nation's rage  Secure the crown, which all the curses reach That famine, frenzy, woe and penury breathe. These are the hired bravos who defend The tyrant's throne-the bullies of his fear: These are the sinks and channels of worst vice,  The refuse of society, the dregs Of all that is most vile: their cold hearts blend Deceit with sternness, ignorance with pride, All that is mean and villanous, with rage Which hopelessness of good, and self-contempt,  Alone might kindle; they are decked in wealth, Honour and power, then are sent abroad To do their work. The pestilence that stalks In gloomy triumph through some eastern land Is less destroying. They cajole with gold,  And promises of fame, the thoughtless youth Already crushed with servitude: he knows His wretchedness too late, and cherishes Repentance for his ruin, when his doom Is sealed in gold and blood!  Those too the tyrant serve, who, skilled to snare The feet of Justice in the toils of law, Stand, ready to oppress the weaker still; And right or wrong will vindicate for gold, Sneering at public virtue, which beneath  Their pitiless tread lies torn and trampled, where Honour sits smiling at the sale of truth. 
 'Then grave and hoary-headed hypocrites, Without a hope, a passion, or a love, Who, through a life of luxury and lies,  Have crept by flattery to the seats of power, Support the system whence their honours flow... They have three words:-well tyrants know their use, Well pay them for the loan, with usury Torn from a bleeding world!-God, Hell, and Heaven.  A vengeful, pitiless, and almighty fiend, Whose mercy is a nickname for the rage Of tameless tigers hungering for blood. Hell, a red gulf of everlasting fire, Where poisonous and undying worms prolong  Eternal misery to those hapless slaves Whose life has been a penance for its crimes. And Heaven, a meed for those who dare belie Their human nature, quake, believe, and cringe Before the mockeries of earthly power.  
 'These tools the tyrant tempers to his work, Wields in his wrath, and as he wills destroys, Omnipotent in wickedness: the while Youth springs, age moulders, manhood tamely does His bidding, bribed by short-lived joys to lend  Force to the weakness of his trembling arm. 
 'They rise, they fall; one generation comes Yielding its harvest to destruction's scythe. It fades, another blossoms: yet behold! Red glows the tyrant's stamp-mark on its bloom,  Withering and cankering deep its passive prime. He has invented lying words and modes, Empty and vain as his own coreless heart; Evasive meanings, nothings of much sound, To lure the heedless victim to the toils  Spread round the valley of its paradise. 
 'Look to thyself, priest, conqueror, or prince! Whether thy trade is falsehood, and thy lusts Deep wallow in the earnings of the poor, With whom thy Master was:-or thou delight'st  In numbering o'er the myriads of thy slain, All misery weighing nothing in the scale Against thy short-lived fame: or thou dost load With cowardice and crime the groaning land, A pomp-fed king. Look to thy wretched self!  Ay, art thou not the veriest slave that e'er Crawled on the loathing earth? Are not thy days Days of unsatisfying listlessness? Dost thou not cry, ere night's long rack is o'er, "When will the morning come?" Is not thy youth  A vain and feverish dream of sensualism? Thy manhood blighted with unripe disease? Are not thy views of unregretted death Drear, comfortless, and horrible? Thy mind, Is it not morbid as thy nerveless frame,  Incapable of judgement, hope, or love? And dost thou wish the errors to survive That bar thee from all sympathies of good, After the miserable interest Thou hold'st in their protraction? When the grave  Has swallowed up thy memory and thyself, Dost thou desire the bane that poisons earth To twine its roots around thy coffined clay, Spring from thy bones, and blossom on thy tomb, That of its fruit thy babes may eat and die?  
 NOTE: _176 Secures edition 1813.