by Percy Bysshe Shelley


 SPIRIT: 'I was an infant when my mother went To see an atheist burned. She took me there: The dark-robed priests were met around the pile; The multitude was gazing silently; And as the culprit passed with dauntless mien,  Tempered disdain in his unaltering eye, Mixed with a quiet smile, shone calmly forth: The thirsty fire crept round his manly limbs; His resolute eyes were scorched to blindness soon; His death-pang rent my heart! the insensate mob  Uttered a cry of triumph, and I wept. "Weep not, child!" cried my mother, "for that man Has said, There is no God."' 
 FAIRY: 'There is no God! Nature confirms the faith his death-groan sealed: Let heaven and earth, let man's revolving race,  His ceaseless generations tell their tale; Let every part depending on the chain That links it to the whole, point to the hand That grasps its term! let every seed that falls In silent eloquence unfold its store  Of argument; infinity within, Infinity without, belie creation; The exterminable spirit it contains Is nature's only God; but human pride Is skilful to invent most serious names  To hide its ignorance. The name of God Has fenced about all crime with holiness, Himself the creature of His worshippers, Whose names and attributes and passions change, Seeva, Buddh, Foh, Jehovah, God, or Lord,  Even with the human dupes who build His shrines, Still serving o'er the war-polluted world For desolation's watchword; whether hosts Stain His death-blushing chariot-wheels, as on Triumphantly they roll, whilst Brahmins raise  A sacred hymn to mingle with the groans; Or countless partners of His power divide His tyranny to weakness; or the smoke Of burning towns, the cries of female helplessness, Unarmed old age, and youth, and infancy,  Horribly massacred, ascend to Heaven In honour of His name; or, last and worst, Earth groans beneath religion's iron age, And priests dare babble of a God of peace, Even whilst their hands are red with guiltless blood,  Murdering the while, uprooting every germ Of truth, exterminating, spoiling all, Making the earth a slaughter-house! 
 'O Spirit! through the sense By which thy inner nature was apprised  Of outward shows, vague dreams have rolled, And varied reminiscences have waked Tablets that never fade; All things have been imprinted there, The stars, the sea, the earth, the sky,  Even the unshapeliest lineaments Of wild and fleeting visions Have left a record there To testify of earth. 
 'These are my empire, for to me is given  The wonders of the human world to keep, And Fancy's thin creations to endow With manner, being, and reality; Therefore a wondrous phantom, from the dreams Of human error's dense and purblind faith,  I will evoke, to meet thy questioning. Ahasuerus, rise!' 
 A strange and woe-worn wight Arose beside the battlement, And stood unmoving there.  His inessential figure cast no shade Upon the golden floor; His port and mien bore mark of many years, And chronicles of untold ancientness Were legible within his beamless eye:  Yet his cheek bore the mark of youth; Freshness and vigour knit his manly frame; The wisdom of old age was mingled there With youth's primaeval dauntlessness; And inexpressible woe,  Chastened by fearless resignation, gave An awful grace to his all-speaking brow. 
 SPIRIT: 'Is there a God?' 
 AHASUERUS: 'Is there a God!-ay, an almighty God, And vengeful as almighty! Once His voice  Was heard on earth: earth shuddered at the sound; The fiery-visaged firmament expressed Abhorrence, and the grave of Nature yawned To swallow all the dauntless and the good That dared to hurl defiance at His throne,  Girt as it was with power. None but slaves Survived,-cold-blooded slaves, who did the work Of tyrannous omnipotence; whose souls No honest indignation ever urged To elevated daring, to one deed  Which gross and sensual self did not pollute. These slaves built temples for the omnipotent Fiend, Gorgeous and vast: the costly altars smoked With human blood, and hideous paeans rung Through all the long-drawn aisles. A murderer heard  His voice in Egypt, one whose gifts and arts Had raised him to his eminence in power, Accomplice of omnipotence in crime, And confidant of the all-knowing one. These were Jehovah's words:-  
 'From an eternity of idleness I, God, awoke; in seven days' toil made earth From nothing; rested, and created man: I placed him in a Paradise, and there Planted the tree of evil, so that he  Might eat and perish, and My soul procure Wherewith to sate its malice, and to turn, Even like a heartless conqueror of the earth, All misery to My fame. The race of men Chosen to My honour, with impunity  May sate the lusts I planted in their heart. Here I command thee hence to lead them on, Until, with hardened feet, their conquering troops Wade on the promised soil through woman's blood, And make My name be dreaded through the land.  Yet ever-burning flame and ceaseless woe Shall be the doom of their eternal souls, With every soul on this ungrateful earth, Virtuous or vicious, weak or strong,-even all Shall perish, to fulfil the blind revenge  (Which you, to men, call justice) of their God.' 
 The murderer's brow Quivered with horror. 'God omnipotent, Is there no mercy? must our punishment Be endless? will long ages roll away,  And see no term? Oh! wherefore hast Thou made In mockery and wrath this evil earth? Mercy becomes the powerful-be but just: O God! repent and save.' 
 'One way remains: I will beget a Son, and He shall bear  The sins of all the world; He shall arise In an unnoticed corner of the earth, And there shall die upon a cross, and purge The universal crime; so that the few On whom My grace descends, those who are marked  As vessels to the honour of their God, May credit this strange sacrifice, and save Their souls alive: millions shall live and die, Who ne'er shall call upon their Saviour's name, But, unredeemed, go to the gaping grave.  Thousands shall deem it an old woman's tale, Such as the nurses frighten babes withal: These in a gulf of anguish and of flame Shall curse their reprobation endlessly, Yet tenfold pangs shall force them to avow,  Even on their beds of torment, where they howl, My honour, and the justice of their doom. What then avail their virtuous deeds, their thoughts Of purity, with radiant genius bright, Or lit with human reason's earthly ray?  Many are called, but few will I elect. Do thou My bidding, Moses!' Even the murderer's cheek Was blanched with horror, and his quivering lips Scarce faintly uttered-'O almighty One, I tremble and obey!'  
 'O Spirit! centuries have set their seal On this heart of many wounds, and loaded brain, Since the Incarnate came: humbly He came, Veiling His horrible Godhead in the shape Of man, scorned by the world, His name unheard,  Save by the rabble of His native town, Even as a parish demagogue. He led The crowd; He taught them justice, truth, and peace, In semblance; but He lit within their souls The quenchless flames of zeal, and blessed the sword  He brought on earth to satiate with the blood Of truth and freedom His malignant soul. At length His mortal frame was led to death. I stood beside Him: on the torturing cross No pain assailed His unterrestrial sense;  And yet He groaned. Indignantly I summed The massacres and miseries which His name Had sanctioned in my country, and I cried, "Go! Go!" in mockery. A smile of godlike malice reillumed  His fading lineaments.-"I go," He cried, "But thou shalt wander o'er the unquiet earth Eternally."-The dampness of the grave Bathed my imperishable front. I fell, And long lay tranced upon the charmed soil.  When I awoke Hell burned within my brain, Which staggered on its seat; for all around The mouldering relics of my kindred lay, Even as the Almighty's ire arrested them, And in their various attitudes of death  My murdered children's mute and eyeless skulls Glared ghastily upon me. But my soul, From sight and sense of the polluting woe Of tyranny, had long learned to prefer Hell's freedom to the servitude of Heaven.  Therefore I rose, and dauntlessly began My lonely and unending pilgrimage, Resolved to wage unweariable war With my almighty Tyrant, and to hurl Defiance at His impotence to harm  Beyond the curse I bore. The very hand That barred my passage to the peaceful grave Has crushed the earth to misery, and given Its empire to the chosen of His slaves. These have I seen, even from the earliest dawn  Of weak, unstable and precarious power, Then preaching peace, as now they practise war; So, when they turned but from the massacre Of unoffending infidels, to quench Their thirst for ruin in the very blood  That flowed in their own veins, and pitiless zeal Froze every human feeling, as the wife Sheathed in her husband's heart the sacred steel, Even whilst its hopes were dreaming of her love; And friends to friends, brothers to brothers stood  Opposed in bloodiest battle-field, and war, Scarce satiable by fate's last death-draught, waged, Drunk from the winepress of the Almighty's wrath; Whilst the red cross, in mockery of peace, Pointed to victory! When the fray was done,  No remnant of the exterminated faith Survived to tell its ruin, but the flesh, With putrid smoke poisoning the atmosphere, That rotted on the half-extinguished pile. 
 'Yes! I have seen God's worshippers unsheathe  The sword of His revenge, when grace descended, Confirming all unnatural impulses, To sanctify their desolating deeds; And frantic priests waved the ill-omened cross O'er the unhappy earth: then shone the sun  On showers of gore from the upflashing steel Of safe assassination, and all crime Made stingless by the Spirits of the Lord, And blood-red rainbows canopied the land. 'Spirit, no year of my eventful being  Has passed unstained by crime and misery, Which flows from God's own faith. I've marked His slaves With tongues whose lies are venomous, beguile The insensate mob, and, whilst one hand was red With murder, feign to stretch the other out  For brotherhood and peace; and that they now Babble of love and mercy, whilst their deeds Are marked with all the narrowness and crime That Freedom's young arm dare not yet chastise, Reason may claim our gratitude, who now  Establishing the imperishable throne Of truth, and stubborn virtue, maketh vain The unprevailing malice of my Foe, Whose bootless rage heaps torments for the brave, Adds impotent eternities to pain,  Whilst keenest disappointment racks His breast To see the smiles of peace around them play, To frustrate or to sanctify their doom. 
 'Thus have I stood,-through a wild waste of years Struggling with whirlwinds of mad agony,  Yet peaceful, and serene, and self-enshrined, Mocking my powerless Tyrant's horrible curse With stubborn and unalterable will, Even as a giant oak, which Heaven's fierce flame Had scathed in the wilderness, to stand  A monument of fadeless ruin there; Yet peacefully and movelessly it braves The midnight conflict of the wintry storm, As in the sunlight's calm it spreads Its worn and withered arms on high  To meet the quiet of a summer's noon.' 
 The Fairy waved her wand: Ahasuerus fled Fast as the shapes of mingled shade and mist, That lurk in the glens of a twilight grove,  Flee from the morning beam: The matter of which dreams are made Not more endowed with actual life Than this phantasmal portraiture Of wandering human thought.  
 NOTE: _180 reillumined edition 1813.