1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Anonymous, "Observations on the Revolt of Islam" Blackwood's Magazine 4 (January 1819) 475-82.



A pernicious system of opinions concerning man and his moral government, a superficial audacity of unbelief, an overflowing abundance of uncharitableness towards almost the whole of his race, and a disagreeable measure of assurance and self-conceit — each of these things is bad, and the combination of the whole of them in the character of any one person might, at first sight, be considered as more than sufficient to render that one person utterly and entirely contemptible. Nor has the fact, in general, been otherwise. In every age, the sure ultimate reward of the sophistical and phantastical enemies of religion and good order among mankind, has been found in the contempt and disgust of those against whose true interests their weapons had been employed. From this doom the most exquisite elegance of wit, and of words, the most perfect keenness of intellect, the most flattering despotism over contemporary opinion — all have not been able to preserve the inimitable Voltaire. In this doom, those wretched sophists of the present day, who would fain attempt to lift the load of oppressing infamy from off the memory of Voltaire, find their own living beings already entangled, "fold above fold, inextricable coil." Well may they despair: — we can almost pardon the bitterness of their disappointed malice. Their sentence was pronounced without hesitation, almost without pity — for there was nothing in them to redeem their evil. They derived no benefit from that natural, universal, and proper feeling, which influences men to be slow in harshly, or suddenly, or irrevocably condemning intellects that bear upon them the stamp of power, — they had no part in that just spirit of respectfulness which makes men to contemplate, with an unwilling and unsteady eye, the aberrations of genius. The brand of inexpiable execration was ready in a moment to scar their fronts, and they have long wandered neglected about the earth — perhaps saved from extinction, like the fratricide; by the very mark of their ignominy. Mr. Shelly is devoting his mind to the same pernicious purposes which have recoiled in vengeance upon so many of his contemporaries; but he possesses the qualities of a powerful and vigorous intellect, and therefore his fate cannot be sealed so speedily as theirs. He also is of the "COCKNEY SCHOOL," so far as his opinions are concerned; but the base opinions of the sect have not as yet been able entirely to obscure in him the character, or take away from him the privileges of the genius born within him. Hunt and Keats, and some others of the School, are indeed men of considerable cleverness, but as poets, they are worthy of sheer and instant contempt, and therefore their opinions are in little danger of being widely or deeply circulated by their means. But the system, which found better champions than it deserved even in them, has now, it would appear, been taken up by one, of whom it is far more seriously, and deeply, and lamentably unworthy; and the poem before us bears unfortunately the clearest marks of its author's execrable system, but it is impressed every where with the more noble and majestic footsteps of his genius. It is to the operation of the painful feeling above alluded to, which attends the contemplation of perverted power — that we chiefly ascribe the silence observed by our professional critics, in regard to the Revolt of Islam. Some have held back in the fear that, by giving to his genius its due praise, they might only be lending the means of currency to the opinions in whose service he has unwisely enlisted its energies; while others, less able to appreciate his genius, and less likely to be anxious about suppressing his opinions, have been silent, by reason of their selfish fears — dreading, it may be, that by praising the Revolt of Islam, they might draw down upon their own heads some additional marks of that public disgust which followed their praises of Rimini.

Another cause which may be assigned for the silence of the critics should perhaps have operated more effectually upon ourselves; and this is, that the Revolt of Islam, although a fine, is, without all doubt, an obscure poem. Not that the main drift of the narrative is obscure, or even that there is any great difficulty in understanding the tendency of the under-current of its allegory — but the author has composed his poem in much haste, and he has inadvertently left many detached parts, both of his story and his allusion, to be made out as the reader best can, from very inadequate data. The swing of his inspiration may be allowed to have hurried his own eye, "pro tempore," over many chasms; but Mr. Shelly has no excuse for printing a very unfinished piece — an error which he does not confess, — or indeed for many minor errors which he does confess in his very arrogant preface. The unskilful manner in which the allegory is brought out, and the doubt in which the reader is every now and then left, whether or no there be any allegory at all in the case; these alone are sufficient to render the perusal of this poem painful to persons of an active and ardent turn of mind; and, great as we conceive the merits of Mr. Shelly's poetry to be, these alone, we venture to prophecy, will be found sufficient to prevent the Revolt of Islam from ever becoming any thing like a favourite with the multitude.

At present, having entered our general protest against the creed of the author, and sufficiently indicated to our readers of what species its errors are, — we are very willing to save ourselves the unwelcome task of dwelling at any greater length upon these disagreeable parts of our subject. We are very willing to pass in silence the many faults of Mr. Shelly's opinions, and to attend to nothing but the vehicle in which these opinions are conveyed. As a philosopher, our author is weak and worthless; — our business is with him as a poet, and, as such, he is strong, nervous, original; well entitled to take his place near to the great creative masters, whose works have shed its truest glory around the age wherein we live. As a political and infidel treatise, the Revolt of Islam is contemptible; — happily a great part of it has no necessary connexion either with politics or with infidelity. The native splendour of Mr. Shelly's faculties has been his safeguard from universal degradation, and a part, at least, of his genius, has been consecrated to themes worthy of it and of him. In truth, what he probably conceives to be the most exquisite ornaments of his poetry, appear, in our eyes, the chief deformities upon its texture; and had the whole been framed like the passages which we shall quote, — as the Revolt of Islam would have been a purer, so we have no doubt, would it have been a nobler, a loftier, a more majestic, and a more beautiful poem.

We shall pass over, then, without comment, the opening part of this work, and the confused unsatisfactory allegories with which it is chiefly filled. It is sufficient to mention, that, at the close of the first canto, the poet supposes himself to be placed for a time in the regions of eternal repose, where the good and great of mankind are represented as detailing, before the throne of the Spirit of Good, those earthly sufferings and labours which had prepared them for the possession and enjoyment of so blissful an abode. Among these are two, a man and a woman of Argolis, who, after rescuing their country for a brief space from the tyranny of the house of Othman, and accomplishing this great revolution by the force of persuasive eloquence and the sympathies of human love alone, without violence, bloodshed, or revenge, — had seen the fruit of all their toils blasted by foreign invasion, and the dethroned but not insulted tyrant replaced upon his seat; and who, finally, amidst all the darkness of their country's horizon, had died, without fear, the death of heroic martyrdom, gathering consolation, in the last pangs of their expiring nature, from the hope and the confidence that their faith and example might yet raise up successors to their labours, and that they had neither lived nor died in vain.

In the persons of these martyrs, the poet has striven to embody his ideas of the power and loveliness of human affections; and, in their history, he has set forth a series of splendid pictures, illustrating the efficacy of these affections in overcoming the evils of private and of public life. It is in the pourtraying of that passionate love, which had been woven from infancy in the hearts of Laon and Cythna, and which, binding together all their impulses in one hope and one struggle, had rendered them through life no more than two different tenements for the inhabitation of the same enthusiastic spirit; — it is in the pourtraying of this intense, overmastering, unfearing, unfading love, that Mr. Shelly has proved himself to be a genuine poet. Around his lovers, moreover, in the midst of all their fervours, he has shed an air of calm gracefulness, a certain majestic monumental stillness, which blends them harmoniously with the scene of their earthly existence, and realizes in them our ideas of Greeks struggling for freedom in the best spirit of their fathers. — We speak of the general effect; — there are unhappily not a few passages in which the poet quits his vantage-ground, and mars the beauty of his personifications by an intermixture of thoughts, feelings, and passions, with which, of right, they have nothing to do.

It is thus that Laon narrates the beginning of his love for Cythna, — if, indeed, his love can be said to have had any beginning, separate from that of his own intellectual and passionate life.

An orphan with my parents lived, whose eyes
Were loadstars 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 thro' the waste air's pathless blue,
To nourish some far desart: 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.

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 aerial mountains whose vast cells
The unreposing billows ever bent,
Thro' forests wide 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,
Thro' 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 anus she slept,
And I kept watch over her slumbers there,
While, as the shifting visions o'er her swept,
Amid her innocent rest by turns she smil'd 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 inchanted waves that child of glory sung.

While the life of this happy pair is gliding away in day-dreams and night-dreams of delight, the arm of oppression is suddenly stretched forth against them. Their innocent repose is dissolved by the rude touch of savages, who come to bear the beautiful Cythna to the Haraam of the tyrant, Othman, — as food

To the hyena lust, who, among graves,
Over his loathed meal, laughing in agony, raves,—

Laon, in his phrenzy, slays three of the ravishers, and is forthwith dragged by the rest of them to await the punishment of his violence in a strange prison.

And one (says he) did strip me stark; and one did fill
A vessel from the putrid pool; one bare
A lighted torch, and four with friendless care
Guided my steps the cavern-paths along,
Then up a steep and dark and narrow stair
We wound, until the torches' fiery tongue
Amid the gushing day beamless and pallid hung.

They raised me to the platform of the pile,
That column's dizzy height: — the grate of brass
Thro' which they thrust me, open stood the while,
As to its ponderous and suspended mass,
With chains which eat into the flesh, alas!
With brazen links, my naked limbs they bound:
The grate, as they departed to repass,
With horrid clangour fell, and the far sound
Of their retiring steps in the dense gloom was drowned.

The noon was calm and bright: — around that column
The overhanging sky and circling sea
Spread forth in silentness profound and solemn
The darkness of brief frenzy cast on me,
So that I knew not my own misery:
The islands and the mountains in the day
Like clouds reposed afar; and I could see
The town among the woods below that lay,
And the dark rocks which bound the bright and glassy bay.

It was so calm, that scarce the feathery weed
Sown by some eagle on the topmost stone
Swayed in the air: — so bright, that noon did breed
No shadow in the sky beside mine own
Mine, and the shadow of my chain alone.
Below the smoke of roofs involved in flame
Rested like night, all else was dearly shewn
In that broad glare, yet sound to me none came,
But of the living blood that ran within my frame.

But the "peace of madness is" of so long endurance, and Laon, wakening from thirst and hunger to a sense of his own condition, forgets that again in the remembrance of Cythna. A white sail is set on the bay far below him, and he feels that the vessel is destined to bear the maiden from the shore. The thought of this turns the stream of his mind to a darker channel, and the agonies of fierce madness succeed to the lethargy out of which he had arisen. The fourth day finds him raving on the summit of his pillar, when there arrives at the foot of it a venerable hermit, who had heard of the cause of his affliction — of his generous nature and lofty aspirations. This visitor sets him free from his chain, and conveys him to a small bark below, while entirely insensible to what is passing around him; but he learns long afterwards, that the old man's eloquence had subdued his keepers, and that they had consented, at their own peril, to his escape. He is conveyed across the sea to a lonely island, where for seven years he is tended by his aged benefactor, whose kind and compassionate wisdom, and that long space, are not more than sufficient to win back the mind of Laon to entire self-possession.

In the first moments of the patient's perfect recovery, he is informed by the old man, that during the years of his illness the cause of liberty had been slowly gaining ground in the "Golden city" — that he himself would fain assist in the Revolution which had now actually commenced there, but that he felt himself too old and too subdued in his spirit and language to be an effectual leader,—

While Loon's name to the tumultuous throng
Were like the star whose beams the waves compel,
And tempests; and his soul.subduing tongue
Were as a lance to quell the mailed crest of wrong.

Laon accepts with eagerness the proposal of the old man, and they depart in their bark for the Revolutionized city.

On their arrival they find the work already apparently well-nigh completed. An immense multitude of the people — of men weary of political, and women sick of domestic slavery — are assembled in the fields without the walls. Laon and his friend walk into the encampment, and are received as friends. The host already acknowledge a leader and a presiding spirit in the person of a female, whom they reverence under the name of LAONE. Laon and this heroine are attracted to each other by some unknown sympathy; the tones of her voice stir up all the depths of his spirit; but her countenance is veiled, and scarcely dares he wish to have the covering removed. The palace of the tyrant Othman, is, mean time, surrounded by the multitude; and Laon entering it, finds him sitting alone in his hall, deserted by all but one little child, whose affection had been won to him by previous commendations and caresses. Nothing can be more touching than the picture of this innocent. Thus speaks Laon:

She fled to him, and wildly clasped his feet
When human steps were heard: — he moved nor spoke,
Nor changed his hue, nor raised his looks to meet
The gaze of strangers — our loud entrance woke
The echoes of the hail, which circling broke
The calm of its recesses, — like a tomb
Its sculptured walls vacantly to the stroke
Of footfalls answered, and the twilight's gloom,
Lay like a charnel's mist within the radiant dome.

The little child stood up when we came nigh;
Her lips and cheeks seemed very pale and wan,
But on her forehead, and within her eye
Lay beauty, which makes hearts that feed thereon
Sick with excess of sweetness; on the throne
She leaned; — the King with gathered brow, and lips
Wreathed by long scorn, did inly sneer and frown
With hue like that when some great painter dips
His pencil in the gloom of earthquake and eclipse.

She stood beside him like a rainbow braided
Within some storm, when scarce its shadows vast
From the blue paths of the swift sun have faded;
A sweet and solemn smile, like Cythna's, cast
One moment's light, which made my heart beat fast,
O'erthat child's parted lips — a gleam of bliss,
A shade of vanished days — as the tears past
Which wrapt, even as with a father's kiss
I pressed those softest eyes in trembling tenderness.

The monarch is quietly removed from his palace, none following him but this child; and on this consummation of their triumph, the multitude join in holding a high festival, of which Laone is the priestess. Laon sits near her in her pyramid; but he is withheld, by a strange impulse, from speaking to her, and he retires to pass the night in repose at a distance from where she sleeps.

At break of day, Laon is awakened by sounds of tumults; the multitude, lately so firm and collected, are seen flying in every direction; and he learns that the cause of their disarray is the arrival of a foreign army, sent by some of his brother princes to the relief of Othman. Laon, and a few of the more heroic spirits, withdraw to the side of a hill, where, ill-armed and outnumbered, they are slaughtered till the evening by their enemies. The carnage, and the confidence of the sufferers, are painted with a power and energy altogether admirable; but we have room to quote only the deliverance of Laon.

Of those brave bands I soon survived alone — and now I lay
Vanquished and faint, the grasp of bloody hands
I felt, and saw on high the glare of falling brands:

When on my foes a sudden terror came,
And they fled, scattering — lo! with reinless speed
A black Tartarian horse of giant frame
Comes trampling o'er the dead, the living bleed
Beneath the hoofs of that tremendous steed,
On which, like to an Angel, robed in white,
Sate one waving a sword; — the hosts recede
And fly, as thro' their ranks with awful might,
Sweeps in the shadow of eve that Phantom swift and bright;

And its path made a solitude. — I rose
And marked its coming: it relaxed its course
As it approached me, and the wind that flows
Thro' night, bare accents to mine ear whose force
Might create smiles in death — the Tartar horse
Paused, and I saw the shape its might which swayed,
And heard her musical pants, like the sweet source
Of waters in the desart, as she said,
"Mount with me Laon, now" — I rapidly obeyed.

Then: "Away! away!" she cried, and stretched her sword
As 'twere a scourge over the courser's head,
And lightly shook the reins: — We spake no word
But like the vapour of the tempest fled
Over the plain; her dark hair was dispread
Like the pine's locks upon the lingering blast;
Over mine eyes its shadowy strings it spread
Fitfully, and the hills and streams fled fast,
As o'er their glimmering forms the steed's broad shadow past.

And his hoofs ground the rocks to fire and dust,
His strong sides made the torrents rise in spray,
And turbulence, as of a whirlwind's gust,
Surrounded us; — and still away! away!

They take up their abode in a lonely ruin, and many hours are wasted in the transports of a recognition — which, even in such circumstances, to them is joyful.

The night grew damp and dim, and thro' a rent
Of the ruin where we sate, from the morass,
A wandering Meteor by some wild wind sent,
Hung high in the green dome, to which it lent
A faint and pallid lustre; while the song
Of blasts, in which its blue hair quivering bent,
Strewed strangest sounds the moving leaves among;
A wondrous light, the sound as of a spirit's tongue.

The Meteor shewed the leaves on which we sate,
And Cythna's glowing arms, and the thick ties
Of her soft hair, which bent with gathered weight
My neck near hers, her dark and deepening eyes,
Which, as twin phantoms of one star that lies
O'er a dim well, move, though the star reposes,
Swam in our mute and liquid ecstacies,
Her marble brow, and eager lips, like roses,
With their own fragrance pale, which spring but half uncloses.

The meteor to its far morass returned:
The beating of our veins one interval
Made still; and then! felt the blood that burned
Within her frame, mingle with mine, and fall
Around my heart like fire; and over all
A mist was spread, the sickness of a deep
And speechless swoon of joy, as might befall
Two disunited spirits when they leap
In union from this earth's obscure and fading sleep.

Was it one moment that confounded thus
All thought, all sense, all feeling, into one
Unutterable power, which shielded us
Even from our own cold looks, when we had gone
Into a wide and wild oblivion
Of tumult and of tenderness? or now
Had ages, such as make the moon and sun,
The reasons, and mankind their changes know,
Left fear and time unfelt by us alone below?

I know not. What are kisses whose fire clasps
The failing heart in languishment, or limb
Twined within limb? or the quick dying gasps
Of the life meeting, when the faint eyes swim
Thro' tears of a wide mist boundless and dim,
In one caress? What is the strong controul
Which leads the heart that dizzy steep to climb,
Where far over the world those vapours roll,
Which blend two restless frames in one reposing soul?

They remain for some time in this retreat, communicating to each other the long histories of their suffering. — Cythna, according to her own wild tale, being carried away from Laon at the moment when he slew three of the slaves that surrounded her, had been conveyed to the tyrant's palace, and had suffered all the insults, and almost all the injuries to which its inmates were exposed. Her high spirit had, however, offended at last her oppressor, and she was sent to a Submarine cavern, near the Symplegades, to which strange dungeon she was borne through the waves by a slave, "made dumb by poison," "A Diver lean and strong, of Oman's coral sea." Here she was supplied with a daily pittance of food by an eagle, trained to hover over the only crevice through which the air had access to the captive. She sank into a melancholy phrenzy, and was aroused to consciousness by strange feelings which taught her to expect that she was about to be a mother. It is so, and for a while all the sorrows of her prison are soothed by the caresses of her child; but the child disappears suddenly, and the bewildered mother half suspects that its existence has been but a dream of her madness. At last an earthquake changes the position of the cavern, and Cythna is released by some passing mariners, who convey her to the city of Othman, and are prepared by her discourses during the voyage to take a part in the insurrection, which Cythna arrives in time to lead. But to come to the main story — it is the custom of Laon to ride forth every night on the Tartar horse to procure food for Cythna. By this means their retreat is at last discovered, Laon is seized, led before the tyrant, and sentenced to be burned alive before his eyes, on the very scene of his treason. The guards, the priests, and the slaves, are gathered around the throne of Othman.

A Shape of light is sitting by his side,
A child most beautiful. I' the midst appears
Laon, — exempt alone from mortal hopes and fears.

His head and feet are bare, his hands are bound
Behind with heavy chains, yet none do wreak
Their scoffs; on him, though myriads thong around;
There are no sneers upon his lip which speak
That scorn or hate has made him bold; his cheek
Resolve has not turned pale, — his eyes are mild
And calm, and like the mom about to break,
Smile on mankind — his heart seems reconciled
To all things and itself, like a reposing child.

Tumult was in the soul of all beside,
Ill joy, or doubt, or fear; but those who saw
Their tranquil victim pass, felt wonder glide
Into their brain, and became calm with awe.—
See, the slow pageant near the pile doth draw.
A thousand torches in the spacious square,
Borne by the ready slaves of ruthless law,
Await the signal round; the morning fair
Is changed to a dim night by that unnatural glare.

And see! beneath a sun-bright canopy,
Upon a platform level with the pile,
The anxious Tyrant sit, enthroned on high,
Girt by the chieftains of the host; all smile
In expectation, but one child: the while
I, Laon, led by mutes, ascend my bier
Of fire, and look around; each distant isle
Is dark in the bright dawn; towers far and near,
Pierce like reposing flames the tremulous atmosphere.

There was such silence through the host, as when
An earthquake trampling on some populous town,
Has crushed ten thousand with one tread, and men
Expect the second; all were mute but one,
That fairest child, who, bold with love, alone
Stood up before the King, without avail,
Pleading for Laon's life — her stifled groan
Was heard — she trembled like one aspin pale
Among the gloomy pines of a Norwegian vale.

What were his thoughts linked in the morning sun,
Among those reptiles, stingless with delay,
Even like a tyrant's wrath? — the signal gun
Roared-hark, again! in that dread pause he lay
As in a quiet dream — the slaves obey—
A thousand torches drop, — and, hark, the last
Bursts on that awful silence; far away
Millions, with hearts that beat both loud and fast,
Watch for the springing flame expectant and aghast.

They fly — the torches fall — a cry of fear
Has startled the triumphant! — they recede!
For ere the cannon's roar has died, they hear
The tramp of hoofs like earthquake, and a steed
Dark and gigantic, with the tempest's speed,
Bursts through their ranks: a woman sits thereon,
Fairer it seems than aught that earth can breed,
Calm, radiant, like the phantom of the dawn,
A spirit from the caves of day-light wandering gone.

This is Cythna come to partake the fate of her lord,

The warm tears burst in spite of faith and fear,
From many a tremulous eye, but like soft dews
Which feed spring's earliest buds, hung gathered there,
Frozen by doubt, — alas, they could not chuse,
But weep; for when her faint limbs did refuse
To climb the pyre, upon the mutes she smiled;
And with her eloquent gestures, and the hues
Of her quick lips, even as a weary child
Wins sleep from some fond nurse with it caresses mild,

She won them, tho' unwilling, her to bind
Near me, among the snakes. When these had fled,
One soft reproach that was most thrilling kind,
She smil'd on me, and nothing then we said,
But each upon the other's countenance fed
Looks of insatiate love; the mighty veil
Which doth divide the living and the dead
Was almost rent, the world grew dim and pale,—
All light in Heaven or Earth beside our love did fail.—

Yet, — yet — one brief relapse, like, the last beam
Of dying flames, the stainless air around
Hung silent and serene — a blood-red gleam
Burst upwards hurling fiercely from the ground
The globed smoke, — I heard the mighty sound
Of its uprise, like a tempestuous ocean;
And, thro' its chasms I saw, as in a swound,
The tyrant's child fall without life or motion.
Before his throne, subdued by some unseen emotion.

And is this death? the pyre has disappeared,
The Pestilence, the Tyrant, and the throng;
The flames grow silent — slowly there is heard
The music of a breath-suspending song,
Which, like the kiss of love when life is young,
Steeps the faint eyes in darkness sweet and deep;
With ever changing notes it floats along,
Till on my passive soul there seemed to creep
A melody, like waves on wrinkled sands that leap.

The warm touch of a soft and tremulous hand
Wakened me then; lo, Cythna sate reclined
Beside me, on the waved and golden sand
Of a clear pool, upon a bank o'ertwined
With strange and star-bright flowers, which to the wind
Breathed divine odour; high above, was spread
The emerald heaven of trees of unknown kind,
Whose moonlike blooms and bright fruit overhead
A shadow, which was light, upon the waters shed.

And round about sloped many a lawny, mountain
With incense-bearing forests, and vast caves
Of marble radiance to that mighty fountain;
And where the flood its own bright margin laves,
Their echoes talk with its eternal waves,
Which, from the depths whose jagged caverns breed
Their unreposing strife, it lifts and heaves,
Till thro' a chasm of hills they roll, and feed
A river deep, which flies with smooth but arrowy speed.

As we sate gazing in a trance of wonder,
A boat approached, borne by the musical air
Along the waves which sung and sparkled under
Its rapid keel — a winged shape sate there,
A child with silver-shining wings, so fair,
That as her bark did thro' the waters glide,
The shadow of the lingering waves did wear
Light, as from starry beams; from side to side,
While veering to the wind her plumes the bark did guide.

The boat was one curved shell of hollow pearl,
Almost translucent with the light divine
Of her within; the prow and stern did curl
Homed on high, like the young moon supine,
When o'er dim twilight mountains dark with pine,
It floats upon the sunset's sea of beams,
Whose golden waves in many a purple line
Fade fast, till borne on sunlight's ebbing streams,
Dilating, on earth's verge the sunken meteor gleams.

Its keel has struck the sands beside our feet;
Then Cythna turned to me, and from her eyes
Which swam with unshed tears, a look more sweet
Than happy love, a wild and glad surprise.
Glanced as she spake; "Aye, this is Paradise
And not a dream, and we ore all united!
Lo, that is mine own child, who in the guise
Of madness came, like day to one benighted
In lonesome woods; my heart is now too well requited!"

We forbear from making any comments on this strange narrative; because we could not do so without entering upon other points which we have already professed our intention of waving for the present. It will easily be seen, indeed, that neither the main interest nor the main merit of the poet at all consists in the conception of his plot or in the arrangement of his incidents. His praise is, in our judgment, that of having poured over his narrative a very rare strength and abundance of poetic imagery and feeling — of having steeped every word in the essence of his inspiration. The Revolt of Islam contains no detached passages at all comparable with some which our readers recollect in the works of the great poets our contemporaries; but neither does it contain any such intermixture of prosaic materials as disfigure even the greatest of them. Mr. Shelly has displayed his possession of a mind intensely poetical, and of an exuberance of poetic language, perpetually strong and perpetually varied. In spite, moreover, of a certain perversion in all his modes of thinking, which, unless he gets rid of it, will ever prevent him from being acceptable to any considerable or respectable body of readers, he has displayed many glimpses of right understanding and generous feeling, which must save him from the unmingled condemnation even of the most rigorous judges. His destiny is entirely in his own hands; if he acts wisely, it cannot fail to be a glorious one; if he continues to pervert his talents, by making them the instruments of a base sophistry, their splendour will only contribute to render his disgrace the more conspicuous. Mr. Shelly, whatever his errors may have been, is a scholar, a gentleman, and a poet; and he must therefore despise from his soul the only eulogies to which he has hitherto been accustomed — paragraphs from the Examiner, and sonnets from Johnny Keats. He has it in his power to select better companions; and if he does so, he may very securely promise himself abundance of better praise.