Percy Shelley: Poems

Prometheus Unbound: Act 4

SCENE 4.1:




The pale stars are gone!

For the sun, their swift shepherd,

To their folds them compelling,

In the depths of the dawn,

Hastes, in meteor-eclipsing array, and the flee _5

Beyond his blue dwelling,

As fawns flee the leopard.

But where are ye?


Here, oh, here:

We bear the bier _10

Of the father of many a cancelled year!

Spectres we

Of the dead Hours be,

We bear Time to his tomb in eternity.

Strew, oh, strew _15

Hair, not yew!

Wet the dusty pall with tears, not dew!

Be the faded flowers

Of Death's bare bowers

Spread on the corpse of the King of Hours! _20

Haste, oh, haste!

As shades are chased,

Trembling, by day, from heaven's blue waste.

We melt away,

Like dissolving spray, _25

From the children of a diviner day,

With the lullaby

Of winds that die

On the bosom of their own harmony!


What dark forms were they? _30


The past Hours weak and gray,

With the spoil which their toil

Raked together

From the conquest but One could foil.


Have they passed?


They have passed; _35

They outspeeded the blast,

While 'tis said, they are fled:


Whither, oh, whither?


To the dark, to the past, to the dead.


Bright clouds float in heaven, _40

Dew-stars gleam on earth,

Waves assemble on ocean,

They are gathered and driven

By the storm of delight, by the panic of glee!

They shake with emotion, _45

They dance in their mirth.

But where are ye?

The pine boughs are singing

Old songs with new gladness,

The billows and fountains _50

Fresh music are flinging,

Like the notes of a spirit from land and from sea;

The storms mock the mountains

With the thunder of gladness.

But where are ye? _55


What charioteers are these?


Where are their chariots?


The voice of the Spirits of Air and of Earth

Has drawn back the figured curtain of sleep

Which covered our being and darkened our birth

In the deep.


In the deep?


Oh, below the deep. _60


An hundred ages we had been kept

Cradled in visions of hate and care,

And each one who waked as his brother slept,

Found the truth--


Worse than his visions were!


We have heard the lute of Hope in sleep; _65

We have known the voice of Love in dreams;

We have felt the wand of Power, and leap--


As the billows leap in the morning beams!


Weave the dance on the floor of the breeze,

Pierce with song heaven's silent light, _70

Enchant the day that too swiftly flees,

To check its flight ere the cave of Night.

Once the hungry Hours were hounds

Which chased the day like a bleeding deer,

And it limped and stumbled with many wounds _75

Through the nightly dells of the desert year.

But now, oh weave the mystic measure

Of music, and dance, and shapes of light,

Let the Hours, and the spirits of might and pleasure,

Like the clouds and sunbeams, unite--


Unite! _80


See, where the Spirits of the human mind

Wrapped in sweet sounds, as in bright veils, approach.


We join the throng

Of the dance and the song,

By the whirlwind of gladness borne along; _85

As the flying-fish leap

From the Indian deep,

And mix with the sea-birds, half-asleep.


Whence come ye, so wild and so fleet,

For sandals of lightning are on your feet, _90

And your wings are soft and swift as thought,

And your eyes are as love which is veiled not?


We come from the mind

Of human kind

Which was late so dusk, and obscene, and blind, _95

Now 'tis an ocean

Of clear emotion,

A heaven of serene and mighty motion.

From that deep abyss

Of wonder and bliss, _100

Whose caverns are crystal palaces;

From those skiey towers

Where Thought's crowned powers

Sit watching your dance, ye happy Hours!

From the dim recesses _105

Of woven caresses,

Where lovers catch ye by your loose tresses;

From the azure isles,

Where sweet Wisdom smiles,

Delaying your ships with her siren wiles. _110

From the temples high

Of Man's ear and eye,

Roofed over Sculpture and Poesy;

From the murmurings

Of the unsealed springs _115

Where Science bedews her Daedal wings.

Years after years,

Through blood, and tears,

And a thick hell of hatreds, and hopes, and fears;

We waded and flew, _120

And the islets were few

Where the bud-blighted flowers of happiness grew.

Our feet now, every palm,

Are sandalled with calm,

And the dew of our wings is a rain of balm; _125

And, beyond our eyes,

The human love lies

Which makes all it gazes on Paradise.


_116 her B; his 1820.


Then weave the web of the mystic measure;

From the depths of the sky and the ends of the earth, _130

Come, swift Spirits of might and of pleasure,

Fill the dance and the music of mirth,

As the waves of a thousand streams rush by

To an ocean of splendour and harmony!


Our spoil is won, _135

Our task is done,

We are free to dive, or soar, or run;

Beyond and around,

Or within the bound

Which clips the world with darkness round. _140

We'll pass the eyes

Of the starry skies

Into the hoar deep to colonize;

Death, Chaos, and Night,

From the sound of our flight, _145

Shall flee, like mist from a tempest's might.

And Earth, Air, and Light,

And the Spirit of Might,

Which drives round the stars in their fiery flight;

And Love, Thought, and Breath, _150

The powers that quell Death,

Wherever we soar shall assemble beneath.

And our singing shall build

In the void's loose field

A world for the Spirit of Wisdom to wield; _155

We will take our plan

From the new world of man,

And our work shall be called the Promethean.


Break the dance, and scatter the song;

Let some depart, and some remain; _160


We, beyond heaven, are driven along:


Us the enchantments of earth retain:


Ceaseless, and rapid, and fierce, and free,

With the Spirits which build a new earth and sea,

And a heaven where yet heaven could never be; _165


Solemn, and slow, and serene, and bright,

Leading the Day and outspeeding the Night,

With the powers of a world of perfect light;


We whirl, singing loud, round the gathering sphere,

Till the trees, and the beasts, and the clouds appear _170

From its chaos made calm by love, not fear.


We encircle the ocean and mountains of earth,

And the happy forms of its death and birth

Change to the music of our sweet mirth.


Break the dance, and scatter the song; _175

Let some depart, and some remain,

Wherever we fly we lead along

In leashes, like starbeams, soft yet strong,

The clouds that are heavy with love's sweet rain.


Ha! they are gone!


Yet feel you no delight _180

From the past sweetness?


As the bare green hill

When some soft cloud vanishes into rain,

Laughs with a thousand drops of sunny water

To the unpavilioned sky!


Even whilst we speak

New notes arise. What is that awful sound? _185


'Tis the deep music of the rolling world

Kindling within the strings of the waved air

Aeolian modulations.


Listen too,

How every pause is filled with under-notes,

Clear, silver, icy, keen awakening tones, _190

Which pierce the sense, and live within the soul,

As the sharp stars pierce winter's crystal air

And gaze upon themselves within the sea.


But see where through two openings in the forest

Which hanging branches overcanopy, _195

And where two runnels of a rivulet,

Between the close moss violet-inwoven,

Have made their path of melody, like sisters

Who part with sighs that they may meet in smiles,

Turning their dear disunion to an isle _200

Of lovely grief, a wood of sweet sad thoughts;

Two visions of strange radiance float upon

The ocean-like enchantment of strong sound,

Which flows intenser, keener, deeper yet

Under the ground and through the windless air. _205


I see a chariot like that thinnest boat,

In which the Mother of the Months is borne

By ebbing light into her western cave,

When she upsprings from interlunar dreams;

O'er which is curved an orblike canopy _210

Of gentle darkness, and the hills and woods,

Distinctly seen through that dusk aery veil,

Regard like shapes in an enchanter's glass;

Its wheels are solid clouds, azure and gold,

Such as the genii of the thunderstorm _215

Pile on the floor of the illumined sea

When the sun rushes under it; they roll

And move and grow as with an inward wind;

Within it sits a winged infant, white

Its countenance, like the whiteness of bright snow, _220

Its plumes are as feathers of sunny frost,

Its limbs gleam white, through the wind-flowing folds

Of its white robe, woof of ethereal pearl.

Its hair is white, the brightness of white light

Scattered in strings; yet its two eyes are heavens _225

Of liquid darkness, which the Deity

Within seems pouring, as a storm is poured

From jagged clouds, out of their arrowy lashes,

Tempering the cold and radiant air around,

With fire that is not brightness; in its hand _230

It sways a quivering moonbeam, from whose point

A guiding power directs the chariot's prow

Over its wheeled clouds, which as they roll

Over the grass, and flowers, and waves, wake sounds,

Sweet as a singing rain of silver dew. _235


_208 light B; night 1820.

_212 aery B; airy 1820.

_225 strings B, edition 1839; string 1820.


And from the other opening in the wood

Rushes, with loud and whirlwind harmony,

A sphere, which is as many thousand spheres,

Solid as crystal, yet through all its mass

Flow, as through empty space, music and light: _240

Ten thousand orbs involving and involved,

Purple and azure, white, and green, and golden,

Sphere within sphere; and every space between

Peopled with unimaginable shapes,

Such as ghosts dream dwell in the lampless deep, _245

Yet each inter-transpicuous, and they whirl

Over each other with a thousand motions,

Upon a thousand sightless axles spinning,

And with the force of self-destroying swiftness,

Intensely, slowly, solemnly, roll on, _250

Kindling with mingled sounds, and many tones,

Intelligible words and music wild.

With mighty whirl the multitudinous orb

Grinds the bright brook into an azure mist

Of elemental subtlety, like light; _255

And the wild odour of the forest flowers,

The music of the living grass and air,

The emerald light of leaf-entangled beams

Round its intense yet self-conflicting speed,

Seem kneaded into one aereal mass _260

Which drowns the sense. Within the orb itself,

Pillowed upon its alabaster arms,

Like to a child o'erwearied with sweet toil,

On its own folded wings, and wavy hair,

The Spirit of the Earth is laid asleep, _265

And you can see its little lips are moving,

Amid the changing light of their own smiles,

Like one who talks of what he loves in dream.


_242 white and green B; white, green 1820.


'Tis only mocking the orb's harmony.


And from a star upon its forehead, shoot, _270

Like swords of azure fire, or golden spears

With tyrant-quelling myrtle overtwined,

Embleming heaven and earth united now,

Vast beams like spokes of some invisible wheel

Which whirl as the orb whirls, swifter than thought, _275

Filling the abyss with sun-like lightenings,

And perpendicular now, and now transverse,

Pierce the dark soil, and as they pierce and pass,

Make bare the secrets of the earth's deep heart;

Infinite mine of adamant and gold, _280

Valueless stones, and unimagined gems,

And caverns on crystalline columns poised

With vegetable silver overspread;

Wells of unfathomed fire, and water springs

Whence the great sea, even as a child is fed, _285

Whose vapours clothe earth's monarch mountain-tops

With kingly, ermine snow. The beams flash on

And make appear the melancholy ruins

Of cancelled cycles; anchors, beaks of ships;

Planks turned to marble; quivers, helms, and spears, _290

And gorgon-headed targes, and the wheels

Of scythed chariots, and the emblazonry

Of trophies, standards, and armorial beasts,

Round which death laughed, sepulchred emblems

Of dead destruction, ruin within ruin! _295

The wrecks beside of many a city vast,

Whose population which the earth grew over

Was mortal, but not human; see, they lie,

Their monstrous works, and uncouth skeletons,

Their statues, homes and fanes; prodigious shapes _300

Huddled in gray annihilation, split,

Jammed in the hard, black deep; and over these,

The anatomies of unknown winged things,

And fishes which were isles of living scale,

And serpents, bony chains, twisted around _305

The iron crags, or within heaps of dust

To which the tortuous strength of their last pangs

Had crushed the iron crags; and over these

The jagged alligator, and the might

Of earth-convulsing behemoth, which once _310

Were monarch beasts, and on the slimy shores,

And weed-overgrown continents of earth,

Increased and multiplied like summer worms

On an abandoned corpse, till the blue globe

Wrapped deluge round it like a cloak, and they _315

Yelled, gasped, and were abolished; or some God

Whose throne was in a comet, passed, and cried,

'Be not!' And like my words they were no more.


_274 spokes B, edition 1839; spoke 1820.

_276 lightenings B; lightnings 1820.

_280 mines B; mine 1820.

_282 poised B; poized edition 1839; poured 1820.


The joy, the triumph, the delight, the madness!

The boundless, overflowing, bursting gladness, _320

The vaporous exultation not to be confined!

Ha! ha! the animation of delight

Which wraps me, like an atmosphere of light,

And bears me as a cloud is borne by its own wind.


Brother mine, calm wanderer, _325

Happy globe of land and air,

Some Spirit is darted like a beam from thee,

Which penetrates my frozen frame,

And passes with the warmth of flame,

With love, and odour, and deep melody _330

Through me, through me!


Ha! ha! the caverns of my hollow mountains,

My cloven fire-crags, sound-exulting fountains

Laugh with a vast and inextinguishable laughter.

The oceans, and the deserts, and the abysses, _335

And the deep air's unmeasured wildernesses,

Answer from all their clouds and billows, echoing after.

They cry aloud as I do. Sceptred curse,

Who all our green and azure universe

Threatenedst to muffle round with black destruction, sending _340

A solid cloud to rain hot thunderstones,

And splinter and knead down my children's bones,

All I bring forth, to one void mass battering and blending,--

Until each crag-like tower, and storied column,

Palace, and obelisk, and temple solemn, _345

My imperial mountains crowned with cloud, and snow, and fire,

My sea-like forests, every blade and blossom

Which finds a grave or cradle in my bosom,

Were stamped by thy strong hate into a lifeless mire:

How art thou sunk, withdrawn, covered, drunk up _350

By thirsty nothing, as the brackish cup

Drained by a desert-troop, a little drop for all;

And from beneath, around, within, above,

Filling thy void annihilation, love

Bursts in like light on caves cloven by the thunder-ball. _355


_335-_336 the abysses, And 1820, 1839; the abysses Of B.

_355 the omitted 1820.


The snow upon my lifeless mountains

Is loosened into living fountains,

My solid oceans flow, and sing and shine:

A spirit from my heart bursts forth,

It clothes with unexpected birth _360

My cold bare bosom: Oh! it must be thine

On mine, on mine!

Gazing on thee I feel, I know

Green stalks burst forth, and bright flowers grow,

And living shapes upon my bosom move: _365

Music is in the sea and air,

Winged clouds soar here and there,

Dark with the rain new buds are dreaming of:

'Tis love, all love!


It interpenetrates my granite mass, _370

Through tangled roots and trodden clay doth pass

Into the utmost leaves and delicatest flowers;

Upon the winds, among the clouds 'tis spread,

It wakes a life in the forgotten dead,

They breathe a spirit up from their obscurest bowers. _375

And like a storm bursting its cloudy prison

With thunder, and with whirlwind, has arisen

Out of the lampless caves of unimagined being:

With earthquake shock and swiftness making shiver

Thought's stagnant chaos, unremoved for ever, _380

Till hate, and fear, and pain, light-vanquished shadows, fleeing,

Leave Man, who was a many-sided mirror,

Which could distort to many a shape of error,

This true fair world of things, a sea reflecting love;

Which over all his kind, as the sun's heaven _385

Gliding o'er ocean, smooth, serene, and even,

Darting from starry depths radiance and life, doth move:

Leave Man, even as a leprous child is left,

Who follows a sick beast to some warm cleft

Of rocks, through which the might of healing springs is poured; _390

Then when it wanders home with rosy smile,

Unconscious, and its mother fears awhile

It is a spirit, then, weeps on her child restored.

Man, oh, not men! a chain of linked thought,

Of love and might to be divided not, _395

Compelling the elements with adamantine stress;

As the sun rules, even with a tyrant's gaze,

The unquiet republic of the maze

Of planets, struggling fierce towards heaven's free wilderness.

Man, one harmonious soul of many a soul, _400

Whose nature is its own divine control,

Where all things flow to all, as rivers to the sea;

Familiar acts are beautiful through love;

Labour, and pain, and grief, in life's green grove

Sport like tame beasts, none knew how gentle they could be! _405

His will, with all mean passions, bad delights,

And selfish cares, its trembling satellites,

A spirit ill to guide, but mighty to obey,

Is as a tempest-winged ship, whose helm

Love rules, through waves which dare not overwhelm, _410

Forcing life's wildest shores to own its sovereign sway.

All things confess his strength. Through the cold mass

Of marble and of colour his dreams pass;

Bright threads whence mothers weave the robes their children wear;

Language is a perpetual Orphic song, _415

Which rules with Daedal harmony a throng

Of thoughts and forms, which else senseless and shapeless were.

The lightning is his slave; heaven's utmost deep

Gives up her stars, and like a flock of sheep

They pass before his eye, are numbered, and roll on! _420

The tempest is his steed, he strides the air;

And the abyss shouts from her depth laid bare,

Heaven, hast thou secrets? Man unveils me; I have none.


_387 life B; light 1820.


The shadow of white death has passed

From my path in heaven at last, _425

A clinging shroud of solid frost and sleep;

And through my newly-woven bowers,

Wander happy paramours,

Less mighty, but as mild as those who keep

Thy vales more deep. _430


As the dissolving warmth of dawn may fold

A half unfrozen dew-globe, green, and gold,

And crystalline, till it becomes a winged mist,

And wanders up the vault of the blue day,

Outlives the noon, and on the sun's last ray _435

Hangs o'er the sea, a fleece of fire and amethyst.


_432 unfrozen B, edition 1839; infrozen 1820.


Thou art folded, thou art lying

In the light which is undying

Of thine own joy, and heaven's smile divine;

All suns and constellations shower _440

On thee a light, a life, a power

Which doth array thy sphere; thou pourest thine

On mine, on mine!


I spin beneath my pyramid of night,

Which points into the heavens dreaming delight, _445

Murmuring victorious joy in my enchanted sleep;

As a youth lulled in love-dreams faintly sighing,

Under the shadow of his beauty lying,

Which round his rest a watch of light and warmth doth keep.


As in the soft and sweet eclipse, _450

When soul meets soul on lovers' lips,

High hearts are calm, and brightest eyes are dull;

So when thy shadow falls on me,

Then am I mute and still, by thee

Covered; of thy love, Orb most beautiful, _455

Full, oh, too full!

Thou art speeding round the sun

Brightest world of many a one;

Green and azure sphere which shinest

With a light which is divinest _460

Among all the lamps of Heaven

To whom life and light is given;

I, thy crystal paramour

Borne beside thee by a power

Like the polar Paradise, _465

Magnet-like of lovers' eyes;

I, a most enamoured maiden

Whose weak brain is overladen

With the pleasure of her love,

Maniac-like around thee move

Gazing, an insatiate bride, _470

On thy form from every side

Like a Maenad, round the cup

Which Agave lifted up

In the weird Cadmaean forest. _475

Brother, wheresoe'er thou soarest

I must hurry, whirl and follow

Through the heavens wide and hollow,

Sheltered by the warm embrace

Of thy soul from hungry space, _480

Drinking from thy sense and sight

Beauty, majesty, and might,

As a lover or a chameleon

Grows like what it looks upon,

As a violet's gentle eye _485

Gazes on the azure sky

Until its hue grows like what it beholds,

As a gray and watery mist

Glows like solid amethyst

Athwart the western mountain it enfolds, _490

When the sunset sleeps

Upon its snow--


And the weak day weeps

That it should be so.

Oh, gentle Moon, the voice of thy delight _495

Falls on me like thy clear and tender light

Soothing the seaman, borne the summer night,

Through isles for ever calm;

Oh, gentle Moon, thy crystal accents pierce

The caverns of my pride's deep universe, _500

Charming the tiger joy, whose tramplings fierce

Made wounds which need thy balm.


I rise as from a bath of sparkling water,

A bath of azure light, among dark rocks,

Out of the stream of sound.


Ah me! sweet sister, _505

The stream of sound has ebbed away from us,

And you pretend to rise out of its wave,

Because your words fall like the clear, soft dew

Shaken from a bathing wood-nymph's limbs and hair.


Peace! peace! a mighty Power, which is as darkness, _510

Is rising out of Earth, and from the sky

Is showered like night, and from within the air

Bursts, like eclipse which had been gathered up

Into the pores of sunlight: the bright visions,

Wherein the singing spirits rode and shone, _515

Gleam like pale meteors through a watery night.


There is a sense of words upon mine ear.


An universal sound like words: Oh, list!


Thou, Earth, calm empire of a happy soul,

Sphere of divinest shapes and harmonies, _520

Beautiful orb! gathering as thou dost roll

The love which paves thy path along the skies:


I hear: I am as a drop of dew that dies.


Thou, Moon, which gazest on the nightly Earth

With wonder, as it gazes upon thee; _525

Whilst each to men, and beasts, and the swift birth

Of birds, is beauty, love, calm, harmony:


I hear: I am a leaf shaken by thee!


Ye Kings of suns and stars, Daemons and Gods,

Ethereal Dominations, who possess _530

Elysian, windless, fortunate abodes

Beyond Heaven's constellated wilderness:


Our great Republic hears: we are blest, and bless.


Ye happy Dead, whom beams of brightest verse

Are clouds to hide, not colours to portray, _535

Whether your nature is that universe

Which once ye saw and suffered--


Or as they

Whom we have left, we change and pass away.


Ye elemental Genii, who have homes

From man's high mind even to the central stone _540

Of sullen lead; from heaven's star-fretted domes

To the dull weed some sea-worm battens on:


We hear: thy words waken Oblivion.


Spirits, whose homes are flesh; ye beasts and birds,

Ye worms and fish; ye living leaves and buds; _545

Lightning and wind; and ye untameable herds,

Meteors and mists, which throng air's solitudes:--


_547 throng 1820, 1839; cancelled for feed B.


Thy voice to us is wind among still woods.


Man, who wert once a despot and a slave;

A dupe and a deceiver; a decay; _550

A traveller from the cradle to the grave

Through the dim night of this immortal day:


Speak: thy strong words may never pass away.


This is the day, which down the void abysm

At the Earth-born's spell yawns for Heaven's despotism, _555

And Conquest is dragged captive through the deep:

Love, from its awful throne of patient power

In the wise heart, from the last giddy hour

Of dread endurance, from the slippery, steep,

And narrow verge of crag-like agony, springs _560

And folds over the world its healing wings.

Gentleness, Virtue, Wisdom, and Endurance,

These are the seals of that most firm assurance

Which bars the pit over Destruction's strength;

And if, with infirm hand, Eternity, _565

Mother of many acts and hours, should free

The serpent that would clasp her with his length;

These are the spells by which to reassume

An empire o'er the disentangled doom.

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite; _570

To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;

To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;

To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates

From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;

Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent; _575

This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be

Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;

This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory!


_559 dread B, edition 1839; dead 1820.

_575 falter B, edition 1839; flatter 1820.