Percy Shelley: Poems

The Daemon Of The World: Part 1

[Sections 1 and 2 of "Queen Mab" rehandled, and published by Shelley]

in the "Alastor" volume, 1816. See "Bibliographical List", and the

Editor's Introductory Note to "Queen Mab".

Nec tantum prodere vati,

Quantum scire licet. Venit aetas omnis in unam

Congeriem, miserumque premunt tot saecula pectus.

LUCAN, Phars. v. 176.

How wonderful is Death,

Death and his brother Sleep!

One pale as yonder wan and horned moon,

With lips of lurid blue,

The other glowing like the vital morn, _5

When throned on ocean's wave

It breathes over the world:

Yet both so passing strange and wonderful!

Hath then the iron-sceptred Skeleton,

Whose reign is in the tainted sepulchres, _10

To the hell dogs that couch beneath his throne

Cast that fair prey? Must that divinest form,

Which love and admiration cannot view

Without a beating heart, whose azure veins

Steal like dark streams along a field of snow, _15

Whose outline is as fair as marble clothed

In light of some sublimest mind, decay?

Nor putrefaction's breath

Leave aught of this pure spectacle

But loathsomeness and ruin?-- _20

Spare aught but a dark theme,

On which the lightest heart might moralize?

Or is it but that downy-winged slumbers

Have charmed their nurse coy Silence near her lids

To watch their own repose? _25

Will they, when morning's beam

Flows through those wells of light,

Seek far from noise and day some western cave,

Where woods and streams with soft and pausing winds

A lulling murmur weave?-- _30

Ianthe doth not sleep

The dreamless sleep of death:

Nor in her moonlight chamber silently

Doth Henry hear her regular pulses throb,

Or mark her delicate cheek _35

With interchange of hues mock the broad moon,

Outwatching weary night,

Without assured reward.

Her dewy eyes are closed;

On their translucent lids, whose texture fine _40

Scarce hides the dark blue orbs that burn below

With unapparent fire,

The baby Sleep is pillowed:

Her golden tresses shade

The bosom's stainless pride, _45

Twining like tendrils of the parasite

Around a marble column.

Hark! whence that rushing sound?

'Tis like a wondrous strain that sweeps

Around a lonely ruin _50

When west winds sigh and evening waves respond

In whispers from the shore:

'Tis wilder than the unmeasured notes

Which from the unseen lyres of dells and groves

The genii of the breezes sweep. _55

Floating on waves of music and of light,

The chariot of the Daemon of the World

Descends in silent power:

Its shape reposed within: slight as some cloud

That catches but the palest tinge of day _60

When evening yields to night,

Bright as that fibrous woof when stars indue

Its transitory robe.

Four shapeless shadows bright and beautiful

Draw that strange car of glory, reins of light _65

Check their unearthly speed; they stop and fold

Their wings of braided air:

The Daemon leaning from the ethereal car

Gazed on the slumbering maid.

Human eye hath ne'er beheld _70

A shape so wild, so bright, so beautiful,

As that which o'er the maiden's charmed sleep

Waving a starry wand,

Hung like a mist of light.

Such sounds as breathed around like odorous winds _75

Of wakening spring arose,

Filling the chamber and the moonlight sky.

Maiden, the world's supremest spirit

Beneath the shadow of her wings

Folds all thy memory doth inherit _80

From ruin of divinest things,

Feelings that lure thee to betray,

And light of thoughts that pass away.

For thou hast earned a mighty boon,

The truths which wisest poets see _85

Dimly, thy mind may make its own,

Rewarding its own majesty,

Entranced in some diviner mood

Of self-oblivious solitude.

Custom, and Faith, and Power thou spurnest; _90

From hate and awe thy heart is free;

Ardent and pure as day thou burnest,

For dark and cold mortality

A living light, to cheer it long,

The watch-fires of the world among. _95

Therefore from nature's inner shrine,

Where gods and fiends in worship bend,

Majestic spirit, be it thine

The flame to seize, the veil to rend,

Where the vast snake Eternity _100

In charmed sleep doth ever lie.

All that inspires thy voice of love,

Or speaks in thy unclosing eyes,

Or through thy frame doth burn or move,

Or think or feel, awake, arise! _105

Spirit, leave for mine and me

Earth's unsubstantial mimicry!

It ceased, and from the mute and moveless frame

A radiant spirit arose,

All beautiful in naked purity. _110

Robed in its human hues it did ascend,

Disparting as it went the silver clouds,

It moved towards the car, and took its seat

Beside the Daemon shape.

Obedient to the sweep of aery song, _115

The mighty ministers

Unfurled their prismy wings.

The magic car moved on;

The night was fair, innumerable stars

Studded heaven's dark blue vault; _120

The eastern wave grew pale

With the first smile of morn.

The magic car moved on.

From the swift sweep of wings

The atmosphere in flaming sparkles flew; _125

And where the burning wheels

Eddied above the mountain's loftiest peak

Was traced a line of lightning.

Now far above a rock the utmost verge

Of the wide earth it flew, _130

The rival of the Andes, whose dark brow

Frowned o'er the silver sea.

Far, far below the chariot's stormy path,

Calm as a slumbering babe,

Tremendous ocean lay. _135

Its broad and silent mirror gave to view

The pale and waning stars,

The chariot's fiery track,

And the grey light of morn

Tingeing those fleecy clouds _140

That cradled in their folds the infant dawn.

The chariot seemed to fly

Through the abyss of an immense concave,

Radiant with million constellations, tinged

With shades of infinite colour, _145

And semicircled with a belt

Flashing incessant meteors.

As they approached their goal,

The winged shadows seemed to gather speed.

The sea no longer was distinguished; earth _150

Appeared a vast and shadowy sphere, suspended

In the black concave of heaven

With the sun's cloudless orb,

Whose rays of rapid light

Parted around the chariot's swifter course, _155

And fell like ocean's feathery spray

Dashed from the boiling surge

Before a vessel's prow.

The magic car moved on.

Earth's distant orb appeared _160

The smallest light that twinkles in the heavens,

Whilst round the chariot's way

Innumerable systems widely rolled,

And countless spheres diffused

An ever varying glory. _165

It was a sight of wonder! Some were horned,

And like the moon's argentine crescent hung

In the dark dome of heaven; some did shed

A clear mild beam like Hesperus, while the sea

Yet glows with fading sunlight; others dashed _170

Athwart the night with trains of bickering fire,

Like sphered worlds to death and ruin driven;

Some shone like stars, and as the chariot passed

Bedimmed all other light.

Spirit of Nature! here _175

In this interminable wilderness

Of worlds, at whose involved immensity

Even soaring fancy staggers,

Here is thy fitting temple.

Yet not the lightest leaf _180

That quivers to the passing breeze

Is less instinct with thee,--

Yet not the meanest worm.

That lurks in graves and fattens on the dead,

Less shares thy eternal breath. _185

Spirit of Nature! thou

Imperishable as this glorious scene,

Here is thy fitting temple.

If solitude hath ever led thy steps

To the shore of the immeasurable sea, _190

And thou hast lingered there

Until the sun's broad orb

Seemed resting on the fiery line of ocean,

Thou must have marked the braided webs of gold

That without motion hang _195

Over the sinking sphere:

Thou must have marked the billowy mountain clouds,

Edged with intolerable radiancy,

Towering like rocks of jet

Above the burning deep: _200

And yet there is a moment

When the sun's highest point

Peers like a star o'er ocean's western edge,

When those far clouds of feathery purple gleam

Like fairy lands girt by some heavenly sea: _205

Then has thy rapt imagination soared

Where in the midst of all existing things

The temple of the mightiest Daemon stands.

Yet not the golden islands

That gleam amid yon flood of purple light, _210

Nor the feathery curtains

That canopy the sun's resplendent couch,

Nor the burnished ocean waves

Paving that gorgeous dome,

So fair, so wonderful a sight _215

As the eternal temple could afford.

The elements of all that human thought

Can frame of lovely or sublime, did join

To rear the fabric of the fane, nor aught

Of earth may image forth its majesty. _220

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;

And on the verge of that obscure abyss _225

Where crystal battlements o'erhang the gulf

Of the dark world, ten thousand spheres diffuse

Their lustre through its adamantine gates.

The magic car no longer moved;

The Daemon and the Spirit _230

Entered the eternal gates.

Those clouds of aery gold

That slept in glittering billows

Beneath the azure canopy,

With the ethereal footsteps trembled not; _235

While slight and odorous mists

Floated to strains of thrilling melody

Through the vast columns and the pearly shrines.

The Daemon and the Spirit

Approached the overhanging battlement, _240

Below lay stretched the boundless universe!

There, far as the remotest line

That limits swift imagination's flight.

Unending orbs mingled in mazy motion,

Immutably fulfilling _245

Eternal Nature's law.

Above, below, around,

The circling systems formed

A wilderness of harmony.

Each with undeviating aim _250

In eloquent silence through the depths of space

Pursued its wondrous way.--

Awhile the Spirit paused in ecstasy.

Yet soon she saw, as the vast spheres swept by,

Strange things within their belted orbs appear. _255

Like animated frenzies, dimly moved

Shadows, and skeletons, and fiendly shapes,

Thronging round human graves, and o'er the dead

Sculpturing records for each memory

In verse, such as malignant gods pronounce, _260

Blasting the hopes of men, when heaven and hell

Confounded burst in ruin o'er the world:

And they did build vast trophies, instruments

Of murder, human bones, barbaric gold,

Skins torn from living men, and towers of skulls _265

With sightless holes gazing on blinder heaven,

Mitres, and crowns, and brazen chariots stained

With blood, and scrolls of mystic wickedness,

The sanguine codes of venerable crime.

The likeness of a throned king came by. _270

When these had passed, bearing upon his brow

A threefold crown; his countenance was calm.

His eye severe and cold; but his right hand

Was charged with bloody coin, and he did gnaw

By fits, with secret smiles, a human heart _275

Concealed beneath his robe; and motley shapes,

A multitudinous throng, around him knelt.

With bosoms bare, and bowed heads, and false looks

Of true submission, as the sphere rolled by.

Brooking no eye to witness their foul shame, _280

Which human hearts must feel, while human tongues

Tremble to speak, they did rage horribly,

Breathing in self-contempt fierce blasphemies

Against the Daemon of the World, and high

Hurling their armed hands where the pure Spirit, _285

Serene and inaccessibly secure,

Stood on an isolated pinnacle.

The flood of ages combating below,

The depth of the unbounded universe

Above, and all around _290

Necessity's unchanging harmony.