Percy Shelley: Poems

Prometheus Unbound: Act 3

SCENE 3.1:




Ye congregated powers of heaven, who share

The glory and the strength of him ye serve,

Rejoice! henceforth I am omnipotent.

All else had been subdued to me; alone

The soul of man, like unextinguished fire, _5

Yet burns towards heaven with fierce reproach, and doubt,

And lamentation, and reluctant prayer,

Hurling up insurrection, which might make

Our antique empire insecure, though built

On eldest faith, and hell's coeval, fear; _10

And though my curses through the pendulous air,

Like snow on herbless peaks, fall flake by flake,

And cling to it; though under my wrath's night

It climbs the crags of life, step after step,

Which wound it, as ice wounds unsandalled feet, _15

It yet remains supreme o'er misery,

Aspiring, unrepressed, yet soon to fall:

Even now have I begotten a strange wonder,

That fatal child, the terror of the earth,

Who waits but till the destined hour arrive, _20

Bearing from Demogorgon's vacant throne

The dreadful might of ever-living limbs

Which clothed that awful spirit unbeheld,

To redescend, and trample out the spark.

Pour forth heaven's wine, Idaean Ganymede, _25

And let it fill the Daedal cups like fire,

And from the flower-inwoven soil divine

Ye all-triumphant harmonies arise,

As dew from earth under the twilight stars:

Drink! be the nectar circling through your veins _30

The soul of joy, ye ever-living Gods,

Till exultation burst in one wide voice

Like music from Elysian winds.

And thou

Ascend beside me, veiled in the light

Of the desire which makes thee one with me, _35

Thetis, bright image of eternity!

When thou didst cry, 'Insufferable might!

God! Spare me! I sustain not the quick flames,

The penetrating presence; all my being,

Like him whom the Numidian seps did thaw _40

Into a dew with poison, is dissolved,

Sinking through its foundations:' even then

Two mighty spirits, mingling, made a third

Mightier than either, which, unbodied now,

Between us floats, felt, although unbeheld, _45

Waiting the incarnation, which ascends,

(Hear ye the thunder of the fiery wheels

Griding the winds?) from Demogorgon's throne.

Victory! victory! Feel'st thou not, O world,

The earthquake of his chariot thundering up _50




Awful shape, what art thou? Speak!


_5 like unextinguished B, edition 1839; like an unextinguished 1820.

_13 night B, edition 1839; might 1820.

_20 destined B, edition 1839; distant 1820.


Eternity. Demand no direr name.

Descend, and follow me down the abyss.

I am thy child, as thou wert Saturn's child;

Mightier than thee: and we must dwell together _55

Henceforth in darkness. Lift thy lightnings not.

The tyranny of heaven none may retain,

Or reassume, or hold, succeeding thee:

Yet if thou wilt, as 'tis the destiny

Of trodden worms to writhe till they are dead, _60

Put forth thy might.


Detested prodigy!

Even thus beneath the deep Titanian prisons

I trample thee! thou lingerest?

Mercy! mercy!

No pity, no release, no respite! Oh,

That thou wouldst make mine enemy my judge, _65

Even where he hangs, seared by my long revenge,

On Caucasus! he would not doom me thus.

Gentle, and just, and dreadless, is he not

The monarch of the world? What then art thou?

No refuge! no appeal!

Sink with me then, _70

We two will sink on the wide waves of ruin,

Even as a vulture and a snake outspent

Drop, twisted in inextricable fight,

Into a shoreless sea. Let hell unlock

Its mounded oceans of tempestuous fire, _75

And whelm on them into the bottomless void

This desolated world, and thee, and me,

The conqueror and the conquered, and the wreck

Of that for which they combated.

Ai, Ai!

The elements obey me not. I sink _80

Dizzily down, ever, for ever, down.

And, like a cloud, mine enemy above

Darkens my fall with victory! Ai, Ai!


_69 then B, edition 1839; omitted 1820.

SCENE 3.2:





He fell, thou sayest, beneath his conqueror's frown?


Ay, when the strife was ended which made dim

The orb I rule, and shook the solid stars,

The terrors of his eye illumined heaven

With sanguine light, through the thick ragged skirts _5

Of the victorious darkness, as he fell:

Like the last glare of day's red agony,

Which, from a rent among the fiery clouds,

Burns far along the tempest-wrinkled deep.


He sunk to the abyss? To the dark void? _10


An eagle so caught in some bursting cloud

On Caucasus, his thunder-baffled wings

Entangled in the whirlwind, and his eyes

Which gazed on the undazzling sun, now blinded

By the white lightning, while the ponderous hail _15

Beats on his struggling form, which sinks at length

Prone, and the aereal ice clings over it.


Henceforth the fields of heaven-reflecting sea

Which are my realm, will heave, unstained with blood,

Beneath the uplifting winds, like plains of corn _20

Swayed by the summer air; my streams will flow

Round many-peopled continents, and round

Fortunate isles; and from their glassy thrones

Blue Proteus and his humid nymphs shall mark

The shadow of fair ships, as mortals see _25

The floating bark of the light-laden moon

With that white star, its sightless pilot's crest,

Borne down the rapid sunset's ebbing sea;

Tracking their path no more by blood and groans,

And desolation, and the mingled voice _30

Of slavery and command; but by the light

Of wave-reflected flowers, and floating odours,

And music soft, and mild, free, gentle voices,

And sweetest music, such as spirits love.


_22 many-peopled B; many peopled 1820.

_26 light-laden B; light laden 1820.


And I shall gaze not on the deeds which make _35

My mind obscure with sorrow, as eclipse

Darkens the sphere I guide; but list, I hear

The small, clear, silver lute of the young Spirit

That sits i' the morning star.


_39 i' the B, edition 1839; on the 1820.


Thou must away;

Thy steeds will pause at even, till when farewell: _40

The loud deep calls me home even now to feed it

With azure calm out of the emerald urns

Which stand for ever full beside my throne.

Behold the Nereids under the green sea,

Their wavering limbs borne on the wind-like stream, _45

Their white arms lifted o'er their streaming hair

With garlands pied and starry sea-flower crowns,

Hastening to grace their mighty sister's joy.


It is the unpastured sea hungering for calm.

Peace, monster; I come now. Farewell.


Farewell. _50

SCENE 3.3:






Most glorious among Spirits, thus doth strength

To wisdom, courage, and long-suffering love,

And thee, who art the form they animate,

Minister like a slave.


Thy gentle words

Are sweeter even than freedom long desired _5

And long delayed.

Asia, thou light of life,

Shadow of beauty unbeheld: and ye,

Fair sister nymphs, who made long years of pain

Sweet to remember, through your love and care:

Henceforth we will not part. There is a cave, _10

All overgrown with trailing odorous plants,

Which curtain out the day with leaves and flowers,

And paved with veined emerald, and a fountain

Leaps in the midst with an awakening sound.

From its curved roof the mountain's frozen tears _15

Like snow, or silver, or long diamond spires,

Hang downward, raining forth a doubtful light:

And there is heard the ever-moving air,

Whispering without from tree to tree, and birds,

And bees; and all around are mossy seats, _20

And the rough walls are clothed with long soft grass;

A simple dwelling, which shall be our own;

Where we will sit and talk of time and change,

As the world ebbs and flows, ourselves unchanged.

What can hide man from mutability? _25

And if ye sigh, then I will smile; and thou,

Ione, shalt chant fragments of sea-music,

Until I weep, when ye shall smile away

The tears she brought, which yet were sweet to shed.

We will entangle buds and flowers and beams _30

Which twinkle on the fountain's brim, and make

Strange combinations out of common things,

Like human babes in their brief innocence;

And we will search, with looks and words of love,

For hidden thoughts, each lovelier than the last, _35

Our unexhausted spirits; and like lutes

Touched by the skill of the enamoured wind,

Weave harmonies divine, yet ever new,

From difference sweet where discord cannot be;

And hither come, sped on the charmed winds, _40

Which meet from all the points of heaven, as bees

From every flower aereal Enna feeds,

At their known island-homes in Himera,

The echoes of the human world, which tell

Of the low voice of love, almost unheard, _45

And dove-eyed pity's murmured pain, and music,

Itself the echo of the heart, and all

That tempers or improves man's life, now free;

And lovely apparitions,--dim at first,

Then radiant, as the mind, arising bright _50

From the embrace of beauty (whence the forms

Of which these are the phantoms) casts on them

The gathered rays which are reality--

Shall visit us, the progeny immortal

Of Painting, Sculpture, and rapt Poesy, _55

And arts, though unimagined, yet to be.

The wandering voices and the shadows these

Of all that man becomes, the mediators

Of that best worship love, by him and us

Given and returned; swift shapes and sounds, which grow _60

More fair and soft as man grows wise and kind,

And, veil by veil, evil and error fall:

Such virtue has the cave and place around.


For thee, fair Spirit, one toil remains. Ione,

Give her that curved shell, which Proteus old _65

Made Asia's nuptial boon, breathing within it

A voice to be accomplished, and which thou

Didst hide in grass under the hollow rock.


Thou most desired Hour, more loved and lovely

Than all thy sisters, this is the mystic shell; _70

See the pale azure fading into silver

Lining it with a soft yet glowing light:

Looks it not like lulled music sleeping there?


It seems in truth the fairest shell of Ocean:

Its sound must be at once both sweet and strange. _75


Go, borne over the cities of mankind

On whirlwind-footed coursers: once again

Outspeed the sun around the orbed world;

And as thy chariot cleaves the kindling air,

Thou breathe into the many-folded shell, _80

Loosening its mighty music; it shall be

As thunder mingled with clear echoes: then

Return; and thou shalt dwell beside our cave.

And thou, O Mother Earth!--


I hear, I feel;

Thy lips are on me, and thy touch runs down _85

Even to the adamantine central gloom

Along these marble nerves; 'tis life, 'tis joy,

And, through my withered, old, and icy frame

The warmth of an immortal youth shoots down

Circling. Henceforth the many children fair _90

Folded in my sustaining arms; all plants,

And creeping forms, and insects rainbow-winged,

And birds, and beasts, and fish, and human shapes,

Which drew disease and pain from my wan bosom,

Draining the poison of despair, shall take _95

And interchange sweet nutriment; to me

Shall they become like sister-antelopes

By one fair dam, snow-white and swift as wind,

Nursed among lilies near a brimming stream.

The dew-mists of my sunless sleep shall float _100

Under the stars like balm: night-folded flowers

Shall suck unwithering hues in their repose:

And men and beasts in happy dreams shall gather

Strength for the coming day, and all its joy:

And death shall be the last embrace of her _105

Who takes the life she gave, even as a mother,

Folding her child, says, 'Leave me not again.'


_85 their B; thy 1820.

_102 unwithering B, edition 1839; unwitting 1820.


Oh, mother! wherefore speak the name of death?

Cease they to love, and move, and breathe, and speak,

Who die?


It would avail not to reply: _110

Thou art immortal, and this tongue is known

But to the uncommunicating dead.

Death is the veil which those who live call life:

They sleep, and it is lifted: and meanwhile

In mild variety the seasons mild _115

With rainbow-skirted showers, and odorous winds,

And long blue meteors cleansing the dull night,

And the life-kindling shafts of the keen sun's

All-piercing bow, and the dew-mingled rain

Of the calm moonbeams, a soft influence mild, _120

Shall clothe the forests and the fields, ay, even

The crag-built deserts of the barren deep,

With ever-living leaves, and fruits, and flowers.

And thou! There is a cavern where my spirit

Was panted forth in anguish whilst thy pain _125

Made my heart mad, and those who did inhale it

Became mad too, and built a temple there,

And spoke, and were oracular, and lured

The erring nations round to mutual war,

And faithless faith, such as Jove kept with thee; _130

Which breath now rises, as amongst tall weeds

A violet's exhalation, and it fills

With a serener light and crimson air

Intense, yet soft, the rocks and woods around;

It feeds the quick growth of the serpent vine, _135

And the dark linked ivy tangling wild,

And budding, blown, or odour-faded blooms

Which star the winds with points of coloured light,

As they rain through them, and bright golden globes

Of fruit, suspended in their own green heaven, _140

And through their veined leaves and amber stems

The flowers whose purple and translucid bowls

Stand ever mantling with aereal dew,

The drink of spirits: and it circles round,

Like the soft waving wings of noonday dreams, _145

Inspiring calm and happy thoughts, like mine,

Now thou art thus restored. This cave is thine.

Arise! Appear!


This is my torch-bearer;

Who let his lamp out in old time with gazing

On eyes from which he kindled it anew _150

With love, which is as fire, sweet daughter mine,

For such is that within thine own. Run, wayward,

And guide this company beyond the peak

Of Bacchic Nysa, Maenad-haunted mountain,

And beyond Indus and its tribute rivers, _155

Trampling the torrent streams and glassy lakes

With feet unwet, unwearied, undelaying,

And up the green ravine, across the vale,

Beside the windless and crystalline pool,

Where ever lies, on unerasing waves, _160

The image of a temple, built above,

Distinct with column, arch, and architrave,

And palm-like capital, and over-wrought,

And populous with most living imagery,

Praxitelean shapes, whose marble smiles _165

Fill the hushed air with everlasting love.

It is deserted now, but once it bore

Thy name, Prometheus; there the emulous youths

Bore to thy honour through the divine gloom

The lamp which was thine emblem; even as those _170

Who bear the untransmitted torch of hope

Into the grave, across the night of life,

As thou hast borne it most triumphantly

To this far goal of Time. Depart, farewell.

Beside that temple is the destined cave. _175


_164 with most B; most with 1820.

SCENE 3.4:




Sister, it is not earthly: how it glides

Under the leaves! how on its head there burns

A light, like a green star, whose emerald beams

Are twined with its fair hair! how, as it moves,

The splendour drops in flakes upon the grass! _5

Knowest thou it?


It is the delicate spirit

That guides the earth through heaven. From afar

The populous constellations call that light

The loveliest of the planets; and sometimes

It floats along the spray of the salt sea, _10

Or makes its chariot of a foggy cloud,

Or walks through fields or cities while men sleep,

Or o'er the mountain tops, or down the rivers,

Or through the green waste wilderness, as now,

Wondering at all it sees. Before Jove reigned _15

It loved our sister Asia, and it came

Each leisure hour to drink the liquid light

Out of her eyes, for which it said it thirsted

As one bit by a dipsas, and with her

It made its childish confidence, and told her _20

All it had known or seen, for it saw much,

Yet idly reasoned what it saw; and called her--

For whence it sprung it knew not, nor do I--

Mother, dear mother.


Mother, dearest mother;

May I then talk with thee as I was wont? _25

May I then hide my eyes in thy soft arms,

After thy looks have made them tired of joy?

May I then play beside thee the long noons,

When work is none in the bright silent air?


I love thee, gentlest being, and henceforth _30

Can cherish thee unenvied: speak, I pray:

Thy simple talk once solaced, now delights.


Mother, I am grown wiser, though a child

Cannot be wise like thee, within this day;

And happier too; happier and wiser both. _35

Thou knowest that toads, and snakes, and loathly worms,

And venomous and malicious beasts, and boughs

That bore ill berries in the woods, were ever

An hindrance to my walks o'er the green world:

And that, among the haunts of humankind, _40

Hard-featured men, or with proud, angry looks,

Or cold, staid gait, or false and hollow smiles,

Or the dull sneer of self-loved ignorance,

Or other such foul masks, with which ill thoughts

Hide that fair being whom we spirits call man; _45

And women too, ugliest of all things evil,

(Though fair, even in a world where thou art fair,

When good and kind, free and sincere like thee)

When false or frowning made me sick at heart

To pass them, though they slept, and I unseen. _50

Well, my path lately lay through a great city

Into the woody hills surrounding it:

A sentinel was sleeping at the gate:

When there was heard a sound, so loud, it shook

The towers amid the moonlight, yet more sweet _55

Than any voice but thine, sweetest of all;

A long, long sound, as it would never end:

And all the inhabitants leaped suddenly

Out of their rest, and gathered in the streets,

Looking in wonder up to Heaven, while yet _60

The music pealed along. I hid myself

Within a fountain in the public square,

Where I lay like the reflex of the moon

Seen in a wave under green leaves; and soon

Those ugly human shapes and visages _65

Of which I spoke as having wrought me pain,

Passed floating through the air, and fading still

Into the winds that scattered them; and those

From whom they passed seemed mild and lovely forms

After some foul disguise had fallen, and all _70

Were somewhat changed, and after brief surprise

And greetings of delighted wonder, all

Went to their sleep again: and when the dawn

Came, wouldst thou think that toads, and snakes, and efts,

Could e'er be beautiful? yet so they were, _75

And that with little change of shape or hue:

All things had put their evil nature off:

I cannot tell my joy, when o'er a lake,

Upon a drooping bough with nightshade twined,

I saw two azure halcyons clinging downward _80

And thinning one bright bunch of amber berries,

With quick long beaks, and in the deep there lay

Those lovely forms imaged as in a sky;

So, with my thoughts full of these happy changes,

We meet again, the happiest change of all. _85


And never will we part, till thy chaste sister

Who guides the frozen and inconstant moon

Will look on thy more warm and equal light

Till her heart thaw like flakes of April snow

And love thee.


What! as Asia loves Prometheus? _90


Peace, wanton, thou art yet not old enough.

Think ye by gazing on each other's eyes

To multiply your lovely selves, and fill

With sphered fires the interlunar air?


Nay, mother, while my sister trims her lamp

'Tis hard I should go darkling. _95


Listen; look!



We feel what thou hast heard and seen: yet speak.


Soon as the sound had ceased whose thunder filled

The abysses of the sky and the wide earth,

There was a change: the impalpable thin air _100

And the all-circling sunlight were transformed,

As if the sense of love dissolved in them

Had folded itself round the sphered world.

My vision then grew clear, and I could see

Into the mysteries of the universe: _105

Dizzy as with delight I floated down,

Winnowing the lightsome air with languid plumes,

My coursers sought their birthplace in the sun,

Where they henceforth will live exempt from toil,

Pasturing flowers of vegetable fire; _110

And where my moonlike car will stand within

A temple, gazed upon by Phidian forms

Of thee, and Asia, and the Earth, and me,

And you fair nymphs looking the love we feel,--

In memory of the tidings it has borne,-- _115

Beneath a dome fretted with graven flowers,

Poised on twelve columns of resplendent stone,

And open to the bright and liquid sky.

Yoked to it by an amphisbaenic snake

The likeness of those winged steeds will mock _120

The flight from which they find repose. Alas,

Whither has wandered now my partial tongue

When all remains untold which ye would hear?

As I have said, I floated to the earth:

It was, as it is still, the pain of bliss _125

To move, to breathe, to be. I wandering went

Among the haunts and dwellings of mankind,

And first was disappointed not to see

Such mighty change as I had felt within

Expressed in outward things; but soon I looked, _130

And behold, thrones were kingless, and men walked

One with the other even as spirits do,

None fawned, none trampled; hate, disdain, or fear,

Self-love or self-contempt, on human brows

No more inscribed, as o'er the gate of hell, _135

'All hope abandon ye who enter here;'

None frowned, none trembled, none with eager fear

Gazed on another's eye of cold command,

Until the subject of a tyrant's will

Became, worse fate, the abject of his own, _140

Which spurred him, like an outspent horse, to death.

None wrought his lips in truth-entangling lines

Which smiled the lie his tongue disdained to speak;

None, with firm sneer, trod out in his own heart

The sparks of love and hope till there remained _145

Those bitter ashes, a soul self-consumed,

And the wretch crept a vampire among men,

Infecting all with his own hideous ill;

None talked that common, false, cold, hollow talk

Which makes the heart deny the "yes" it breathes, _150

Yet question that unmeant hypocrisy

With such a self-mistrust as has no name.

And women, too, frank, beautiful, and kind

As the free heaven which rains fresh light and dew

On the wide earth, past; gentle radiant forms, _155

From custom's evil taint exempt and pure;

Speaking the wisdom once they could not think,

Looking emotions once they feared to feel,

And changed to all which once they dared not be,

Yet being now, made earth like heaven; nor pride, _160

Nor jealousy, nor envy, nor ill shame,

The bitterest of those drops of treasured gall,

Spoiled the sweet taste of the nepenthe, love.

Thrones, altars, judgement-seats, and prisons; wherein,

And beside which, by wretched men were borne _165

Sceptres, tiaras, swords, and chains, and tomes

Of reasoned wrong, glozed on by ignorance,

Were like those monstrous and barbaric shapes,

The ghosts of a no-more-remembered fame,

Which, from their unworn obelisks, look forth _170

In triumph o'er the palaces and tombs

Of those who were their conquerors: mouldering round,

These imaged to the pride of kings and priests

A dark yet mighty faith, a power as wide

As is the world it wasted, and are now _175

But an astonishment; even so the tools

And emblems of its last captivity,

Amid the dwellings of the peopled earth,

Stand, not o'erthrown, but unregarded now.

And those foul shapes, abhorred by god and man,-- _180

Which, under many a name and many a form

Strange, savage, ghastly, dark and execrable,

Were Jupiter, the tyrant of the world;

And which the nations, panic-stricken, served

With blood, and hearts broken by long hope, and love _185

Dragged to his altars soiled and garlandless,

And slain among men's unreclaiming tears,

Flattering the thing they feared, which fear was hate,--

Frown, mouldering fast, o'er their abandoned shrines:

The painted veil, by those who were, called life, _190

Which mimicked, as with colours idly spread,

All men believed and hoped, is torn aside;

The loathsome mask has fallen, the man remains

Sceptreless, free, uncircumscribed, but man

Equal, unclassed, tribeless, and nationless, _195

Exempt from awe, worship, degree, the king

Over himself; just, gentle, wise; but man

Passionless?--no, yet free from guilt or pain,

Which were, for his will made or suffered them,

Nor yet exempt, though ruling them like slaves, _200

From chance, and death, and mutability,

The clogs of that which else might oversoar

The loftiest star of unascended heaven,

Pinnacled dim in the intense inane.


_121 flight B, edition 1839; light 1820.

_173 These B; Those 1820.

_187 amid B; among 1820.

_192 or B; and 1820.