Prometheus Unbound

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53

IONE
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 splendor drops in flakes upon the grass!

Knowest thou it?

PANTHEA
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,

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

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

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.

THE SPIRIT OF THE EARTH, running to ASIA

Mother, dearest mother!

May I then talk with thee as I was wont?

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?

54

ASIA
I love thee, gentlest being, and henceforth

Can cherish thee unenvied. Speak, I pray;

Thy simple talk once solaced, now delights.

SPIRIT OF THE EARTH
Mother, I am grown wiser, though a child

Cannot be wise like thee, within this day;

And happier too; happier and wiser both.

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,

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;

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.

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

Than any voice but thine, sweetest of all;

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

And all the inhabitants leapt suddenly

Out of their rest, and gathered in the streets,

Looking in wonder up to Heaven, while yet

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

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

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,

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

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.

55

ASIA
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.

SPIRIT OF THE EARTH
What! as Asia loves Prometheus?

ASIA
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 spherèd fires the interlunar air?

SPIRIT OF THE EARTH
Nay, mother, while my sister trims her lamp

'T is hard I should go darkling.

ASIA
Listen; look!

The SPIRIT OF THE HOUR enters

PROMETHEUS
We feel what thou hast heard and seen; yet speak.

SPIRIT OF THE HOUR
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

And the all-circling sunlight were transformed,

As if the sense of love, dissolved in them,

Had folded itself round the spherèd world.

My vision then grew clear, and I could see

Into the mysteries of the universe.

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,

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,--

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 amphisbenic snake

The likeness of those wingèd steeds will mock

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

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,

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,

'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,

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

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,

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, passed; gentle, radiant forms,

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,

Nor jealousy, nor envy, nor ill shame,

The bitterest of those drops of treasured gall,

Spoiled the sweet taste of the nepenthe, love.

56

Thrones, altars, judgment-seats, and prisons, wherein,

And beside which, by wretched men were borne

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

In triumph o'er the palaces and tombs

Of those who were their conquerors; mouldering round,

Those 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

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,

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

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,

Which mimicked, as with colors 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,

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,

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.