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Famine had spared the palace of the king:— lie rioted in festival the while, He and his guards and priests; but Plague did fling One shadow upon all. Famine can smile On him who brings it food, and pass, with guile Of thankful falsehood, like a courtier grey, The house-dog of the throne; but many a mile Comes Plagne, a winged wolf, who loathes alway The garbage and the scum that strangers make her prey.
So, near the throne, amid the gorgeous feast, Sheathed in resplendent arms, or loosely (light To luxury, ere the mockery yet had ceased That lingered on his lips, the warrior's might Was loosened, and a new and ghastlier night In dreams of frenzy lapped his eyes; he fell Headlong, or with stiff eyeballs sate upright Among the guests, or raving mad, did tell
Strange truths; a dying seer of dark oppression's hell.
xxvr. The Princes and the Priests were pale with terror; That monstrous faith wherewith they ruled manFell, like a shaft loosed by the bowman's error,[kind On their own hearts: they sought and they could No refuge—'twas the blind who led the blind! [find So, through the desolate streets to the high fane, The many-tongued and endless armies wind In sad procession: each among the train
To his own Idol lifts his supplications vain.
"0 God!" they cried, " we know our secret pride
Ere to despair and death thy worshippers be driven.
xxvi u. "0 King of Glory I Thou alone hast power! Who can resist thy will! who can restrain Thy wrath, when on the guilty thou dost shower The shafts of thy revenge,—a blistering rain? Greatest and best, be merciful again! Have we not stabbed thine enemies, and made The Earth an altar, and the Heavens a fane, [laid Where thou wert worshipped with their blood, and
Those hearts in dust which would thy searchless works have weighed t
"Well didst thou loosen on this impious City Thine angels of revenge: recall them now; Thy worshippers abased, here kneel for pity, And bind their souls by an immortal vow: We swear by thee! And to our oath do thou Give sanction, from thine hell of fiends and flame, That we will kill with fire and torments slow, The last of those who mocked thy holy name, And scorned the sacred laws thy prophets did proclaim."
Thus they with trembling limbs and pallid lips
As each of his own god the wondrous works did tell.
xxxi. And Oromaze, Joshua, and Mahomet, [ Foil,
Moses, and Buddh, Zerdusht, and Brahm, and
A voice came forth, which pierced like ice through every soul.
'Twas an Iberian Priest from whom it came, A zealous man, who led the legioned west With words which faith and pride had steeped in To quell the unbelievers; a dire guest [flame, Even to his friends was he, for in his breast Did hate and guile lie watchful, intertwined, Twin serpents in one deep and winding nest; He loathed all faith beside bis own, and pined To wreak his fear of Heaven in vengeance on mankind.
But more he loathed and hated the clear light Of wisdom and free thought, and more did fear, Lest, kindled once, its beams might pierce the night, Even where his Idol stood ; for, far and near Did many a heart in Europe leap to hear That faith and tyranny were trampled down; Many a pale victim, doomed for truth to share The murderer's cell, or see, with helpless groan, The priests his children drag for slaves to serve their own.
He dared not kill the infidels with fire
■ Peace! Peace!" he cried. "When we are dead,
the Day Of Judgment comes, and all shall surely know Whose God is God, each fearfully shall pay The errors of his faith in endless woe! But there is sent a mortal vengeance now On earth, because an impious race had spurned Him whom we all adore,—a subtile foe, By whom for ye this dread reward was earned. And kingly thrones, which rest on faith, nigh overturned.
"ThinK ye, because we weep, and kneel, and pray, That God will loll the pestilence! It rose Even from beneath his throne, where, many a day His mercy soothed it to a dark repose: It walks upon the earth to judge his foes, And what art thou and I, that he should deign To curb his ghastly minister, or close The gates of death, ere they receive the twain Who shook with mortal spells his undefended reign?
"Aye, there is famine in the gulf of hell,'
"Our God may then lull Pestilence to sleep:
Pile high the pyre of expiation now!
"Let Laon and Laone on that pyre,
Linked tight with burning brass, perish !—then
That, with this sacrifice, the withering ire Of Heaven may be appeased." He ceased, and they A space stood silent, as far, far away The echoes of his voice among them died; And he knelt down upon the dust, alway Muttering the curses of his speechless pride, Whilst shame, and fear, and awe, the armies did divide.
His voice was like a blast that burst the portal
'Twas morn.—At noon the public crier went forth, Proclaiming through the living and the dead, "The Monarch saith, that his great empire's worth Is set on Laon and Laone's head: He who but one yet living here can lead, Or who the life from both their hearts can wring. Shall be the kingdom's heir,—a glorious meed! But he who both alive can hither bring, The Princess shall espouse, and reign an equal King."
Ere night the pyre was piled, the net of iron
By gad-flies, they have piled the heath, and gums, and wood.
xim. Night came, a starless and a moonless gloom. Until the dawn, those hosts of many a nation Stood round that pile, as near one lover's tomb Two gentle sisters mourn their desolation; And in the silence of that expectation, Was heard on high the reptiles' hiss and crawl— It was so deep, save when the devastation Of the swift pest with fearful interval,
Marking its path with shrieks, among the crowd would fall.
Morn came.—Among those sleepless multitudes, Madness, and Fear, and Plague, and Famine, still Heaped corpse on corpse, as in autumnal woods The frosts of many a wind with dead leaves fill Earth's cold and sullen brooks. In silence still The pale survivors stood ; ere noon, the fear Of hell became a panic, which did kill Like hunger or disease, with whispers drear, As « Hush ! hark! Come they yet? Just Heaven! thine hour is near!"
And Priests rushed through their ranks, some
counterfeiting The rage they did inspire, some mad indeed With their own lies. They said their god was waiting To see his enemies writhe, and burn, and bleed,— And that, till then, the snakes of Hell had need
Of human souls Three hundred furnaces [speed,
Soon blazed through the wide City, where, with Men brought their infidel kindred to appease God's wrath, and while they burned, knelt round
on quivering knees.
The noontide sun was darkened with that smoke,
Hope, near imagined chasms, is struggling with despair.
xLvn. 'Tis said, a mother dragged three children then, To those fierce flames which roast the eyes in the And laughed and died; and that unholy men, [head, Feasting like fiends upon the infidel dead, Looked from their meal, and saw an Angel tread The visible floor of Heaven, and it was she I And, on that night, one without doubt or dread Came to the fire, and said, " Stop, I am he!
Kill me!"—They burned them both with hellish mockery.
And, one by one, that night, young maidens came, Beauteous and calm, like shapes of living stone Clothed in the light of dreams, and by the flame Which shrank as overgorged,they laid them down, And sung a low sweet song, of which alone One word was heard, and that was Liberty; And that some kissed their marble feet, with moan Like love, and died, and then that they did die With happy smiles, which sunk in white tranquillity.
CANTO XI. i. She saw me not—she heard me not—alone Upon the mountain's dizzy brink she stood; She spake not, breathed not, moved not—there Over her look, the shadow of a mood [was thrown Which only clothes the heart in solitude, A thought of voiceless death.—She stood alone, Above, the Heavens were spread;—below, the flood Was murmuring in its caves;—the wind had blown Her hair apart, thro' which her eyes and forehead shone.
ii. A cloud was hanging o'er the western mountains; Before its blue and moveless depth were flying [tains Grey mists poured forth from the unresting foonOf darkness in the North:—the day was dying:— Sudden, the sun shone forth; its beams were lying Like boiling gold on Ocean, strange to see, And on the shattered vapours, which, defying The power of light in vain, tossed restlessly In the red Heaven, like wrecks in a tempestuous sea.
It was a stream of living beams, whose bank On either side by the cloud's cleft was made; And where its chasms that flood of glory drank, Its waves gushed forth like fire, and, as if swayed By some mute tempest, rolled on her. The shade Of her bright image floated on the river Of liquid light, which then did end and fade— Her radiant shape upon its verge did shiver; Aloft, her flowing hair like strings of flame did qviver.
I stood beside her, but she saw me not— She looked upon the sea, and skies, and earth. Rapture, and love, and admiration, wrought A passion deeper far than tears, or mirth, Or speech, or gesture, or whate'er has birth From common joy ; which, with the speechless That led her there, united, and shot forth [feeling From her far eyes, a light of deep revealing, All but her dearest self from my regard concealing.
Her lips were parted, and the measured breath Was now heard there ;—her dark and intricate Orb within orb, deeper than sleep or death, [eyes Absorbed the glories of the burning Bkics, Which, mingling with her heart's deep ccstacies, Burst from ner looks and gestures;—and a light Of liquid tenderness, like love, did rise [quite From her wholo frame,—an atmosphere which Arrayed her in its beams, tremulous and soft and bright
She would have clasped me to her glowing frame; Those warm and odorous lips might soon have shed On mine the fragrance and the invisible flame Which now the cold winds stole;—she would have
laid Upon my languid heart her dearest head; I might have heard her voice, tender and sweet: Her eyes mingling with mine, might soon have fed My soul with their own joy.—One moment yet I gazed—we parted then, never again to meet!
Never but once to meet on earth again!
oneReturn, ah me 1 return 1" The wind passed by On which those accents died, faint, far, and lin
vm. Woe 1 woe! that moonless midnight.—Want and Were horrible, but one more fell doth rear,[Pest As in a hydra's swarming lair, its crest Eminent among those victims—even the Fear Of Hell: each girt by the hot atmosphere Of his blind agony, like a scorpion stung By his own rage upon his burning bier Of circling coals of fire; but still there clung One hope, like a keen sword on starting threads uphung:
Not death—death was no more refuge or rest;
Their steps :—they heard the roar of Hell's sulphureous surge.
a. Each of that multitude alone, and lost To sense of outward things, one hope yet knew; As on a foam-girt crag some seaman tost, Stares at the rising tide, or like the crew [ through; Whilst now the ship is splitting through and Each, if the tramp of a far steed was heard, Started from sick despair, or if there flew One murmur on the wind, or if some word
Which none can gather yet, the distant crowd has stirred.
Why became cheeks, wan with the kiss of death, Paler from hope I they had sustained despair. Why watched those myriads with suspended breath Sleepless a second night! they are not here The victims, and hour by hour, a vision drear, Warm corpses fall upon the clay-cold dead; And even in death their lips are writhed with fear. The crowd is mute and moveless—overhead Silent Arcturus shines—Ha! hear'st thou not the tread
Of rushing feet! laughter ? the shout, the scream, Of triumph not to be contained! See! hark! They come, they come ! give way ! Alas, ye deem
Falsely 'tis bat a crowd of maniacs stark
Driven, like a troop of spectres, through the dark From the choked well, whence a bright death-tire
sprung, A lurid earth-star, which dropped many a spark From its blue train, and spreading widely, clung To their wild hair, like mist the topmost pines among.
mi. And many, from the crowd collected there, Joined that strange dance in fearful sympathies; There was the silence of a long despair, When the last echo of those terrible cries Came from a distant street, like agonies Stifled afar.—Before the Tyrant's throne All night his aged Senate sate, their eyes In stony expectation fixed ; when one Sudden before them stood, a Stranger and alone.
Dark Priests and haughty Warriors gazed on him
"Ye Princes of the Earth, ye sit aghast
"Ye turn to Heaven for aid in your distress;
"Fear not the future, weep not for the past.
"If thus 'tis well—if not, I come to say
Drew forth their secret steel, and stabbed each ardent youth.
xx. They stabbed them In the back and sneered. A slave Who stood behind the throne, those corpses drew Each to its bloody, dark, and secret grave; And one more daring raised his steel anew To pierce the Stranger: "What hast thou to do With me, poor wretch!"—Calmysolemn, and severe, That voice unstrung his sinews, and he threw His dagger on the ground, and pale with fear,
Sate silently—his voice then did the Stranger rear.
«It doth avail not that I weep for ye—
"There is a People mighty in its youth,
And draws the milk of power in Wisdom's fullest flow.
xxm. "This land is like an Eagle, whose young gaze Feeds on the noontide beam, whose golden plume Floats moveless on the storm, and in the blaze Of sun-rise gleams when earth is wrapt in gloom; An epitaph of glory for the tomb Of murdered Europe may thy fame be made, Great People! As the sands shalt thou become; Thy growth isswiftasmorn, whennight must fade;
The multitudinous Earth shall sleep beneath thy shade.
"Yes, in the desert then is built a home For Freedom. Genius is made strong to rear The monuments of man beneath the dome Of a new heaven; myriads assemble there, Whom the proud lords of man, in rage or fear, Drive from their wasted homes. The boon I pray Is this,—that Cythna shall be convoyed there,— Nay, start not at the name—America! And then to you this night Laon will I betray.
"With me do what ye will. I am your foe!" The light of such a joy as makes the stare Of hungry snakes like living emeralds glow, Shone in a hundred human eyes.—" Where, where Is Laon 1 haste ! fly! drag him swiftly here! We grant thy boon."—" I put no trust in ye, Swear by the Power ye dread."—" We swear, we TheStrangerthrew his vest backsuddenly,[swear!" And smiled in gentle pride, and said, " Lo! I am he!"
i. The transport of a fierce and monstrous gladness Spread through the multitudinous streets/ast flying Upon the winds of fear; from his dull madness The starveling waked, and died in joy; the dying, Among the corpses in stark agony lying, Just heard the happy tidings, and in hope [ing Closed their faint eyes;from house to house replyWith loud acclaim, the livingshook Heaven's cope,
And filled the startled Earth with echoes: morn did ope
ii. Its pale eyes then ; and lo 1 the long array Of guards in golden arms, and priests beside, Singing their bloody hymns, whose garbs betray The blackness of the faith it seems to hide; And sec, the Tyrant's gem-wrought chariot glide Among the gloomy cowls and glittering spears— A shape of light is sitting by his Bide, 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 throng around; There are no sneers upon his lip which speak That scorn or hate has made him bold; his check Resolve has not turned pale,—his eyes are mild And calm, and like the morn 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, 111 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 1 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 an aspen 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 I—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.
All thought it was God's Angel come to The lingering guilty to their fiery grave; The tyrant from his throne in dread did leap,— Her innocence his child from fear did save. Scared by the faith they feigned, each priestly slave Knelt for his mercy whom they served with blood, And, like the refluence of a mighty wave Sucked into the loud sea, the multitude With crushing panic, fled in terror's altered mood.
They pause, they blush, theygaze;agatheringshout Bursts like one sound from the ten thousand streams Of a tempestuous sea :—that sudden rout One checked, who never in his mildest dreams Felt awe from grace or loveliness, the seams Of his rent heart so hard and cold a creed Had seared with blistering ice—but he misdeems That he is wise, whose wounds do only bleed Inly for self; thus thought the Iberian Priest indeed;