Ode to Liberty

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Ode to Liberty  (1820) 
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Published in Prometheus Unbound

Yet freedom, yet, thy banner torn but flying,

Streams like a thunder-storm against the wind. -- Byron.



I

A Glorious people vibrated again

The lightning of the nations: Liberty,

From heart to heart, from tower to tower, o'er Spain,

Scattering contagious fire into the sky,

Gleamed. My soul spruned the chains of its dismay.

And, in the rapid plumes of song,

Clothed itself sublime and strong;

As a young eagle soars the morning clouds among,

Hovering inverse o'er its accustomed prey;

Till from its station in the heaven of fame

The Spirit's whirlwind rapt it, and the ray

Of the remotest sphere of living flame

Which paves the void, was from behind it flung,

As foam from a ship's swiftness, when there came

A voice out of the deep; I will record the same.


II

"The Sun and the serenest Moon sprang forth;

The burning stars of the abyss were hurl'd

Into the depths of heaven. The daedal earth,

That island in the ocean of the world,

Hung in its cloud of all-sustaining air;

But this divinest universe

Was yet a chaos and a curse,

For thou wert not; but power from worst producing worst,

The spirit of the beasts was kindled there,

And of the birds, and of the watery forms,

and there was war among them and despair

Withn them, raging without truce or terms;

The bosom of their violated nurse

Groaned, for beasts warned on beasts, and worms on worms,

And men on men; each beast was as a hell of storms.


III

"Man, the imperial shape, then multiplied

His generations under the pavilion

Of the Sun's throne: palace and pyramid,

Temple and prison, to many a swarming million,

Were, as to mountain-wolves their ragged caves.

This human living multitude

Was savage, cunning, blind, and rude,

For thou wert not; but o'er the populous solitude,

Like one fierce cloud over a waste of waves,

Hung tyranny; beneath, sate deified

The sister-pest, congregator of slaves;

Into the shadow of her pinions wide,

Anarchs and priests who feed on gold and blood,

Till with the stain their inmost souls are dyed,

Drove the astonished herds of men from every side.



IV

"The nodding promontories, and blue isles,

And cloud-like mountains, and dividious waves

Of Greece, basked glorious in the open smiles

Of favouring heaven; from their enchanted caves

Prophetic echoes flung dim melody

On the unapprehensive wild.

The vine, the corn, the olive mild,

Grew, savage yet, to human use unreconciled;

And like the unfoled flowers beneath the sea,

Like the man's thought dark in the infant's brain,

Like aught that is which wraps what is to be,

Art's deathless dreams lay veiled by many a vein

Of Parian stone; and yet a speechless child,

Verse murmured, and Philosophy did strain

Her lidless eyes for the; when o'er the Aegean main


V

"Athens arose; a city such as vision

Builds from the purple crags and silver towers

Of battlemented cloud, as in derision

Of kingliest masonry; the ocean floors

Pave it; the evening sky pavilions it;

Its portals are inhabited

By thunder-zoned winds, each head

Within its cloudy wings with sun-fire garlanded,

A divine work! Athens diviner yet

Gleamed with its crest of columns, on the will

Of man, as on a mount of diamond, set;

For thou wert, and thine all-creative skill

Peopled, with forms that mock the eternal dead

In marble immortality, that hill

Which was thine earliest throne and latest oracle.



VI

"Within the surface of Time's fleeting river

Its wrinkled image lies, as then it lay

Immovable unquiet, and for ever

It trembles, but it cannot pass away!

The voices of thy bards and sages thunder

With an earth-awakening blast

Through the caverns of the past;

Religion veils her eyes; Oppression shrinks aghast;

A winged sound of joy and love, and wonder,

Which soars where Expectation never flew,

Rending the veil of space and time asunder!

One ocean feeds the clouds, and streams, and dew;

One sun illumines heaven; one spirit vast

With life and love makes chaos ever new,

As Athens doth the world with thy delight renew.



VII

"Then Rome was, and from they deep bosom fairest,

Like a wolf-cub from a Cadmaean Maenad,

She drew the milk of greatness, though they dearest

From that Elysian food was yet unweaned;

And many a deed of terrible uprightness

By thy sweet love was sanctified;

And in they smile, and by thy side,

Saintly Camillus lived, and firm Atilius died.

But when tears stained thy robe of vestal whiteness,

And gold profaned they Capitolian throne,

Thou didst desert, with spirit-winged lightness,

The senate of the tyrant; they sunk prone

Slaves of one tyrant. Palatinus sighed

Faint echoes of Ionian song; that tone

Thou didst delay to hear, lamenting to disown.



VIII

"From what Hyrcanian glen or frozen hill,

Or piny promontory of the Arctic main,

Or utmost islet inaccessible,

Didst thou lament the ruin of they reign,

Teaching the woods and waves, and desert rocks,

And every Naiad's ice-cold urn,

To talk in echoes sad and stern,

Of that sublimest lore which man had dared unlearn

For neither didst thou watch the wizard flocks

Of the Scald's dreams, nor haunt the Druid's sleep,

What if the tears rained through thy shattered locks,

Were quickly dried? for thou didst groan, nor weep,

When from the sea of death to kill and burn,

The Galilean serpent forth did creep,

And made thy world an undistinguishable heap.



IX

"A thousand years the Earth cried 'Where art thou?'

And then the shadow of thy coming fell

On Saxon Alfred's olive-cinctured brow;

And many a warrior-peopled citadel,

Like rocks, which fire lifts out of the flat deep,

Arose in sacred Italy,

Frowning o'er the tempestuous sea

Of kings and priests, and slaves, in tower-crowned majesty;

That multitudinous anarchy did sweep,

And burst around their walls like idle foam,

Whilst from the human spirit's deepest deep,

Strange melody with love and awe struck dumb

Dissonant arms; and Art which cannot die,

With divine want traced on our earthly home

Fit imagery to pave heaven's ever-lasting dome.



X

"Thou huntress switter than the Moon! thou terror

Of the world's wolves! thou bearer of the quiver,

Whose sunlike shafts pierce tempest-winged Error,

As light may pierce the clouds when they discover

In the calm regions of the orient day!

Luther caught thy wakening glance;

Like lightning from his leaden lance

Reflected, it dissolved the visions of the trance

In which, as in a tomb, the nations lay;

And England's prophets hailed thee as their queen,

In songs whose music cannot pass away,

Though it must flow for ever; not unseen

Before the spirit-sighted contenance

Of Milton didst thou pass, from the sad scene

Beyond whose night he saw, with a dejected mien.



XI

"The eager hours and unreluctant years

As on a dawn-illumined mountain stood,

Trampling to silence their loud hopes and fears,

Darkening each other with their multitude,

And cried aloud, 'Liberty!' Indignation

Answered Pity from her cave;

Death grew pale within the grave,

And desolation howled to the destroyer, 'Save!'

When, like heaven's son, girt by the exhalation

Of its own glorious light, thou didst arise,

Chasing thy foes from nation unto nation

Like shadows; as if day had cloven the skies

At dreaming midnight o'er the Western wave,

Men started, staggering with a glad surprise,

Under the lightnings of thine familiar eyes.


XII

"Thou heaven of earth! what spells could pall then then,

In ominous eclipse? A thousand years,

Bred from the slime of deep oppression's den,

Dyed all thy liquid light with blood and tears,

Till thy sweet stars could weep the stain away;

How like Bacchanals of blood

Round France, the ghastly vintage, stood

Destruction's sceptred slaves, and Folly's mitred brood!

When one, like them, but mightier far than they,

The Anarch of thine own bewildered powers,

Rose; armies mingled in obscure array,

Like clouds with clouds, darkening the sacred bowers

Of serene heaven. He, by the past pursued,

Rests with those dead but unforgotten hours,

Whose ghosts scare victor kings in their ancestral towers.


XIII

"England yet sleeps; was she not called of old?

Spain calls her now, as with its thrilling thunder

Vesuvius wakens Aetna, and the cold

Snow-crags by its reply are cloven in sunder;

O'er the lit waves every Aeolian isle

From Pithecusa to Pelorus

Howls, and leaps, and glares in chorus;

They cry, 'Be dim, ye lamps of heaven suspended o'er us,'

Her chains are threads of gold, she need but smile

And they dissolve; but Spain's were links like steel,

Till bit to dust by virtue's keenest file.

Twins of single destiny! appeal

To the eternal years enthroned before us,

In the dim West; impress us from a seal,

All ye have thought and done!

Time cannot dare conceal.



XIV

"Tomb of Arminius! render up they dead

Till, like a standard from a watch-tower's staff,

His soul may stream over the tyrant's head!

Thy victory shall be his epitaph,

Wild Bacchanal of truth's mysterious wine,

King-deluded Germany,

His dead spirit lives in thee.

Why do we fear or hope? thou art already free!

And thou, lost Paradise of this divine

And glorious world! thou flowery wilderness!

Thou island of eternity! thou shrine

Where desolation, clothed with loveliness,

Worships the thing thou were! O Italy,

Gather they blood into they heard; repress

The beasts who make their dens they sacred palaces.


XV

"O that the free would stamp the impious name

Of 'King' into the dust; or write it there,

So that this blot upon the page of fame

Were as serpent's path, which the light air

Erases, and the flat sands close behind!

Ye the oracle have heard;

Lift the victory-flashing sword,

And cut the snaky knots of this foul Gordian word,

Which, weak itself as stubble, yet can bind

Into a mass, irrefragably firm,

The axes and the rods which awe mankind;

The sound has poison in it, 'tis the sperm

Of what makes life foul, cankerous, and abhorred;

Disdain not thou, at thine appointed term,

To set thine armed heel on this reluctant worm.


XVI

"O that the wise from their bright minds would kindle

Such lambs within the dome of this dim world,

That the pale name of Priest might shrink and dwindle

Into the hell from which it first was hurled,

A scoff of impious pride from fiends impure,

Till human thoughts might kneel alone,

Each before the judgment-throne

Of its own aweless soul, or of the power unknown!

O that the words which make the thoughts obscure

From which they spring, as clouds of glimmering dew

From a white lake blot heaven's blue portraiture,

Were stript of their thin masks and various hue,

And frowns and smiles and splendours not their own,

Till in the nakeness of false and true

They stand before their Lord, aeach to receive its due.


XVII

"He who taught man to vanquish whatsoever

Can be between the cradle and the grave,

Crowned him the King of Life. O vain endeavour!

If on his own high will, a willing slave,

He has enthroned the oppression and the oppressor.

What if earth can clothe and feed

Amplest millions at their need,

And power in thought be as the tree within the seed?

Or what if Art, an ardent intercessor,

Diving on fiery wings to Nature's throne,

Checks the great mother stooping to caress her,

And cries, 'Give me, thy child, dominion

Over all height and depth?' if Life can breed

New wants, and wealth from those who toil and groan,

Rend of thy gifts and hers a thousandfold for one.


XVIII

"Come thou, but lead out of the inmost cave

Of man's deep spirit, as the Morning Star

Beckons the Sun from the Eoan wave,

Wisdom. I hear the pennons of her car

Self-moving like cloud charioted by flame;

Comes she not, and come ye not,

Rulers of eternal thought,

To judge with solemn truth life's ill-apportioned lot?

Blind Love, and equal Justice, and the Fame

Of what has been, the Hope of what will be?

O, Liberty! if such could be thy name

Wert thou disjoined from these, or they from thee;

If thine or theirs were treasures to be bought

By blood or tears, have not the wise and free

Wept tears, and blood like tears?"

The solemn harmony


XIX

Paused, and the spirit of that might singing

To its abyss was suddenly withdrawn;

Then as a wild swan, when sublimely winging

Its path athwart the thunder-smoke of dawn,

Sinks headlong through the aerial golden light

On the heavy sounding plain,

When the bolt has pierced its brain;

As summer clouds dissolve unburthened of their rain;

As a far taper fades with fading night;

As a brief insect dies with dying day,

My song, its pinions disarrayed of might,

Drooped; o'er it closed the echoes far away

Of the great voice which did its flight sustain,

As waves which lately paved his watery way

Hiss round a drowner's head in their tempestuous play.