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With chains which eat into the flesh, alas!
With brazen links, my naked limbs they bound:
The grate, as they departed to repass,
With horrid clangour fell, and the far sound
Of their retiring steps in the dense gloom were drowned.
The noon was calm and bright :-around that column
The overhanging sky and circling sea
Spread forth in silentness profound and solemn
The darkness of brief frenzy cast on me,
So that I knew not my own misery:
The islands and the mountains in the day
Like clouds reposed afar; and I could see
The town among the woods below that lay,
And the dark rocks which bound the bright and glassy bay.
It was so calm, that scarce the feathery weed
Sown by some eagle on the topmost stone
Swayed in the air :--so bright, that noon did breed
No shadow in the sky beside mine own-
Mine, and the shadow of my chain alone.
Below the smoke of roofs involved in flame
Rested like night, all else was clearly shown
In that broad glare, yet sound to me none came,
But of the living blood that ran within my frame.
The peace of madness fled, and ah, too soon!.
A ship was lying on the sunny main,
Its sails were flagging in the breathless noon-
Its shadow lay beyond-that sight again
Waked, with its presence, in my tranced brain
The stings of a known sorrow, keen and cold:
I knew that ship bore Cythna o'er the plain
Of waters, to her blighting slavery sold,
And watched it with such thoughts as must remain untold
I watched, until the shades of evening wrapt
Earth like an exhalation-then the bark
Moved, for that calm was by the sunset snapt.
It moved a speck upon the Ocean dark :
Soon the wan stars came forth, and I could mark
Its path no more!—I sought to close mine eyes,
But like the balls, their lids were stiff and stark;
I would have risen, but ere that I could rise,
My parched skin was split with piercing agonies.
I gnawed my brazen chain, and sought to sever
Its adamantine links, that I might die :
O Liberty! forgive the base endeavour,
Forgive me, if reserved for victory,
The Champion of thy faith e'er sought to fly.--
That starry night, with its clear silence, sent
Tameless resolve which laughed at misery
Into my soul-linked remembrance lent
To that such power, to me such a severe content.
To breathe, to be, to hope, or to despair
And die, I questioned not; nor, though the Sun
Its shafts of agony kindling through the air
Moved over me, nor though in evening dun
Or when the stars their visible courses run,
Or morning, the wide universe was spread
In dreary calmness round me, did I shun
Its presence, nor seek refuge with the dead
From one faint hope whose flower a dropping poison shed.
Two days thus past-I neither raved nor died—
Thirst raged within me, like a scorpion's nest
Built in mine entrails: I had spurned aside
The water-vessel, while despair possest
My thoughts, and now no drop remained ! the uprest
Of the third sun brought hunger-but the crust
Which had been left, was to my craving breast
Fuel, not food. I chewed the bitter dust,
And bit my bloodless arm, and licked the brazen rust.
My brain began to fail when the fourth morn
Burst o'er the golden isles-a fearful sleep,
Which through the caverns dreary and forlor
Of the riven soul, sent its foul dreams to sweep
With whirlwind swiftness-a fall far and deep,-
A gulf, a void, a sense of senselessness-
These things dwelt in me, even as shadows keep
Their watch in some dim charnel's loneliness,
A shoreless sea, a sky sunless and planetless!
The forms which peopled this terrific trance
I well remember-like a quire of devils,
Around me they involved a giddy dance;
Legions seemed gathering from the misty levels
Of Ocean, to supply those ceaseless revels,
The actual world from these entangling evils,
ceaseless shadows:-thought could not divide
All shapes like mine own self, hideously multiplied.
So bemocked themselves, that I descried
The sense of day and night, of false and true,
Was dead within me.
That darkness-one, as since that hour I knew,
phantom of the realms accurst,
Where then my spirit dwelt-but of the first
I know not yet, was it a dream or no.
But both, though not distincter, were immersed
In hues which, when through memory's waste they flow, Make their divided streams more bright and rapid now.
Methought that gate was lifted, and the seven
Who brought me thither, four stiff corpses bare,
And from the frieze to the four winds of Heaven
Hung them on high by the entangled hair:
Swarthy were three-the fourth was very fair:
As they retired, the golden moon upsprung,
And eagerly, out in the giddy air,
Leaning that I might eat, I stretched and clung
Over the shapeless depth in which those corpses hung.
A woman's shape, now lank and cold and blue,
The dwelling of the many-coloured worm
Hung there, the white and hollow cheek I drew
To my dry lips-what radiance did inform
Those horny eyes? whose was that withered form?
Alas, alas! it seemed that Cythna's ghost
Laughed in those looks, and that the flesh was warm
Within my teeth!--a whirlwind keen as frost
Then in its sinking gulfs my sickening spirit tost.
Then seemed it that a tameless hurricane
Arose, and bore me in its dark career
Beyond the sun, beyond the stars that wane
On the verge of formless space-it languished there,
And dying, left a silence lone and drear,
More horrible than famine :-in the deep
The shape of an old man did then appear,
Stately and beautiful, that dreadful sleep
His heavenly smiles dispersed, and I could wake and weep.
And when the blinding tears had fallen, I saw
That column, and those corpses, and the moon,
And felt the poisonous tooth of hunger gnaw
My vitals, I rejoiced, as if the boon
Of senseless death would be accorded soon;-
When from that stony gloom a voice arose,
Solemn and sweet as when low winds attune
The midnight pines; the grate did then unclose,
And on that reverend form the moonlight did repose.
He struck my chains, and gently spake and smiled:
As they were loosened by that Hermit old,
Mine eyes were of their madness half beguiled,
To answer those kind looks-he did enfold
His giant arms around me, to uphold
My wretched frame, my scorched limbs he wound
In linen moist and balmy, and as cold
As dew to drooping leaves ;-the chain, with sound
Like earthquake, through the chasm of that steep stair did bound,
As lifting me, it fell !-What next I heard,
Were billows leaping on the harbour bar,
And the shrill sea-wind, whose breath idly stirred
My hair :-I looked abroad, and saw a star
Shining beside a sail, and distant far
That mountain and its column, the known mark
Of those who in the wide deep wandering are,
So that I feared some Spirit, fell and dark,
In trance had lain me thus within a fiendish bark.
For now indeed, over the salt sea billow
I sailed: yet dared not look upon the shape
Of him who ruled the helm, although the pillow
For my light head was hollowed in his lap,
And my bare limbs his mantle did enwrap,
Fearing it was a fiend: at last, he bent
O'er me his aged face, as if to snap
Those dreadful thoughts the gentle grandsire bent,
And to my inmost soul his soothing looks he sent.
A soft and healing potion to my lips
At intervals he raised-now looked on high,
To mark if yet the starry giant dips
His zone in the dim sea-now cheeringly,
Though he said little, did he speak to me.
"It is a friend beside thee-take good cheer,
Poor victim, thou art now at liberty!"
Ijoyed as those a human tone to hear,
Who in cells deep and lone have languished many a year.
A dim and feeble joy, whose glimpses oft
Were quenched in a relapse of wildering dreams,
Yet still methought we sailed, until aloft
The stars of night grew pallid, and the beams
Of morn descended on the ocean streams,
And still that aged man, so grand and mild,
Tended me, even as some sick mother seems
To hang in hope over a dying child,
Till in the azure East darkness again was piled.
And then the night-wind steaming from the shore,
Sent odiours dying sweet across the sea,
And the swift boat the little waves which bore,
by its keen keel, though slantingly ;
Soon I could hear the leaves sigh, and could see
The myrtle blossoms starring the dim grove,
As past the pebbly beach the boat did flee
On sidelong wing, into a silent cove,
Where ebon pines a shade under the starlight wove.
The old man took the oars, and soon the bark
Smote on the beach beside a tower of stone;
It was a crumbling heap, whose portal dark
With blooming ivy trails was overgrown ;
Upon whose floor the spangling sands were strown,
And rarest sea-shells, which the eternal flood,
Slave to the mother of the months, had thrown
Within the walls of that grey tower, which stood
A changeling of man's art, nursed amid Nature's brood.
When the old man his boat had anchored,
He wound me in his arms with tender care,
And very few, but kindly words he said,
And bore me through the tower adown a stair,
Whose smooth descent some ceaseless step to wear,
For many a year had fallen-We came at last
To a small chamber, which with mosses rare
Was tapestried, where me his soft hands placed
Upon a couch of grass and oak-leaves interlaced.
The moon was darting through the lattices
Its yellow light, warm as the beams of day-
So warm, that to admit the dewy breeze,
The old man opened them; the moonlight lay
Upon a lake whose waters wove their play
Even to the threshold of that lonely home:
Within was seen in the dim wavering ray,
The antique sculptured roof, and many a tome
Whose lore had made that sage all that he had become.
The rock-built barrier of the sea was past,
And I was on the margin of a lake,
A lonely lake, amid the forests vast
And snowy mountains :-did my spirit wake
From sleep, as many-coloured as the snake
That girds eternity? in life and truth,
Might not my heart its cravings ever slake?
Was Cythna then a dream, and all my youth,
And all its hopes and fears, and all its joy and ruth?