Queen Mab: Part VI

Original Text: 
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Queen Mab (1813).
147Of which yon earth is one, is wide diffus'd
148A Spirit of activity and life,
149That knows no term, cessation, or decay;
150That fades not when the lamp of earthly life,
151Extinguish'd in the dampness of the grave,
152Awhile there slumbers, more than when the babe
153In the dim newness of its being feels
154The impulses of sublunary things,
155And all is wonder to unpractis'd sense:
156But, active, steadfast and eternal, still
157Guides the fierce whirlwind, in the tempest roars,
158Cheers in the day, breathes in the balmy groves,
159Strengthens in health, and poisons in disease;
160And in the storm of change, that ceaselessly
161Rolls round the eternal universe and shakes
162Its undecaying battlement, presides,
163Apportioning with irresistible law
164The place each spring of its machine shall fill;
165So that when waves on waves tumultuous heap
166Confusion to the clouds, and fiercely driven
167Heaven's lightnings scorch the uprooted ocean-fords,
168Whilst, to the eye of shipwreck'd mariner,
169Lone sitting on the bare and shuddering rock,
170All seems unlink'd contingency and chance,
171No atom of this turbulence fulfils
172A vague and unnecessitated task,
173Or acts but as it must and ought to act.
174Even the minutest molecule of light,
175That in an April sunbeam's fleeting glow
176Fulfils its destin'd, though invisible work,
177The universal Spirit guides; nor less,
178When merciless ambition, or mad zeal,
179Has led two hosts of dupes to battlefield,
180That, blind, they there may dig each other's graves,
181And call the sad work glory, does it rule
182All passions: not a thought, a will, an act,
183No working of the tyrant's moody mind,
184Nor one misgiving of the slaves who boast
185Their servitude to hide the shame they feel,
186Nor the events enchaining every will,
187That from the depths of unrecorded time
188Have drawn all-influencing virtue, pass
189Unrecogniz'd or unforeseen by thee,
190Soul of the Universe! eternal spring
191Of life and death, of happiness and woe,
192Of all that chequers the phantasmal scene
193That floats before our eyes in wavering light,
194Which gleams but on the darkness of our prison,
195     Whose chains and massy walls
196     We feel, but cannot see.
197"Spirit of Nature! all-sufficing Power,
199Unlike the God of human error, thou
200Requir'st no prayers or praises; the caprice
201Of man's weak will belongs no more to thee
202Than do the changeful passions of his breast
203To thy unvarying harmony: the slave,
204Whose horrible lusts spread misery o'er the world,
205And the good man, who lifts with virtuous pride
206His being in the sight of happiness
207That springs from his own works; the poison-tree,
208Beneath whose shade all life is wither'd up,
209And the fair oak, whose leafy dome affords
210A temple where the vows of happy love
211Are register'd, are equal in thy sight:
212No love, no hate thou cherishest; revenge
213And favouritism, and worst desire of fame
214Thou know'st not: all that the wide world contains
215Are but thy passive instruments, and thou
216Regard'st them all with an impartial eye,
217Whose joy or pain thy nature cannot feel,
218      Because thou hast not human sense,
219      Because thou art not human mind.
220      "Yes! when the sweeping storm of time
221Has sung its death-dirge o'er the ruin'd fanes
222And broken altars of the almighty Fiend
223Whose name usurps thy honours, and the blood
224Through centuries clotted there has floated down
225The tainted flood of ages, shalt thou live
226Unchangeable! A shrine is rais'd to thee,
227      Which, nor the tempest-breath of time,
228      Nor the interminable flood
229      Over earth's slight pageant rolling,
230           Availeth to destroy--
231The sensitive extension of the world.
232      That wondrous and eternal fane,
233Where pain and pleasure, good and evil join,
234To do the will of strong necessity,
235      And life, in multitudinous shapes,
236Still pressing forward where no term can be,
237      Like hungry and unresting flame
238Curls round the eternal columns of its strength."


146] Sub-titled "a philosophical poem with notes," it seems to have been written in 1812 and was published in 1813. Its more than two thousand lines, in which the fairy Mab instructs the spirit of the sleeping Ianthe with a panoramic vision of the evils of past and present and of the hopes for the future, are supplemented by lengthy notes on such subjects as the labour theory of value, the decreasing obliquity of the earth's axis, prostitution as "the legitimate offspring of marriage," and the incredibility of the Christian religion. Back to Line
198] Necessity! thou mother of the world! Shelley annotates this line (in part) as follows: "He who asserts the doctrine of Necessity means that, contemplating the events which compose the moral and material universe, he beholds only an immense and uninterrupted chain of causes and effects, no one of which could occupy any other place than it does occupy, or act in any other place than it does act. The idea of necessity is obtained by our experience of the connection between objects, the uniformity of the operations of nature, the constant conjunction of similar events, and the consequent inference of one from the other. Mankind are therefore agreed in the admission of necessity, if they admit that these two circumstances take place in voluntary action. Motive is to voluntary action in the human mind what cause is to effect in the material universe. The word liberty, as applied to mind, is analogous to the word chance as applied to matter: they spring from an ignorance of the certainty of the conjunction of antecedents and consequents. ... Religion is the perception of the relation in which we stand to the principle of the universe. But if the principle of the universe be not an organic being, the model and prototype of man, the relation between it and human beings is absolutely none. Without some insight into its will respecting our actions religion is nugatory and vain. But will is only a mode of animal mind; moral qualities are also such as only a human being can possess; to attribute them to the principle of the universe is to annex to it properties incompatible with any possible definition of its nature. It is probable that the word God was originally only an expression denoting the unknown cause of the known events which men perceived in the universe. By the vulgar mistake of a metaphor for a real being, of a word for a thing, it became a man, endowed with human qualities and governing the universe as an earthly monarch governs his kingdom. Their addresses to this imaginary being, indeed, are much in the same style as those of subjects to a king. They acknowledge his benevolence, deprecate his anger and supplicate his favour." Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
M. T. Wilson
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.552.