Bard's Gallery

Prometheus Unbound

Bergwolf BARD

Prometheus Unbound



The text — not a critical text, — is drawn from the old Cambridge edition.


The Greek tragic writers, in selecting as their subject any portion of their national history or mythology, employed in their treatment of it a certain arbitrary discretion. They by no means conceived themselves bound to adhere to the common interpretation or to imitate in story as in title their rivals and predecessors. Such a system would have amounted to a resignation of those claims to preference over their competitors which incited the composition. The Agamemnonian story was exhibited on the Athenian theatre with as many variations as dramas.

I have presumed to employ a similar license. The Prometheus Unbound of Æschylus supposed the reconciliation of Jupiter with his victim as the price of the disclosure of the danger threatened to his empire by the consummation of his marriage with Thetis. Thetis, according to this view of the subject, was given in marriage to Peleus, and Prometheus, by the permission of Jupiter, delivered from his captivity by Hercules. Had I framed my story on this model, I should have done no more than have attempted to restore the lost drama of Æschylus; an ambition which, if my preference to this mode of treating the subject had incited me to cherish, the recollection of the high comparison such an attempt would challenge might well abate. But, in truth, I was averse from a catastrophe so feeble as that of reconciling the Champion with the Oppressor of mankind. The moral interest of the fable, which is so powerfully sustained by the sufferings and endurance of Prometheus, would be annihilated if we could conceive of him as unsaying his high language and quailing before his successful and perfidious adversary. The only imaginary being, resembling in any degree Prometheus, is Satan; and Prometheus is, in my judgment, a more poetical character than Satan, because, in addition to courage, and majesty, and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent force, he is susceptible of being described as exempt from the taints of ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandizement, which, in the hero of Paradise Lost, interfere with the interest. The character of Satan engenders in the mind a pernicious casuistry which leads us to weigh his faults with his wrongs, and to excuse the former because the latter exceed all measure. In the minds of those who consider that magnificent fiction with a religious feeling it engenders something worse. But Prometheus is, as it were, the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature impelled by the purest and the truest motives to the best and noblest ends.

This Poem was chiefly written upon the mountainous ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, among the flowery glades and thickets of odoriferous blossoming trees, which are extended in ever winding labyrinths upon its immense platforms and dizzy arches suspended in the air. The bright blue sky of Rome, and the effect of the vigorous awakening spring in that divinest climate, and the new life with which it drenches the spirits even to intoxication, were the inspiration of this drama.

The imagery which I have employed will be found, in many instances, to have been drawn from the operations of the human mind, or from those external actions by which they are expressed. This is unusual in modern poetry, although Dante and Shakespeare are full of instances of the same kind; Dante indeed more than any other poet, and with greater success. But the Greek poets, as writers to whom no resource of awakening the sympathy of their contemporaries was unknown, were in the habitual use of this power; and it is the study of their works (since a higher merit would probably be denied me) to which I am willing that my readers should impute this singularity.

One word is due in candor to the degree in which the study of contemporary writings may have tinged my composition, for such has been a topic of censure with regard to poems far more popular, and indeed more deservedly popular, than mine. It is impossible that any one, who inhabits the same age with such writers as those who stand in the foremost ranks of our own, can conscientiously assure himself that his language and tone of thought may not have been modified by the study of the productions of those extraordinary intellects. It is true that, not the spirit of their genius, but the forms in which it has manifested itself, are due less to the peculiarities of their own minds than to the peculiarity of the moral and intellectual condition of the minds among which they have been produced. Thus a number of writers possess the form, whilst they want the spirit of those whom, it is alleged, they imitate; because the former is the endowment of the age in which they live, and the latter must be the uncommunicated lightning of their own mind.

The peculiar style of intense and comprehensive imagery which distinguishes the modern literature of England has not been, as a general power, the product of the imitation of any particular writer. The mass of capabilities remains at every period materially the same; the circumstances which awaken it to action perpetually change. If England were divided into forty republics, each equal in population and extent to Athens, there is no reason to suppose but that, under institutions not more perfect than those of Athens, each would produce philosophers and poets equal to those who (if we except Shakespeare) have never been surpassed. We owe the great writers of the golden age of our literature to that fervid awakening of the public mind which shook to dust the oldest and most oppressive form of the Christian religion. We owe Milton to the progress and development of the same spirit: the sacred Milton was, let it ever be remembered, a republican and a bold inquirer into morals and religion. The great writers of our own age are, we have reason to suppose, the companions and forerunners of some unimagined change in our social condition or the opinions which cement it. The cloud of mind is discharging its collected lightning, and the equilibrium between institutions and opinions is now restoring or is about to be restored.

As to imitation, poetry is a mimetic art. It creates, but it creates by combination and representation. Poetical abstractions are beautiful and new, not because the portions of which they are composed had no previous existence in the mind of man or in Nature, but because the whole produced by their combination has some intelligible and beautiful analogy with those sources of emotion and thought and with the contemporary condition of them. One great poet is a masterpiece of Nature which another not only ought to study but must study. He might as wisely and as easily determine that his mind should no longer be the mirror of all that is lovely in the visible universe as exclude from his contemplation the beautiful which exists in the writings of a great contemporary. The pretence of doing it would be a presumption in any but the greatest; the effect, even in him, would be strained, unnatural and ineffectual. A poet is the combined product of such internal powers as modify the nature of others, and of such external influences as excite and sustain these powers; he is not one, but both. Every man’s mind is, in this respect, modified by all the objects of Nature and art; by every word and every suggestion which he ever admitted to act upon his consciousness; it is the mirror upon which all forms are reflected and in which they compose one form. Poets, not otherwise than philosophers, painters, sculptors and musicians, are, in one sense, the creators, and, in another, the creations, of their age. From this subjection the loftiest do not escape. There is a similarity between Homer and Hesiod, between Æschylus and Euripides, between Virgil and Horace, between Dante and Petrarch, between Shakespeare and Fletcher, between Dryden and Pope; each has a generic resemblance under which their specific distinctions are arranged. If this similarity be the result of imitation, I am willing to confess that I have imitated.

Let this opportunity be conceded to me of acknowledging that I have what a Scotch philosopher characteristically terms a ‘passion for reforming the world:’ what passion incited him to write and publish his book he omits to explain. For my part I had rather be damned with Plato and Lord Bacon than go to Heaven with Paley and Malthus. But it is a mistake to suppose that I dedicate my poetical compositions solely to the direct enforcement of reform, or that I consider them in any degree as containing a reasoned system on the theory of human life. Didactic poetry is my abhorrence; nothing can be equally well expressed in prose that is not tedious and supererogatory in verse. My purpose has hitherto been simply to familiarize the highly refined imagination of the more select classes of poetical readers with beautiful idealisms of moral excellence; aware that, until the mind can love, and admire, and trust, and hope, and endure, reasoned principles of moral conduct are seeds cast upon the highway of life which the unconscious passenger tramples into dust, although they would bear the harvest of his happiness. Should I live to accomplish what I purpose, that is, produce a systematical history of what appear to me to be the genuine elements of human society, let not the advocates of injustice and superstition flatter themselves that I should take Æschylus rather than Plato as my model.

The having spoken of myself with unaffected freedom will need little apology with the candid; and let the uncandid consider that they injure me less than their own hearts and minds by misrepresentation. Whatever talents a person may possess to amuse and instruct others, be they ever so inconsiderable, he is yet bound to exert them: if his attempt be ineffectual, let the punishment of an unaccomplished purpose have been sufficient; let none trouble themselves to heap the dust of oblivion upon his efforts; the pile they raise will betray his grave which might otherwise have been unknown.

Dramatis Persons

Prometheus. Asia }
Demogorgon. Panthea } Oceanides.
Jupiter. Ione }
The Earth. The Phantasm of Jupiter.
Ocean. The Spirit of the Earth.
Apollo. The Spirit of the Moon.
Mercury. Spirits of the Hours.
Hercules. Spirits. Echoes. Fauns. Furies.


Scene. — A Ravine of Icy Rocks in the Indian Caucasus. Prometheus is discovered bound to the Precipice. Panthea and Ione are seated at his feet. Time, night. During the Scene, morning slowly breaks.


Monarch of Gods and Dæmons, and all Spirits
But One, who throng those bright and rolling worlds
Which Thou and I alone of living things
Behold with sleepless eyes! regard this Earth
Made multitudinous with thy slaves, whom thou [1.5]
Requitest for knee-worship, prayer, and praise,
And toil, and hecatombs of broken hearts,
With fear and self-contempt and barren hope.
Whilst me, who am thy foe, eyeless in hate,
Hast thou made reign and triumph, to thy scorn, [1.10]
O’er mine own misery and thy vain revenge.
Three thousand years of sleep-unsheltered hours,
And moments aye divided by keen pangs
Till they seemed years, torture and solitude,
Scorn and despair, — these are mine empire: — [1.15]
More glorious far than that which thou surveyest
From thine unenvied throne, O Mighty God!
Almighty, had I deigned to share the shame
Of thine ill tyranny, and hung not here
Nailed to this wall of eagle-baffling mountain, [1.20]
Black, wintry, dead, unmeasured; without herb,
Insect, or beast, or shape or sound of life.
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, for ever!

No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt? [1.25]
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven’s ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, for ever! [1.30]

The crawling glaciers pierce me with the spears
Of their moon-freezing crystals, the bright chains
Eat with their burning cold into my bones.
Heaven’s wingèd hound, polluting from thy lips
His beak in poison not his own, tears up [1.35]
My heart; and shapeless sights come wandering by,
The ghastly people of the realm of dream,
Mocking me: and the Earthquake-fiends are charged
To wrench the rivets from my quivering wounds
When the rocks split and close again behind: [1.40]
While from their loud abysses howling throng
The genii of the storm, urging the rage
Of whirlwind, and afflict me with keen hail.
And yet to me welcome is day and night,
Whether one breaks the hoar frost of the morn, [1.45]
Or starry, dim, and slow, the other climbs
The leaden-coloured east; for then they lead
The wingless, crawling hours, one among whom
— As some dark Priest hales the reluctant victim —
Shall drag thee, cruel King, to kiss the blood [1.50]
From these pale feet, which then might trample thee
If they disdained not such a prostrate slave.
Disdain! Ah no! I pity thee. What ruin
Will hunt thee undefended through wide Heaven!
How will thy soul, cloven to its depth with terror, [1.55]
Gape like a hell within! I speak in grief,
Not exultation, for I hate no more,
As then ere misery made me wise. The curse
Once breathed on thee I would recall. Ye Mountains,
Whose many-voicèd Echoes, through the mist [1.60]
Of cataracts, flung the thunder of that spell!
Ye icy Springs, stagnant with wrinkling frost,
Which vibrated to hear me, and then crept
Shuddering through India! Thou serenest Air,
Through which the Sun walks burning without beams! [1.65]
And ye swift Whirlwinds, who on poisèd wings
Hung mute and moveless o’er yon hushed abyss,
As thunder, louder than your own, made rock
The orbèd world! If then my words had power,
Though I am changed so that aught evil wish [1.70]
Is dead within; although no memory be
Of what is hate, let them not lose it now!
What was that curse? for ye all heard me speak.

First Voice (from the Mountains).

Thrice three hundred thousand years
O’er the Earthquake’s couch we stood: [1.75]
Oft, as men convulsed with fears,
We trembled in our multitude.

Second Voice (from the Springs).

Thunderbolts had parched our water,
We had been stained with bitter blood,
And had run mute, ‘mid shrieks of slaughter, [1.80]
Thro’ a city and a solitude.
Third Voice (from the Air).

I had clothed, since Earth uprose,
Its wastes in colours not their own,
And oft had my serene repose
Been cloven by many a rending groan. [1.85]
Fourth Voice (from the Whirlwinds).

We had soared beneath these mountains
Unresting ages; nor had thunder,
Nor yon volcano’s flaming fountains,
Nor any power above or under
Ever made us mute with wonder. [1.90]

First Voice.

But never bowed our snowy crest
As at the voice of thine unrest.

Second Voice.

Never such a sound before
To the Indian waves we bore.
A pilot asleep on the howling sea [1.95]
Leaped up from the deck in agony,
And heard, and cried, “Ah, woe is me!”
And died as mad as the wild waves be.

Third Voice.

By such dread words from Earth to Heaven
My still realm was never riven: [1.100]
When its wound was closed, there stood
Darkness o’er the day like blood.

Fourth Voice.

And we shrank back: for dreams of ruin
To frozen caves our flight pursuing
Made us keep silence — thus — and thus — [1.105]
Though silence is as hell to us.

The Earth.

The tongueless Caverns of the craggy hills
Cried, “Misery!” then; the hollow Heaven replied,
“Misery!” And the Ocean’s purple waves,
Climbing the land, howled to the lashing winds, [1.110]
And the pale nations heard it, “Misery!”


I heard a sound of voices: not the voice
Which I gave forth. Mother, thy sons and thou
Scorn him, without whose all-enduring will
Beneath the fierce omnipotence of Jove, [1.115]
Both they and thou had vanished, like thin mist
Unrolled on the morning wind. Know ye not me,
The Titan? He who made his agony
The barrier to your else all-conquering foe?
Oh, rock-embosomed lawns, and snow-fed streams, [1.120]
Now seen athwart frore vapours, deep below,
Through whose o’ershadowing woods I wandered once
With Asia, drinking life from her loved eyes;
Why scorns the spirit which informs ye, now
To commune with me? me alone, who checked, [1.125]
As one who checks a fiend-drawn charioteer,
The falsehood and the force of him who reigns
Supreme, and with the groans of pining slaves
Fills your dim glens and liquid wildernesses:
Why answer ye not, still? Brethren!

The Earth.

They dare not. [1.130]


Who dares? for I would hear that curse again.
Ha, what an awful whisper rises up!
‘Tis scarce like sound: it tingles through the frame
As lightning tingles, hovering ere it strike.
Speak, Spirit! from thine inorganic voice [1.135]
I only know that thou art moving near
And love. How cursed I him?

The Earth.

How canst thou hear
Who knowest not the language of the dead?


Thou art a living spirit; speak as they.

The Earth.

I dare not speak like life, lest Heaven’s fell King [1.140]
Should hear, and link me to some wheel of pain
More torturing than the one whereon I roll.
Subtle thou art and good, and though the Gods
Hear not this voice, yet thou art more than God,
Being wise and kind: earnestly hearken now. [1.145]


Obscurely through my brain, like shadows dim,
Sweep awful thoughts, rapid and thick. I feel
Faint, like one mingled in entwining love;
Yet ‘tis not pleasure.

The Earth.

No, thou canst not hear: Thou art immortal, and this tongue is known [1.150] Only to those who die. Prometheus.

And what art thou, O, melancholy Voice? The Earth.

I am the Earth, Thy mother; she within whose stony veins, To the last fibre of the loftiest tree Whose thin leaves trembled in the frozen air, [1.155] Joy ran, as blood within a living frame, When thou didst from her bosom, like a cloud Of glory, arise, a spirit of keen joy! And at thy voice her pining sons uplifted Their prostrate brows from the polluting dust, [1.160] And our almighty Tyrant with fierce dread Grew pale, until his thunder chained thee here. Then, see those million worlds which burn and roll Around us: their inhabitants beheld My spherèd light wane in wide Heaven; the sea [1.165] Was lifted by strange tempest, and new fire From earthquake-rifted mountains of bright snow Shook its portentous hair beneath Heaven’s frown; Lightning and Inundation vexed the plains; Blue thistles bloomed in cities; foodless toads [1.170] Within voluptuous chambers panting crawled: When Plague had fallen on man, and beast, and worm, And Famine; and black blight on herb and tree; And in the corn, and vines, and meadow-grass, Teemed ineradicable poisonous weeds [1.175] Draining their growth, for my wan breast was dry With grief; and the thin air, my breath, was stained With the contagion of a mother’s hate Breathed on her child’s destroyer; ay, I heard Thy curse, the which, if thou rememberest not, [1.180] Yet my innumerable seas and streams, Mountains, and caves, and winds, and yon wide air, And the inarticulate people of the dead, Preserve, a treasured spell. We meditate In secret joy and hope those dreadful words, [1.185] But dare not speak them. Prometheus.

Venerable mother! All else who live and suffer take from thee Some comfort; flowers, and fruits, and happy sounds, And love, though fleeting; these may not be mine. But mine own words, I pray, deny me not. [1.190] The Earth.

They shall be told. Ere Babylon was dust, The Magus Zoroaster, my dead child, Met his own image walking in the garden. That apparition, sole of men, he saw. For know there are two worlds of life and death: [1.195] One that which thou beholdest; but the other Is underneath the grave, where do inhabit The shadows of all forms that think and live Till death unite them and they part no more; Dreams and the light imaginings of men, [1.200] And all that faith creates or love desires, Terrible, strange, sublime and beauteous shapes. There thou art, and dost hang, a writhing shade, ‘Mid whirlwind-peopled mountains; all the gods Are there, and all the powers of nameless worlds, [1.205] Vast, sceptred phantoms; heroes, men, and beasts; And Demogorgon, a tremendous gloom; And he, the supreme Tyrant, on his throne Of burning gold. Son, one of these shall utter The curse which all remember. Call at will [1.210] Thine own ghost, or the ghost of Jupiter, Hades or Typhon, or what mightier Gods From all-prolific Evil, since thy ruin Have sprung, and trampled on my prostrate sons. Ask, and they must reply: so the revenge [1.215] Of the Supreme may sweep through vacant shades, As rainy wind through the abandoned gate Of a fallen palace. Prometheus.

Mother, let not aught Of that which may be evil, pass again My lips, or those of aught resembling me. [1.220] Phantasm of Jupiter, arise, appear! Ione.

My wings are folded o’er mine ears: My wings are crossèd o’er mine eyes: Yet through their silver shade appears, And through their lulling plumes arise, [1.225] A Shape, a throng of sounds; May it be no ill to thee O thou of many wounds! Near whom, for our sweet sister’s sake, Ever thus we watch and wake. [1.230] Panthea.

The sound is of whirlwind underground, Earthquake, and fire, and mountains cloven; The shape is awful like the sound, Clothed in dark purple, star-inwoven. A sceptre of pale gold [1.235] To stay steps proud, o’er the slow cloud His veinèd hand doth hold. Cruel he looks, but calm and strong, Like one who does, not suffers wrong. Phantasm of Jupiter.

Why have the secret powers of this strange world [1.240] Driven me, a frail and empty phantom, hither On direst storms? What unaccustomed sounds Are hovering on my lips, unlike the voice With which our pallid race hold ghastly talk In darkness? And, proud sufferer, who art thou? [1.245] Prometheus.

Tremendous Image, as thou art must be He whom thou shadowest forth. I am his foe, The Titan. Speak the words which I would hear, Although no thought inform thine empty voice. The Earth.

Listen! And though your echoes must be mute, [1.250] Gray mountains, and old woods, and haunted springs, Prophetic caves, and isle-surrounding streams, Rejoice to hear what yet ye cannot speak. Phantasm.

A spirit seizes me and speaks within: It tears me as fire tears a thunder-cloud. [1.255] Panthea.

See, how he lifts his mighty looks, the Heaven Darkens above. Ione.

He speaks! O shelter me! Prometheus.

I see the curse on gestures proud and cold, And looks of firm defiance, and calm hate, And such despair as mocks itself with smiles, [1.260] Written as on a scroll: yet speak: Oh, speak! Phantasm.

Fiend, I defy thee! with a calm, fixed mind, All that thou canst inflict I bid thee do; Foul Tyrant both of Gods and Human-kind, One only being shalt thou not subdue. [1.265] Rain then thy plagues upon me here, Ghastly disease, and frenzying fear; And let alternate frost and fire Eat into me, and be thine ire Lightning, and cutting hail, and legioned forms [1.270] Of furies, driving by upon the wounding storms.

Ay, do thy worst. Thou art omnipotent. O’er all things but thyself I gave thee power, And my own will. Be thy swift mischiefs sent To blast mankind, from yon ethereal tower. [1.275] Let thy malignant spirit move In darkness over those I love: On me and mine I imprecate The utmost torture of thy hate; And thus devote to sleepless agony, [1.280] This undeclining head while thou must reign on high.

But thou, who art the God and Lord: O, thou, Who fillest with thy soul this world of woe, To whom all things of Earth and Heaven do bow In fear and worship: all-prevailing foe! [1.285] I curse thee! let a sufferer’s curse Clasp thee, his torturer, like remorse; Till thine Infinity shall be A robe of envenomed agony; And thine Omnipotence a crown of pain, [1.290] To cling like burning gold round thy dissolving brain.

Heap on thy soul, by virtue of this Curse, Ill deeds, then be thou damned, beholding good; Both infinite as is the universe, And thou, and thy self-torturing solitude. [1.295] An awful image of calm power Though now thou sittest, let the hour Come, when thou must appear to be That which thou art internally; And after many a false and fruitless crime [1.300] Scorn track thy lagging fall through boundless space and time. Prometheus.

Were these my words, O Parent? The Earth.

They were thine. Prometheus.

It doth repent me: words are quick and vain; Grief for awhile is blind, and so was mine. I wish no living thing to suffer pain. [1.305] The Earth.

Misery, Oh misery to me, That Jove at length should vanquish thee. Wail, howl aloud, Land and Sea, The Earth’s rent heart shall answer ye. Howl, Spirits of the living and the dead, [1.310] Your refuge, your defence lies fallen and vanquishèd. First Echo.

Lies fallen and vanquishèd! Second Echo.

Fallen and vanquishèd! Ione.

Fear not: ‘tis but some passing spasm, The Titan is unvanquished still. [1.315] But see, where through the azure chasm Of yon forked and snowy hill Trampling the slant winds on high With golden-sandalled feet, that glow Under plumes of purple dye, [1.320] Like rose-ensanguined ivory, A Shape comes now, Stretching on high from his right hand A serpent-cinctured wand. Panthea.

‘Tis Jove’s world-wandering herald, Mercury. [1.325] Ione.

And who are those with hydra tresses And iron wings that climb the wind, Whom the frowning God represses Like vapours steaming up behind, Clanging loud, an endless crowd — [1.330] Panthea.

These are Jove’s tempest-walking hounds, Whom he gluts with groans and blood, When charioted on sulphurous cloud He bursts Heaven’s bounds. Ione.

Are they now led, from the thin dead [1.335] On new pangs to be fed? Panthea.

The Titan looks as ever, firm, not proud. First Fury.

Ha! I scent life! Second Fury.

Let me but look into his eyes! Third Fury.

The hope of torturing him smells like a heap Of corpses, to a death-bird after battle. [1.340] First Fury.

Darest thou delay, O Herald! take cheer, Hounds Of Hell: what if the Son of Maia soon Should make us food and sport — who can please long The Omnipotent? Mercury.

Back to your towers of iron, And gnash, beside the streams of fire and wail, [1.345] Your foodless teeth. Geryon, arise! and Gorgon, Chimæra, and thou Sphinx, subtlest of fiends Who ministered to Thebes Heaven’s poisoned wine, Unnatural love, and more unnatural hate: These shall perform your task. First Fury.

Oh, mercy! mercy! [1.350] We die with our desire: drive us not back! Mercury.

Crouch then in silence. Awful Sufferer! To thee unwilling, most unwillingly I come, by the great Father’s will driven down, To execute a doom of new revenge. [1.355] Alas! I pity thee, and hate myself That I can do no more: aye from thy sight Returning, for a season, Heaven seems Hell, So thy worn form pursues me night and day, Smiling reproach. Wise art thou, firm and good, [1.360] But vainly wouldst stand forth alone in strife Against the Omnipotent; as yon clear lamps That measure and divide the weary years From which there is no refuge, long have taught And long must teach. Even now thy Torturer arms [1.365] With the strange might of unimagined pains The powers who scheme slow agonies in Hell, And my commission is to lead them here, Or what more subtle, foul, or savage fiends People the abyss, and leave them to their task. [1.370] Be it not so! there is a secret known To thee, and to none else of living things, Which may transfer the sceptre of wide Heaven, The fear of which perplexes the Supreme: Clothe it in words, and bid it clasp his throne [1.375] In intercession; bend thy soul in prayer, And like a suppliant in some gorgeous fane, Let the will kneel within thy haughty heart: For benefits and meek submission tame The fiercest and the mightiest. Prometheus.

Evil minds [1.380] Change good to their own nature. I gave all He has; and in return he chains me here Years, ages, night and day: whether the Sun Split my parched skin, or in the moony night The crystal-wingèd snow cling round my hair: [1.385] Whilst my belovèd race is trampled down By his thought-executing ministers. Such is the tyrant’s recompense: ‘tis just: He who is evil can receive no good; And for a world bestowed, or a friend lost, [1.390] He can feel hate, fear, shame; not gratitude: He but requites me for his own misdeed. Kindness to such is keen reproach, which breaks With bitter stings the light sleep of Revenge. Submission, thou dost know I cannot try: [1.395] For what submission but that fatal word, The death-seal of mankind’s captivity, Like the Sicilian’s hair-suspended sword, Which trembles o’er his crown, would he accept, Or could I yield? Which yet I will not yield. [1.400] Let others flatter Crime, where it sits throned In brief Omnipotence: secure are they: For Justice, when triumphant, will weep down Pity, not punishment, on her own wrongs, Too much avenged by those who err. I wait, [1.405] Enduring thus, the retributive hour Which since we spake is even nearer now. But hark, the hell-hounds clamour: fear delay: Behold! Heaven lowers under thy Father’s frown. Mercury.

Oh, that we might be spared: I to inflict [1.410] And thou to suffer! Once more answer me: Thou knowest not the period of Jove’s power? Prometheus.

I know but this, that it must come. Mercury.

Alas! Thou canst not count thy years to come of pain? Prometheus.

They last while Jove must reign: nor more, nor less [1.415] Do I desire or fear. Mercury.

Yet pause, and plunge Into Eternity, where recorded time, Even all that we imagine, age on age, Seems but a point, and the reluctant mind Flags wearily in its unending flight, [1.420] Till it sink, dizzy, blind, lost, shelterless; Perchance it has not numbered the slow years Which thou must spend in torture, unreprieved? Prometheus.

Perchance no thought can count them, yet they pass. Mercury.

If thou might’st dwell among the Gods the while [1.425] Lapped in voluptuous joy? Prometheus.

I would not quit This bleak ravine, these unrepentant pains. Mercury.

Alas! I wonder at, yet pity thee. Prometheus.

Pity the self-despising slaves of Heaven, Not me, within whose mind sits peace serene, [1.430] As light in the sun, throned: how vain is talk! Call up the fiends. Ione.

O, sister, look! White fire Has cloven to the roots yon huge snow-loaded cedar; How fearfully God’s thunder howls behind! Mercury.

I must obey his words and thine: alas! [1.435] Most heavily remorse hangs at my heart! Panthea.

See where the child of Heaven, with wingèd feet, Runs down the slanted sunlight of the dawn. Ione.

Dear sister, close thy plumes over thine eyes Lest thou behold and die: they come: they come [1.440] Blackening the birth of day with countless wings, And hollow underneath, like death. First Fury.

Prometheus! Second Fury.

Immortal Titan! Third Fury.

Champion of Heaven’s slaves! Prometheus.

He whom some dreadful voice invokes is here, Prometheus, the chained Titan. Horrible forms, [1.445] What and who are ye? Never yet there came Phantasms so foul through monster-teeming Hell From the all-miscreative brain of Jove; Whilst I behold such execrable shapes, Methinks I grow like what I contemplate, [1.450] And laugh and stare in loathsome sympathy. First Fury.

We are the ministers of pain, and fear, And disappointment, and mistrust, and hate, And clinging crime; and as lean dogs pursue Through wood and lake some struck and sobbing fawn, [1.455] We track all things that weep, and bleed, and live, When the great King betrays them to our will. Prometheus.

Oh! many fearful natures in one name, I know ye; and these lakes and echoes know The darkness and the clangour of your wings. [1.460] But why more hideous than your loathèd selves Gather ye up in legions from the deep? Second Fury.

We knew not that: Sisters, rejoice, rejoice! Prometheus.

Can aught exult in its deformity? Second Fury.

The beauty of delight makes lovers glad, [1.465] Gazing on one another: so are we. As from the rose which the pale priestess kneels To gather for her festal crown of flowers The aëreal crimson falls, flushing her cheek, So from our victim’s destined agony [1.470] The shade which is our form invests us round, Else we are shapeless as our mother Night. Prometheus.

I laugh your power, and his who sent you here, To lowest scorn. Pour forth the cup of pain. First Fury.

Thou thinkest we will rend thee bone from bone, [1.475] And nerve from nerve, working like fire within? Prometheus.

Pain is my element, as hate is thine; Ye rend me now: I care not. Second Fury.

Dost imagine We will but laugh into thy lidless eyes? Prometheus.

I weigh not what ye do, but what ye suffer, [1.480] Being evil. Cruel was the power which called You, or aught else so wretched, into light. Third Fury.

Thou think’st we will live through thee, one by one, Like animal life, and though we can obscure not The soul which burns within, that we will dwell [1.485] Beside it, like a vain loud multitude Vexing the self-content of wisest men: That we will be dread thought beneath thy brain, And foul desire round thine astonished heart, And blood within thy labyrinthine veins [1.490] Crawling like agony? Prometheus.

Why, ye are thus now; Yet am I king over myself, and rule The torturing and conflicting throngs within, As Jove rules you when Hell grows mutinous. Chorus of Furies.

From the ends of the earth, from the ends of the earth, [1.495] Where the night has its grave and the morning its birth, Come, come, come! Oh, ye who shake hills with the scream of your mirth, When cities sink howling in ruin; and ye Who with wingless footsteps trample the sea, [1.500] And close upon Shipwreck and Famine’s track, Sit chattering with joy on the foodless wreck; Come, come, come! Leave the bed, low, cold, and red, Strewed beneath a nation dead; [1.505] Leave the hatred, as in ashes Fire is left for future burning: It will burst in bloodier flashes When ye stir it, soon returning: Leave the self-contempt implanted [1.510] In young spirits, sense-enchanted, Misery’s yet unkindled fuel: Leave Hell’s secrets half unchanted To the maniac dreamer; cruel More than ye can be with hate [1.515] Is he with fear. Come, come, come! We are steaming up from Hell’s wide gate And we burthen the blast of the atmosphere, But vainly we toil till ye come here. [1.520] Ione.

Sister, I hear the thunder of new wings. Panthea.

These solid mountains quiver with the sound Even as the tremulous air: their shadows make The space within my plumes more black than night. First Fury.

Your call was as a wingèd car [1.525] Driven on whirlwinds fast and far; It rapped us from red gulfs of war. Second Fury.

From wide cities, famine-wasted; Third Fury.

Groans half heard, and blood untasted; Fourth Fury.

Kingly conclaves stern and cold, [1.530] Where blood with gold is bought and sold; Fifth Fury.

From the furnace, white and hot, In which — A Fury.

Speak not: whisper not: I know all that ye would tell, But to speak might break the spell [1.535] Which must bend the Invincible, The stern of thought; He yet defies the deepest power of Hell. A Fury.

Tear the veil! Another Fury.

It is torn. Chorus.

The pale stars of the morn Shine on a misery, dire to be borne. [1.540] Dost thou faint, mighty Titan? We laugh thee to scorn. Dost thou boast the clear knowledge thou waken’dst for man? Then was kindled within him a thirst which outran Those perishing waters; a thirst of fierce fever, Hope, love, doubt, desire, which consume him for ever. [1.545] One came forth of gentle worth Smiling on the sanguine earth; His words outlived him, like swift poison Withering up truth, peace, and pity. Look! where round the wide horizon [1.550] Many a million-peopled city Vomits smoke in the bright air. Hark that outcry of despair! ‘Tis his mild and gentle ghost Wailing for the faith he kindled: [1.555] Look again, the flames almost To a glow-worm’s lamp have dwindled: The survivors round the embers Gather in dread. Joy, joy, joy! [1.560] Past ages crowd on thee, but each one remembers, And the future is dark, and the present is spread Like a pillow of thorns for thy slumberless head. Semichorus I.

Drops of bloody agony flow From his white and quivering brow. [1.565] Grant a little respite now: See a disenchanted nation Springs like day from desolation; To Truth its state is dedicate, And Freedom leads it forth, her mate; [1.570] A legioned band of linkèd brothers Whom Love calls children — Semichorus II.

‘Tis another’s: See how kindred murder kin: ‘Tis the vintage-time for death and sin: Blood, like new wine, bubbles within: [1.575] Till Despair smothers The struggling world, which slaves and tyrants win. [All the Furies vanish, except one.


Hark, sister! what a low yet dreadful groan Quite unsuppressed is tearing up the heart Of the good Titan, as storms tear the deep, [1.580] And beasts hear the sea moan in inland caves. Darest thou observe how the fiends torture him? Panthea.

Alas! I looked forth twice, but will no more. Ione.

What didst thou see? Panthea.

A woful sight: a youth With patient looks nailed to a crucifix. [1.585] Ione.

What next? Panthea.

The heaven around, the earth below Was peopled with thick shapes of human death, All horrible, and wrought by human hands, And some appeared the work of human hearts, For men were slowly killed by frowns and smiles: [1.590] And other sights too foul to speak and live Were wandering by. Let us not tempt worse fear By looking forth: those groans are grief enough. Fury.

Behold an emblem: those who do endure Deep wrongs for man, and scorn, and chains, but heap [1.595] Thousandfold torment on themselves and him. Prometheus.

Remit the anguish of that lighted stare; Close those wan lips; let that thorn-wounded brow Stream not with blood; it mingles with thy tears! Fix, fix those tortured orbs in peace and death, [1.600] So thy sick throes shake not that crucifix, So those pale fingers play not with thy gore. O, horrible! Thy name I will not speak, It hath become a curse. I see, I see, The wise, the mild, the lofty, and the just, [1.605] Whom thy slaves hate for being like to thee, Some hunted by foul lies from their heart’s home, An early-chosen, late-lamented home; As hooded ounces cling to the driven hind; Some linked to corpses in unwholesome cells: [1.610] Some — Hear I not the multitude laugh loud? — Impaled in lingering fire: and mighty realms Float by my feet, like sea-uprooted isles, Whose sons are kneaded down in common blood By the red light of their own burning homes. [1.615] Fury.

Blood thou canst see, and fire; and canst hear groans; Worse things, unheard, unseen, remain behind. Prometheus.

Worse? Fury.

In each human heart terror survives The ravin it has gorged: the loftiest fear All that they would disdain to think were true: [1.620] Hypocrisy and custom make their minds The fanes of many a worship, now outworn. They dare not devise good for man’s estate, And yet they know not that they do not dare. The good want power, but to weep barren tears. [1.625] The powerful goodness want: worse need for them. The wise want love; and those who love want wisdom; And all best things are thus confused to ill. Many are strong and rich, and would be just, But live among their suffering fellow-men [1.630] As if none felt: they know not what they do. Prometheus.

Thy words are like a cloud of wingèd snakes; And yet I pity those they torture not. Fury.

Thou pitiest them? I speak no more! [Vanishes.


Ah woe! Ah woe! Alas! pain, pain ever, for ever! [1.635] I close my tearless eyes, but see more clear Thy works within my woe-illumèd mind, Thou subtle tyrant! Peace is in the grave. The grave hides all things beautiful and good: I am a God and cannot find it there, [1.640] Nor would I seek it: for, though dread revenge, This is defeat, fierce king, not victory. The sights with which thou torturest gird my soul With new endurance, till the hour arrives When they shall be no types of things which are. [1.645] Panthea.

Alas! what sawest thou more? Prometheus.

There are two woes: To speak, and to behold; thou spare me one. Names are there, Nature’s sacred watchwords, they Were borne aloft in bright emblazonry; The nations thronged around, and cried aloud, [1.650] As with one voice, Truth, liberty, and love! Suddenly fierce confusion fell from heaven Among them: there was strife, deceit, and fear: Tyrants rushed in, and did divide the spoil. This was the shadow of the truth I saw. [1.655] The Earth.

I felt thy torture, son; with such mixed joy As pain and virtue give. To cheer thy state I bid ascend those subtle and fair spirits, Whose homes are the dim caves of human thought, And who inhabit, as birds wing the wind, [1.660] Its world-surrounding aether: they behold Beyond that twilight realm, as in a glass, The future: may they speak comfort to thee! Panthea.

Look, sister, where a troop of spirits gather, Like flocks of clouds in spring’s delightful weather, [1.665] Thronging in the blue air! Ione.

And see! more come, Like fountain-vapours when the winds are dumb, That climb up the ravine in scattered lines. And, hark! is it the music of the pines? Is it the lake? Is it the waterfall? [1.670] Panthea.

‘Tis something sadder, sweeter far than all. Chorus of Spirits.

From unremembered ages we Gentle guides and guardians be Of heaven-oppressed mortality; And we breathe, and sicken not, [1.675] The atmosphere of human thought: Be it dim, and dank, and gray, Like a storm-extinguished day, Travelled o’er by dying gleams; Be it bright as all between [1.680] Cloudless skies and windless streams, Silent, liquid, and serene; As the birds within the wind, As the fish within the wave, As the thoughts of man’s own mind [1.685] Float through all above the grave; We make there our liquid lair, Voyaging cloudlike and unpent Through the boundless element: Thence we bear the prophecy [1.690] Which begins and ends in thee! Ione.

More yet come, one by one: the air around them Looks radiant as the air around a star. First Spirit.

On a battle-trumpet’s blast I fled hither, fast, fast, fast, [1.695] ‘Mid the darkness upward cast. From the dust of creeds outworn, From the tyrant’s banner torn, Gathering ‘round me, onward borne, There was mingled many a cry — [1.700] Freedom! Hope! Death! Victory! Till they faded through the sky; And one sound, above, around, One sound beneath, around, above, Was moving; ‘twas the soul of Love; [1.705] ‘Twas the hope, the prophecy, Which begins and ends in thee. Second Spirit.

A rainbow’s arch stood on the sea, Which rocked beneath, immovably; And the triumphant storm did flee, [1.710] Like a conqueror, swift and proud, Between, with many a captive cloud, A shapeless, dark and rapid crowd, Each by lightning riven in half: I heard the thunder hoarsely laugh: [1.715] Mighty fleets were strewn like chaff And spread beneath a hell of death O’er the white waters. I alit On a great ship lightning-split, And speeded hither on the sigh [1.720] Of one who gave an enemy His plank, then plunged aside to die. Third Spirit.

I sate beside a sage’s bed, And the lamp was burning red Near the book where he had fed, [1.725] When a Dream with plumes of flame, To his pillow hovering came, And I knew it was the same Which had kindled long ago Pity, eloquence, and woe; [1.730] And the world awhile below Wore the shade, its lustre made. It has borne me here as fleet As Desire’s lightning feet: I must ride it back ere morrow, [1.735] Or the sage will wake in sorrow. Fourth Spirit.

On a poet’s lips I slept Dreaming like a love-adept In the sound his breathing kept; Nor seeks nor finds he mortal blisses, [1.740] But feeds on the aëreal kisses Of shapes that haunt thought’s wildernesses. He will watch from dawn to gloom The lake-reflected sun illume The yellow bees in the ivy-bloom, [1.745] Nor heed nor see, what things they be; But from these create he can Forms more real than living man, Nurslings of immortality! One of these awakened me, [1.750] And I sped to succour thee. Ione.

Behold’st thou not two shapes from the east and west Come, as two doves to one belovèd nest, Twin nurslings of the all-sustaining air On swift still wings glide down the atmosphere? [1.755] And, hark! their sweet, sad voices! ‘tis despair Mingled with love and then dissolved in sound. Panthea.

Canst thou speak, sister? all my words are drowned. Ione.

Their beauty gives me voice. See how they float On their sustaining wings of skiey grain, [1.760] Orange and azure deepening into gold: Their soft smiles light the air like a star’s fire. Chorus of Spirits.

Hast thou beheld the form of Love? Fifth Spirit.

As over wide dominions I sped, like some swift cloud that wings the wide air’s wildernesses, That planet-crested shape swept by on lightning-braided pinions, [1.765] Scattering the liquid joy of life from his ambrosial tresses: His footsteps paved the world with light; but as I passed ‘twas fading, And hollow Ruin yawned behind: great sages bound in madness, And headless patriots, and pale youths who perished, unupbraiding, Gleamed in the night. I wandered o’er, till thou, O King of sadness, [1.770] Turned by thy smile the worst I saw to recollected gladness. Sixth Spirit.

Ah, sister! Desolation is a delicate thing: It walks not on the earth, it floats not on the air, But treads with lulling footstep, and fans with silent wing The tender hopes which in their hearts the best and gentlest bear; [1.775] Who, soothed to false repose by the fanning plumes above And the music-stirring motion of its soft and busy feet, Dream visions of aëreal joy, and call the monster, Love, And wake, and find the shadow Pain, as he whom now we greet. Chorus.

Though Ruin now Love’s shadow be, [1.780] Following him, destroyingly, On Death’s white and wingèd steed, Which the fleetest cannot flee, Trampling down both flower and weed, Man and beast, and foul and fair, [1.785] Like a tempest through the air; Thou shalt quell this horseman grim, Woundless though in heart or limb. Prometheus.

Spirits! how know ye this shall be? Chorus.

In the atmosphere we breathe, [1.790] As buds grow red when the snow-storms flee, From Spring gathering up beneath, Whose mild winds shake the elder brake, And the wandering herdsmen know That the white-thorn soon will blow: [1.795] Wisdom, Justice, Love, and Peace, When they struggle to increase, Are to us as soft winds be To shepherd boys, the prophecy Which begins and ends in thee. [1.800] Ione.

Where are the Spirits fled? Panthea.

Only a sense Remains of them, like the omnipotence Of music, when the inspired voice and lute Languish, ere yet the responses are mute, Which through the deep and labyrinthine soul, [1.805] Like echoes through long caverns, wind and roll. Prometheus.

How fair these airborn shapes! and yet I feel Most vain all hope but love; and thou art far, Asia! who, when my being overflowed, Wert like a golden chalice to bright wine [1.810] Which else had sunk into the thirsty dust. All things are still: alas! how heavily This quiet morning weighs upon my heart; Though I should dream I could even sleep with grief If slumber were denied not. I would fain [1.815] Be what it is my destiny to be, The saviour and the strength of suffering man, Or sink into the original gulf of things: There is no agony, and no solace left; Earth can console, Heaven can torment no more. [1.820] Panthea.

Hast thou forgotten one who watches thee The cold dark night, and never sleeps but when The shadow of thy spirit falls on her? Prometheus.

I said all hope was vain but love: thou lovest. Panthea.

Deeply in truth; but the eastern star looks white, [1.825] And Asia waits in that far Indian vale, The scene of her sad exile; rugged once And desolate and frozen, like this ravine; But now invested with fair flowers and herbs, And haunted by sweet airs and sounds, which flow [1.830] Among the woods and waters, from the aether Of her transforming presence, which would fade If it were mingled not with thine. Farewell! END OF THE FIRST ACT.

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