Percy Bysshe Shelley

(1792-1822 / Horsham / England)

To Death - Poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Death! where is thy victory?
To triumph whilst I die,
To triumph whilst thine ebon wing
Enfolds my shuddering soul?
O Death! where is thy sting?
Not when the tides of murder roll,
When nations groan, that kings may bask in bliss,
Death! canst thou boast a victory such as this--
When in his hour of pomp and power
His blow the mightiest murderer gave,
Mid Nature’s cries the sacrifice
Of millions to glut the grave;
When sunk the Tyrant Desolation’s slave;
Or Freedom’s life-blood streamed upon thy shrine;
Stern Tyrant, couldst thou boast a victory such as mine?

To know in dissolution’s void
That mortals’ baubles sunk decay;
That everything, but Love, destroyed
Must perish with its kindred clay,--
Perish Ambition’s crown,
Perish her sceptred sway:
From Death’s pale front fades Pride’s fastidious frown.
In Death’s damp vault the lurid fires decay,
That Envy lights at heaven-born Virtue’s beam--
That all the cares subside,
Which lurk beneath the tide
Of life’s unquiet stream;--
Yes! this is victory!
And on yon rock, whose dark form glooms the sky,
To stretch these pale limbs, when the soul is fled;
To baffle the lean passions of their prey,
To sleep within the palace of the dead!
Oh! not the King, around whose dazzling throne
His countless courtiers mock the words they say,
Triumphs amid the bud of glory blown,
As I in this cold bed, and faint expiring groan!

Tremble, ye proud, whose grandeur mocks the woe
Which props the column of unnatural state!
You the plainings, faint and low,
From Misery’s tortured soul that flow,
Shall usher to your fate.

Tremble, ye conquerors, at whose fell command
The war-fiend riots o’er a peaceful land!
You Desolation’s gory throng
Shall bear from Victory along
To that mysterious strand.

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 1, 2010

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