Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Italy
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII.  1876–79.
 
Pompeii
Pompeii
John Edmund Reade (1800–1870)
 
(From Italy)

  KNOW’ST thou yon stream, its veiny current threading
  Between the willow banks it loves, that makes
  Its low voice heard by thee as thou art treading
  That green bank thoughtfully; the aspen shakes
  Its boughs above, the deep sky gives and takes        5
  Its azure from it, and that river keeps
  Its name, while states have vanished as the flakes
  Of snow, sun-melted: Sarno to the deeps
Rolls on, its waves no more the painted trireme sweeps.
 
  A rising mound shuts out the path, the wind        10
  Waves the wild fig-trees o’er its flower-crowned crest:
  Enter, a world is opened from behind,
  The dead are disinterred from Nature’s breast,
  The buried raised from their sepulchral rest;
  Living Pompeii again behold!        15
  The vision in material life confessed;
  Time hath the archives of the past unrolled,
Their household gods unveiled, and life domestic told.
 
  The City of the Dead to light restored,
  And resurrection, day again began,        20
  The law of fate suspended to record
  The greatness and the nothingness of man:
  Decay arrested and oblivion’s ban
  From wrecks that rise on life’s cold shore alone:
  Here, moralist! thou seest thy bounded span:        25
  Truth stands embodied, and with audible tone
Points to the house, thy tomb, the dust that is thine own.
 
  Lo, the Pompeian Forum! haunt of rest,
  And recreation when the twilight sky
  Hued with its beauty the delighted west:        30
  When the sea’s rising breath refreshingly
  Gladdened each heart, and soothed each wearied eye
  Oppressed and fevered with the heats of day:
  Moments when life was felt, when the light sigh
  Was pleasure, impulses that all obey,        35
As Nature o’er the heart asserts her healthful sway.
*        *        *        *        *
  The Street of Tombs! the dwelling-places rent
  Of those who felt not fires that o’er them swept,
  Engulfed within a living monument;
  But in those hollow niches where they slept,        40
  Yea, in their urns the fiery vapor crept,
  The mountain’s ashes and the human dust
  Together heaped: the dead no longer kept
  Their couches, forth by earth convulsive thrust
From that last home where love the loved ones still intrust.        45
 
  The house of Diomed, the pleasant place
  Of the refined patrician, where the hand
  Of luxury ruled, and Art traced forms of grace
  Which from time hidden could decay withstand;
  Playthings that shall again resolve to sand,        50
  Opened to skyey influence and air,
  All that his vanity or fondness planned;
  The law of nature it again doth share,
Decay, change, time, and death, too long evaded there.
*        *        *        *        *
  The town was hushed, save where a faint shout came        55
  From the far-distant amphitheatre,
  Air glowed as from a sullen furnace flame:
  The trees drooped wan, no breath a leaf to stir;
  Each house was noiseless as a sepulchre,
  And the all-sickly weight by nature shown        60
  Pressed heaviest on human hearts; they were
  All silent, each foreboding dared not own
Fears, the advancing shadows of an ill unknown.
 
  Behold the Mountain! words withheld while spoken,
  In vision centering the astounded mind:        65
  The mists that erewhile swathed his front are broken,
  Hurled upward as by some imprisoned wind
  Earth could no more within her caverns bind;
  Lo, scroll-like forth in scattered wreathings driven
  From his cleft brow, gray clouds that disentwined        70
  From their black trunk shot forth like branches riven,
Opening their pine-like shape in the profound of heaven!
 
  Statues of fear, mute, motionless they stood:
  The mountain that had slept a thousand years
  Wakes from his slumber! lo, yon sable flood        75
  Of eddying cloud its giant shape uprears:
  They gaze, yet fly not, who had linked with fears
  Vesuvius robed in ever green attire?
  But lo, each moment wilder, fiercer nears
  The unfolding canopy, its skirts respire        80
Lightnings around, away, yon lurid mass is fire!
 
 
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