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.
 
Rome
Rome
Lydia Huntley Sigourney (1791–1865)
 
’T IS sunset on the Palatine. A flood
Of living glory wraps the Sabine hills,
And o’er the rough and serrate Apennines
Floats like a burning mantle. Purple mists
Rise faintly o’er the gray and ivied tombs        5
Of the Campagna, as sad memory steals
Forth from the twilight of the heart, to hold
Its mournful vigil o’er affection’s dust.
Was that thy camp, old Romulus? where creeps
The clinging vine-flower round yon fallen fanes        10
And mouldering columns?
                            Lo! thy clay-built huts,
And band of malcontents, with barbarous port,
Up from the sea of buried ages rise,
Darkening the scene. Methinks I see thee stand,
Thou wolf-nursed monarch, o’er the human herd        15
Supreme in savageness, yet strong to plant
Barrier and bulwark, whence should burst a might
And majesty, by thy untutored soul
Unmeasured, unconceived. As little dreams
The truant boy, who to the teeming earth        20
Casts the light acorn, of the forest’s pomp,
Which, springing from that noteless germ, shall rear
Its banner to the skies, when he must sleep
A noteless atom.
                Hark! the owlet’s cry
That, like a muttering sibyl, makes her cell        25
Mid Nero’s house of gold, with clustering bats
And gliding lizards. Would she tell to man,
In the hoarse plaint of that discordant shriek,
The end of earthly glory?
                        See how meek
And unpretending, mid the ruined pride        30
Of Caracalla’s circus, yon white flock
Do find their sweet repast. The playful lamb,
Fast by its mother’s side, doth roam at peace.
How little dream they of the hideous roar
Of the Numidian lion, or the rage        35
Of the fierce tiger, that in ancient times
Fought in this same arena, for the sport
Of a barbarian throng. With furious haste
No more the chariot round the stadium flies;
Nor toil the rivals in the painful race        40
To the far goal; nor from yon broken arch
Comes forth the victor, with flushed brow, to claim
The hard-earned garland. All have past away,
Save the dead ruins, and the living robe
That Nature wraps around them. Anxious fear,        45
High-swollen expectancy, intense despair,
And wild, exulting triumph, here have reigned,
And perished all.
                    ’T were well could we forget
How oft the gladiator’s blood hath stained
Yon grass-grown pavement, while imperial Rome,        50
With all her fairest, brightest brows looked down
On the stern courage of the wounded wretch
Grappling with mortal agony. The sigh
Or tone of tender pity were to him
A dialect unknown, o’er whose dim eye        55
The distant vision of his cabin rude,
With all its echoing voices, all the rush
Of its cool, flowing waters, brought a pang
To which the torture of keen death was light.
A haughtier phantom stalks! What dost thou here,        60
Dark Caracalla, fratricide? whose step
Through the proud mazes of thy regal dome
Pursued the flying Geta; and whose hand
Mid that heaven-sanctioned shrine, a mother’s breast,
Did pierce his bosom. Was it worth the price        65
Thus of a brother’s blood, to reign alone,
Those few, short, poisoned years?
*        *        *        Again the scene
Spreads unempurpled, unimpassioned forth;
The white lambs resting ’neath the evening shade,
While dimly curtained mid her glory, Rome        70
Slumbereth, as one o’erwearied.
 
 
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