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, Ruins of
In the Coliseum
Sarah Bridges Stebbins
 
GO stand within the Coliseum’s walls,
And mid the sunny stillness call again
The Roman multitudes of olden days
Back to their cruel lives athirst for blood,
And place them there in all their ancient state,        5
Row upon row of fierce expectant eyes,
A palpitating mass of eager zest;
Behold the Emperor in his purple robes,
Who deemed himself a god, set in their midst;
And in the wide arena, war-won men        10
Grouped, sword in hand, to fight unto the death;
Then in that moment’s quiet, when the hush
Of breathless listening quells the restless crowd,
That moment’s calm, when those about to die
Salute the Cæsar, think, if in such time        15
Once long ago there could have sudden flashed
On that great audience a vision clear
Of what their amphitheatre is now,—
A silent ruin overgrown with weeds,
One keen and instant sense of mortal fate,        20
The transientness of building, empire, man,—
Would not an awful, solemn stillness then
Have stolen o’er them, such as reigns within
The shattered circus of their sports to-day?
And moving slowly, softly, one by one,        25
Would they have gone out, fear-struck to their souls?
Or would the whole assembly, smote at once
With this same realizing, madly rise
In all their lusty health, and with one shout
Of terror-clinched conviction echo there        30
The gladiator’s words, “About to die,
O Cæsar, we salute thee,—we—who die!”
 
 
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