Felicia Dorothea Hemans
The Widow Of Crescentius : Part I. - Poem by Felicia Dorothea Hemans
'Midst Tivoli's luxuriant glades,
Bright-foaming falls, and olive shades,
Where dwelt, in days departed long,
The sons of battle and of song,
No tree, no shrub its foliage rears,
But o'er the wrecks of other years,
Temples and domes, which long have been
The soil of that enchanted scene.
There the wild fig-tree and the vine
O'er Hadrian's mouldering villa twine;
The cypress, in funeral grace,
Usurps the vanished column's place;
O'er fallen shrine and ruined frieze
The wall-flower rustles in the breeze;
Acanthus-leaves the marble hide
They once adorned in sculptured pride;
And nature hath resumed her throne
O'er the vast works of ages flown.
Was it for this that many a pile,
Pride of Hissus and of Nile,
To Anio's banks the image lent
Of each imperial monument?
Now Athens weeps her shattered fanes,
Thy temples, Egypt, strew thy plains;
And the proud fabrics Hadrian reared
From Tibur's vale have disappeared.
We need no prescient sibyl there
The doom of grandeur to declare;
Each stone, where weeds and ivy climb,
Reveals some oracle of Time;
Each relic utters Fate's decree,
The future as the past shall be.
Halls of the dead! in Tibur's vale,
Who now shall tell your lofty tale?
Who trace the high patrician's dome,
The bard's retreat, the hero's home?
When moss-clad wrecks alone record
There dwelt the world's departed lord,
In scenes where verdure's rich array
Still sheds young beauty o'er decay,
And sunshine on each glowing hill,
'Midst ruins finds a dwelling still.
Sunk is thy palace - but thy tomb,
Hadrian! hath shared a prouder doom,
Though vanished with the days of old
Its pillars of Corinthian mould;
And the fair forms by sculpture wrought,
Each bodying some immortal thought,
Which o'er that temple of the dead,
Serene but solemn beauty shed,
Have found, like glory's self, a grave
In Time's abyss, or Tiber's wave:
Yet dreams more lofty and more fair
Than art's bold hand hath imaged e'er,
High thoughts of many a mighty mind,
Expanding when all else declined,
In twilight years, when only they
Recalled the radiance passed away,
Have made that ancient pile their home,
Fortress of freedom and of Rome.
There he, who strove in evil days
Again to kindle glory's rays,
Whose spirit sought a path of light,
For whose dim ages far too bright,-
Crescentius long maintained the strife
Which closed but with its martyr's life,
And left the imperial tomb a name,
A heritage of holier fame.
There closed De Brescia's mission high,
From thence the patriot came to die;
And thou, whose Roman soul the last
Spoke with the voice of ages past,
Whose thoughts so long from earth had fled
To mingle with the glorious dead,
That 'midst the world's degenerate race
They vainly sought a dwelling-place.
Within that house of death didst brood
O'er visions to thy ruin wooed.
Yet, worthy of a brighter lot,
Rienzi, be thy faults forgot!
For thou, when all around thee lay
Chained in the slumbers of decay -
So sunk each heart, that mortal eye
Had scarce a
for liberty -
Alone, amidst the darkness there,
Couldst gaze on Rome - yet not despair!
'Tis morn, and Nature's richest dyes
Are floating o'er Italian skies;
Tints of transparent lustre shine
Along the snow-clad Appennine;
The clouds have left Soracte's height,
And yellow Tiber winds in light,
Where tombs and fallen fanes have strewed
The wide Campagna's solitude.
'Tis sad amidst that scene to trace
Those relics of a vanished race;
Yet, o'er the ravaged path of time -
Such glory sheds that brilliant clime,
Where Nature still, though empires fall,
Holds her triumphant festival -
E'en Desolation wears a smile,
Where skies and sunbeams laugh the while;
And heaven's own light, earth's richest bloom,
Array the ruin and the tomb.
But she, who from yon convent tower
Breathes the pure freshness of the hour;
She, whose rich flow of raven hair
Streams wildly on the morning air,
Heeds not how fair the scene below,
Robed in Italia's brightest glow.
Though throned 'midst Latium's classic plains
The Eternal City's towers and fanes,
And they, the Pleiades of earth,
The seven proud hills of Empire's birth,
Lie spread beneath: not now her glance
Roves o'er that vast sublime expanse;
Inspired, and bright with hope, 'tis thrown
On Adrian's massy tomb alone:
There, from the storm, when Freedom fled,
His faithful crew Crescentius led;
While she, his anxious bride, who now
Bends o'er the scene her youthful brow,
Sought refuge in the hallowed fane,
Which then conflict shelter, not in vain.
But now the lofty strife is o'er,
And Liberty shall weep no more.
At length Imperial Otho's voice
Bids her devoted sons rejoice;
And he, who battled to restore
The glories and the rights of yore,
Whose accents, like the clarion's sound,
Could burst the dead repose around,
Again his native Rome shall see,
The sceptred city of the free!
And youth Stephania waits the hour
When leaves her lord his fortress tower,
Her ardent heart with joy elate,
That seems beyond the reach of fate;
Her mien, like creature from above,
All vivified with hope and love.
Fair is her form, and in her eye
Lives all the soul of Italy;
A meaning lofty and inspired,
As by her native day-star fired;
Such wild and high expression, fraught
With glances of impassioned thought,
As fancy sheds, in visions bright,
O'er priestess of the God of Light;
And the dark locks that lend her face
A youthful and luxuriant grace,
Wave o'er her cheek, whose kindling dyes
Seem from the fire within to rise,
But deepened by the burning heaven
To her own land of sunbeams given.
Italian art that fervid glow
Would o'er ideal beauty throw,
And with such ardent life express
Her high-wrought dreams of loveliness, -
Dreams which, surviving Empire's fall,
The shade of glory still recall.
But see! - the banner of the brave
O'er Adrian's tomb hath ceased to wave.
'Tis lowered - and now Stephania's eye
Can well the martial train descry,
Who, issuing from that ancient dome,
Pour through the crowded streets of Rome.
Now from her watch-tower on the height,
With step as fabled wood-nymph's light,
She flies - and swift her way pursues,
Through the lone convent's avenues.
Dark cypress groves, and fields o'erspread,
With records of the conquering dead,
And paths which track a glowing waste,
She traverses in breathless haste;
And by the tombs where dust is shrined,
Once tenanted by loftiest mind,
Still passing on, hath reached the gate
Of Rome, the proud, the desolate!
Thronged are the streets, and, still renewed,
Rush on the gathering multitude.
Is it their high-souled chief to greet,
That thus the Roman thousands meet?
With names that bid their thoughts ascend,
Crescentius, thine in song to blend;
And of triumphal days gone by
Recall the inspiring pageantry?
- There is an air of breathless dread,
An eager glance, a hurrying tread;
And now a fearful silence round,
And now a fitful murmuring sound,
'Midst the pale crowds, that almost seem
Phantoms of some tumultuous dream.
Quick is each step, and wild each mien,
Portentous of some awful scene.
Bride of Crescentius! as the throng
Bore thee with whelming force along,
How did thine anxious heart beat high,
Till rose suspense to agony! -
Too brief suspense, that soon shall close,
And leave thy heart to deeper woes.
Who 'midst yon guarded precinct stands,
With fearless mien, but fettered hands?
The ministers of death are nigh,
Yet a calm grandeur lights his eye;
And in his glance there lives a mind
Which was not formed for chains to bind,
But cast in such heroic mould
As theirs, the ascendant ones of old.
Crescentius! freedom's daring son,
Is this the guerdon thou hast won?
O worthy to have lived and died
In the bright days of Latium's pride!
Thus must the beam of glory close
O'er the seven hills again that rose,
When at thy voice, to burst the yoke,
The soul of Rome indignant woke?
Vain dream! the sacred shields are gone,
Sunk is the crowning city's throne:
The illusions, that around her cast
Their guardian spells, have long been past.
Thy life hath been a short-star's ray,
Shed o'er her midnight of decay;
Thy death at freedom's ruined shrine
Must rivet every chain - but thine.
Calm is his aspect, and his eye
Now fixed upon the deep-blue sky,
Now on those wrecks of ages fled,
Around in desolation spread -
Arch, temple, column, worn and grey,
Recording triumphs passed away;
Works of the mighty and the free,
Whose steps on earth no more shall be,
Though their bright course hath left a trace
Nor years nor sorrows can efface.
Why changes now the patriot's mien,
Erewhile so loftily serene?
Thus can approaching death control
The might of that commanding soul?
No! - Heard he not that thrilling cry
Which told of bitterest agony?
heard it, and at once, subdued,
Hath sunk the hero's fortitude.
Whence rose that voice of woe can tell;
And 'midst the gazing throngs around
One well-known form his glance hath found -
One fondly loving and beloved,
In grief, in peril, faithful proved.
Yes, in the wildness of despair,
She, his devoted bride, is there.
Pale, breathless, through the crowd she flies,
The light of frenzy in her eyes:
But ere her arms can clasp the form,
Which life ere long must cease to warm -
Ere on his agonising breast
Her heart can heave, her head can rest -
Checked in her course by ruthless hands,
Mute, motionless, at once she stands;
With bloodless cheek and vacant glance,
Frozen and fixed in horror's trance;
Spell-bound, as every sense were fled,
And thought o'erwhelmed, and feeling dead,
And the light waving of her hair,
And veil, far floating on the air,
Alone, in that dread moment, show
She is no sculptured form of woe.
The scene of grief and death is o'er,
The patriot's heart shall throb no more:
- so vainly formed to prove
The pure devotedness of love,
And draw from fond affection's eye
All thought sublime, all feeling high;
When consciousness again shall wake,
Hath now no refuge - but to break.
The spirit long inured to pain
May smile at fate in calm disdain;
Survive its darkest hour and rise
In more majestic energies.
But in the glow of vernal pride,
If each warm hope
Then sinks the mind, a blighted flower,
Dead to the sunbeam and the shower;
A broken gem, whose inborn light
Is scattered - ne'er to reunite.
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