Italy : 30. Rome Poem by Samuel Rogers

Italy : 30. Rome

I am in Rome! Oft as the morning-ray
Visits these eyes, waking at once I cry,
Whence this excess of joy? What has befallen me?
And from within a thrilling voice replies,
Thou art in Rome! A thousand busy thoughts
Rush on my mind, a thousand images;
And I spring up as girt to run a race!
Thou art in Rome! the City that so long
Reigned absolute, the mistress of the world;
The mighty vision that the prophets saw,
And trembled; that from nothing, from the least,
The lowliest village (What but here and there
A reed-roofed cabin by the river-side?)
Grew into everything; and, year by year,
Patiently, fearlessly, working her way
O'er brook and field, o'er continent and sea,
Not like the merchant with his merchandise,
Or traveller with staff and scrip exploring,
But always hand to hand and foot to foot,
Through nations numberless in battle-array,
Each behind each, each, when the other fell,
Up and in arms, at length subdued them All.
Thou art in Rome! the City, where the Gauls,
Entering at sun-rise through her open gates,
And, through her streets silent and desolate,
Marching to slay, thought they saw Gods, not men;
The City, that, by temperance, fortitude,
And love of glory, towered above the clouds,
Then fell -- but, falling, kept the highest seat,
And in her loneliness, her pomp of woe,
Where now she dwells, withdrawn into the wild,
Still o'er the mind maintains, from age to age,
Her empire undiminished. ---- There, as though
Grandeur attracted Grandeur, are beheld
All things that strike, ennoble -- from the depths
of Egypt, from the classic fields of Greece,
Her groves, her temples -- all things that inspire
Wonder, delight! Who would not say the Forms
Most perfect, most divine, had by consent
Flocked thither to abide eternally,
Within those silent chambers where they dwell,
In happy intercourse?
And I am there!
Ah, little thought I, when in school I sate,
A school-boy on his bench, at early dawn
Glowing with Roman story, I should live
To tread the Appian, once an avenue
Of monuments most glorious, palaces,
Their doors sealed up and silent as the night,
The dwellings of the illustrious dead -- to turn
Toward Tibur, and, beyond the City-gate
Pour out my unpremeditated verse,
Where on his mule I might have met so oft
Horace himself -- or climb the Palatine,
Dreaming of old Evander and his guest,
Dreaming and lost on that proud eminence,
Long while the seat of Rome, hereafter found
Less than enough (so monstrous was the brood
Engendered there, so Titan-like) to lodge
One in his madness; and inscribed my name,
My name and date, on some broad aloe-leaf,
That shoots and spreads within those very walls
Where Virgil read aloud his tale divine,
Where his voice faltered and a mother wept
Tears of delight!
But what the narrow space
Just underneath? In many a heap the ground
Heaves, as if Ruin in a frantic mood
Had done his utmost. Here and there appears,
As left to show his handy-work not ours,
An idle column, a half-buried arch,
A wall of some great temple. ---- It was once,
And long, the centre of their Universe,
The Forum -- whence mandate, eagle-winged,
Went to the ends of the earth. Let us descend
Slowly. At every step much may be lost.
The very dust we tread stirs as with life;
And not a breath but from the ground sends up
Something of human grandeur.
We are come,
Are now where once the mightiest spirits met
In terrible conflict; this, while Rome was free,
The noblest theatre on this side Heaven!
----- Here the first Brutus stood, when o'er the corse
Of her so chaste all mourned, and from his cloud
Burst like a God. Here, holding up the knife
That ran with blood, the blood of his own child,
Virginius called down vengeance. -- But whence spoke
They who harangued the people; turning now
To the twelve tables, now with lifted hands
To the Capitoline Jove, whose fulgent shape
In the unclouded azure shone far off,
And to the shepherd on the Alban mount,
Seemed like a star new-risen? Where were ranged
In rough array as on their element,
The beaks of those old galleys destined still
To brave the brunt of war -- at last to know
A calm far worse, a silence as in death?
All spiritless; from that disastrous hour
When he, the bravest, gentlest of them all,
Scorning the chains he could not hope to break,
Fell on his sword!
Along the Sacred Way
Hither the Triumph came, and, winding round
With acclamation, and the martial clang
Of instruments, and cars laden with spoil,
Stopped at the sacred stair that then appeared;
Then thro' the darkness broke, ample, star-bright,
As tho' it led to heaven. 'Twas night; but now
A thousand torches, turning night to day,
Blazed, and the victor, springing from his seat,
Went up, and kneeling as in fervent prayer,
Entered the Capitol. But what are they
Who at the foot withdraw, a mournful train
In fetters? And who, yet incredulous,
Now gazing wildly round, now on his sons,
On those so young, well-pleased with all they see,
Staggers along, the last? -- They are the fallen,
Those who were spared to grace the chariot-wheels;
And there they parted, where the road divides,
The victor and the vanquished -- there withdrew;
He to the festal board, and they to die.
Well might the great, the mighty of the world,
They who were wont to fare deliciously,
And war but for a kingdom more or less,
Shrink back, nor from their thrones endure to look,
To think that way! Well might they in their state
Humble themselves, and kneel and supplicate
To be delivered from a dream like this!
Here Cincinnatus passed, his plough the while
Left in the furrow; and how many more,
Whose laurels fade not, who still walk the earth,
Consuls, Dictators, still in Curule pomp
Sit and decide; and, as of old in Rome,
Name but their names, set every heart on fire!
Here, in his bonds, he whom the phalanx saved not,
The last on Philip's throne; and the Numidian,
So soon to say, stript of his cumbrous robe,
Stripped to the skin, and in his nakedness
Thrust under-ground, 'How cold this bath of yours!'
And thy proud queen, Palmyra, thro' the sands
Pursued, o'ertaken on her dromedary;
Whose temples, palaces, a wondrous dream
That passes not away, for many a league
Illumine yet the desert. Some invoked
Death, and escaped; the Egyptian, when her asp
Came from his covert under the green leaf;
And Hannibal himself; and she who said,
Taking the fatal cup between her hands,
'Tell him I would it had come yesterday;
For then it had not been his nuptial gift.'

Now all is changed; and here, as in the wild,
The day is silent, dreary as the night;
None stirring, save the herdsman and his herd,
Savage-like; or they that would explore,
Discuss and learnedly; or they that come,
(And there are many who have crossed the earth)
That they may give the hours to meditation,
And wander, often saying to themselves,
'This was the Roman Forum!'

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