Italy : 45. Pæstum

They stand between the mountains and the sea;
Awful memorials, but of whom we know not!
The seaman, passing, gazes from the deck.
The buffalo-driver, in his shaggy cloak,
Points to the work of magic and moves on.
Time was they stood along the crowded street,
Temples of Gods! and on their ample steps
What various habits, various tongues beset
The brazen gates for prayer and sacrifice!
Time was they stood along the crowded street,
Temples of Gods! and on their ample steps
What various habits, various tongues beset
The brazen gates for prayer and sacrifice!
Time was perhaps the third who sought for Justice;
And here the accuser stood, and there the accused;
And here the judges sate, and heard, and judged.
All silent now! -- as in the ages past,
Trodden under foot and mingled, dust with dust.
How many centuries did the sun go round
From Mount Alburnus to the Tyrrhene sea,
While, by some spell rendered invisible,
Or, if approached, approached by him alone
Who saw as though he saw not, they remained
As in the darkness of a sepulchre,
Waiting the appointed time! All, all within
Proclaims that Nature had resumed her right,
And taken to herself what man renounced;
No cornice, triglyph, or worn abacus,
But with thick ivy hung or branching fern;
Their iron-brown o'erspread with brightest verdure!
From my youth upward have I longed to tread
This classic ground -- And am I here at last?
Wandering at will through the long porticoes,
And catching, as through some majestic grove,
Now the blue ocean, and now, chaos-like,
Mountains and mountain-gulfs, and, half-way up,
Towns like the living rock from which they grew?
A cloudy region, black and desolate,
Where once a slave withstood a world in arms.
The air is sweet with violets, running wild
'Mid broken friezes and fallen capitals;
Sweet as when Tully, writing down his thoughts,
Those thoughts so precious and so lately lost,
(Turning to thee, divine Philosophy,
Ever at hand to calm his troubled soul)
Sailed slowly by, two thousand years ago,
For Athens; when a ship, if north-east winds
Blew from the Pæstan gardens, slacked her course.
On as he moved along the level shore,
These temples, in their splendour eminent
'Mid arcs and obelisks, and domes and towers,
Reflecting back the radiance of the west,
Well might he dream of Glory! -- Now, coiled up,
The serpent sleeps within them; the she-wolf
Suckles her young: and, as alone I stand
In this, the nobler pile, the elements
Of earth and air its only floor and covering,
How solemn is the stillness! Nothing stirs
Save the shrill-voiced cicala flitting round
On the rough pediment to sit and sing;
Or the green lizard rustling through the grass,
And up the fluted shaft with short quick spring,
To vanish in the chinks that Time has made.
In such an hour as this, the sun's broad disk
Seen at his setting, and a flood of light
Filling the courts of these old sanctuaries,
(Gigantic shadows, broken and confused,
Athwart the innumerable columns flung)
In such an hour he came, who saw and told,
Led by the mighty Genius of the Place.
Walls of some capital city first appeared,
Half razed, half sunk, or scattered as in scorn;
-- And what within them? what within the midst
These Three in more than their original grandeur,
And, round about, no stone upon another?
As if the spoiler had fallen back in fear,
And, turning, left them to the elements.
'Tis said a stranger in the days of old
(Some say a Dorian, some a Sybarite;
But distant things are ever lost in clouds)
'Tis said a stranger came, and, with his plough,
Traced out the site; and Posidonia rose,
Severely great, Neptune the tutelar God;
And in her haven many a mast from Tyre.
Then came another, an unbidden guest.
He knocked and entered with a train in arms;
And all was changed, her very name and language!
The Tyrian merchant, shipping at his door
Ivory and gold, and silk, and frankincense,
Sailed as before, but, sailing, cried, 'For Pæstum!'
And now a Virgil, now an Ovid sung
Pæstum's twice-blowing roses; while, within,
Parents and children mourned -- and, every year,
('Twas on the day of some old festival)
Met to give way to teras, and once again,
Talked in the ancient tongue of things gone by.
At length an Arab climbed the battlements,
Slaying the sleepers in the dead of night;
And from all eyes the glorious vision fled!
Leaving a place lonely and dangerous,
Where whom the robber spares, a deadlier foe
Strikes at unseen -- and at a time when joy
Opens the heart, and summer-skies are blue,
And the clear air is soft and delicate;
For then the demon works -- then with that air
The thoughtless wretch drinks in a subtle poison
Lulling to sleep; and, when he sleeps, he dies.
But what are These still standing in the midst?
The earth has rocked beneath; the Thunder-stone
Passed through and through, and left its traces there,
Yet still they stand as by some Unknown Charter!
Oh, they are Nature's own! and, as allied
To the vast Mountains and the eternal Sea,
They want to written history; theirs a voice
For ever speaking to the heart of Man!