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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII. 1876–79.


A Visit to Tusculum

By Richard Chenevix Trench (1807–1886)

A SOLEMN thing it is, and full of awe,

Wandering long time among the lonely hills,

To issue on a sudden mid the wrecks

Of some fallen city, as might seem a coast

From which the tide of life has ebbed away,

Leaving bare sea-marks only. Such there lie

Among the Alban mountains,—Tusculum,

Or Palestrina with Cyclopean walls

Enormous: and this solemn awe we felt

And knew this morning, when we stood among

What of the first-named city yet survives.

For we had wandered long among those hills,

Watching the white goats on precipitous heights,

Half hid among the bushes, or their young

Tending new-yeaned: and we had paused to hear

The deep-toned music of the convent bells,

And wound through many a verdant forest-path,

Gathering the crocus and anemone,

With that fresh gladness which, when flowers are new

In the first spring, they bring us, till at last

We issued out upon an eminence,

Commanding prospect large on every side,

But largest where the world’s great city lay,

Whose features, undistinguishable now,

Allowed no recognition, save where the eye

Could mark the white front of the Lateran

Facing this way, or rested on the dome,

The broad stupendous dome, high over all.

And as a sea around an island’s roots

Spreads, so the level champaign every way

Stretched round the city, level all, and green

With the new vegetation of the spring;

Nor by the summer ardors scorched as yet,

Which shot from southern suns, too soon dry up

The beauty and the freshness of the plains;

While to the right the ridge of Apennine,

Its higher farther summits all snow-crowned,

Rose, with white clouds above them, as might seem

Another range of more aërial hills.

These things were at a distance, but more near

And at our feet signs of the tide of life,

That once was here, and now had ebbed away,—

Pavements entire, without one stone displaced,

Where yet there had not rolled a chariot-wheel

For many hundred years; rich cornices,

Elaborate friezes of rare workmanship,

And broken shafts of columns, that along

This highway-side lay prone; vaults that were rooms,

And hollowed from the turf, and cased in stone,

Seats and gradations of a theatre,

Which emptied of its population now

Shall never be refilled: and all these things,

Memorials of the busy life of man,

Or of his ample means for pomp and pride,

Scattered among the solitary hills,

And lying open to the sun and showers,

And only visited at intervals

By wandering herds, or pilgrims like ourselves

From distant lands; with now no signs of life,

Save where the goldfinch built his shallow nest

Mid the low bushes, or where timidly

The rapid lizard glanced between the stones,—

All saying that the fashion of this world

Passes away; that not philosophy

Nor eloquence can guard their dearest haunts

From the rude touch of desecrating time.

What marvel, when the very fanes of God,

The outward temples of the Holy One,

Claim no exemption from the general doom,

But lie in ruinous heaps; when nothing stands,

Nor may endure to the end, except alone

The spiritual temple built with living stones?