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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Asia Minor: Sardis (Sart)

Brutus in His Tent

By William Henry Cuyler Hosmer (1814–1877)

ON wall-girt Sardis weary day hath shed

The golden blaze of his expiring beam;

And ring her paven walks beneath the tread

Of guards that near the hour of battle deem,—

Whose brazen helmets in the starlight gleam;

From tented lines no murmur loud ascends,

For martial thousands of the battle dream

On which the fate of bleeding Rome depends

When blushing dawn awakes, and night’s dark curtain rends.

Though hushed war’s couchant tigers in their lair,

The tranquil time to one brings not repose,—

A voice was whispering to his soul, “Despair!

The gods will give the triumph to thy foes.”

Can sleep, with leaden hand, our eyelids close

When throng distempered fancies and depart,

And thought a shadow on the future throws?

When shapes unearthly into being start,

And, like a snake, Remorse uncoils within the heart?

At midnight deep when bards avow that tombs

Are by their cold inhabitants forsaken,

The Roman chief his wasted lamp relumes,

And calmly reads by mortal woe unshaken:

His iron frame of rest had not partaken,

And doubt—dark enemy of slumber—fills

A breast where fear no trembling chord could waken,

And on his ear an awful voice yet thrills,

That rose, when Cæsar fell, from Rome’s old Seven Hills.

A sound,—“that earth owns not,”—he hears, and starts,

And grasps the handle of his weapon tried;

Then, while the rustling tent-cloth slowly parts,

A figure enters and stands by his side:

There was an air of majesty and pride

In the bold bearing of that spectre pale,—

The crimson on its robe was still undried,

And dagger-wounds, that tell a bloody tale

Beyond the power of words, the opening folds unveil.

With fearful meaning towers the phantom grim,

On Brutus fixing its cold, beamless eye;

The face, though that of Julius, seems to him

Formed from the moonlight of a misty sky:

The birds of night, affrighted, flutter by,

And a wild sound upon the shuddering air

Creeps as if earth were breathing out a sigh,

And the fast-waning lamp, as if aware

Some awful shade was nigh, emits a ghostly glare.

Stern Brutus quails not, though his woe-worn cheeks

Blanch with emotion, and in tone full loud

Thus to the ghastly apparition speaks,—

“Why stand before me in that gory shroud,

Unwelcome guest! thy purpose unavowed;

Art thou the shaping of my wildered brain?”

The spectre answered, with a gesture proud,

In hollow accents,—“We will meet again

When the best blood of Rome smokes on Philippi’s plain.”