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

Rubicon, the River

Cæsar Passing the Rubicon

By Lucan (39–65 A.D.)

(From Pharsalia)
Translated by Nicholas Rowe

NOW Cæsar, marching swift, with winged haste

The summits of the frozen Alps had past;

The vast events and enterprises fraught,

And future wars revolving in his thought,

Now near the banks of Rubicon he stood;

When, lo! as he surveyed the narrow flood,

Amidst the dusky horrors of the night,

A wondrous vision stood confest to sight.

Her awful head Rome’s reverend image reared,

Trembling and sad the matron form appeared:

A towery crown her hoary temples bound,

And her torn tresses rudely hung around:

Her naked arms uplifted ere she spoke,

Then groaning, thus the mournful silence broke:

“Presumptuous men! O, whither do you run?

O, whither bear ye these mine ensigns on?

If friends to right, if citizens of Rome,

Here to your utmost barrier are you come.”

She said; and sunk within the closing shade.

Astonishment and dread the chief invade.

Stiff rose his starting hair; he stood dismayed,

And on the bank his slackening steps were stayed.

“O thou,” at length he cried, “whose hand controls

The forky fire, and rattling thunder rolls;

Who, from thy capitol’s exalted height,

Dost o’er the widespread city cast thy sight!

Ye Phrygian gods, who guard the Julian line,

Ye mysteries of Romulus divine!

Thou Jove! to whom from young Ascanius came

Thine Alban temple and thy Latial name;

And thou, immortal, sacred Vestal Flame!

But chief, O, chiefly thou, majestic Rome,

My first, my great divinity, to whom,

Thy still successful Cæsar, am I come;

Nor do thou fear the sword’s destructive rage,

With thee my arms no impious war shall wage;

On him thy hate, on him thy curse, bestow

Who would persuade thee Cæsar is thy foe;

And since to thee I consecrate my toil,

O, favor thou my cause, and on thy soldier smile!”

He said; and straight, impatient of delay,

Across the swelling flood pursued his way.

So when on sultry Libya’s desert sand

The lion spies the hunter hard at hand,

Couched on the earth the doubtful savage lies,

And waits awhile till all his fury rise;

His lashing tail provokes his swelling sides,

And high upon his neck his mane with horror rides.

Then if at length the flying dart infest,

Or the broad spear invade his ample breast,

Scorning the wound he yawns a dreadful roar,

And flies like lightning on the hostile Moor.

While with hot skies the fervent summer glows,

The Rubicon an humble river flows;

Through lowly vales he cuts his winding way,

And rolls his ruddy waters to the sea.

His bank on either side a limit stands,

Between the Gallic and Ausonian lands.

But stronger now the winter torrent grows,

For wetting winds had thawed the Alpine snows,

And Cynthia, rising with a blunted beam

In the third circle, drove her watery team,

A signal sure to raise the swelling stream.

For this, to stem the rapid water’s course,

First plunged amidst the flood the bolder horse;

With strength opposed against the stream they lead,

While to the smoother ford the foot with ease succeed.

The leader now had passed the torrent o’er,

And reached fair Italy’s forbidden shore;

Then rearing on the hostile bank his head,

“Here, farewell, peace and injured laws,” he said.

“Since faith is broke and leagues are set aside,

Henceforth thou, Goddess Fortune, art my guide;

Let fate and war the great event decide.”