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

Rome, Ruins of

In the Coliseum

By Sarah Bridges Stebbins

GO stand within the Coliseum’s walls,

And mid the sunny stillness call again

The Roman multitudes of olden days

Back to their cruel lives athirst for blood,

And place them there in all their ancient state,

Row upon row of fierce expectant eyes,

A palpitating mass of eager zest;

Behold the Emperor in his purple robes,

Who deemed himself a god, set in their midst;

And in the wide arena, war-won men

Grouped, sword in hand, to fight unto the death;

Then in that moment’s quiet, when the hush

Of breathless listening quells the restless crowd,

That moment’s calm, when those about to die

Salute the Cæsar, think, if in such time

Once long ago there could have sudden flashed

On that great audience a vision clear

Of what their amphitheatre is now,—

A silent ruin overgrown with weeds,

One keen and instant sense of mortal fate,

The transientness of building, empire, man,—

Would not an awful, solemn stillness then

Have stolen o’er them, such as reigns within

The shattered circus of their sports to-day?

And moving slowly, softly, one by one,

Would they have gone out, fear-struck to their souls?

Or would the whole assembly, smote at once

With this same realizing, madly rise

In all their lusty health, and with one shout

Of terror-clinched conviction echo there

The gladiator’s words, “About to die,

O Cæsar, we salute thee,—we—who die!”