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



By Samuel Rogers (1763–1855)

(From Italy)

ONCE did I linger there alone till day

Closed, and at length the calm of twilight came,

So grateful, yet so solemn! At the fount,

Just where the three ways meet, I stood and looked

(’T was near a noble house, the house of Pansa),

And all was still as in the long, long night

That followed, when the shower of ashes fell,

When they that sought Pompeii sought in vain;

It was not to be found. But now a ray,

Bright and yet brighter, on the pavement glanced,

And on the wheel-track worn for centuries,

And on the stepping-stones from side to side,

O’er which the maidens with their water-urns

Were wont to trip so lightly. Full and clear

The moon was rising, and at once revealed

The name of every dweller and his craft;

Shining throughout with an unusual lustre,

And lighting up this City of the Dead.

Mark where within, as though the embers lived,

The ample chimney-vault is dun with smoke.

There dwelt a miller; silent and at rest

His mill-stones now. In old companionship

Still do they stand as on the day he went,

Each ready for its office,—but he comes not.

And there, hard by (where one in idleness

Has stopt to scrawl a ship, an armed man;

And in a tablet on the wall we read

Of shows erelong to be) a sculptor wrought,

Nor meanly; blocks, half chiselled into life,

Waiting his call. Here long, as yet attests

The trodden floor, an olive-merchant drew

From many an earthen jar, no more supplied;

And here from his a vintner served his guests

Largely, the stain of his o’erflowing cups

Fresh on the marble. On the bench, beneath,

They sate and quaffed and looked on them that passed,

Gravely discussing the last news from Rome.

But lo, engraven on a threshold-stone,

That word of courtesy so sacred once,

“Hail!” At a master’s greeting we may enter.

And lo, a fairy-palace! everywhere,

As through the courts and chambers we advance,

Floors of mosaic, walls of arabesque,

And columns clustering in Patrician splendor.

But hark, a footstep! may we not intrude?

And now, methinks, I hear a gentle laugh,

And gentle voices mingling as in converse!

And now a harp-string as struck carelessly,

And now—along the corridor it comes,—

I cannot err,—a filling as of baths!

Ah, no, ’t is but a mockery of the sense,

Idle and vain! We are but where we were;

Still wandering in a City of the Dead!