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



By John Edmund Reade (1800–1870)

(From Italy)

KNOW’ST thou yon stream, its veiny current threading

Between the willow banks it loves, that makes

Its low voice heard by thee as thou art treading

That green bank thoughtfully; the aspen shakes

Its boughs above, the deep sky gives and takes

Its azure from it, and that river keeps

Its name, while states have vanished as the flakes

Of snow, sun-melted: Sarno to the deeps

Rolls on, its waves no more the painted trireme sweeps.

A rising mound shuts out the path, the wind

Waves the wild fig-trees o’er its flower-crowned crest:

Enter, a world is opened from behind,

The dead are disinterred from Nature’s breast,

The buried raised from their sepulchral rest;

Living Pompeii again behold!

The vision in material life confessed;

Time hath the archives of the past unrolled,

Their household gods unveiled, and life domestic told.

The City of the Dead to light restored,

And resurrection, day again began,

The law of fate suspended to record

The greatness and the nothingness of man:

Decay arrested and oblivion’s ban

From wrecks that rise on life’s cold shore alone:

Here, moralist! thou seest thy bounded span:

Truth stands embodied, and with audible tone

Points to the house, thy tomb, the dust that is thine own.

Lo, the Pompeian Forum! haunt of rest,

And recreation when the twilight sky

Hued with its beauty the delighted west:

When the sea’s rising breath refreshingly

Gladdened each heart, and soothed each wearied eye

Oppressed and fevered with the heats of day:

Moments when life was felt, when the light sigh

Was pleasure, impulses that all obey,

As Nature o’er the heart asserts her healthful sway.


The Street of Tombs! the dwelling-places rent

Of those who felt not fires that o’er them swept,

Engulfed within a living monument;

But in those hollow niches where they slept,

Yea, in their urns the fiery vapor crept,

The mountain’s ashes and the human dust

Together heaped: the dead no longer kept

Their couches, forth by earth convulsive thrust

From that last home where love the loved ones still intrust.

The house of Diomed, the pleasant place

Of the refined patrician, where the hand

Of luxury ruled, and Art traced forms of grace

Which from time hidden could decay withstand;

Playthings that shall again resolve to sand,

Opened to skyey influence and air,

All that his vanity or fondness planned;

The law of nature it again doth share,

Decay, change, time, and death, too long evaded there.


The town was hushed, save where a faint shout came

From the far-distant amphitheatre,

Air glowed as from a sullen furnace flame:

The trees drooped wan, no breath a leaf to stir;

Each house was noiseless as a sepulchre,

And the all-sickly weight by nature shown

Pressed heaviest on human hearts; they were

All silent, each foreboding dared not own

Fears, the advancing shadows of an ill unknown.

Behold the Mountain! words withheld while spoken,

In vision centering the astounded mind:

The mists that erewhile swathed his front are broken,

Hurled upward as by some imprisoned wind

Earth could no more within her caverns bind;

Lo, scroll-like forth in scattered wreathings driven

From his cleft brow, gray clouds that disentwined

From their black trunk shot forth like branches riven,

Opening their pine-like shape in the profound of heaven!

Statues of fear, mute, motionless they stood:

The mountain that had slept a thousand years

Wakes from his slumber! lo, yon sable flood

Of eddying cloud its giant shape uprears:

They gaze, yet fly not, who had linked with fears

Vesuvius robed in ever green attire?

But lo, each moment wilder, fiercer nears

The unfolding canopy, its skirts respire

Lightnings around, away, yon lurid mass is fire!