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


Ponte Sublicio

By Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay (1800–1859)

(From Lays of Ancient Rome. Horatius.)

BUT, meanwhile axe and lever

Have manfully been plied;

And now the bridge hangs tottering

Above the boiling tide.

“Come back, come back Horatius!”

Loud cried the Fathers all;

“Back, Lartius! back, Herminius!

Back, ere the ruin fall!”

Back darted Spurius Lartius,

Herminius darted back;

And as they passed beneath their feet

They felt the timbers crack.

But when they turned their faces,

And on the farther shore

Saw brave Horatius stand alone,

They would have crossed once more;

But with a crash like thunder

Fell every loosened beam,

And like a dam the mighty wreck

Lay right athwart the stream:

And a long shout of triumph

Rose from the walls of Rome,

As to the highest turret-tops

Was splashed the yellow foam.

And like a horse unbroken

When first he feels the rein,

The furious river struggled hard

And tossed his tawny mane,

And burst the curb, and bounded,

Rejoicing to be free;

And whirling down in fierce career

Battlement and plank and pier,

Rushed headlong to the sea.

Alone stood brave Horatius,

But constant still in mind;

Thrice thirty thousand foes before,

And the broad flood behind.

“Down with him!” cried false Sextus,

With a smile on his pale face;

“Now yield thee,” cried Lars Porsena,

“Now yield thee to our grace.”

Round turned he, as not deigning

Those craven ranks to see;

Naught spake he to Lars Porsena,

To Sextus naught spake he;

But he saw on Palatinus

The white porch of his home;

And he spake to the noble river

That rolls by the towers of Rome:

“O, Tiber! Father Tiber!

To whom the Romans pray,

A Roman’s life, a Roman’s arms,

Take thou in charge this day!”

So he spake, and, speaking, sheathéd

The good sword by his side,

And with his harness on his back

Plunged headlong in the tide.

No sound of joy or sorrow

Was heard from either bank;

But friends and foes in dumb surprise,

With parted lips and straining eyes,

Stood gazing where he sank;

And when above the surges

They saw his crest appear,

All Rome sent forth a rapturous cry,

And even the ranks of Tuscany

Could scarce forbear to cheer.

But fiercely ran the current,

Swollen high by months of rain:

And fast his blood was flowing;

And he was sore in pain,

And heavy with his armor,

And spent with changing blows;

And oft they thought him sinking,

But still again he rose.

Never, I ween, did swimmer,

In such an evil case,

Struggle through such a raging flood

Safe to the landing-place:

But his limbs were borne up bravely

By the brave heart within,

And our good Father Tiber

Bare bravely up his chin.

“Curse on him!” quoth false Sextus;

“Will not the villain drown?

But for this stay, ere close of day

We should have sacked the town!”

“Heaven help him!” quoth Lars Porsena,

“And bring him safe to shore;

For such a gallant feat of arms

Was never seen before.”

And now he feels the bottom;

Now on dry earth he stands;

Now round him throng the Fathers

To press his gory hands;

And now with shouts and clapping,

And noise of weeping loud,

He enters through the river-gate,

Borne by the joyous crowd.

They gave him of the corn-land,

That was of public right,

As much as two strong oxen

Could plough from morn till night;

And they made a molten image,

And set it up on high,

And there it stands unto this day

To witness if I lie.

It stands in the Comitium,

Plain for all folk to see;

Horatius in his harness,

Halting upon one knee:

And underneath is written,

In letters all of gold,

How valiantly he kept the bridge

In the brave days of old.