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



By Lydia Huntley Sigourney (1791–1865)

’T IS sunset on the Palatine. A flood

Of living glory wraps the Sabine hills,

And o’er the rough and serrate Apennines

Floats like a burning mantle. Purple mists

Rise faintly o’er the gray and ivied tombs

Of the Campagna, as sad memory steals

Forth from the twilight of the heart, to hold

Its mournful vigil o’er affection’s dust.

Was that thy camp, old Romulus? where creeps

The clinging vine-flower round yon fallen fanes

And mouldering columns?
Lo! thy clay-built huts,

And band of malcontents, with barbarous port,

Up from the sea of buried ages rise,

Darkening the scene. Methinks I see thee stand,

Thou wolf-nursed monarch, o’er the human herd

Supreme in savageness, yet strong to plant

Barrier and bulwark, whence should burst a might

And majesty, by thy untutored soul

Unmeasured, unconceived. As little dreams

The truant boy, who to the teeming earth

Casts the light acorn, of the forest’s pomp,

Which, springing from that noteless germ, shall rear

Its banner to the skies, when he must sleep

A noteless atom.
Hark! the owlet’s cry

That, like a muttering sibyl, makes her cell

Mid Nero’s house of gold, with clustering bats

And gliding lizards. Would she tell to man,

In the hoarse plaint of that discordant shriek,

The end of earthly glory?
See how meek

And unpretending, mid the ruined pride

Of Caracalla’s circus, yon white flock

Do find their sweet repast. The playful lamb,

Fast by its mother’s side, doth roam at peace.

How little dream they of the hideous roar

Of the Numidian lion, or the rage

Of the fierce tiger, that in ancient times

Fought in this same arena, for the sport

Of a barbarian throng. With furious haste

No more the chariot round the stadium flies;

Nor toil the rivals in the painful race

To the far goal; nor from yon broken arch

Comes forth the victor, with flushed brow, to claim

The hard-earned garland. All have past away,

Save the dead ruins, and the living robe

That Nature wraps around them. Anxious fear,

High-swollen expectancy, intense despair,

And wild, exulting triumph, here have reigned,

And perished all.
’T were well could we forget

How oft the gladiator’s blood hath stained

Yon grass-grown pavement, while imperial Rome,

With all her fairest, brightest brows looked down

On the stern courage of the wounded wretch

Grappling with mortal agony. The sigh

Or tone of tender pity were to him

A dialect unknown, o’er whose dim eye

The distant vision of his cabin rude,

With all its echoing voices, all the rush

Of its cool, flowing waters, brought a pang

To which the torture of keen death was light.

A haughtier phantom stalks! What dost thou here,

Dark Caracalla, fratricide? whose step

Through the proud mazes of thy regal dome

Pursued the flying Geta; and whose hand

Mid that heaven-sanctioned shrine, a mother’s breast,

Did pierce his bosom. Was it worth the price

Thus of a brother’s blood, to reign alone,

Those few, short, poisoned years?
***Again the scene

Spreads unempurpled, unimpassioned forth;

The white lambs resting ’neath the evening shade,

While dimly curtained mid her glory, Rome

Slumbereth, as one o’erwearied.