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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

Ruins of Ancient Rome

By Sydney Dobell (1824–1874)

(From The Roman)


The hoar unconscious walls, bisson and bare,

Like an old man deaf, blind, and gray, in whom

The years of old stand in the sun and murmur

Of childhood and the dead. From parapets

Where the sky rests, from broken niches,—each

More than Olympus, for gods dwelt in them,—

Below from senatorial haunts and seats

Imperial, where the ever-passing Fates

Wore out the stone, strange hermit-birds croaked forth

Sorrowful sounds, like watchers on the height

Crying the hours of ruin. When the clouds

Dressed every myrtle on the walls in mourning,

With calm prerogative, the eternal pile

Impassive shone with the unearthly light

Of immortality. When conquering suns

Triumphed in jubilant earth, it stood out, dark

With thoughts of ages: like some mighty captive

Upon his death-bed in a Christian land,

And lying, through the chant of psalm and creed

Unshriven and stern, with peace upon his brow,

And on his lips strange gods.
Rank weeds and grasses,

Careless and nodding, grew, and asked no leave,

Where Romans trembled. Where the wreck was saddest

Sweet, pensive herbs, that had been gay elsewhere,

With conscious mien of place, rose tall and still,

And bent with duty. Like some village children

Who found a dead king on a battle-field,

And with decorous care and reverent pity

Composed the lordly ruin, and sat down

Grave without tears. At length the giant lay,

And everywhere he was begirt with years,

And everywhere the torn and mouldering Past

Hung with ivy. For Time, smit with honor

Of what he slew, cast his own mantle on him,

That none should mock the dead.