Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The Ancient Caleva

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
England: Vols. I–IV. 1876–79.


The Ancient Caleva

By William Lisle Bowles (1762–1850)

  • A celebrated station and city on the great Roman road from Bath to London; the walls of which, covered with trees, yet remain nearly entire.

  • THE WILD pear whispers and the ivy crawls

    Along the circuit of thine ancient walls,

    Lone city of the dead! and near this mound

    The buried coins of mighty men are found,—

    Silent remains of Cæsars and of kings,

    Soldiers of whose renown the world yet rings,

    In its sad story! These have had their day

    Of glory, and have passed like sounds away!

    And such their fame! While we the spot behold,

    And muse upon the tale that time has told,

    We ask where are they?—they whose clarion brayed,

    Whose chariot glided, and whose war-horse neighed;

    Whose cohorts hastened o’er the echoing way,

    Whose eagles glittered to the orient ray!

    Ask of this fragment, reared by Roman hands,

    That now a lone and broken column stands!

    Ask of that road—whose track alone remains—

    That swept of old o’er mountains, downs, and plains,

    And still along the silent champaign leads,

    Where are its noise of cars and tramp of steeds?

    Ask of the dead, and silence will reply;

    Go, seek them in the grave of mortal vanity!

    Is this a Roman veteran? Look again,—

    It is a British soldier, who, in Spain,

    At Albuera’s glorious fight, has bled;

    He, too, has spurred his charger o’er the dead!

    Desolate, now,—friendless and desolate,—

    Let him the tale of war and home relate.

    His wife (and Gainsborough such a form and mien

    Would paint, in harmony with such a scene),

    With pensive aspect, yet demeanor bland,

    A tottering infant guided by her hand,

    Spoke of her own green Erin, while her child

    Amid the scene of ancient glory smiled,

    As spring’s first flower smiles from a monument

    Of other years, by time and ruin rent!

    Lone city of the dead! thy pride is past,

    Thy temples sunk, as at the whirlwind’s blast!

    Silent,—all silent, where the mingled cries

    Of gathered myriads rent the purple skies!

    Here where the summer breezes waved the wood

    The stern and silent gladiator stood,

    And listened to the shouts that hailed his gushing blood.

    And on this wooded mount, that oft of yore

    Hath echoed to the Lybian lion’s roar,

    The ear scarce catches, from the shady glen,

    The small pipe of the solitary wren.