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

Rome, Ruins of

The Coliseum

By John Edmund Reade (1800–1870)

(From Italy)

ARENA of the unrewarded brave!

Whose blood flowed unavenged upon thy sand;

Hold of the despot, refuge of the slave,

Den where the assassin made his latest stand:

Altar where hermits their devotion fanned,

Red scaffold where the unshaken martyr died;

Where sped the joust, where danced the motley band;

Stage ever changing! still the pilgrim’s guide

From earth’s remotest shores, who here have smiled or sighed,

Pouring the thought or passion of the hour,

Great Colosseum! at thy mighty shrine:

Earth’s bosom cumbered with the wrecks of power,

Shows naught beneath the sky to match with thine:

Earthquakes have heaved, storms rent, time worn each line

Of thy majestic fabric, but the eye

O’erteeming, nothing grander can combine

Than thy sublime but shattered symmetry,

Thou wonder, pride, and awe of all that pass thee by.

Hark! the night’s slumberous air is musical

With the low carolling of birds that seem

To hold here an enduring festival:

How do their notes and nature’s flowers redeem

The place from stained pollution! if the stream

And reek of blood gushed forth from man and beast,

If Cain-like brethren gloated o’er the steam

Of immolation as a welcome feast,

Ages have cleansed the guilt, the unnatural strife hath ceased.


The white flowers blossom chapleting a ground

Whose dust was human, they bloom not the less;

Where be the myriads once those seats that crowned?

They gazed on thee, broad Moon! but did not bless

Thine urn, from which they drank no gentleness:

The fight, the hunt, the galley’s crashing prow,

Such were their morning hopes of happiness,

For which they waited with as feverish brow

As for some worthless aim our hearts are beating now.

Yet rest forgiveness on their memory!

Life’s infancy was theirs, its solemn end

Unknown, they felt not their humanity,

They knew not their vast souls. Lo! how ascend

Tier above tier those benches that extend

In shattered circles, where the Roman sate,

While on his nod, or voice, or finger’s bend,

The gladiator read remorseless fate;

Even so might life or death on one slight motion wait!

Along its shattered edges on a sky

Of azure, sharply, delicately traced,

The light bird flits o’er flowers that wave from high,

Where human foot shall nevermore be based:

Grass mantles the arena mid defaced

And broken columns freshly, wildly spread;

And through the hollow windows once so graced

With glittering eyes, faint stars their twinklings shed

Lighting as if with life those sockets of the dead!

So stretches that Titanic skeleton:

Its shattered and enormous circle rent,

And yawning open, arch and covering gone;

As the huge crater’s sides hang imminent

Round the volcano whose last flames are spent,

Whose sounds shall nevermore to heaven aspire,

So frowns that stern and desolate monument;

A stage in ruin, an exhausted pyre,

The actors past to dust, forever quenched the fire!