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


The Desolation of Veii

By Bessie Rayner Parkes (1829–1925)

’T WAS on a Sabbath morning that we wandered in the wood,

Where near three thousand years ago the ancient Veii stood;

There ’s not a sound of life there now, where wandering alleys meet,

The cyclamen and violet grow purple in the street!

The glens are deep and leafy, the fields are green and bare,

And only scattered pottery tells that arts and trade were there,

And looking towards the Alban Mount across the solemn plains,

The ground on which we stand is all of Veii that remains.

A hundred thousand people once dwelt upon this hill,

Within their many towered walls the hum was never still.

The sculptor and the armorer worked as soon as it was light,

And watchman unto watchman called through all the starry night.

They had laws, and arts, and customs, and altars to revere;

They buried with a solemn care the dead whom they held dear,

Whom they crowned with golden ivy and with oak-leaves never sear.

And the city on the hill-top where this people had their home

Was a larger town than Athens and a mightier town than Rome.

A wondrous place is Veii, and the grandeur of her past

Will linger in these solitudes and crown her to the last.

Still I see her in a vision, though her very streets are ploughed,

See the faces of her people, hear the voices of her crowd,

See the waving of her banners, hear the tramp of armed men,

Where nothing but the waterfall is dashing down the glen.

Other cities have their columned hills and fragments of their walls,

Or at least their ruined temples, on which the moonlight falls.

Other cities have their solemn sights, to which the pilgrim turns,

And some altar of tradition where a lamp forever burns;

A ballad or a legend, or a few memorial stones,

And a breath of living history to reanimate their bones.

But of Veii, strong and beautiful, these silent stones are all,

Save her graves within the hillside and a patch of ruined wall,

And the rocks cut sheer to guard her, and the streams that flow the same,

And (foreign to the pilgrim’s lips) the accents of her name!