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

Rome, Palaces and Villas of

The Laocoön

By Josiah Gilbert Holland (1819–1881)

(From The Marble Prophecy)

LAOCOÖN! thou great embodiment

Of human life and human history!

Thou record of the past, thou prophecy

Of the sad future, thou majestic voice,

Pealing along the ages from old time!

Thou wail of agonized humanity!

There lives no thought in marble like to thee!

Thou hast no kindred in the Vatican,

But standest separate among the dreams

Of old mythologies,—alone,—alone!


A voice from out the world’s experience,

Speaking of all the generations past

To all the generations yet to come,

Of the long struggle, the sublime despair,

The wild and weary agony of man!


In the quick sunlight on the Esquiline,

Where thou didst sleep, De Fredis kept his vines,

And long above thee grew the grapes whose blood

Ran wild in Christian arteries, and fed

The fire of Christian revels. Ah! what fruit

Sucked up the marrow of thy marble there!

What fierce, mad dreams were those that scared the souls

Of men who drank, nor guessed what ichor stung

Their crimson lips, and tingled in their veins!

Strange growths were those that sprang above thy sleep:

Vines that were serpents; huge and ugly trunks

That took the forms of human agony,—

Contorted, gnarled, and grim,—and leaves that bore

The semblance of a thousand tortured hands,

And snaky tendrils that entwined themselves

Around all forms of life within their reach,

And crushed or blighted them!
At last the spade

Slid down to find the secret of the vines,

And touched thee with a thrill that startled Rome,

And swiftly called a shouting multitude

To witness thy unveiling.
Ah! what joy

Greeted the rising from thy long repose!

And one, the mighty master of his time,

The king of Christian art, with strong, sad face

Looked on, and wondered with the giddy crowd,—

Looked on and learned (too late, alas! for him),

That his humanity and God’s own truth

Were more than Christian Rome, and spoke in words

Of larger import. Humbled Angelo

Bowed to the masters of the early days,

Grasped their strong hands across the centuries,

And went his way despairing!