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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

The Pillar of Trajan

By William Wordsworth (1770–1850)

WHERE towers are crushed, and unforbidden weeds

O’er mutilated arches shed their seeds,

And temples, doomed to milder change, unfold

A new magnificence that vies with old,

Firm in its pristine majesty hath stood

A votive column, spared by fire and flood;

And, though the passions of man’s fretful race

Have never ceased to eddy round its base,

Not injured more by touch of meddling hands

Than a lone obelisk, mid Nubian sands

Or aught in Syrian deserts left to save

From death the memory of the good and brave.

Historic figures round the shaft embost

Ascend, with lineaments in air not lost:

Still as he turns, the charmed spectator sees

Group winding after group, with dream-like ease;

Triumphs in sun-bright gratitude displayed,

Or softly stealing into modest shade.

So, pleased with purple clusters to entwine

Some lofty elm-tree, mounts the daring vine;

The woodbine so, with spiral grace, and breathes

Wide-spreading odors from her flowery wreaths.

Borne by the Muse from rills in shepherds’ ears

Murmuring but one smooth story for all years,

I gladly commune with the mind and heart

Of him who thus survives by classic art,

His actions witness, venerate his mien,

And study Trajan as by Pliny seen;

Behold how fought the chief whose conquering sword

Stretched far as earth might own a single lord;

In the delight of moral prudence schooled,

How feelingly at home the sovereign ruled;

Best of the good,—in pagan faith allied

To more than man, by virtue deified.

Memorial pillar! mid the wrecks of time

Preserve thy charge with confidence sublime,—

The exultations, pomps, and cares of Rome,

Whence half the breathing world received its doom:

Things that recoil from language; that, if shown

By apter pencil, from the light had flown.

A pontiff, Trajan here the gods implores,

There greets an embassy from Indian shores:

Lo! he harangues his cohorts,—there the storm

Of battle meets him in authentic form!

Unharnessed, naked troops of Moorish horse

Sweep to the charge; more high, the Dacian force,

To hoof and finger mailed;—yet, high or low,

None bleed, and none lie prostrate but the foe;

In every Roman, through all turns of fate,

Is Roman dignity inviolate;

Spirit in him pre-eminent, who guides,

Supports, adorns, and over all presides;

Distinguished only by inherent state

From honored instruments that round him wait;

Rise as he may, his grandeur scorns the test

Of outward symbol, nor will deign to rest

On aught by which another is deprest.

Alas! that one thus disciplined could toil

To enslave whole nations on their native soil;

So emulous of Macedonian fame,

That, when his age was measured with his aim,

He drooped, mid else unclouded victories,

And turned his eagles back with deep-drawn sighs.

O weakness of the great! O folly of the wise!

Where now the haughty empire that was spread

With such fond hope? Her very speech is dead;

Yet glorious Art the power of Time defies,

And Trajan still, through various enterprise,

Mounts, in this fine illusion, toward the skies:

Still are we present with the imperial chief,

Nor cease to gaze upon the bold relief,

Till Rome, to silent marble unconfined,

Becomes with all her years a vision of the mind.