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



By Anonymous

(From Verses Written in a Letter)
THE FIRES of Vesta’s temple sleep,

That crowns the perforated steep;

But the dim world of pagan lore

The museful soul entrances o’er:

With shiver pierce we Neptune’s cave,

In grim recess doth Sibyl rave,

Sharp tossing back with gloomy ire

Her tresses scorched by eye of fire.

And, but for gaudy, whitewashed cell,

Where folks their wayside prayers may tell,

Where Virgin, daubed on plastered wall,

Smiles from behind wax tapers small,

And but for Cross, that meek sign, fraught

With wondrous truths, to man since taught,

Enthusiastic, one might feign

A life mid the old gods again,

Beneath the jocund sway of Pan,

And all the marbled dreams of man.

See there arise in memory’s pride,

Bosomed upon the far hillside

The villa-homes of mirth and song,

Once filled by many a courtly throng;

Where Time, some idle feathers shed,

Sits spell-bound dreaming o’er the dead:

Catullus! Horace! Patron sweet!

Whom their bright strains were wont to greet,

Mecænas! by what wondrous doom

Those gay retreats live now your tomb,

More durable than kings have made,

With sceptred glories bright inlaid.


Through Adrian’s palace let us stray,

And mark each slippery wall’s decay,

The crumbling bath, the cellar bare,

The hueless fresco rotting there;

Whilst strange, exotic plants are found

Neglected shooting from the ground;

Ere yet those halls of rich delight

Were finished in the sun’s proud light

By their Imperial lord’s command,

From every distant conquered land,

And Eastern shore, luxurious brought;—

O lesson strangely, simply taught!

Nature to them, in sport and glee,

New slender life doth still decree,

Art’s stern magnificence around

Falls silent, tomb-like, to the ground.