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

Tiber, the River

To the Tiber

By William Whitehead (1715–1785)

HAIL, sacred stream, whose waters roll

Immortal through the classic page!

To thee the Muse-devoted soul,

Though destined to a later age

And less indulgent clime, to thee,

Nor thou disdain, in Runic lays

Weak mimic of true harmony,

His grateful homage pays.

Far other strains thine elder ear

With pleased attention wont to hear,

When he who strung the Latian lyre,

And he who led the Aonian quire

From Mantua’s reedy lakes with osiers crowned,

Taught Echo from thy banks with transport to resound.

Thy banks?—alas! is this the boasted scene,

This dreary, wide, uncultivated plain,

Where sickening Nature wears a fainter green,

And Desolation spreads her torpid reign?

Is this the scene where Freedom breathed,

Her copious horn where Plenty wreathed,

And Health at opening day

Bade all her roseate breezes fly,

To wake the sons of Industry,

And make their fields more gay?

Where is the villa’s rural pride,

The swelling dome’s imperial gleam?

Which loved to grace thy verdant side,

And tremble in thy golden stream?

Where are the bold, the busy throngs,

That rushed impatient to the war,

Or tuned to peace triumphal songs,

And hailed the passing car?

Along the solitary road,

The eternal flint by consuls trod,

We muse, and mark the sad decays

Of mighty works and mighty days!

For these vile wastes, we cry, had Fate decreed

That Veii’s sons should strive, for these Camillus bleed?

Did here, in after-times of Roman pride,

The musing shepherd from Soracte’s height

See towns extend where’er thy waters glide,

And temples rise, and peopled farms unite?

They did. For this deserted plain

The hero strove, nor strove in vain;

And here the shepherd saw

Unnumbered towns and temples spread,

While Rome majestic reared her head,

And gave the nations law.

Yes, thou and Latium once were great.

And still, ye first of human things,

Beyond the grasp of time or fate

Her fame and thine triumphant springs.

What though the mouldering columns fall,

And strew the desert earth beneath,

Though ivy round each nodding wall

Entwine its fatal wreath,

Yet say, can Rhine or Danube boast

The numerous glories thou hast lost?

Can even Euphrates’ palmy shore,

Or Nile, with all his mystic lore,

Produce from old records of genuine fame

Such heroes, poets, kings, or emulate thy name?

Even now the Muse, the conscious Muse, is here;

From every ruin’s formidable shade

Eternal music breathes on Fancy’s ear,

And wakes to more than form the illustrious dead.

Thy Cæsars, Scipios, Catos, rise

The great, the virtuous, and the wise,

In solemn state advance!

They fix the philosophic eye,

Or trail the robe, or lift on high

The lightning of the lance.

But chief that humbler, happier train

Who knew those virtues to reward

Beyond the reach of chance or pain

Secure, the historian and the bard.

By them the hero’s generous rage

Still warm in youth immortal lives;

And in their adamantine page

Thy glory still survives.

Through deep savannahs wild and vast,

Unheard, unknown, through ages past,

Beneath the sun’s directer beams

What copious torrents pour their streams!

No fame have they, no fond pretence to mourn,

No annals swell their pride or grace their storied urn.

Whilst thou, with Rome’s exalted genius joined,

Her spear yet lifted, and her corselet braced,

Canst tell the waves, canst tell the passing wind

Thy wondrous tale, and cheer the listening waste.

Though from his caves the unfeeling North

Poured all his legioned tempests forth,

Yet still thy laurels bloom;

One deathless glory still remains,

Thy stream has rolled through Latian plains,

Has washed the walls of Rome.