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Lord Byron (1788–1824). Poetry of Byron. 1881.

II. Descriptive and Narrative

Tomb of Cecilia Metella

(Childe Harold, Canto iv. Stanzas 99–103.)

THERE is a stern round tower of other days,

Firm as a fortress, with its fence of stone,

Such as an army’s baffled strength delays,

Standing with half its battlements alone,

And with two thousand years of ivy grown,

The garland of eternity, where wave

The green leaves over all by time o’erthrown;—

What was this tower of strength? within its cave

What treasure lay so lock’d, so hid?—A woman’s grave.

But who was she, the lady of the dead,

Tomb’d in a palace? Was she chaste and fair?

Worthy a king’s—or more—a Roman’s bed?

What race of chiefs and heroes did she bear?

What daughter of her beauties was the heir?

How lived—how loved—how died she? Was she not

So honour’d—and conspicuously there,

Where meaner relics must not dare to rot,

Placed to commemorate a more than mortal lot?

Was she as those who love their lords, or they

Who love the lords of others? such have been

Even in the olden time, Rome’s annals say.

Was she a matron of Cornelia’s mien,

Or the light air of Egypt’s graceful queen,

Profuse of joy—or ’gainst it did she war,

Inveterate in virtue? Did she lean

To the soft side of the heart, or wisely bar

Love from amongst her griefs?—for such the affections are.

Perchance she died in youth: it may be, bow’d

With woes far heavier than the ponderous tomb

That weigh’d upon her gentle dust, a cloud

Might gather o’er her beauty, and a gloom

In her dark eye, prophetic of the doom

Heaven gives its favourites—early death; yet shed

A sunset charm around her, and illume

With hectic light, the Hesperus of the dead,

Of her consuming cheek the autumnal leaf-like red.

Perchance she died in age—surviving all,

Charms, kindred, children—with the silver gray

On her long tresses, which might yet recal,

It may be, still a something of the day

When they were braided, and her proud array

And lovely form were envied, praised, and eyed

By Rome—but whither would Conjecture stray?

Thus much alone we know—Metella died,

The wealthiest Roman’s wife: Behold his love or pride!