Mids all the ruins Rome can boast,--
And they are many--thou art most
Magnificent and most sublime,
Standing proof, as it were, 'gainst time.
Yet, as I approach to nearer view,
I find, alas! 'tis all too true,
Thy iron-pierced walls are charred;
Thy former splendor basely marred,
Not by crumbling time alone,
But by ruthless man it was done.
Still successfully dost thou uphold
The weight of centuries so old,
That, like the distant mountain's face,
They are almost hid through mists of space.
But with the penetrating eye
Of history we can descry
Their varied forms, although fierce Time
Has smoothed the edge of many a crime,
As well as marred the better act
That stood out boldly forth intact,
As thou, in former splendor grand,
Fresh from the architectural hand.
Oft when I pass within thy walls,
And o'er me thy deep shadow falls,
Imagination brings again
Those ancient Romans, warlike men,
Who crowd yon corridors with life,
Assembled here to watch the strife,
Perhaps, of gladiators bold,
Whose gallant deeds had oft been told;
Or the still more wild affray
Of man and beast,--a strange display
Of what the ignorant heart can,
In its wild estate, do and plan.
For war and plunder, blood and strife,
Then filled the measure of a Roman's life.
They seem more savage than the beast,
So do they seem to me, at least,
When, just where yon radiance falls
Of sunset glory o'er thy walls,
I see the martyr's fire burn
Where mortals into angels turn.
What change hath passed o'er thee since then,
And o'er the characters of men!
In place of those fierce sports of old,
The rosary is hourly told.
In rivalry to thee hath risen
St. Peter's dome, tow'ring towards heaven.
When thy mouldering steps I climb,
Forgetful of the lapse of time,
And slowly mount from tier to tier
Thy high-arched corridors, I hear
No jarring sound of strife below.
Within the arena reigneth now
Unbroken silence, save the ring
Of echoes which my footsteps bring,
Or song of bird, or coo of dove,
Nestling undisturbed above.
And pausing where an emperor stood,
Gazing on some scene of blood,
With blazonry of vic'tries won,--
Victories which gave to him renown;
Surrounded by the motley throng
Of courtiers, who the acclaim prolong,
And who, beneath a canopy
Of Oriental tapestry,
With jeweled dames and maidens fair,
That willingly with them did share
The bloody scene; between the acts
Partook a feast, discoursing facts
Witnessed below,--pausing there, I find
All this usurped by trees with ivy twined,
And wild debris formed from the fall
Of tott'ring arch or crumbling wall;
And where some youth with beauty met,
Parting, perhaps, with fond regret
And looks of love from deep, dark eyes,
Which quickly bring the soft replies,
I find the owl with vacant stare,
Or slimy lizard creeping there.
'Tis strange that thou, so nobly wrought,
Could not have in thy prime been brought
To some great crowning earthly good.
Still thou hast so faithfully stood.
We cannot now deny to thee
The homage due thy majesty.
Yet notwithstanding all the crime
Was done by man in ancient time
Within thy walls, and all the years
That rest upon thy tow'ring tiers
Of arches, still thou canst uphold
As many more yet untold;
For deep as mountain's base were laid
Thy firm foundation stones--and staid.
Oh, shall these future years be wrought
As those past ages unforgot,
When monarchs strove supreme to be,
But fell into obscurity,
Nought leaving save a few carves stones
Erected to receive their bones?
No, they will march with firmer tread,
By God's own royal standard led
Of truth; for even now its light
Doth penetrate the heathen's night,
Illumining their darkened souls
As when at dawn the morn first rolls
Her rosy car along the sky,
Thus causing night's deep shades to fly,
And ush'ring in the glorious day
When the sun's unclouded ray
Will shine o'er all. Then 'neath its light
The beauties long, long hid from sight
Will gladden every joyous heart,
And with new life the pulses start,
So shall the enlightened nations go
Forward with the steady flow
Of mighty stream, which hastes to hide
Itself within the deeper tide.