THE RUINS OF ITALICA
Fabius, this region, desolate and drear,
These solitary fields, this shapeless mound,
Were once Italica, the far-renowned;
For Scipio, the mighty, planted here
His conquering colony, and now, o'erthrown,
Lie its once-dreaded walls of massive stone,
Sad relics, sad and vain,
Of those invincible men
Who held the region then.
Funereal memories alone remain
Where forms of high example walked of yore.
Here lay the forum, there arose the fane--
The eye beholds their places, and no more.
Their proud gymnasium and their sumptuous baths,
Resolved to dust and cinders, strew the paths;
Their towers, that looked defiance at the sky,
Fallen by their own vast weight, in fragments lie.
This broken circus, where the rock-weeds climb,
Flaunting with yellow blossoms, and defy
The gods to whom its walls were piled so high,
Is now a tragic theatre, where Time
Acts his great fable, spreads a stage that shows
Past grandeur's story and its dreary close.
Why, round this desert pit,
Shout not the applauding rows
Where the great people sit?
Wild beasts are here, but where the combatant;
With his bare arms, the strong athleta where?
All have departed from this once gay haunt
Of noisy crowds, and silence holds the air.
Yet, on this spot, Time gives us to behold
A spectacle as stern as those of old.
As dreamily I gaze, there seem to rise,
From all the mighty ruin, wailing cries.
The terrible in war, the pride of Spain,
Trajan, his country's father, here was born;
Good, fortunate, triumphant, to whose reign
Submitted the far regions, where the morn
Rose from her cradle, and the shore whose steeps
O'erlooked the conquered Gaditanian deeps.
Of mighty Adrian here,
Of Theodosius, saint,
Of Silius, Virgil's peer,
Were rocked the cradles, rich with gold, and quaint
With ivory carvings; here were laurel-boughs
And sprays of jasmine gathered for their brows,
From gardens now a marshy, thorny waste.
Where rose the palace, reared for Caesar, yawn
Foul rifts to which the scudding lizards haste.
Palaces, gardens, Caesars, all are gone,
And even the stones their names were graven on.
Fabius, if tears prevent thee not, survey
The long-dismantled streets, so thronged of old,
The broken marbles, arches in decay,
Proud statues, toppled from their place and rolled
In dust, when Nemesis, the avenger, came,
And buried, in forgetfulness profound,
The owners and their fame.
Thus Troy, I deem, must be,
With many a mouldering mound;
And thou, whose name alone remains to thee,
Rome, of old gods and kings the native ground;
And thou, sage Athens, built by Pallas, whom
Just laws redeemed not from the appointed doom.
The envy of earth's cities once wert thou--
A weary solitude and ashes now!
For Fate and Death respect ye not; they strike
The mighty city and the wise alike.
But why goes forth the wandering thought to frame
New themes of sorrow, sought in distant lands?
Enough the example that before me stands;
For here are smoke-wreaths seen, and glimmering flame,
And hoarse lamentings on the breezes die;
So doth the mighty ruin cast its spell
On those who near it dwell.
And under night's still sky,
As awe-struck peasants tell,
A melancholy voice is heard to cry,
"Italica is fallen!" the echoes then
Mournfully shout "Italica" again.
The leafy alleys of the forest nigh
Murmur "Italica", and all around,
A troop of mighty shadows, at the sound
Of that illustrious name, repeat the call,
"Italica!" from ruined tower and wall.
Translation by William Cullen Bryant