The Poems of John Dyer/The Ruins of Rome

For works with similar titles, see The Ruins of Rome.
For other versions of this work, see The Ruins of Rome (Dyer).

THE RUINS OF ROME

"Aspice murorum moles, præruptaque saxa,
Obrutaque horrenti vasta theatra situ:
Hæc sunt Roma. Viden' velut ipsa cadavera tantæ
Urbis adhuc spirent imperiosa minas?"—Janus Vitalis.

["Look at all the walls, the stones dislodged, the vast theatres
brought low by the power of decay. That is Rome. And do
you see how the very corpse of such a city is still imperial and
seems to offer menaces?"]

Enough of Grongar, and the shady dales
Of winding Towy, Merlin's fabled haunt,
I sung inglorious. Now the love of arts,
And what in metal or in stone remains
Of proud Antiquity, thro' various realms 5
And various languages and ages fam'd,
Bears me remote o'er Gallia's woody bounds,
O'er the cloud-piercing Alps remote, beyond
The vale of Arno, purpled with the vine,
Beyond the Umbrian and Etruscan hills,10
To Latium's wide champaign, forlorn and waste,
Where yellow Tiber his neglected wave
Mournfully rolls. Yet once again, my Muse!
Yet once again, and soar a loftier flight;
Lo! the resistless theme, imperial Rome. 15
Fall'n, fall'n, a silent heap! her heroes all
Sunk in their urns; behold the pride of pomp,

The throne of nations, fall'n! obscur'd in dust;
Ev'n yet majestical: the solemn scene
Elates the soul, while now the rising sun 20
Flames on the ruins in the purer air
Tow'ring aloft upon the glittering plain,
Like broken rocks, a vast circumference!
Rent palaces, crush'd columns, rifled moles,
Fanes roll'd on fanes, and tombs on bury'd tombs! 25
Deep lies in dust the Theban obelisk
Immense along the waste; minuter art,
Gliconian forms, or Phidian, subtly fair,
O'erwhelming; as th' immense leviathan
The finny brood, when near Ierne's shore 30
Outstretch'd, unwieldy, his island length appears
Above the foamy flood. Globose and huge,
Gray-mouldering temples swell, and wide o'ercast
The solitary landscape, hills and woods,
And boundless wilds; while the vine-mantled brows 35
The pendent goats unveil, regardless they
Of hourly peril, tho' the clefted domes
Tremble to every wind. The pilgrim oft,
At dead of night, 'mid his oraison hears
Aghast the voice of Time, disparting tow'rs,40
Tumbling all precipitate down-dash'd,
Rattling around, loud thund'ring to the moon;
While murmurs soothe each awful interval
Of ever-falling waters; shrouded Nile,
Eridanus, and Tiber with his twins,45
And palmy Euphrates: they with dropping locks
Hang o'er their urns, and mournfully among
The plaintive echoing ruins pour their streams.
Yet here, advent'rous in the sacred search
Of ancient arts, the delicate of mind,50
Curious and modest, from all climes resort,
Grateful society! with these I raise

The toilsome step up the proud Palatin,
Thro' spiry cypress groves, and tow'ring pine,
Waving aloft o'er the big ruin's brows,55
On num'rous arches rear'd; and, frequent stopp'd,
The sunk ground startles me with dreadful chasm,
Breathing forth darkness from the vast profound
Of aisles and halls within the mountain's womb.
Nor these the nether works; all these beneath,60
And all beneath the vales and hills around,
Extend the cavern'd sewers, massy, firm,
As the Sibylline grot beside the dead
Lake of Avernus; such the sewers huge,
Whither the great Tarquinian genius dooms65
Each wave impure; and proud with added rains,
Hark how the mighty billows lash their vaults,
And thunder! how they heave their rocks in vain!
Tho' now incessant time has roll'd around
A thousand winters o'er the changeful world,70
And yet a thousand since, th' indignant floods
Roar loud in their firm bounds, and dash and swell
In vain, convey'd to Tiber's lowest wave.
Hence over airy plains, by crystal founts,
That weave their glitt'ring wave with tuneful lapse75
Among the sleeky pebbles, agate clear,
Cerulean ophite, and the flow'ry vein
Of orient jasper, pleas'd I move along,
And vases boss'd, and huge inscriptive stones,
And intermingling vines, and figur'd nymphs,80
Floras and Chloes of delicious mould,
Cheering the darkness; and deep empty tombs,
And dells, and mould'ring shrines, with old decay
Rustic and green, and wide-em bow'ring shades,
Shot from the crooked clefts of nodding tow'rs; 85
A solemn wilderness! with error sweet
I wind the lingering step, where'er the path

Mazy conducts me, which the vulgar foot
O'er sculptures maim'd has made; Anubis, Sphinx,
Idols of antique guise, and horned Pan, 90
Terrific, monstrous shapes! prepost'rous gods
Of fear and ignorance, by the sculptor's hand
Hewn into form, and worshipp'd; as ev'n now
Blindly they worship at their breathless mouths
In varied appellations: men to these 95
(From depth to depth in dark'ning error fall'n)
At length ascrib'd th' Inapplicable Name.
How doth it please and fill the memory
With deeds of brave renown, while on each hand
Historic urns and breathing statues rise, 100
And speaking busts! Sweet Scipio, Marius stern,
Pompey superb, the spirit-stirring form
Of Caesar, raptur'd with the charm of rule
And boundless fame; impatient for exploits,
His eager eyes upcast, he soars in thought 105
Above all height: and his own Brutus see,
Desponding Brutus! dubious of the right,
In evil days of faith, of public weal,
Solicitous and sad. Thy next regard
Be Tully's graceful attitude; uprais'd,110
His outstretch'd arm he waves, in act to speak
Before the silent masters of the world,
And eloquence arrays him. There behold,
Prepar'd for combat in the front of war,
The pious brothers; jealous Alba stands 115
In fearful expectation of the strife,
And youthful Rome intent: the kindred foes
Fall on each other's neck in silent tears;
In sorrowful benevolence embrace—
Howe'er they soon unsheath the flashing sword 120
Their country calls to arms; now all in vain
The mother clasps the knee, and ev'n the fair

Now weeps in vain; their country calls to arms.
Such virtue Clelia, Cocles, Manlius, rouz'd;
Such were the Fabii, Decii; so inspir'd125
The Scipios battled, and the Gracchi spoke:
So rose the Roman state. Me now, of these
Deep musing, high ambitious thoughts inflame
Greatly to serve my country, distant land,
And build me virtuous fame; nor shall the dust130
Of these fall'n piles with show of sad decay
Avert the good resolve, mean argument,
The fate alone of matter. Now the brow
We gain enraptur'd; beauteously distinct
The num'rous porticoes and domes upswell,135
With obelisks and columns interpos'd,
And pine, and fir, and oak; so fair a scene
Sees not the dervise from the spiral tomb
Of ancient Chammos, while his eye beholds
Proud Memphis' relics o'er th' Egyptian plain;140
Nor hoary hermit from Hymettus' brow,
Tho' graceful Athens in the vale beneath.
Along the windings of the Muse's stream,
Lucid Ilyssus weeps her silent schools
And groves, unvisited by bard or sage.145
Amid the tow'ry ruins, huge, supreme,
Th' enormous amphitheatre behold,
Mountainous pile! o'er whose capacious womb
Pours the broad firmament its vary'd light,
While from the central floor the seats ascend150
Round above round, slow wid'ning to the verge,
A circuit vast and high; nor less had held
Imperial Rome and her attendant realms,
When, drunk with rule, she will'd the fierce delight,
And op'd the gloomy caverns, whence out rush'd,155
Before th' innumerable shouting crowd,
The fiery madded tyrants of the wilds,

Lions and tigers, wolves and elephants,
And desp'rate men, more fell. Abhorr'd intent!
By frequent converse with familiar death 160
To kindle brutal daring apt for war;
To lock the breast, and steel th' obdurate heart,
Amid the piercing cries of sore distress
Impenetrable. But away thine eye!
Behold yon' steepy cliff; the modern pile165
Perchance may now delight, while that rever'd
In ancient days the page alone declares,
Or narrow coin thro' dim cerulean rust.
The fane was Jove's, its spacious golden roof,
O'er thick-surrounding temples beaming wide,170
Appear'd, as when above the morning hills
Half the round sun ascends, and tower'd aloft,
Sustain'd by columns huge, innumerous
As cedars proud on Canaan's verdant heights
Dark'ning their idols, when Astarte lur'd175
Too-prosp'rous Israel from his living Strength.
And next regard yon' venerable dome
Which virtuous Latium, with erroneous aim,
Rais'd to her various deities, and nam'd
Pantheon; plain and round, of this our world180
Majestic emblem; with peculiar grace
Before its ample orb projected stands
The many-pillar'd portal; noblest work
Of human skill! Here, curious Architect,
If thou essay'st, ambitious, to surpass185
Palladius, Angelus, or British Jones,
On these fair walls extend the certain scale,
And turn th' instructive compass: careful mark
How far in hidden art the noble plan
Extends, and where the lovely forms commence190
Of flowing sculpture; nor neglect to note
How range the taper columns, and what weight

Their leafy brows sustain; fair Corinth first
Boasted their order, which Callimachus
(Reclining studious on Asopus' banks 195
Beneath an urn of some lamented nymph)
Haply compos'd; the urn with foliage curl'd
Thinly conceal'd the chapiter inform'd.
See the tall obelisks from Memphis old,
One stone enormous each, or Thebes, convey'd;200
Like Albion's spires they rush into the skies:
And there the temple where the summon'd state
In deep of night conven'd; ev'n yet methinks
The veh'ment orator in rent attire
Persuasion pours; Ambition sinks her crest; 205
And, lo! the villain, like a troubled sea,
That tosses up her mire! Ever disguis'd
Shall Treason walk? shall proud Oppression yoke
The neck of Virtue? Lo! the wretch abash'd,
Self-betray'd Catiline! O Liberty! 210
Parent of happiness, celestial born;
When the first man became a living soul
His sacred genius thou: be Britain's care;
With her secure prolong thy lov'd retreat;
Thence bless mankind; while yet among her sons, 215
Ev'n yet there are, to shield thine equal laws,
Whose bosoms kindle at the sacred names
Of Cecil, Raleigh, Walsingham, and Drake.
May others more delight in tuneful airs,
In mask and dance excel; to sculptur'd stone 220
Give with superior skill the living look;
More pompous piles erect, or pencil soft
With warmer touch the visionary board:
But thou thy nobler Britons teach to rule,
To check the ravage of tyrannic sway, 2255
To quell the proud, to spread the joys of peace,
And various blessings of ingenious trade.

Be these our arts; and ever may we guard,
Ever defend, thee with undaunted heart.
Inestimable good! who giv'st us Truth, 230
Whose hand upleads to light, divinest Truth!
Array'd in ev'ry charm; whose hand benign
Teaches unwear'd Toil to clothe the fields,
And on his various fruits inscribes the name
Of Property: O nobly hail'd of old 235
By thy majestic daughters, Judah fair,
And Tyrus and Sidonia, lovely nymphs,
And Libya bright, and all-enchanting Greece,
Whose num'rous towns, and isles, and peopled seas,
Rejoic'd around her lyre; th' heroic note 240
(Smit with sublime delight) Ausonia caught,
And plann'd imperial Rome. Thy hand benign
Rear'd up her tow'ry battlements in strength,
Bent her wide bridges o'er the swelling stream
Of Tuscan Tiber; thine those solemn domes 245
Devoted to the voice of humbler pray'r;
And thine those piles undeck'd, capacious, vast,
In days of dearth, where tender Charity
Dispens'd her timely succours to the poor.
Thine, too, those musically-falling founts, 250
To slake the clammy lip; adown they fall,
Musical ever, while from yon' blue hills,
Dim in the clouds, the radiant aqueducts
Turn their innumerable arches o'er
The spacious desert, bright'ning in the sun, 255
Proud and more proud in their august approach:
High o'er irriguous vales, and woods, and towns,
Glide the soft-whisp'ring waters in the wind,
And, here united, pour their silver streams
Among the figur'd rocks, in murm'ring falls,260
Musical ever. These thy beauteous works;
And what beside felicity could tell

Of human benefit: more late the rest;
At various times their turrets chanc'd to rise,
When impious Tyranny vouchsaf'd to smile. 265
Behold by Tiber's flood, where modern Rome
Couches beneath the ruins; there of old
With arms and trophies gleam'd the Field of Mars:
There to their daily sports the noble youth
Rush'd emulous, to fling the pointed lance, 270
To vault the steed, or with the kindling wheel
In dusty whirlwinds sweep the trembling goal;
Or, wrestling, cope, with adverse swelling breasts,
Strong grappling arms, close heads, and distant feet;
Or clash the lifted gauntlets: there they form'd 275
Their ardent virtues: in the bossy piles,
The proud triumphal arches, all their wars,
Their conquests, honours, in the sculptures live.
And see from ev'ry gate those ancient roads,
With tombs high verg'd, the solemn paths of Fame! 280
Deserve they not regard? o'er whose broad flints
Such crowds have roll'd, so many storms of war,
So many pomps, so many wond'ring realms:
Yet still thro' mountains pierc'd, o'er vallies rais'd,
In even state to distant seas around 285
They stretch their pavements. Lo! the fane of Peace
Built by that prince who to the trust of pow'r
Was honest, the delight of human-kind.
Three nodding aisles remain, the rest an heap
Of sand and weeds; her shrines, her radiant roof 290
And columns proud, that from her spacious floor,
As from a shining sea, majestic rose
An hundred foot aloft, like stately beech
Around the brim of Dion's glassy lake,
Charming the mimic painter: on the walls 295
Hung Salem's sacred spoils; the golden board
And golden trumpets, now conceal'd, entomb'd

By the sunk roof.—O'er which, in distant view,
Th' Etruscan mountains swell, with ruins crown'd
Of ancient towns; and blue Soracte spires, 300
Wrapping his sides in tempests. Eastward hence,
Nigh where the Cestian pyramid divides
The mould'ring wall, behold yon' fabric huge,
Whose dust the solemn antiquarian turns,
And thence, in broken sculptures cast abroad, 305
Like Sibyl's leaves, collects the builder's name
Rejoic'd, and the green medals frequent found
Doom Caracalla to perpetual fame:
The stately pines, that spread their branches wide
In the dun ruins of its ample halls, 310
Appear but tufts, as may whate'er is high
Sink in comparison, minute and vile.
These and unnumber'd, yet their brows uplift,
Rent of their graces; as Britannia's oaks
On Merlin's mount, or Snowden's rugged sides, 315
Stand in the clouds, their branches scatter'd round
After the tempest; Mausoleums, Cirques,
Naumachios, Forums; Trajan's column tall,
From whose low base the sculptures wind aloft,
And lead thro' various toils up the rough steep 320
Its hero to the skies; and his dark tow'r
Whose execrable hand the City fir'd,
And while the dreadful conflagration blaz'd
Play'd to the flames; and Phœbus' letter'd dome;
And the rough relics of Carinas's street, 325
Where now the shepherd to his nibbling sheep
Sits piping with his oaten reed, as erst
There pip'd the shepherd to his nibbling sheep,
When th' humble roof Anchises' son explor'd
Of good Evander, wealth-despising king! 330
Amid the thickets: so revolves the scene;
So Time ordains, who rolls the things of pride

From dust again to dust. Behold that heap
Of mould'ring urns (their ashes blown away,
Dust of the mighty!) the same story tell; 335
And at its base, from whence the serpent glides
Down the green desert street, yon' hoary monk
Laments the same, the vision as he views,
The solitary, silent, solemn scene,
Where Cæsars, heroes, peasants, hermits, lie 340
Blended in dust together; where the slave
Rests from his labours; where th' insulting proud
Resigns his pow'r; the miser drops his hoard;
Where human folly sleeps. There is a mood
(I sing not to the vacant and the young),345
There is a kindly mood of melancholy
That wings the soul, and points her to the skies:
When tribulation clothes the child of man,
When age descends with sorrow to the grave,
'Tis sweetly-soothing sympathy to pain,350
A gently-wak'ning call to health and ease.
How musical! when all-devouring Time,
Here sitting on his throne of ruins hoar,
While winds and tempests sweep his various lyre,
How sweet thy diapason, Melancholy!355
Cool ev'ning comes; the setting sun displays
His visible great round between yon tow'rs,
As thro' two shady cliffs: away, my Muse!
Tho' yet the prospect pleases, ever new
In vast variety, and yet delight360
The many-figur'd sculptures of the path
Half beauteous, half effac'd; the traveller
Such antique marbles to his native land
Oft hence conveys; and ev'ry realm and state
With Rome's august remains, heroes and gods,365
Deck their long galleries and winding groves;
Yet miss we not th' innumerable thefts;

Yet still profuse of graces teems the waste.
Suffice it now th' Esquilian Mount to reach
With weary wing, and seek the sacred rests 370
Of Maro's humble tenement. A low
Plain wall remains; a little sun-gilt heap,
Grotesque and wild: the gourd and olive brown
Weave the light roof; the gourd and olive fan
Their am'rous foliage, mingling with the vine, 375
Who drops her purple clusters thro' the green.
Here let me lie, with pleasing fancy sooth'd:
Here flow'd his fountain, here his laurels grew;
Here oft the meek good man, the lofty bard,
Fram'd the celestial song, or social walk'd 380
With Horace and the ruler of the world:
Happy Augustus! who so well inspir'd
Could'st throw thy pomps and royalties aside,
Attentive to the wise, the great of soul,
And dignify thy mind. Thrice glorious days,385
Auspicious to the Muses! then rever'd,
Then hallow'd was the fount, or secret shade,
Or open mountain, or whatever scene
The poet chose to tune th' ennobling rhyme
Melodious; ev'n the rugged sons of War,390
Ev'n the rude hinds, rever'd the poet's name:
But now—another age, alas! is ours—
Yet will the Muse a little longer soar,
Unless the clouds of care weigh down her wing
Since Nature's stores are shut with cruel hand, 395
And each aggrieves his brother; since in vain
The thirsty pilgrim at the fountain asks
Th' o'erflowing wave—Enough—the plaint disdain.
Seest thou yon fane? ev'n now incessant time
Sweeps her low mould'ring marbles to the dust; 400
And Phœbus' temple, nodding with its woods,
Threatens huge ruin o'er the small rotund.

'Twas there, beneath a fig-tree's umbrage broad,
Th' astonish'd swains with rev'rend awe beheld
Thee, O Quirinus! and thy brother twin, 405
Pressing the teat within a monster's grasp
Sportive, while oft the gaunt and rugged wolf
Turn'd her stretch'd neck, and form'd your tender limbs:
So taught of Jove, ev'n the fell savage fed
Your sacred infancies; your virtues, toils,410
The conquests, glories, of th' Ausonian state,
Wrapp'd in their secret seeds. Each kindred soul,
Robust and stout, ye grapple to your hearts,
And little Rome appears. Her cots arise,
Green twigs of osier weave the slender walls,415
Green rushes spread the roofs; and here and there
Opens beneath the rock the gloomy cave.
Elate with joy, Etruscan Tiber views
Her spreading scenes enamelling his waves,
Her huts and hollow dells, and flocks and herds,420
And gath'ring swains, and rolls his yellow car
To Neptune's court with more majestic train.
Her speedy growth alarm'd the states around,
Jealous; yet soon, by wondrous virtue won,
They sink into her bosom. From the plough 425
Rose her dictators; fought, o'ercame, return'd;
Yes, to the plough return'd, and hail'd their peers!
For then no private pomp, no household state,
The public only swell'd the gen'rous breast.
Who has not heard the Fabian heroes sung?430
Dentatus' scars, or Mutius' flaming hand?
How Manlius sav'd the Capitol? the choice
Of steady Regulus? As yet they stood,
Simple of life; as yet seducing wealth
Was unexplor'd, and shame of poverty 435
Yet unimagin'd—Shine not all the fields

With various fruitage? murmur not the brooks
Along the flow'ry vallies? they, content,
Feasted at Nature's hand, indelicate,
Blithe, in their easy taste, and only sought 440
To know their duties; that their only strife,
Their gen'rous strife, and greatly to perform.
They thro' all shapes of peril and of pain,
Intent on honour, dar'd in thickest death
To snatch the glorious deed. Nor Trebia quell'd, 445
Nor Thrasymene, nor Cannæ's bloody field,
Their dauntless courage: storming Hannibal
In vain the thunder of the battle roll'd;
The thunder of the battle they return'd
Back on his Punic shores, till Carthage fell, 450
And danger fled afar. The City gleam'd
With precious spoils: alas, prosperity!
Ah, baneful state! yet ebb'd not all their strength
In soft luxurious pleasures; proud desire
Of boundless sway, and feverish thirst of gold,455
Rouz'd them again to battle. Beauteous Greece,
Torn from her joys, in vain with languid arm
Half rais'd her rusty shield; nor could avail
The sword of Dacia, nor the Parthian dart,
Nor yet the car of that fam'd British chief 460
Which sev'n brave years beneath the doubtful wing
Of vict'ry dreadful roll'd its grinding wheels
Over the bloody war: the Roman arms
Triumph'd till Fame was silent of their foes.
And now the world unrivall'd they enjoy'd 465
In proud security: the crested helm,
The plated greave and corselet, hung unbrac'd;
Nor clank'd their arms, the spear and sounding shield,
But on the glitt'ring trophy to the wind.
Dissolv'd in ease and soft delights they lie, 470
Till ev'ry sun annoys, and ev'ry wind

Has chilling force, and ev'ry rain offends;
For now the frame no more is girt with strength
Masculine, nor in lustiness of heart
Laughs at the winter-storm and summer-beam,475
Superior to their rage: enfeebling vice
Withers each nerve, and opens ev'ry pore
To painful feeling: flow'ry bow'rs they seek,
(As ether prompts, as the sick sense approves)
Or cool nymphean grots, or tepid baths;480
(Taught by the soft lonians) they along
The lawny vale, of ev'ry beauteous stone,
Pile in the roseat air with fond expense:
Thro' silver channels glide the vagrant waves,
And fall on silver beds crystalline down,485
Melodious murmuring; while Luxury
Over their naked limbs, with wanton hand,
Sheds roses, odours, sheds unheeded bane.
Swift is the flight of wealth; unnumber'd wants,
Brood of Voluptuousness, cry out aloud 490
Necessity, and seek the splendid bribe.
The citron board, the bowl emboss'd with gems,
And tender foliage wildly wreath'd around
Of seeming ivy, by that artful hand,
Corinthian Thericles; whate'er is known 495
Of rarest acquisition; Tyrian garbs,
Neptunian Albion's high testaceous food,
And flavour'd Chian wines, with incense fum'd,
To slake Patrician thirst: for these their rights
In the vile streets they prostitute to sale; 500
Their ancient rights, their dignities, their laws,
Their native glorious freedom. Is there none,
Is there no villain, that will bind the neck
Stretch'd to the yoke? They come; the market throngs.
But who has most by fraud or force amass'd? 505

Who most can charm Corruption with his doles?
He be the monarch of the state; and, lo!
Didius, vile usurer! thro' the crowd he mounts,
Beneath his feet the Roman Eagle cowers,
And the red arrows fill his grasp uncouth. 510
O Britons! O my countrymen! beware;
Gird, gird your hearts: the Romans once were free,
Were brave, were virtuous.—Tyranny howe'er
Deign'd to walk forth a while in pageant state,
And with licentious pleasures fed the rout,515
The thoughtless many: to the wanton sound
Of fifes and drums they danc'd, or in the shade
Sung Cæsar, great and terrible in war;
Immortal Cæsar! Lo! a god, a god!
He cleaves the yielding skies. Cæsar meanwhile 520
Gathers the ocean pebbles, or the gnat
Enrag'd pursues; or at his lonely meal
Starves a wide province; tastes, dislikes, and flings
To dogs and sycophants. A god, a god!
The flow'ry shades and shrines obsene return. 525
But see along the North the tempest swell
O'er the rough Alps, and darken all their snows!
Sudden the Goth and Vandal, dreaded names,
Rush as the breach of waters, whelming all
Their domes, their villas; down the festive piles,530
Down fall their Parian porches, gilded baths,
And roll before the storm in clouds of dust.
Vain end of human strength, of human skill,
Conquest, and triumph, and domain, and pomp,
And ease, and luxury! O Luxury! 535
Bane of elated life, of affluent states,
What dreary change, what ruin, is not thine?
How doth thy bowl intoxicate the mind!
To the soft entrance of thy rosy cave
How dost thou lure the fortunate and great! 540

Dreadful attraction! while behind thee gapes
Th' unfathomable gulf where Ashur lies
O'erwhelm'd, forgotten, and high-boasting Cham,
And Elam's haughty pomp, and beauteous Greece,
And the great queen of earth, imperial Rome!545