Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > An American Anthology, 1787–1900
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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  An American Anthology, 1787–1900.  1900.
 
654. The Modern Romans
 
By Charles Frederick Johnson
 
 
UNDER the slanting light of the yellow sun of October,
A “gang of Dagos” were working close by the side of the car track.
Pausing a moment to catch a note of their liquid Italian,
Faintly I heard an echo of Rome’s imperial accents,
Broken-down forms of Latin words from the Senate and Forum,        5
Now smoothed over by use to the musical lingua Romana.
Then came the thought, Why, these are the heirs of the conquering Romans;
These are the sons of the men who founded the Empire of Caesar;
These are they whose fathers carried the conquering eagles
Over all Gaul and across the sea to Ultima Thule.        10
The race-type persists unchanged in their eyes and profiles and figures,—
Muscular, short, and thick-set, with prominent noses, recalling
“Romanos rerum dominos, gentemque togatam.”
See, Labienus is swinging a pick with rhythmical motion;
Yonder one pushing the shovel might be Julius Caesar,        15
Lean, deep-eyed, broad-browed, and bald, a man of a thousand;
Further along there stands the jolly Horatius Flaccus;
Grim and grave, with rings in his ears, see Cato the Censor;
And the next has precisely the bust of Cneius Pompeius.
Blurred and worn the surface, I grant, and the coin is but copper;        20
Look more closely, you ’ll catch a hint of the old superscription,—
Perhaps the stem of a letter, perhaps a leaf of the laurel.
 
On the side of the street, in proud and gloomy seclusion,
“Bossing the job,” stood a Celt, the race enslaved by the legions,
Sold in the market of Rome, to meet the expenses of Caesar.        25
And as I loitered, the Celt cried, “’Tind to your worruk, ye Dagos,—
Full up yer shovel, Paythro, ye haythen, I ’ll dock yees a quarther.”
This he said to the one who resembled the great Imperator;
Meekly the dignified Roman kept on patiently digging.
 
Such are the changes and chances the centuries bring to the nations.        30
Surely, the ups and downs of this world are past calculation.
How the races troop o’er the stage in endless procession!
Persian, and Arab, and Greek, and Hun, and Roman, and Vandal,
Master the world in turn and then disappear in the darkness,
Leaving a remnant as hewers of wood and drawers of water.        35
“Possibly,”—this I thought to myself,—“the yoke of the Irish
May in turn be lifted from us in the tenth generation.
Now the Celt is on top,—but time may bring his revenges,
Turning the Fenian down once more to be ‘bossed by a Dago.’”
 

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