Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > France
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
France: Vols. IX–X.  1876–79.
 
Savoy: Mont Cenis
Passage of Hannibal over the Alps
Silius Italicus (c. 28–c. 103)
 
(Excerpt)
Translated by Charles Abraham Elton

BEYOND the Pyrenean’s lofty bound,
Through blackening forests shagged with pine around,
The Carthaginian passed; and, fierce, explored
The Volcan champaign with his wasting sword.
Then trod the threatening banks with hastening force,        5
Where Rhone high-swelling rolls its sweeping course.
From Alpine heights, and steep rocks, capped with snow,
Gushes the Rhone, where Gaul is stretched below.
Cleaves with a mighty surge the foaming plain,
And with broad torrent rushes in the main.        10
Swollen Arar mingles slow its lingering tide,
That, silent gliding, scarcely seems to glide:
Caught in the headlong whirlpool, breaks away,
Snatched through the plains, and starting from delay;
Plunged in the deep the hurried stream is tost,        15
And in the greater flood its name is lost.
Alert the troops the bridgeless current brave,
With head and neck upraised above the wave,
Secure their steely swords; or firm divide,
With sinewy arms, the strong and boisterous tide.        20
The war-steed, bound on rafts, the river treads;
Nor the vast elephant retarding dreads
To tempt the ford; while scattered earth they strow
O’er the hid planks that hide the stream below.
Loosed from the banks the gradual cord extends,        25
And on the flood the unconscious beast descends.
As the trooped quadrupeds, down-sliding slow,
Launched on the stream that, quivering, dashed below;
Beneath the incumbent weight, with starting tide,
The rapid Rhone poured back on every side:        30
Tossed its white eddies on the frothy strand,
And, sullen, murmured on its chafing sand.
Now stretched the onward host their long array
Through the Tricastine plains; and wound their way
O’er smooth ascents, and where Vocontia yields        35
The level champaign of her verdant fields.
Athwart their easy march Druentia spread
The devastation of its torrent bed:
Turbid with stones and trunks of trees, descends
The Alpine stream; the ashen forests rends;        40
Rolls mountain fragments, crumbling to the shock,
And beats with raving surge the channelled rock.
Of nameless depth its ever-changing bed
Betrays the fording warrior’s faithless tread;
The broad and flat pontoon is launched in vain,        45
High swells the flood with deluges of rain;
Snatched with his arms the staggering soldier slides,
And mangled bodies toss in gulfy tides.
But now, the o’erhanging Alps, in prospect near,
Efface remembered toils in future fear.        50
While with eternal frost, with hailstones piled,
The ice of ages grasps those summits wild.
Stiffening with snow the mountain soars in air,
And fronts the rising sun, unmelted by the glare.
As the Tartarean gulf, beneath the ground,        55
Yawns to the gloomy lake in hell’s profound;
So high earth’s heaving mass the air invades,
And shrouds the heaven with intercepting shades.
No Spring, no Summer, strews its glories here;
Lone Winter dwells upon these summits drear,        60
And guards his mansion round the endless year,
Mustering from far around his grisly form
Black rains, and hailstone showers, and clouds of storm.
Here in their wrathful kingdom whirlwinds roam,
And the blasts struggle in their Alpine home.        65
The upward sight a swimming darkness shrouds,
And the high crags recede into the clouds.
*        *        *        *        *
But no rude Alp, no terror of the scene,
Moved Hannibal, undaunted and serene:
Indignant sadness only changed his brow;        70
As with exhorting words he quickened now
Their languid hopes and hearts: “What shame were ours,
Tired with the favor of the heavenly Powers;
Sick of our long success, those glorious bays
That crowned the labor of our well-fought days:        75
To turn our recreant backs on mountain snows,
And slothful yield, where only rocks are foes!
O, now my friends, e’en now, believe, ye climb
Despotic Rome’s proud walls, and tread, sublime,
The Capitol of Jove! thus, thus we gain        80
The prize of toil, and Tiber owns our chain.”
  He spoke; nor they delayed: the troops he drew
Up the steep hills, their promised spoil in view:
Transgressed the Herculean road, and first made known
Tracks yet untrodden and a path their own:        85
Where inaccessible the desert rose,
He burst a passage through forbidden snows;
He, first, the opposing ridge ascending tried,
And bade the unconquerable cliff subside;
Cheered on the lingering troops; and, beckoning high,        90
Stood on the crag, and shouted from the sky.
Oft, where the slippery path belied the tread,
And concrete frost the whitening cliff bespread;
Through the reluctant ice his arm explored
The upward track, that opened to his sword.        95
Oft the thawed surface from the footstep shrank;
Sucked in the absorbing gulf the warriors sank;
Or from high ridge the mass of rushing snow
In humid ruin whelmed the ranks below.
On dusky wings the west-wind swept the heaven;        100
Full in their face the snowy whirls were driven;
Now from their empty grasp the arms are torn,
And sudden on the howling whirlwind borne;
Snatched on the blast, the wrested weapons fly,
And wheel in airy eddies round the sky.        105
When, striving o’er the ascent, the height they gain
With planted foot, increasing toils remain:
Yet other heights their upward view surprise,
And opening mountains upon mountains rise.
*        *        *        *        *
O’er jagged heights, and icy fragments rude,        110
Thus climb they, midst the mountain solitude;
And from the rocky summits, haggard, show
Their half-wild visage, clotted thick with snow.
Continual drizzlings of the drifting air
Scar their rough cheeks, and stiffen in their hair.        115
Now poured from craggy dens, a headlong force,
The Alpine hordes hang threatening on their course;
Track the known thickets, beat the mountain snow,
Bound o’er the steeps, and hovering hem the foe.
Here changed the scene; the snows were crimsoned o’er,        120
The hard ice trickled to the tepid gore.
With pawing hoof the courser delved the ground,
And rigid frost his clinging fetlock bound:
Nor yet his slippery fall the peril ends;
The fracturing ice the bony socket rends.        125
Twelve times they measured the long light of day,
And night’s bleak gloom, and urged through wounds their way;
Till on the topmost ridge their camp was flung,
High o’er the steepy crags, in airy distance, hung.
 
 
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