Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VII. Descriptive: Narrative
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VII. Descriptive: Narrative.  1904.
 
Descriptive Poems: III. Places
The Coliseum
Lord Byron (1788–1824)
 
From “Childe Harold,” Canto IV.

  ARCHES on arches! as it were that Rome,
  Collecting the chief trophies of her line,
  Would build up all her triumphs in one dome,
  Her Coliseum stands; the moonbeams shine
  As ’t were its natural torches, for divine        5
  Should be the light which streams here, to illume
  This long-explored, but still exhaustless, mine
  Of contemplation; and the azure gloom
Of an Italian night, where the deep skies assume
 
  Hues which have words, and speak to ye of heaven,        10
  Floats o’er this vast and wondrous monument,
  And shadows forth its glory. There is given
  Unto the things of earth, which Time hath bent,
  A spirit’s feeling, and where he hath leant
  His hand, but broke his scythe, there is a power        15
  And magic in the ruined battlement,
  For which the palace of the present hour
Must yield its pomp, and wait till ages are its dower.
*        *        *        *        *
  And here the buzz of eager nations ran,
  In murmured pity, or loud-roared applause,        20
  As man was slaughtered by his fellow-man.
  And wherefore slaughtered? wherefore, but because
  Such were the bloody Circus’ genial laws,
  And the imperial pleasure.—Wherefore not?
  What matters where we fall to fill the maws        25
  Of worms,—on battle-plains or listed spot?
Both are but theatres where the chief actors rot.
 
  I see before me the Gladiator lie;
  He leans upon his hand,—his manly brow
  Consents to death, but conquers agony,        30
  And his drooped head sinks gradually low,—
  And through his side the last drops, ebbing slow
  From the red gash, fall heavy, one by one,
  Like the first of a thunder-shower; and now
  The arena swims around him,—he is gone,        35
Ere ceased the inhuman shout which hailed the wretch who won.
 
  He heard it, but he heeded not,—his eyes
  Were with his heart, and that was far away.
  He recked not of the life he lost, nor prize;
  But where his rude hut by the Danube lay,        40
  There were his young barbarians all at play,
  There was their Dacian mother,—he, their sire,
  Butchered to make a Roman holiday!—
  All this rushed with his blood.—Shall he expire,
And unavenged? Arise, ye Goths, and glut your ire!        45
 
  But here, where Murder breathed her bloody steam,
  And here, where buzzing nations choked the ways,
  And roared or murmured like a mountain stream
  Dashing or winding as its torrent strays;
  Here, where the Roman millions’ blame or praise        50
  Was death or life, the playthings of a crowd,
  My voice sounds much,—and fall the stars’ faint rays
  On the arena void, seats crushed, walls bowed,
And galleries, where my steps seem echoes strangely loud.
 
  A ruin,—yet what ruin! from its mass        55
  Walls, palaces, half-cities, have been reared;
  Yet oft the enormous skeleton ye pass,
  And marvel where the spoil could have appeared.
  Hath it indeed been plundered, or but cleared?
  Alas! developed, opens the decay,        60
  When the colossal fabric’s form is neared;
  It will not bear the brightness of the day,
Which streams too much on all years, man, have reft away.
 
  But when the rising moon begins to climb
  Its topmost arch, and gently pauses there;        65
  When the stars twinkle through the loops of time,
  And the low night-breeze waves along the air
  The garland-forest, which the gray walls wear,
  Like laurels on the bald first Cæsar’s head;
  When the light shines serene, but doth not glare,—        70
  Then in this magic circle raise the dead;
Heroes have trod this spot,—’t is on their dust ye tread.
 
  “While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand;
  When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall;
  And when Rome falls—the World.” From our own land        75
  Thus spake the pilgrims o’er this mighty wall
  In Saxon times, which we are wont to call
  Ancient; and these three mortal things are still
  On their foundations, and unaltered all;
  Rome and her Ruin past Redemption’s skill,        80
The World, the same wide den—of thieves, or what ye will.
 
 
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