Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. IX. Tragedy: Humor
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume IX. Tragedy: Humor.  1904.
 
Poems of Tragedy: II. Rome
The Roman Father
Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay (1800–1859)
 
From “Virginia”

STRAIGHTWAY Virginius led the maid
  A little space aside,
To where the reeking shambles stood,
  Piled up with horn and hide;
Close to yon low dark archway,        5
  Where, in a crimson flood,
Leaps down to the great sewer
  The gurgling stream of blood.
 
Hard by, a flesher on a block
  Had laid his whittle down:        10
Virginius caught the whittle up,
  And hid it in his gown.
And then his eyes grew very dim,
  And his throat began to swell,
And in a hoarse, changed voice he spake,        15
  “Farewell, sweet child! Farewell!
 
“O, how I loved my darling!
  Though stern I sometimes be,
To thee, thou know’st, I was not so,—
  Who could be so to thee?        20
And how my darling loved me!
  How glad she was to hear
My footstep on the threshold
  When I came back last year!
 
“And how she danced with pleasure        25
  To see my civic crown,
And took my sword, and hung it up,
  And brought me forth my gown!
Now, all those things are over,—
  Yes, all thy pretty ways,        30
Thy needlework, thy prattle,
  Thy snatches of old lays;
 
“And none will grieve when I go forth,
  Or smile when I return,
Or watch beside the old man’s bed,        35
  Or weep upon his urn.
The house that was the happiest
  Within the Roman walls,
The house that envied not the wealth
  Of Capua’s marble halls,        40
 
“Now, for the brightness of thy smile,
  Must have eternal gloom,
And for the music of thy voice,
  The silence of the tomb.
The time is come! See how he points        45
  His eager hand this way!
See how his eyes gloat on thy grief,
  Like a kite’s upon the prey!
 
“With all his wit, he little deems
  That, spurned, betrayed, bereft,        50
Thy father hath, in his despair,
  One fearful refuge left.
He little deems that in this hand
  I clutch what still can save
Thy gentle youth from taunts and blows,        55
  The portion of the slave;
 
“Yea, and from nameless evil,
  That passes taunt and blow,—
Foul outrage which thou knowest not,
  Which thou shalt never know.        60
Then clasp me round the neck once more,
  And give me one more kiss;
And now, mine own dear little girl,
  There is no way but this!”
 
With that he lifted high the steel,        65
  And smote her in the side,
And in her blood she sank to earth,
  And with one sob she died.
Then, for a little moment,
  All people held their breath;        70
And through the crowded forum
  Was stillness as of death;
 
And in another moment
  Brake forth, from one and all,
A cry as if the Volscians        75
  Were coming o’er the wall.
Some with averted faces
  Shrieking fled home amain;
Some ran to call a leech; and some
  Ran to lift up the slain.        80
 
Some felt her lips and little wrist,
  If life might there be found;
And some tore up their garments fast,
  And strove to stanch the wound.
In vain they ran, and felt, and stanched;        85
  For never truer blow
That good right arm had dealt in fight
  Against a Volscian foe.
 
When Appius Claudius saw that deed,
  He shuddered and sank down,        90
And hid his face some little space
  With the corner of his gown;
Till, with white lips and bloodshot eyes,
  Virginius tottered nigh,
And stood before the judgment-seat,        95
  And held the knife on high.
 
“O dwellers in the nether gloom,
  Avengers of the slain,
By this dear blood I cry to you
  Do right between us twain;        100
And even as Appius Claudius
  Hath dealt by me and mine,
Deal you by Appius Claudius,
  And all the Claudian line!”
 
So spake the slayer of his child,        105
  And turned and went his way;
But first he cast one haggard glance
  To where the body lay,
And writhed, and groaned a fearful groan,
  And then, with steadfast feet,        110
Strode right across the market-place
  Unto the Sacred Street.
 
Then up sprang Appius Claudius:
  “Stop him; alive or dead!
Ten thousand pounds of copper        115
  To the man who brings his head.”
He looked upon his clients;
  But none would work his will.
He looked upon his lictors;
  But they trembled, and stood still.        120
 
And as Virginius through the press
  His way in silence cleft,
Ever the mighty multitude
  Fell back to right and left.
And he hath passed in safety        125
  Unto his woful home,
And there ta’en horse to tell the camp
  What deeds are done in Rome.
 
 
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