Verse > Edmund Spenser > Complete Poetical Works
Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599).  The Complete Poetical Works.  1908.
Ruines of Rome: by Bellay
  [The Songe of Du Bellay, of which the ‘Visions of Bellay’ are a rendering, forms a kind of appendix to his Antiquitez de Rome. Spenser, having had his attention directed to the former, would naturally read also the latter: the result was this other translation, ‘Ruins of Rome.’ It is difficult to believe that this work is not also of his university days. In the ‘Envoy,’ to be sure, he refers to the Sepmaine of Du Bartas, first published in 1578, but the ‘Envoy,’ or that part of it, may very well be an afterthought. Both the weight of antecedent probability and the evidence of style would place the translation proper with the two earliest series of ‘visions,’ those of Bellay and of Petrarch. They are all three much of a piece. As translations in the larger sense, though often resourceful and apt, they can hardly be said to foretell the rare felicity of his later renderings from Tasso. As poetic exercises, however, they show at least the rudiments of that copious ease which is the mark of his maturer style.]

YE heavenly spirites, whose ashie cinders lie
Under deep ruines, with huge walls opprest,
But not your praise, the which shall never die,
Through your faire verses, ne in ashes rest;
If so be shrilling voyce of wight alive        5
May reach from hence to depth of darkest hell,
Then let those deep abysses open rive,
That ye may understand my shreiking yell.
Thrice having seene, under the heavens veale,
Your toombs devoted compasse over all,        10
Thrice unto you with lowd voyce I appeale,
And for your antique furie here doo call,
  The whiles that I with sacred horror sing
  Your glorie, fairest of all earthly thing.
Great Babylon her haughtie walls will praise,
And sharped steeples high shot up in ayre;
Greece will the olde Ephesian buildings blaze;
And Nylus nurslings their pyramides faire;
The same yet vaunting Greece will tell the storie
Of Joves great image in Olympus placed;        20
Mausolus worke will be the Carians glorie;
And Crete will boast the Labyrinth, now raced;
The antique Rhodian will likewise set forth
The great colosse, erect to Memorie;
And what els in the world is of like worth,        25
Some greater learned wit will magnifie.
  But I will sing above all moniments
  Seven Romane hils, the worlds seven wonderments.
Thou stranger, which for Rome in Rome here seekest,
And nought of Rome in Rome perceiv’st at all,        30
These same olde walls, olde arches, which thou seest,
Olde palaces, is that which Rome men call.
Behold what wreake, what ruine, and what wast,
And how that she, which with her mightie powre
Tam’d all the world, hath tam’d herselfe at last,        35
The pray of Time, which all things doth devowre.
Rome now of Rome is th’ onely funerall,
And onely Rome of Rome hath victorie;
Ne ought save Tyber hastning to his fall
Remaines of all: O worlds inconstancie!        40
  That which is firme doth flit and fall away,
  And that is flitting doth abide and stay.
She, whose high top above the starres did sore,
One foote on Thetis, th’ other on the Morning,
One hand on Scythia, th’ other on the More,        45
Both heaven and earth in roundnesse compassing,
Jove, fearing least, if she should greater growe,
The old giants should once againe uprise,
Her whelm’d with hills, these seven hils, which be nowe
Tombes of her greatnes, which did threate the skies:        50
Upon her head he heapt Mount Saturnal,
Upon her bellie th’ antique Palatine,
Upon her stomacke laid Mount Quirinal,
On her left hand the noysome Esquiline,
  And Cælian on the right; but both her feete        55
  Mount Viminal and Aventine doo meete.
Who lists to see what ever nature, arte,
And heaven could doo, O Rome, thee let him see,
In case thy greatnes he can gesse in harte
By that which but the picture is of thee.        60
Rome is no more: but if the shade of Rome
May of the bodie yeeld a seeming sight,
It ’s like a corse drawne forth out of the tombe
By magicke skill out of eternall night:
The corpes of Rome in ashes is entombed,        65
And her great spirite, rejoyned to the spirite
Of this great masse, is in the same enwombed;
But her brave writings, which her famous merite,
  In spight of Time, out of the dust doth reare,
  Doo make her idole through the world appeare.        70
Such as the Berecynthian goddesse bright,
In her swift charret with high turrets crownde,
Proud that so manie gods she brought to light,
Such was this citie in her good daies fownd:
This citie, more than that great Phrygian mother        75
Renowm’d for fruite of famous progenie,
Whose greatnes by the greatnes of none other,
But by her selfe, her equall match could see:
Rome onely might to Rome compared bee,
And onely Rome could make great Rome to tremble:        80
So did the gods by heavenly doome deeree,
That other earthlie power should not resemble
  Her that did match the whole earths puissaunce,
  And did her courage to the heavens advaunce.
Ye sacred ruines, and ye tragick sights,
Which onely doo the name of Rome retaine,
Olde moniments, which of so famous sprights
The honour yet in ashes doo maintaine,
Triumphant arcks, spyres neighbours to the skie,
That you to see doth th’ heaven it selfe appall,        90
Alas! by little ye to nothing flie,
The peoples fable, and the spoyle of all:
And though your frames do for a time make warre
Gainst Time, yet Time in time shall ruinate
Your workes and names, and your last reliques marre.        95
My sad desires, rest therefore moderate:
  For if that Time make ende of things so sure,
  It als will end the paine which I endure.
Through armes and vassals Rome the world subdu’d,
That one would weene that one sole cities strength        100
Both land and sea in roundnes had survew’d,
To be the measure of her bredth and length:
This peoples vertue yet so fruitfull was
Of vertuous nephewes, that posteritie,
Striving in power their grandfathers to passe,        105
The lowest earth join’d to the heaven hie;
To th’ end that, having all parts in their power,
Nought from the Romane Empire might be quight;
And that though Time doth commonwealths devowre,
Yet no time should so low embase their hight,        110
  That her head, earth’d in her foundations deep,
  Should not her name and endles honour keep.
Ye cruell starres, and eke ye gods unkinde,
Heaven envious, and bitter stepdame Nature,
Be it by fortune, or by course of kinde,        115
That ye doo weld th’ affaires of earthlie creature;
Why have your hands long sithence traveiled
To frame this world, that doth endure so long?
Or why were not these Romane palaces
Made of some matter no lesse firme and strong?        120
I say not, as the common voyce doth say,
That all things which beneath the moone have being
Are temporall, and subject to decay:
But I say rather, though not all agreeing
  With some that weene the contrarie in thought,        125
  That all this whole shall one day come to nought.
As that brave sonne of Aeson, which by charmes
Atcheiv’d the golden fleece in Colchid land,
Out of the earth engendred men of armes
Of dragons teeth, sowne in the sacred sand;        130
So this brave towne, that in her youthlie daies
An hydra was of warriours glorious,
Did fill with her renowmed nourslings praise
The firie sunnes both one and other hous:
But they at last, there being then not living        135
An Hercules, so ranke seed to represse,
Emongst themselves with cruell furie striving,
Mow’d downe themselves with slaughter mercilesse;
  Renewing in themselves that rage unkinde,
  Which whilom did those earthborn brethren blinde.        140
Mars, shaming to have given so great head
To his off-spring, that mortall puissaunce,
Puft up with pride of Romane hardie-head,
Seem’d above heavens powre it selfe to advaunce,
Cooling againe his former kindled heate,        145
With which he had those Romane spirits fild,
Did blowe new fire, and with enflamed breath
Into the Gothicke colde hot rage instil’d:
Then gan that nation, th’ earths new giant brood,
To dart abroad the thunder bolts of warre,        150
And, beating downe these walls with furious mood
Into her mothers bosome, all did marre;
To th’ end that none, all were it Jove his sire,
Should boast himselfe of the Romane Empire.
Like as whilome the children of the earth
Heapt hils on hils, to scale the starrie skie,
And fight against the gods of heavenly berth,
Whiles Jove at them his thunderbolts let flie;
All suddenly with lightning overthrowne,
The furious squadrons downe to ground did fall,        160
That th’ earth under her childrens weight did grone,
And th’ heavens in glorie triumpht over all:
So did that haughtie front, which heaped was
On these seven Romane hils, it selfe upreare
Over the world, and lift her loftie face        165
Against the heaven, that gan her force to feare.
  But now these scorned fields bemone her fall,
  And gods secure feare not her force at all.
Nor the swift furie of the flames aspiring,
Nor the deep wounds of victours raging blade,        170
Nor ruthlesse spoyle of souldiers blood-desiring,
The which so oft thee (Rome) their conquest made;
Ne stroke on stroke of fortune variable,
Ne rust of age hating continuance,
Nor wrath of gods, nor spight of men unstable,        175
Nor thou opposd’ against thine owne puissance;
Nor th’ horrible uprore of windes high blowing,
Nor swelling streames of that god snakie-paced,
Which hath so often with his overflowing
Thee drenched, have thy pride so much abaced,        180
  But that this nothing, which they have thee left,
  Makes the world wonder what they from thee reft.
As men in summer fearles passe the foord,
Which is in winter lord of all the plaine,
And with his tumbling streames doth beare aboord        185
The ploughmans hope and shepheards labour vaine:
And as the coward beasts use to despise
The noble lion after his lives end,
Whetting their teeth, and with vaine foolhardise
Daring the foe, that cannot him defend:        190
And as at Troy most dastards of the Greekes
Did brave about the corpes of Hector colde;
So those which whilome wont with pallid cheekes
The Romane triumphs glorie to behold,
  Now on these ashie tombes shew boldnesse vaine,        195
  And, conquer’d, dare the conquerour disdaine.
Ye pallid spirits, and ye ashie ghoasts,
Which, joying in the brightnes of your day,
Brought foorth those signes of your presumptuous boasts
Which now their dusty reliques do bewray;        200
Tell me, ye spirits (sith the darksome river
Of Styx, not passable to soules returning,
Enclosing you in thrice three wards for ever,
Doo not restraine your images still mourning)
Tell me then (for perhaps some one of you        205
Yet here above him secretly doth hide)
Doo ye not feele your torments to accrewe,
When ye sometimes behold the ruin’d pride
  Of these old Romane works, built with your hands,
  To have become nought els but heaped sands?        210
Like as ye see the wrathfull sea from farre,
In a great mountaine heap’t with hideous noyse,
Eftsoones of thousand billowes shouldred narre,
Against a rocke to breake with dreadfull poyse:
Like as ye see fell Boreas with sharpe blast,        215
Tossing huge tempests through the troubled skie,
Eftsoones having his wide wings spent in wast,
To stop his wearie cariere suddenly:
And as ye see huge flames spred diverslie,
Gathered in one up to the heavens to spyre,        220
Eftsoones consum’d to fall downe feebily:
So whilom did this monarchie aspyre
  As waves, as winde, as fire spred over all,
  Till it by fatall doome adowne did fall.
So long as Joves great bird did make his flight,
Bearing the fire with which heaven doth us fray,
Heaven had not feare of that presumptuous might,
With which the giaunts did the gods assay.
But all so soone as scortching sunne had brent
His wings, which wont the earth to overspredd,        230
The earth out of her massie wombe forth sent
That antique horror, which made heaven adredd.
Then was the Germane raven in disguise
That Romane eagle seene to cleave asunder,
And towards heaven freshly to arise        235
Out of these mountaines, now consum’d to pouder:
  In which the foule that serves to beare the lightning
  Is now no more seen flying, nor alighting.
These heapes of stones, these old wals which ye see,
Were first enclosures but of salvage soyle;        240
And these brave pallaces, which maystred bee
Of Time, were shepheards cottages some-while.
Then tooke the shepheards kingly ornaments,
And the stout hynde arm’d his right hand with steele:
Eftsoones their rule of yearely presidents        245
Grew great, and sixe months greater a great deele;
Which, made perpetuall, rose to so great might,
That thence th’ imperiall eagle rooting tooke,
Till th’ heaven it selfe, opposing gainst her might,
Her power to Peters successor betooke;        250
  Who, shepheardlike, (as Fates the same foreseeing)
  Doth shew that all things turne to their first being.
All that is perfect, which th’ heaven beautefies;
All that ’s imperfect, borne belowe the moone;
All that doth feede our spirits and our eies;        255
And all that doth consume our pleasures soone;
All the mishap, the which our daies out-weares;
All the good hap of th’ oldest times afore,
Rome in the time of her great ancesters,
Like a Pandora, locked long in store.        260
But destinie this huge chaos turmoyling,
In which all good and evill was enclosed,
Their heavenly vertues from these woes assoyling,
Caried to heaven, from sinfull bondage losed:
  But their great sinnes, the causers of their paine,        265
  Under these antique ruines yet remaine.
No otherwise than raynie cloud, first fed
With earthly vapours gathered in the ayre,
Eftsoones in compas arch’t, to steepe his hed,
Doth plonge himselfe in Tethys bosome faire;        270
And mounting up againe, from whence he came,
With his great bellie spreds the dimmed world,
Till at the last, dissolving his moist frame,
In raine, or snowe, or haile he forth is horld;
This citie, which was first but shepheards shade,        275
Uprising by degrees, grewe to such height,
That queene of land and sea her selfe she made.
At last, not able to beare so great weight,
  Her power, disperst, through all the world did vade;
  To shew that all in th’ end to nought shall fade.        280
The same which Pyrrhus and the puissunce
Of Afrike could not tame, that same brave citie,
Which, with stout courage arm’d against mischaunce,
Sustein’d the shocke of common enmitie;
Long as her ship, tost with so manie freakes,        285
Had all the world in armes against her bent,
Was never seene that anie fortunes wreakes
Could breake her course begun with brave intent.
But when the object of her vertue failed,
Her power it selfe against it selfe did arme;        290
As he that having long in tempest sailed,
Faine would arive, but cannot for the storme,
  If too great winde against the port him drive,
  Doth in the port it selfe his vessell rive.
When that brave honour of the Latine name,
Which mear’d her rule with Africa and Byze,
With Thames inhabitants of noble fame,
And they which see the dawning day arize,
Her nourslings did with mutinous uprore
Harten against her selfe, her conquer’d spoile,        300
Which she had wonne from all the world afore,
Of all the world was spoyl’d within a while.
So, when the compast course of the universe
In sixe and thirtie thousand yeares is ronne,
The bands of th’ elements shall backe reverse        305
To their first discord, and be quite undonne:
  The seedes, of which all things at first were bred,
  Shall in great Chaos wombe againe be hid.
O warie wisedome of the man that would
That Carthage towres from spoile should be forborne,        310
To th’ end that his victorious people should
With cancring laisure not be overworne!
He well foresaw, how that the Romane courage,
Impatient of pleasures faint desires,
Through idlenes would turne to civill rage,        315
And be her selfe the matter of her fires.
For in a people given all to ease,
Ambition is engendred easily;
As in a vicious bodie, grose disease
Soone growes through humours superfluitie.        320
  That came to passe, when, swolne with plenties pride,
  Nor prince, nor peere, nor kin, they would abide.
If the blinde Furie, which warres breedeth oft,
Wonts not t’ enrage the hearts of equall beasts,
Whether they fare on foote, or flie aloft,        325
Or armed be with clawes, or scalie creasts,
What fell Erynnis, with hot burning tongs,
Did grype your hearts, with noysome rage imbew’d,
That, each to other working cruell wrongs,
Your blades in your owne bowels you embrew’d?        330
Was this, ye Romanes, your hard destinie?
Or some old sinne, whose unappeased guilt
Powr’d vengeance forth on you eternallie?
Or brothers blood, the which at first was spilt
  Upon your walls, that God might not endure        335
  Upon the same to set foundation sure?
O that I had the Thracian poets harpe,
For to awake out of th’ infernall shade
Those antique Cæsars, sleeping long in darke,
The which this auncient citie whilome made!        340
Or that I had Amphions instrument,
To quicken with his vitall notes accord
The stonie joynts of these old walls now rent,
By which th’ Ausonian light might be restor’d!
Or that at least I could with pencill fine        345
Fashion the pourtraicts of these palacis,
By paterne of great Virgils spirit divine!
I would assay with that which in me is
  To builde, with levell of my loftie style,
  That which no hands can evermore compyle.        350
Who list the Romane greatnes forth to figure,
Him needeth not to seeke for usage right
Of line, or lead, or rule, or squaire, to measure
Her length, her breadth, her deepnes, or her hight;
But him behooves to vew in compasse round        355
All that the ocean graspes in his long armes;
Be it where the yerely starre doth scortch the ground,
Or where colde Boreas blowes his bitter stormes.
Rome was th’ whole world, and al the world was Rome,
And if things nam’d their names doo equalize,        360
When land and sea ye name, then name ye Rome,
And naming Rome, ye land and sea comprize:
  For th’ auncient plot of Rome, displayed plaine,
  The map of all the wide world doth containe.
Thou that at Rome astonisht dost behold
The antique pride, which menaced the skie,
These haughtie heapes, these palaces of olde,
These wals, these arcks, these baths, these temples hie,
Judge, by these ample ruines vew, the rest
The which injurious time hath quite outworne,        370
Since, of all workmen helde in reckning best,
Yet these olde fragments are for paternes borne:
Then also marke, how Rome, from day to day,
Repayring her decayed fashion,
Renewes herselfe with buildings rich and gay;        375
That one would judge that the Romaine Dæmon
  Doth yet himselfe with fatall hand enforce,
  Againe on foote to reare her pouldred corse.
He that hath seene a great oke drie and dead,
Yet clad with reliques of some trophees olde,        380
Lifting to heaven her aged hoarie head,
Whose foote in ground hath left but feeble holde,
But halfe disbowel’d lies above the ground,
Shewing her wreathed rootes, and naked armes,
And on her trunke, all rotten and unsound,        385
Onely supports herselfe for meate of wormes,
And though she owe her fall to the first winde,
Yet of the devout people is ador’d,
And manie yong plants spring out of her rinde;
Who such an oke hath seene, let him record        390
  That such this cities honour was of yore,
  And mongst all cities florished much more.
All that which Aegypt whilome did devise,
All that which Greece their temples to embrave,
After th’ Ionicke, Atticke, Doricke guise,        395
Or Corinth skil’d in curious workes to grave,
All that Lysippus practike arte could forme,
Apelles wit, or Phidias his skill,
Was wont this auncient citie to adorne,
And the heaven it selfe with her wide wonders fill.        400
All that which Athens ever brought forth wise,
All that which Afrike ever brought forth strange,
All that which Asie ever had of prise,
Was here to see. O mervelous great change!
  Rome, living, was the worlds sole ornament,        405
  And dead, is now the worlds sole moniment.
Like as the seeded field greene grasse first showes,
Then from greene grasse into a stalke doth spring,
And from a stalke into an eare forthgrowes,
Which eare the frutefull graine doth shortly bring;        410
And as in season due the husband mowes
The waving lockes of those faire yeallow heares,
Which, bound in sheaves, and layd in comely rowes,
Upon the naked fields in stackes he reares:
So grew the Romane Empire by degree,        415
Till that barbarian hands it quite did spill,
And left of it but these olde markes to see,
Of which all passers by doo somewhat pill,
  As they which gleane, the reliques use to gather,
  Which th’ husbandman behind him chanst to scater.        420
That same is now nought but a champianwide,
Where all this worlds pride once was situate.
No blame to thee, whosoever dost abide
By Nyle, or Gange, or Tygre, or Euphrate;
Ne Afrike thereof guiltie is, nor Spaine,        425
Nor the bolde people by the Thamis brincks,
Nor the brave warlicke brood of Alemaine,
Nor the borne souldier which Rhine running drinks.
Thou onely cause, O Civill Furie, art:
Which, sowing in th’ Aemathian fields thy spight,        430
Didst arme thy hand against thy proper hart;
To th’ end that when thou wast in greatest hight
  To greatnes growne, through long prosperitie,
  Thou then adowne might’st fall more horriblie.
Hope ye, my verses, that posteritie
Of age ensuing shall you ever read?
Hope ye that ever immortalitie
So meane harpes worke may chalenge for her meed?
If under heaven anie endurance were,
These moniments, which not in paper writ,        440
But in porphyre and marble doo appeare,
Might well have hop’d to have obtained it.
Nath’les, my lute, whom Phoebus deigned to give,
Cease not to sound these olde antiquities:
For if that Time doo let thy glorie live,        445
Well maist thou boast, how ever base thou bee,
  That thou art first which of thy nation song
  Th’ olde honour of the people gowned long.
Bellay, first garland of free poësie
That France brought forth, though fruitfull of brave wits,        450
Well worthie thou of immortalitie,
That long hast traveld by thy learned writs,
Olde Rome out of her ashes to revive,
And give a second life to dead decayes:
Needes must he all eternitie survive,        455
That can to other give eternall dayes.
Thy dayes therefore are endles, and thy prayse
Excelling all that ever went before;
And, after thee, gins Bartas hie to rayse
His heavenly Muse, th’ Almightie to adore.        460
  Live happie spirits, th’ honour of your name,
  And fill the world with never dying fame.


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