Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Italy
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII.  1876–79.
Ponte Sublicio
Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay (1800–1859)
(From Lays of Ancient Rome. Horatius.)

BUT, meanwhile axe and lever
  Have manfully been plied;
And now the bridge hangs tottering
  Above the boiling tide.
“Come back, come back Horatius!”        5
  Loud cried the Fathers all;
“Back, Lartius! back, Herminius!
  Back, ere the ruin fall!”
Back darted Spurius Lartius,
  Herminius darted back;        10
And as they passed beneath their feet
  They felt the timbers crack.
But when they turned their faces,
  And on the farther shore
Saw brave Horatius stand alone,        15
  They would have crossed once more;
But with a crash like thunder
  Fell every loosened beam,
And like a dam the mighty wreck
  Lay right athwart the stream:        20
And a long shout of triumph
  Rose from the walls of Rome,
As to the highest turret-tops
  Was splashed the yellow foam.
And like a horse unbroken        25
  When first he feels the rein,
The furious river struggled hard
  And tossed his tawny mane,
And burst the curb, and bounded,
  Rejoicing to be free;        30
And whirling down in fierce career
Battlement and plank and pier,
  Rushed headlong to the sea.
Alone stood brave Horatius,
  But constant still in mind;        35
Thrice thirty thousand foes before,
  And the broad flood behind.
“Down with him!” cried false Sextus,
  With a smile on his pale face;
“Now yield thee,” cried Lars Porsena,        40
  “Now yield thee to our grace.”
Round turned he, as not deigning
  Those craven ranks to see;
Naught spake he to Lars Porsena,
  To Sextus naught spake he;        45
But he saw on Palatinus
  The white porch of his home;
And he spake to the noble river
  That rolls by the towers of Rome:
“O, Tiber! Father Tiber!        50
  To whom the Romans pray,
A Roman’s life, a Roman’s arms,
  Take thou in charge this day!”
So he spake, and, speaking, sheathéd
  The good sword by his side,        55
And with his harness on his back
  Plunged headlong in the tide.
No sound of joy or sorrow
  Was heard from either bank;
But friends and foes in dumb surprise,        60
With parted lips and straining eyes,
  Stood gazing where he sank;
And when above the surges
  They saw his crest appear,
All Rome sent forth a rapturous cry,        65
And even the ranks of Tuscany
  Could scarce forbear to cheer.
But fiercely ran the current,
  Swollen high by months of rain:
And fast his blood was flowing;        70
  And he was sore in pain,
And heavy with his armor,
  And spent with changing blows;
And oft they thought him sinking,
  But still again he rose.        75
Never, I ween, did swimmer,
  In such an evil case,
Struggle through such a raging flood
  Safe to the landing-place:
But his limbs were borne up bravely        80
  By the brave heart within,
And our good Father Tiber
  Bare bravely up his chin.
“Curse on him!” quoth false Sextus;
  “Will not the villain drown?        85
But for this stay, ere close of day
  We should have sacked the town!”
“Heaven help him!” quoth Lars Porsena,
  “And bring him safe to shore;
For such a gallant feat of arms        90
  Was never seen before.”
And now he feels the bottom;
  Now on dry earth he stands;
Now round him throng the Fathers
  To press his gory hands;        95
And now with shouts and clapping,
  And noise of weeping loud,
He enters through the river-gate,
  Borne by the joyous crowd.
They gave him of the corn-land,        100
  That was of public right,
As much as two strong oxen
  Could plough from morn till night;
And they made a molten image,
  And set it up on high,        105
And there it stands unto this day
  To witness if I lie.
It stands in the Comitium,
  Plain for all folk to see;
Horatius in his harness,        110
  Halting upon one knee:
And underneath is written,
  In letters all of gold,
How valiantly he kept the bridge
  In the brave days of old.        115

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