Halt! where thou standest Rome was born!
These stones by Romulus were placed,
When, on that far-off April morn,
Two snow-white bulls the furrow traced
For Rome’s first wall, which, firmly based,
Two thousand years have not effaced.
From these rude blocks how vast the bound
To that huge, labyrinthine mass
Through which the secret pathways wound,
Where emperors, if alarmed, could pass;
Yet even there could find, alas!
The poignard or the poisoned glass.
What ghastly crimes these rooms recall!
Here Nero watched his brother drain
The fatal draught, then lifeless fall;
Here, too, Caligula was slain,
When, shrieking, with disordered brain,
He pleaded for his life in vain.
At every turn some pallid ghost
With haggard features seems to rise
To join the long-drawn, murdered host
That moves with sad, averted eyes,
Like victims to a sacrifice,
To where the Via Sacra lies.
Behold the mighty Judgment Hall,
Where Nero with indifferent air
Remarked the pleading of St. Paul,
Nor dreamed the man before him there
Would soon be read and reverenced where
The Roman empire had no share!
Where are they all,—those men of pride
Whose palace was the Palatine,
From Romulus the fratricide
To Hadrian, and Constantine,
The last of all the western line
Of Caesars who were deemed divine?
And all the millions who were swayed
By those who dwelt upon this hill,
And who in humble awe obeyed
The dictates of their sovereign will,—
Are they self-conscious beings still,
Or are their minds and bodies ... Nil?
I watch our planet’s god decline
Behind the tomb-girt Appian Way;
The old, imperial Palatine
Grows purple ’neath the sun’s last ray;
Shades of the Caesars, if ye may,
The mystery of death portray!
Are there in truth Elysian Fields?
And is there life beyond the grave?
Or are the years that Nature yields
Confined this side the Stygian wave?
For those who more existence crave
Is there a Power to help and save?
Alas! no answer; on their hill
The murdered Caesars make no sign;
Their myriad subjects, too, are still,—
Mute as the voiceless Palatine;
Yet overhead the fixed stars shine,
And bid us trust in the Divine!
THE FAREWELL OF THE OLD GUARD AT FONTAINEBLEAU, 1814
Stately court of Fontainebleau,
Nine and ninety years ago
On thy spacious esplanade,
Ranged in formal dress parade,
Stood the Emperor’s grenadiers
With their bronzed cheeks wet with tears,
Waiting once again to show
Love for him at Fontainebleau.
Noon had struck above the square,
When adown the Horse Shoe stair
In his well-known coat of gray,
Worn on many a hard-fought day,
Came the man adored by all
As their “Little Corporal,”
Forced by Europe now to go
Far from royal Fontainebleau.