241 He wept the flames of what he loved so well,
And what so well had merited his love:
For never prince in grace did more excel,
Or royal city more in duty strove.
242 Nor with an idle care did he behold:
Subjects may grieve, but monarchs must redress;
He cheers the fearful, and commends the bold,
And makes despairers hope for good success.
243 Himself directs what first is to be done,
And orders all the succours which they bring,
The helpful and the good about him run,
And form an army worthy such a king.
244 He sees the dire contagion spread so fast,
That, where it seizes, all relief is vain:
And therefore must unwillingly lay waste
That country, which would else the foe maintain.
245 The powder blows up all before the fire:
The amazed flames stand gather’d on a heap;
And from the precipice’s brink retire,
Afraid to venture on so large a leap.
246 Thus fighting fires a while themselves consume,
But straight, like Turks forced on to win or die,
They first lay tender bridges of their fume,
And o’er the breach in unctuous vapours fly.
247 Part stay for passage, till a gust of wind
Ships o’er their forces in a shining sheet:
Part creeping under ground their journey blind,
And climbing from below their fellows meet.
248 Thus to some desert plain, or old woodside,
Dire night-hags come from far to dance their round;
And o’er broad rivers on their fiends they ride,
Or sweep in clouds above the blasted ground.
249 No help avails: for hydra-like, the
Lifts up his hundred heads to aim his way;
And scarce the wealthy can one half retire,
Before he rushes in to share the prey.
250 The rich grow suppliant, and the poor grow
Those offer mighty gain, and these ask more:
So void of pity is the ignoble crowd,
When others’ ruin may increase their store.
251 As those who live by shores with joy behold
Some wealthy vessel split or stranded nigh;
And from the rocks leap down for shipwreck’d gold,
And seek the tempests which the others fly:
252 So these but wait the owners’ last
And what’s permitted to the flames invade;
Even from their jaws they hungry morsels tear,
And on their backs the spoils of Vulcan lade.
253 The days were all in this lost labour spent;
And when the weary king gave place to night,
His beams he to his royal brother lent,
And so shone still in his reflective light.
254 Night came, but without darkness or repose,—
A dismal picture of the general doom,
Where souls, distracted when the trumpet blows,
And half unready, with their bodies come.