Verses On Rome by Frances Anne Kemble

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O Rome, tremendous! who, beholding thee,
Shall not forget the bitterest private grief
That e’er made havoc of one single life?
O triple crowned, by glory, faith, and beauty!
Thine is the tiara which thy priest assumes,
By conquest of the nations of the earth,
By spiritual sovereignty o’er men’s soul’s,—
By universal homage of all memory.
When at thy Capitol’s base I musing stand,
Thy ruined temple shafts rising all round me,
Masts of the goodliest wreck, ‘neath Time’s deep flood,
Whose tide shall ne’er rise high enough to cover them,
Thou comest in thy early strength before me,
Fair—stern—thy rapid footprints stamped in blood,
The iron sword clenched in thy hand resistless,
And helmeted like Pallas, whose great thoughts
Still made thy counsels as thy deeds victorious.
Beautiful—terrible—looking o’er the earth
With eyes like shafts of fire, and with a voice
That uttered doom, calling its ends thy border,
Resolute, absolute, steadfast, and most noble,
A mistress whom to love was to obey,
For whom to live was to be prompt to die.
Whose favour was the call to sterner duty,
Whose frown was everlasting ignominy.
So stand’st thou, virgin Rome, before mine eyes,
Type of all heathen national strength and virtue.
When through the Vatican’s sounding halls I stray,
Thy second sovereignty comes sweeping towards me,
In gold and blood-red splendour borne aloft,
The colour of thy garments still kept fresh,
With blood of thy confessors and deniers,
Poured for and by thee over the whole earth,
So com’st thou, carried in thy insolent meekness
Upon the shoulders of obedient Emperors,
Shrouded in clouds of mystic incense, voices
Of adoration in a thousand tongues,
Like mingling waters rolling round thy feet,
The cross, the sword, the keys,—potent insignia
Of thy stupendous double majesty,
Shining amid the lightnings of those curses
Which gleam with ominous brightness round thy path,
So sweeps thy second empire, Rome, before me.
And even now the pageant vanishes
Out from the portals of the palaces
Where it hath dwelt so long, I see the last
Waving and glancing of its impotent splendour
And a dim twilight fills the place it filled.
Twilight of coming night or coming morning
Who shall decide, save Him who rules them both?
And in the doubtful gray, one man alone
Stands in the place of that great mummery,
The throne borne on the backs of emperors
Lies at his feet, and lo! a ghastly bed,
Where, ‘mid diseases and corruptions loathsome,
Infirm, decrepit, crippled, impotent,
Yet bright-eyed with vitality unconquerable,
At its great heart the ancient faith lies gasping,
Beneath his hand a glorious shape springs up,
From whose bright veins a stream of healing youth
Is poured into the withered blood-conduits
Of the bed-ridden Church, and she arises—
And they two stand together, and uplift
That song of praise whose first unearthly sound
Was the loud death-cry sent from Calvary,
Whose sweetness yet shall sound through all the world,
And rise to heaven, whence it shall echo back
His praise whose service shall be perfect freedom.
Loveliest and dearest art thou to me, Rome,
When from the terrace of my sometime home,
At early morning I behold thee lying,
All bathed in sunshine far below my feet.
Upon the ancient, sacred Quirinal
Gleam the white palaces and orange gardens,
Towards which are turned all eyes, are stretched all hands,
Where, guarded round by Faith, and Hope, and Love,
The expectation of the people dwells.
On the pale azure of the tender sky
Thy mighty outline lies like the huge features
Of some divine colossal type of beauty,
Far to the left, beyond the Angel’s tower,
Rises the temple of the world, and stretch
The Vatican’s glorious arsenals of art,
Where still abide the immortal gods of Greece,
Where worship still the tribes of all the earth,
While from the blue and tufted Doria pines,
My eye delighted round the horizon wanders
To where the Falconieri cypress shafts
Pierce the transparent ether. Close at hand,
Over the nunnery wall, where, in sweet mockery,
The bridal flower its silver blossoms spreads,
Rises a chorus of clear virgin voices,
Chanting sweet salutations—greetings holy—
As once did Gabriel to the ‘blest ‘mong women.’
No other sound makes vibrate the still air,
Save the quick beating of the wings of doves,
That from the sanctuary come to drink
At the clear dropping fountain in our garden.
Upon its curving margin they alight,
And make alive the graceful image traced
In the stone painting of the antique artist.
To me they call a lovelier image up—
A fair young girl, with shining braided hair,
And graceful head divine, gently inclined
Towards her shoulder, where a dove has lighted,
That with quick glancing eye and beak familiar,
And soft round head, and swelling purple breast,
Stands friendly, while the child towards it turns
Eyes like two streams of liquid light, and lips
Parted in smiling rosy eagerness.
O Rome! I do not see thee any more,
This do I see—this loveliest, dearest vision
But for a moment, and my tears have blotted
Thy glory and its sweetness out together.

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