They stand between the mountains and the sea;
Awful memorials, but of whom we know not!
The seaman, passing, gazes from the deck;
The buffalo-driver, in his shaggy cloak,
Points to the work of magic, and moves on.
Time was they stood along the crowded street,
Temples of Gods, and on their ample steps
What various habits, various tongues beset
The brazen gates for prayer and sacrifice!
Time was perhaps the third was sought for justice;
And here the accuser stood, and there the accused,
And here the judges sat, and heard, and judged.
All silent now, as in the ages past,
Trodden under foot and mingled, dust with dust.
How many centuries did the sun go round
From Mount Alburnus to the Tyrrhene sea,
While, by some spell rendered invisible,
Or, if approached, approached by him alone
Who saw as though he saw not, they remained
As in the darkness of a sepulchre,
Waiting the appointed time! All, all within
Proclaims that Nature had resumed her right,
And taken to herself what man renounced;
No cornice, triglyph, or worn abacus,
But with thick ivy hung, or branching fern,
Their iron-brown o'erspread with brightest verdure!
From my youth upward have I longed to tread
This classic ground; and am I here at last?
Wandering at will through the long porticoes,
And catching, as through some majestic grove,
Now the blue ocean, and now, chaos-like,
Mountains and mountain-gulfs, and, half-way up,
Towns like the living rock from which they grew?
A cloudy region, black and desolate,
Where once a slave withstood a world in arms.
The air is sweet with violets, running wild
'Mid broken friezes and fallen capitals;
Sweet as when Tully, writing down his thoughts,
Those thoughts so precious and so lately lost—
Turning to thee, divine philosophy,
Ever at hand to calm his troubled soul—
Sailed slowly by, two thousand years ago,
For Athens; when a ship, if north-east winds
Blew from the Paestan gardens, slacked her course.
On as he moved along the level shore,
These temples, in their splendour eminent
'Mid arcs and obelisks, and domes and towers,
Reflecting back the radiance of the west,
Well might he dream of glory! Now, coiled up,
The serpent sleeps within them; the she-wolf
Suckles her young; and as alone I stand
In this, the nobler pile, the elements
Of earth and air its only floor and covering,
How solemn is the stillness! Nothing stirs
Save the shrill-voiced cicala flitting round
On the rough pediment to sit and sing;
Or the green lizard rushing through the grass,
And up the fluted shaft with short quick spring,
To vanish in the chinks that time has made.
In such an hour as this, the sun's broad disk
Seen at his setting, and a flood of light
Filling the courts of these old sanctuaries—
Gigantic shadows, broken and confused,
Athwart the innumerable columns flung—
In such an hour he came, who saw and told,
Led by the mighty genius of the place.
Walls of some capital city first appeared,
Half razed, half sunk, or scattered as in scorn;
—And what within them? What but in the midst
These three in more than their original grandeur,
And, round about, no stone upon another?
As if the spoiler had fallen back in fear,
And, turning, left them to the elements.