In days, when the fruit of men's labour was sparing,
And hearts were weary and nigh to break,
A sweet grave man with a beautiful bearing
Came to us once in the fields and spake.
He told us of Roma, the marvellous city,
And of One that came from the living God,
The Virgins' Son, who in heavenly pity,
Bore for His people the rood and rod,
And how at Roma the gods were broken,
The new was strong, and the old nigh dead,
And love was more than a bare word spoken,
For the sick were healed and the poor were fed;
And we sat mute at his feet, and hearkened:
The grave man came in an hour; and went,
But a new light shone on a land long darkened;
The toil was weary, the fruit was spent:
So we came south, till we saw the city,
Speeding three of us, hand in hand,
Seeking peace and the bread of pity,
Journeying out of the Umbrian land;
Till we saw from the hills in a dazzled coma
Over the vines that the wind made shiver,
Tower on tower, the great city Roma,
Palace and temple, and winding river:
And we stood long in a dream and waited,
Watching and praying and purified,
And came at last to the walls belated,
Entering in at the eventide:
And many met us with song and dancing,
Mantled in skins and crowned with flowers,
Waving goblets and torches glancing;
Faces drunken, that grinned in ours:
And one, that ran in the midst, came near us -
"Crown yourselves for the feast," he said,
But we cried out, that the God might hear us,
"Where is Jesus, the living bread?"
And they took us each by the hand with laughter;
Their eyes were haggard and red with wine:
They haled us on, and we followed after,
"We will show you the new God's shrine."
Ah, woe to our tongues, that, forever unsleeping,
Harp and uncover the old hot care,
The soothing ash from the embers sweeping,
Wherever the soles of our sad feet fare.
Ah, we were simple of mind, not knowing,
How dreadful the heart of a man might be;
But the knowledge of evil is mighty of growing;
Only the deaf and the blind are free.
We came to a garden of beauty and pleasure -
It was not the way that our own feet chose -
Where a revel was whirling in many a measure,
And the myriad roar of a great crowd rose;
And the midmost round of the garden was reddened
With pillars of fire in a great high ring -
One look - and our souls forever were deadened,
Though our feet yet move, and our dreams yet sting;
For we saw that each was a live man flaming,
Limbs that a human mother bore,
And a thing of horror was done, past naming,
And the crowd spun round, and we saw no more.
And he that ran in the midst, descrying,
Lifted his hand with a foul red sneer,
And smote us each and the other, crying,
"Thus we worship the new God here.
"The Cæsar comes, and the people's pæans
Hail his name for the new made light,
Pitch and the flesh of the Galileans,
Torches fit for a Roman night;"
And we fell down to the earth, and sickened,
Moaning, three of us, head by head,
"Where is He, whom the good God quickened?
Where is Jesus, the living bread?"
Yet ever we heard, in the foul mirth turning,
Man and woman and child go by,
And ever the yells of the charred men burning,
Piercing heavenward, cry on cry;
And we lay there, till the frightful revel
Died in the dawn with a few short moans
Of some that knelt in the wan and level
Shadows, that fell from the blackened bones.
Numb with horror and sick with pity,
The heart of each as an iron weight,
We crept in the dawn from the awful city,
Journeying out of the seaward gate.
The great sun came from the sea before us;
A soft wind blew from the scented south;
But our eyes knew not of the steps that bore us
Down to the ships at the Tiber's mouth;
And we prayed then, as we turned our faces
Over the sea to the living God,
That our ways might be in the fierce bare places,
Where never the foot of a live man trod:
And we set sail in the noon not caring.
Whither the prow of the dark ship came,
No more over the old ways faring;
For the sea was cold, but the land was flame:
And the keen ship sped, and a deadly coma
Blotted away from our eyes forever,
Tower on tower, the great city Roma,
Palace and temple and yellow river.