Ruines Of Rome:

A poem by Edmund Spenser

BY BELLAY*

[* Joachim du Bellay, a French poet of considerable reputation in his day, died in 1560. These sonnets are translated from Le Premier Livre des Antiquez de Rome. Further on we have the Visions of Bellay, translated from the Songes of the same author. The best that can be said of these sonnets seems to be, that they are not inferior to the original. C.]


I.

Ye heavenly spirites, whose ashie cinders lie
Under deep ruines, with huge walls opprest,
But not your praise, the which shall never die
Through your faire verses, ne in ashes rest;
If so be shrilling voyce of wight alive
May reach from hence to depth of darkest hell,
Then let those deep abysses open rive,
That ye may understand my shreiking yell!
Thrice having seene under the heavens veale
Your toombs devoted compasse over all,
Thrice unto you with lowd voyce I appeale,
And for your antique furie here doo call,
The whiles that I with sacred horror sing
Your glorie, fairest of all earthly thing!


II.

Great Babylon her haughtie walls will praise,
And sharped steeples high shot up in ayre;
Greece will the olde Ephesian buildings blaze,
And Nylus nurslings their Pyramidcs faire;
The same yet vaunting Greece will tell the storie
Of Ioves great image in Olympus placed;
Mausolus worke will be the Carians glorie,
And Crete will boast the Labyrinth, now raced;
The antique Rhodian will likewise set forth
The great Colosse, erect to Memorie;
And what els in the world is of like worth,
Some greater learned wit will magnifie.
But I will sing above all moniments
Seven Romane Hils, the worlds seven wonderments.


III.

Thou stranger, which for Rome in Rome hero seekest,
And nought of Rome in Rome perceiv'st at all,
These same olde walls, olde arches, which thou seest,
Olde palaces, is that which Rome men call.
Beholde what wreake, what mine, and what wast,
And how that she which with her mightie powre
Tam'd all the world hath tam'd herselfe at last;
The pray of Time, which all things doth devowre!
Rome now of Rome is th'onely funerall,
And onely Rome of Rome hath victorie;
Ne ought save Tyber hastning to his fall
Remaines of all: O worlds inconstancie!
That which is firme doth flit and fall away,
And that is flitting doth abide and stay.


IV.

She whose high top above the starres did sore,
One foote on Thetis, th'other on the Morning,
One hand on Scythia, th'other on the More,
Both heaven and earth in roundnesse compassing;
Iove fearing, least if she should greater growe,
The old giants should once againe uprise,
Her whelm'd with hills, these seven hils, which be nowe
Tombes of her greatnes which did threate the skies:
Upon her head he heapt Mount Saturnal,
Upon her bellie th'antique Palatine,
Upon her stomacke laid Mount Quirinal,
On her left hand the noysome Esquiline,
And Caelian on the right; but both her feete
Mount Viminal and Aventine doo meete.


V.

Who lists to see what ever nature, arte,
And heaven could doo, O Rome, thee let him see,
In case thy greatnes he can gesse in harte
By that which but the picture is of thee!
Rome is no more: but if the shade of Rome
May of the bodie yeeld a seeming sight,
It's like a corse drawne forth out of the tombe
By magicke skill out of eternall night:
The corpes of Rome in ashes is entombed,
And her great spirite, reioyned to the spirite
Of this great masse, is in the same enwombed;
But her brave writings, which, her famous merite
In spight of Time out of the dust doth reare,
Doo make her idole* through the world appeare.
[* Idole, image, idea.]


VI.

Such as the Berecynthian goddesse bright,
In her swifte charret with high turrets crownde,
Proud that so manie gods she brought to light,
Such was this citie in her good daies fownd:
This citie, more than that great Phrygian mother
Renowm'd for fruite of famous progenie,
Whose greatnes by the greatnes of none other,
But by her selfe, her equall match could see:
Rome onely might to Rome compared bee,
And onely Rome could make great Rome to tremble:
So did the gods by heavenly doome decree,
That other earthlie power should not resemble
Her that did match the whole earths puissaunce,
And did her courage to the heavens advaunce.


VII.

Ye sacred ruines, and ye tragick sights,
Which onely doo the name of Rome retaine,
Olde moniments, which of so famous sprights
The honour yet in ashes doo maintaine,
Triumphant arcks, spyres neighbours to the skie,
That you to see doth th'heaven it selfe appall,
Alas! by little ye to nothing flie,
The peoples fable, and the spoyle of all!
And though your frames do for a time make warre
Gainst Time, yet Time in time shall ruinate
Your workes and names, and your last reliques marre.
My sad desires, rest therefore moderate!
For if that Time make ende of things so sure,
It als will end the paine which I endure.


VIII.

Through armes and vassals Rome the world subdu'd,
That one would weene that one sole cities strength
Both land and sea in roundnes had survew'd,
To be the measure of her bredth and length:
This peoples vertue yet so fruitfull was
Of vertuous nephewes*, that posteritie,
Striving in power their grandfathers to passe,
The lowest earth ioin'd to the heaven hie;
To th'end that, having all parts in their power,
Nought from the Romane Empire might be quight**;
And that though Time doth commonwealths devowre,
Yet no time should so low embase their hight,
That her head, earth'd in her foundations deep,
Should not her name and endles honour keep.
[* Nephewes, descendants.]
[** Quight, quit, free.]


IX.

Ye cruell starres, and eke ye gods unkinde,
Heaven envious, and bitter stepdame Nature!
Be it by fortune, or by course of kinde*,
That ye doo weld th'affaires of earthlie creature;
Why have your hands long sithence traveiled
To frame this world, that doth endure so long?
Or why were not these Romane palaces
Made of some matter no lesse firme and strong?
I say not, as the common voyce doth say,
That all things which beneath the moone have being
Are temporall and subiect to decay:
But I say rather, though not all agreeing
With some that weene the contrarie in thought,
That all this whole shall one day come to nought.
[* Kinde, nature.]


X.

As that brave sonne of Aeson, which by charmes
Atcheiv'd the golden fleece in Colchid land,
Out of the earth engendred men of armes
Of dragons teeth, sowne in the sacred sand,
So this brave towne, that in her youthlie daies
An hydra was of warriours glorious,
Did fill with her renowmed nourslings praise
The firie sunnes both one and other hous:
But they at last, there being then not living
An Hercules so ranke seed to represse,
Emongst themselves with cruell furie striving,
Mow'd downe themselves with slaughter mercilesse;
Renewing in themselves that rage unkinde,
Which whilom did those earthborn brethren blinde.


XI.

Mars, shaming to have given so great head
To his off-spring, that mortall puissaunce,
Puft up with pride of Romane hardiehead,
Seem'd above heavens powre it selfe to advaunce,
Cooling againe his former kindled heate
With which he had those Romane spirits fild.
Did blowe new fire, and with enflamed breath
Into the Gothicke colde hot rage instil'd.
Then gan that nation, th'earths new giant brood,
To dart abroad the thunderbolts of warre,
And, beating downe these walls with furious mood
Into her mothers bosome, all did marre;
To th'end that none, all were it* love his sire,
Should boast himselfe of the Romane empire.
[* All were it, although it were.]


XII.

Like as whilome the children of the earth
Heapt hils on hils to scale the starrie skie,
And fight against the gods of heavenly berth,
Whiles Iove at them his thunderbolts let flie;
All suddenly with lightning overthrowne,
The furious squadrons downe to ground did fall,
That th'earth under her childrens weight did grone,
And th'heavens in glorie triumpht over all;
So did that haughtie front, which heaped was
On these seven Romane hils, it selfe upreare
Over the world, and lift her loftie face
Against the heaven, that gan her force to feare.
But now these scorned fields bemone her fall,
And gods secure feare not her force at all.


XIII.

Nor the swift furie of the flames aspiring,
Nor the deep wounds of victours raging blade,
Nor ruthlesse spoyle of souldiers blood-desiring,
The which so oft thee, Rome, their conquest made,
Ne stroke on stroke of fortune variable,
Ne rust of age hating continuance,
Nor wrath of gods, nor spight of men unstable,
Nor thou oppos'd against thine owne puissance,
Nor th'horrible uprore of windes high blowing,
Nor swelling streames of that god snakie-paced*
Which hath so often with his overflowing
Thee drenched, have thy pride so much abaced,
But that this nothing, which they have thee left,
Makes the world wonder what they from thee reft.
[* Snakie-paced, winding; or perhaps (like Ovid's anguipes) swift.]


XIV.

As men in summer fearles passe the foord
Which is in winter lord of all the plaine,
And with his tumbling streames doth beare aboord*
The ploughmans hope and shepheards labour vaine,
And as the coward beasts use to despise
The noble lion after his lives end,
Whetting their teeth, and with vaine foolhardise
Daring the foe that cannot him defend,
And as at Troy most dastards of the Greekes
Did brave about the corpes of Hector colde,
So those which whilome wont with pallid cheekes
The Romane triumphs glorie to behold,
Now on these ashie tombes shew boldnesse vaine,
And, conquer'd, dare the conquerour disdaine.
[*Aboord, into the current.]


XV.

Ye pallid spirits, and ye ashie ghoasts,
Which, ioying in the brightnes of your day,
Brought foorth those signes of your presumptuous boasts
Which now their dusty reliques do bewray,
Tell me, ye spirits! (sith the darksome river
Of Styx, not passable to soules returning,
Enclosing you in thrice three wards for ever,
Doo not restraine your images still mourning,)
Tell me then, (for perhaps some one of you
Yet here above him secretly doth hide,)
Doo ye not feele your torments to accrewe,
When ye sometimes behold the ruin'd pride
Of these old Romane works, built with your hands,
To become nought els but heaped sands?


XVI.

Like as ye see the wrathfull sea from farre
In a great mountaine heap't with hideous noyse,
Eftsoones of thousand billowes shouldred narre*,
Against a rocke to breake with dreadfull poyse;
Like as ye see fell Boreas with sharpe blast
Tossing huge tempests through the troubled skie,
Eftsoones having his wide wings spent in wast,
To stop his wearie cariere** suddenly;
And as ye see huge flames spred diverslie,
Gathered in one up to the heavens to spyre,
Eftsoones consum'd to fall downe feebily,
So whilom did this monarchie aspyre
As waves, as winde, as fire, spred over all,
Till it by fatall doome adowne did fall.
[* Narre, nearer.]
[** Cariere, career.]


XVII.

So long as Ioves great bird did make his flight,
Bearing the fire with which heaven doth us fray,
Heaven had not feare of that presumptuous might,
With which the giaunts did the gods assay:
But all so soone as scortching sunne had brent*
His wings which wont the earth to overspredd,
The earth out of her massie wombe forth sent
That antique horror which made heaven adredd.
Then was the Germane raven in disguise
That Romane eagle seene to cleave asunder,
And towards heaven freshly to arise
Out of these mountaines, now consum'd to pouder.
In which the foule that serves to beare the lightning
Is now no more seen flying nor alighting.
[* Brent, burned.]


XVIII.

These heapes of stones, these old wals which ye see,
Were first enclosures but of salvage soyle;
And these brave pallaces, which maystred bee
Of time, were shepheards cottages somewhile.
Then tooke the shepheards kingly ornaments
And the stout hynde arm'd his right hand with steele:
Eftsoones their rule of yearely presidents
Grew great, and sixe months greater a great deele;
Which, made perpetuall, rose to so great might,
That thence th'imperiall eagle rooting tooke,
Till th'heaven it selfe, opposing gainst her might,
Her power to Peters successor betooke,
Who, shepheardlike, (as Fates the same foreseeing,)
Doth shew that all things turne to their first being.
[XVIII. 8.--Sixe months, &c. The term of the dictatorship at Rome.]


XIX.

All that is perfect, which th'heaven beautefies;
All that's imperfect, borne belowe the moone;
All that doth feede our spirits and our eies;
And all that doth consume our pleasures soone;
All the mishap the which our daies outweares;
All the good hap of th'oldest times afore,
Rome, in the time of her great ancesters,
Like a Pandora, locked long in store.
But destinie this huge chaos turmoyling,
In which all good and evill was enclosed,
Their heavenly vertues from these woes assoyling,
Caried to heaven, from sinfull bondage losed:
But their great sinnes, the causers of their paine,
Under these antique ruines yet remaine.


XX.

No otherwise than raynie cloud, first fed
With earthly vapours gathered in the ayre,
Eftsoones in compas arch't, to steepe his hed,
Doth plonge himselfe in Tethys bosome faire,
And, mounting up againe from whence he came,
With his great bellie spreds the dimmed world,
Till at the last, dissolving his moist frame,
In raine, or snowe, or haile, he forth is horld,
This citie, which was first but shepheards shade,
Uprising by degrees, grewe to such height
That queene of land and sea her selfe she made.
At last, not able to beare so great weight,
Her power, disperst, through all the world did vade*;
To shew that all in th'end to nought shall fade.
[* Vade, vanish.]


XXI.

The same which Pyrrhus and the puissaunce
Of Afrike could not tame, that same brave citie
Which, with stout courage arm'd against mischaunce,
Sustein'd the shocke of common enmitie,
Long as her ship, tost with so manie freakes,
Had all the world in armes against her bent,
Was never seene that anie fortunes wreakes
Could breake her course begun with brave intent.
But, when the obiect of her vertue failed,
Her power it selfe against it selfe did arme;
As he that having long in tempest sailed
Faine would arive, but cannot for the storme,
If too great winde against the port him drive,
Doth in the port it selfe his vessell rive.


XXII.

When that brave honour of the Latine name,
Which mear'd* her rule with Africa and Byze**,
With Thames inhabitants of noble fame,
And they which see the dawning day arize,
Her nourslings did with mutinous uprore
Harten against her selfe, her conquer'd spoile,
Which she had wonne from all the world afore,
Of all the world was spoyl'd within a while:
So, when the compast course of the universe
In sixe and thirtie thousand yeares is ronne,
The bands of th'elements shall backe reverse
To their first discord, and be quite undonne;
The seedes of which all things at first were bred
Shall in great Chaos wombe againe be hid.
[* Mear'd, bounded.]
[** Byze, Byzantium.]


XXIII.

O warie wisedome of the man* that would
That Carthage towres from spoile should be forborne,
To th'end that his victorious people should
With cancring laisure not be overworne!
He well foresaw how that the Romane courage,
Impatient of pleasures faint desires,
Through idlenes would turne to civill rage,
And be her selfe the matter of her fires.
For in a people given all to ease,
Ambition is engendred easily;
As, in a vicious bodie, grose disease
Soone growes through humours superfluitie.
That came to passe, when, swolne with plenties pride,
Nor prince, nor peere, nor kin, they would abide.
[* I.e. Scipio Nasica.]


XXIV.

If the blinde Furie which warres breedeth oft
Wonts not t'enrage the hearts of equall beasts,
Whether they fare on foote, or flie aloft,
Or armed be with clawes, or scalie creasts,
What fell Erynnis, with hot burning tongs,
Did grype your hearts with noysome rage imbew'd,
That, each to other working cruell wrongs,
Your blades in your owne bowels you embrew'd?
Was this, ye Romanes, your hard destinie?
Or some old sinne, whose unappeased guilt
Powr'd vengeance forth on you eternallie?
Or brothers blood, the which at first was spilt
Upon your walls, that God might not endure
Upon the same to set foundation sure?


XXV.

O that I had the Thracian poets harpe,
For to awake out of th'infernall shade
Those antique Caesars, sleeping long in darke,
The which this auncient citie whilome made!
Or that I had Amphions instrument,
To quicken with his vitall notes accord
The stonie ioynts of these old walls now rent,
By which th'Ausonian light might be restor'd!
Or that at least I could with pencill fine
Fashion the pourtraicts of these palacis,
By paterne of great Virgils spirit divine!
I would assay with that which in me is
To builde, with levell of my loftie style,
That which no hands can evermore compyle.


XXVI.

Who list the Romane greatnes forth to figure,
Him needeth not to seeke for usage right
Of line, or lead, or rule, or squaire, to measure
Her length, her breadth, her deepnes, or her hight;
But him behooves to vew in compasse round
All that the ocean graspes in his long armes;
Be it where the yerely starre doth scortch the ground,
Or where colde Boreas blowes his bitter stormes.
Rome was th'whole world, and al the world was Rome;
And if things nam'd their names doo equalize,
When land and sea ye name, then name ye Rome,
And, naming Rome, ye land and sea comprize:
For th'auncient plot of Rome, displayed plaine,
The map of all the wide world doth containe.


XXVII.

Thou that at Rome astonisht dost behold
The antique pride which menaced the skie,
These haughtie heapes, these palaces of olde,
These wals, these arcks, these baths, these temples his,
Iudge, by these ample ruines vew, the rest
The which iniurious time hath quite outworne,
Since, of all workmen helde in reckning best,
Yet these olde fragments are for paternes borne:
Then also marke how Rome, from day to day,
Repayring her decayed fashion,
Renewes herselfe with buildings rich and gay;
That one would iudge that the Romaine Daemon*
Doth yet himselfe with fatall hand enforce
Againe on foot to reare her pouldred** corse.
[* Romaine Daemon, Genius of Rome.]
[** Pouldred, reduced to dust.]


XXVIII.

He that hath seene a great oke drie and dead,
Yet clad with reliques of some trophees olde,
Lifting to heaven her aged hoarie head,
Whose foote in ground hath left but feeble holde,
But halfe disbowel'd lies above the ground,
Shewing her wreathed rootes, and naked armes,
And on her trunke all rotten and unsound
Onely supports herselfe for meate of wormes,
And, though she owe her fall to the first winde,
Yet of the devout people is ador'd,
And manie yong plants spring out of her rinde;
Who such an oke hath seene, let him record
That such this cities honour was of yore,
And mongst all cities florished much more.


XXIX.

All that which Aegypt whilome did devise,
All that which Greece their temples to embrave,
After th'Ionicke, Atticke, Doricke guise,
Or Corinth skil'd in curious workes to grave,
All that Lysippus practike* arte could forme,
Apelles wit, or Phidias his skill,
Was wont this auncient citie to adorne,
And the heaven it selfe with her wide wonders fill.
All that which Athens ever brought forth wise,
All that which Afrike ever brought forth strange,
All that which Asie ever had of prise,
Was here to see. O mervelous great change!
Rome, living, was the worlds sole ornament;
And, dead, is now the worlds sole moniment.
[* Practike, cunning.]


XXX.

Like as the seeded field greene grasse first showes,
Then from greene grasse into a stalke doth spring,
And from a stalke into an eare forth-growes,
Which eare the frutefull graine doth shortly bring,
And as in season due the husband* mowes
The waving lockes of those faire yeallow heares,
Which, bound in sheaves, and layd in comely rowes,
Upon the naked fields in stalkes he reares,
So grew the Romane empire by degree,
Till that barbarian hands it quite did spill,
And left of it but these olde markes to see,
Of which all passers by doo somewhat pill**,
As they which gleane, the reliques use to gather
Which th'husbandman behind him chanst to scater.
[* Husband, husbandman.]
[** Pill, plunder.]


XXXI.

That same is now nought but a champian wide,
Where all this worlds pride once was situate.
No blame to thee, whosoever dost abide
By Nyle, or Gange, or Tygre, or Euphrate;
Ne Afrike thereof guiltie is, nor Spaine,
Nor the bolde people by the Thamis brincks,
Nor the brave warlicke brood of Alemaine,
Nor the borne souldier which Rhine running drinks.
Thou onely cause, O Civill Furie, art!
Which, sowing in th'Aemathian fields thy spight,
Didst arme thy hand against thy proper hart;
To th'end that when thou wast in greatest hight
To greatnes growne, through long prosperitie,
Thou then adowne might'st fall more horriblie.
[XXXI. 10.--Aemathian fields. Thessalian fields; alluding to the
battle fought at Pharsalia, in Thessaly, between Caesar and Pompey. H.]


XXXII.

Hope ye, my Verses, that posteritie
Of age ensuing shall you ever read?
Hope ye that ever immortalitie
So meane harpes worke may chalenge for her meed?
If under heaven anie endurance were,
These moniments, which not in paper writ,
But in porphyre and marble doo appeare,
Might well have hop'd to have obtained it.
Nath'les, my Lute, whom Phoebus deigned to give,
Cease not to sound these olde antiquities:
For if that Time doo let thy glorie live,
Well maist thou boast, how ever base thou bee,
That thou art first which of thy nation song
Th'olde honour of the people gowned long.


L'ENVOY.

Bellay, first garland of free poesie
That France brought forth, though fruitfull of brave wits,
Well worthie thou of immortalitie,
That long hast traveld*, by thy learned writs,
Olde Rome out of her ashes to revive,
And give a second life to dead decayes!
Needes must he all eternitie survive,
That can to other give eternall dayes.
Thy dayes therefore are endles, and thy prayse
Excelling all that ever went before:
And, after thee, gins Bartas hie to rayse
His heavenly Muse, th'Almightie to adore.
Live happie spirits, th'honour of your name,
And fill the world with never dying fame!
[* Traveld, travailed, toiled.]

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