Page images
PDF
EPUB

But he saw on Palatinus

The white porch of his home; And he spake to the noble river That rolls by the towers of Rome.

59.
« Oh, Tiber! father Tiber!

To whom the Romans pray,
A Roman's life, a Roman's arms,

Take thou in charge this day !”
So he spake, and speaking sheathed

The good sword by his side,
And, with his harness on his back,

Plunged headlong in the tide.

60.

No sound of joy or sorrow

Was heard from either bank; But friends and foes in dumb surprise, With parted lips and straining eyes,

Stood gazing where he sank; And when above the surges

They saw his crest appear, All Rome sent forth a rapturous cry, And even the ranks of Tuscany Could scarce forbear to cheer.

61. But fiercely ran the current,

Swollen high by months of rain: And fast his blood was flowing;

And he was sore in pain, And heavy with his armour,

And spent with changing blows: And oft they thought him sinking, But still again he rose.

62.
Never, I ween, did swimmer,

In such an evil case,
Struggle through such a raging flood

Safe to the landing place :

But his limbs were borne up bravely

By the brave heart within,
And our good father Tiber
Bare bravely up his chin.*

63.
“ Curse on him !" quoth false Sextus;

“Will not the villain drown?
But for this stay, ere close of day

We should have sacked the town !"
“Heaven help him !” quoth Lars Porsena,

“ And bring him safe to shore;
For such a gallant feat of arms

Was never seen before.”

64.

And now he feels the bottom;

Now on dry earth he stands;
Now round him throng the Fathers

To press his gory hands;
And now with shouts and clapping,

And noise of weeping loud,
He enters through the River-gate,

Borne by the joyous crowd.

65.

They gave him of the corn-land,

That was of public right,
As much as two strong oxen

Could plough from morn till night;
And they made a molten image,

And set it up on high,
And there it stands unto this day

To witness if I lie.
* “Our ladye bare upp her chinne.”

Ballad of Childe Waters. “ Never heavier man and horse Stemmed a midnight torrent's force; Yet through good heart and our lady's grace, At length he gained the landing-place.”

Lay of the Last Minstrel, I.

66. It stands in the Comitium,

Plain for all folk to see ; Horatius in his harness,

Halting upon one knee;
And underneath is written,

In letters all of gold,
How valiantly he kept the bridge

In the brave days of old

67. And still his name sounds stirring

Unto the men of Rome, As the trumpet blast that cries to them

To charge the Volscian home;
And wives still pray to Juno

For boys with hearts as bold
As his who kept the bridge so well

In the brave days of old.

68. And in the nights of winter,

When the cold north winds blow, And the long howling of the wolves

Is heard amidst the snow; When round the lonely cottage

Roars loud the tempest's din, And the good logs of Algidus

Roar louder yet within ;

69. When the oldest cask is opened,

And the largest lamp is lit, When the chestnuts glow in the embers,

And the kid turns on the spit; When young and old in circle

Around the firebrands close; When the girls are weaving baskets,

And the lads are shaping bows;

70. When the goodman mends his armour,

And trims his helmet's plume; When the goodwife's shuttle merrily

Goes flashing through the loom ;
With weeping and with laughter

Still is the story told,
How well Horatius kept the bridge

In the brave days of old.

THE

BATTLE OF THE LAKE REGILLUS.

The following poem is supposed to have been produced ninety years after the lay of Horatius. Some persons mentioned in the lay of Horatius make their appearance again, and some appellations and epithets used in the lay of Horatius have been purposely repeated; for, in an age of balladpoetry, it scarcely ever fails to happen, that certain phrases come to be appropriated to certain men and things, and are regularly applied to those men and things by every minstrel. Thus we find both in the Homeric poems and in Hesiod, βιη Ηρακληειη, περικλυτος 'Αμφιγυηεις, διακτορος 'Αγγειφoντης, επταπυλος Θηβη, Ελενης ενεκ ηυκομοιο. Thus, too, in our own national songs, Douglas is almost always the doughty Douglas : England is merry England : all the gold is red; and all the ladies are gay.

The principal distinction between the lay of Horatius and the lay of the Lake Regillus is, that the former is meant to be purely Roman, while the latter, though national in its general spirit, has a slight tincture of Greek learning and of Greek superstition. The story of the Tarquins, as it has come down to us, appears to have been compiled from the works of several popular poets; and one, at least, of those poets appears to have visited the Greek colonies in Italy, if not Greece itself, and to have had some acquaintance with the works of Homer and Herodotus. Many of the most striking adventures of the house of Tarquin, till Lucretia makes her appearance, have a Greek character. The Tarquins themselves are represented as Corinthian nobles of the great house of the Bacchiadæ, driven from the country by the tyranny of that Cypselus, the tale of whose strange escape Herodotus has related with incomparable simplicity

(300)

« PreviousContinue »