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Ruins of Rome by Bellay

Written by: Edmund Spenser | Biography
 | Quotes (10) |
 1 

Ye heavenly spirits, whose ashy cinders lie 
Under deep ruins, with huge walls opprest, 
But not your praise, the which shall never die 
Through your fair verses, ne in ashes rest; 
If so be shrilling voice 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 seen under the heavens' vail 
Your tomb's devoted compass over all, 
Thrice unto you with loud voice I appeal, 
And for your antique fury here do call, 
The whiles that I with sacred horror sing, 
Your glory, fairest of all earthly thing. 


2 

Great Babylon her haughty walls will praise, 
And sharpèd steeples high shot up in air; 
Greece will the old Ephesian buildings blaze; 
And Nylus' nurslings their Pyramids fair; 
The same yet vaunting Greece will tell the story 
Of Jove's great image in Olympus placed, 
Mausolus' work will be the Carian's glory, 
And Crete will boast the Labybrinth, now 'rased; 
The antique Rhodian will likewise set forth 
The great Colosse, erect to Memory; 
And what else in the world is of like worth, 
Some greater learnèd wit will magnify. 
But I will sing above all monuments 
Seven Roman Hills, the world's seven wonderments. 


3 

Thou stranger, which for Rome in Rome here seekest, 
And nought of Rome in Rome perceiv'st at all, 
These same old walls, old arches, which thou seest, 
Old Palaces, is that which Rome men call. 
Behold what wreak, what ruin, and what waste, 
And how that she, which with her mighty power 
Tam'd all the world, hath tam'd herself at last, 
The prey of time, which all things doth devour. 
Rome now of Rome is th' only funeral, 
And only Rome of Rome hath victory; 
Ne ought save Tyber hastening to his fall 
Remains of all: O world's inconstancy. 
That which is firm doth flit and fall away, 
And that is flitting, doth abide and stay. 


4 

She, whose high top above the stars did soar, 
One foot on Thetis, th' other on the Morning, 
One hand on Scythia, th' other on the Moor, 
Both heaven and earth in roundness compassing, 
Jove fearing, lest if she should greater grow, 
The old Giants should once again uprise, 
Her whelm'd with hills, these seven hills, which be now 
Tombs of her greatness, which did threat the skies: 
Upon her head he heaped Mount Saturnal, 
Upon her belly th' antique Palatine, 
Upon her stomach laid Mount Quirinal, 
On her left hand the noisome Esquiline, 
And Cælian on the right; but both her feet 
Mount Viminall and Aventine do meet. 


5 

Who lists to see, what ever nature, art, 
And heaven could do, O Rome, thee let him see, 
In case thy greatness he can guess in heart, 
By that which but the picture is of thee. 
Rome is no more: but if the shade of Rome 
May of the body yield a seeming sight, 
It's like a corse drawn forth out of the tomb 
By Magick skill out of eternal night: 
The corpse of Rome in ashes is entombed, 
And her great sprite rejoinèd to the sprite 
Of this great mass, is in the same enwombed; 
But her brave writings, which her famous merit 
In spite of time, out of the dust doth rear, 
Do make her idol through the world appear. 


6 

Such as the Berecynthian Goddess bright 
In her swift chariot with high turrets crowned, 
Proud that so many Gods she brought to light; 
Such was this City in her good days found: 
This city, more than the great Phrygian mother 
Renowned for fruit of famous progeny, 
Whose greatness by the greatness of none other, 
But by herself her equal match could see: 
Rome only might to Rome comparèd be, 
And only Rome could make great Rome to tremble: 
So did the Gods by heavenly doom decree, 
That other deathly power should not resemble 
Her that did match the whole earth's puissaunce, 
And did her courage to the heavens advance. 


7 

Ye sacred ruins, and ye tragic sights, 
Which only do the name of Rome retain, 
Old monuments, which of so famous sprites 
The honour yet in ashes do maintain: 
Triumphant arcs, spires neighbors to the sky, 
That you to see doth th' heaven itself appall, 
Alas, by little ye to nothing fly, 
The people's fable, and the spoil of all: 
And though your frames do for a time make war 
'Gainst time, yet time in time shall ruinate 
Your works and names, and your last relics mar. 
My sad desires, rest therefore moderate: 
For if that time make ends of things so sure, 
It also will end the pain, which I endure. 


8 

Through arms and vassals Rome the world subdued, 
That one would ween, that one sole City's strength 
Both land and sea in roundess had surview'd, 
To be the measure of her breadth and length: 
This people's virtue yet so fruitful was 
Of virtuous nephews that posterity 
Striving in power their grandfathers to pass, 
The lowest earth join'd to the heaven high; 
To th' end that having all parts in their power 
Nought from the Roman Empire might be 'quite, 
And that though time doth Commonwealths devour, 
Yet no time should so low embase their height, 
That her head earth'd in her foundations deep, 
Should not her name and endless honour keep. 


9 

Ye cruel stars, and eke ye Gods unkind, 
Heaven envious, and bitter stepdame Nature, 
Be it by fortune, or by course of kind 
That ye do weld th' affairs of earthly creature: 
Why have your hands long sithence troubled 
To frame this world, that doth endure so long? 
Or why were not these Roman palaces 
Made of some matter no less firm and strong? 
I say not, as the common voice doth say, 
That all things which beneath the moon have being 
Are temporal, and subject to decay: 
But I say rather, though not all agreeing 
With some, that ween the contrary in thought: 
That all this whole shall one day come to nought. 


10 

As that brave son of Aeson, which by charms 
Achieved the golden fleece in Colchid land, 
Out of the earth engendered men of arms 
Of Dragons' teetch, sown in the sacred sand; 
So this brave town, that in her youthly days 
An Hydra was of warriors glorious, 
Did fill with her renownéd nurslings praise 
The firey sun's both one and other house: 
But they at last, there being then not living 
An Hercules, so rank seed to repress,; 
Amongst themselves with cruel fury striving, 
Mow'd down themselves with slaughter merciless; 
Renewing in themselves that rage unkind, 
Which whilom did those searthborn brethren blind. 


11 

Mars shaming to have given so great head 
To his off-spring, that mortal puissance 
Puffed up with pride of Roman hardy head, 
Seem'd above heaven's power itself to advance; 
Cooling again his former kindled heat, 
With which he had those Roman spirits filled; 
Did blow new fire, and with enflaméd breath, 
Into the Gothic cold hot rage instill'd: 
Then 'gan that Nation, th' earth's new Giant brood, 
To dart abroad the thunder bolts of war, 
And beating down these walls with furious mood 
Into her mother's bosom, all did mar; 
To th' end that none, all were if Jove his sire 
Should boast himself of the Roman Empire. 


12 

Like as whilome the children of the earth 
Heaped hills on hills, to scale the starry sky, 
And fight against the Gods of heavenly birth, 
Whilst Jove at them his thunderbolts let fly; 
All suddenly with lightning overthrown, 
The furious squadrons down the ground did fall, 
That th' earth under her children's weight did groan, 
And th' heavens in glory triumphed over all: 
So did that haughty front which heapéd was 
On these seven Roman hills, itself uprear 
Over the world, and lift her lofty face 
Against the heaven, that 'gan her force to fear. 
But now these scorned fields bemoan her fall, 
And Gods secure fear not her force at all. 


13 

Nor the swift fury of the flames aspiring, 
Nor the deep wounds of victor's raging blade, 
Nor ruthless spoil of soldiers 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 spite of men unstable, 
Nor thou oppos'd against thine own puissance; 
Nor th' horrible uproar of winds high blowing, 
Nor swelling streams of that God snaky-paced, 
Which hath so often with his overflowing 
Thee drenched, have thy pride so much abased; 
But that this nothing, which they have thee left, 
Makes the world wonder, what they from thee reft. 


14 

As men in summer fearless pass the ford, 
Which is in winter lord of all the plain, 
And with his tumbling streams doth bear aboard 
The plowman's hope, and shepherd's labor vain; 
And as the coward beasts use to despise 
The noble lion after his life's end 
Whetting their teeth, and with vain foolhardise 
Daring the foe, that cannot him defend: 
And as at Troy most dastards of the Greeks 
Did brave about the corpse of Hector cold; 
So those which whilome wont with pallid cheeks 
The Roman triumphs glory to behold, 
Now on these ashy tombs show boldness vain, 
And conquer'd dare the Conqueror disdain. 


15 

Ye pallid spirits, and ye ashy ghosts, 
Which joying in the brightness of your day, 
Brought forth those signs of your premptuous boasts 
Which now their dusty relics do bewray; 
Tell me ye spirits (sith the darksome river 
Of Styx not passable to souls returning, 
Enclosing you in thrice three wards forever, 
Do not restrain your images still mourning) 
Tell me then (for perhaps some one of you 
Yet here above him secretly doth hide) 
Do ye not feel your torments to accrue, 
When ye sometimes behold the ruin'd pride 
Of these old Roman works built with your hands, 
Now to become nought else, but heaped sands? 


16 

Like as ye see the wrathful sea from far, 
In a great mountain heap'd with hideous noise, 
Eftsoons of thousand bilows shouldered narre, 
Against a rock to break with dreadful poise; 
Like as ye see fell Boreas with sharp blast, 
Tossing huge tempests through the troubled sky, 
Eftsoons having his wide wings spent in vast, 
To stop his wearie carrier suddenly; 
And as ye see huge flames spread diversly, 
Gathered in one up to the heavens to spire, 
Eftsoons consum'd to fall down feebily: 
So whilom did this Monarchy aspire 
As waves, as wind, as fire spread over all, 
Till it by fatal doom adown did fall. 


17 

So long as Jove's great bird did make his flight, 
Bearing the fire with which heaven doth us fray, 
Heaven had not fear of that presumptuous might, 
With which the Giants did the Gods assay. 
But all so soon, as scorching Sun had brent 
His wings, which wont to the earth to overspread, 
The earth out of her massy womb forth sent 
That antique horror, which made heaven adread. 
Then was the German raven in disguise 
That Roman eagle seen to cleave asunder, 
And towards heaven freshly to arise 
Out of these mountains, not consum'd to powder. 
In which the fowl that serves to bear the lightning, 
Is now no more seen flying, nor alighting. 


18 

These heaps of stones, these old walls which ye see, 
Were first enclosures but of savage soil; 
And these brave palaces which mastered be 
Of time, were shepherds cottages somewhile. 
Then took the shepherd kingly ornamnets 
And the stout hynde arm'd his right hand with steel: 
Eftsoones their rule of yearly presidents 
Grew great, and six months greater a great deal; 
Which made perpetual, rose to so great might, 
That thence th' imperial Eagle rooting took, 
Till th' heaven itself opposing 'gainst her might, 
Her power to Peter's successor betook; 
Who shepherdlike, (as fates the same forseeing) 
Doth show, that all things turn to their first being. 


19 

All that is perfect, which th' heaven beautifies; 
All that's imperfect, born below the moon; 
All that doth feed our spriits and our eyes; 
And all that doth consume our pleasures soon; 
All the mishap, the which our days outwears, 
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 destiny this huge Chaos turmoiling, 
In which all good and evil was enclosed, 
Their heavenly virtues from these woes absolving, 
Carried to heaven, from sinful bondage loosed: 
But their great sins, the causers of their pain, 
Under these antique ruins yet remain. 


20 

No otherwise than rainy cloud, first fed 
With earthly vapors gathered in the air, 
Eftsoones in compass arch'd, to steep his head, 
Doth plunge himself in Tethys' bosom fair; 
And mounting up again, from whence he came, 
With his great belly spreads the dimmed world, 
Till at last the last dissolving his moist frame, 
In rain, or snow, or hail he forth is hurl'd; 
This City, which was first but shepherds' shade, 
Uprising by degrees, grew to such height, 
That queen of land and sea herself she made. 
At last not able to bear so great weight. 
Her power dispers'd, through all the world did vade; 
To show that all in th' end to nought shall fade. 


21 

The same which Pyrrhus, and the puissance 
Of Afric could not tame, that same brave city, 
Which with stout courage arm'd against mischance, 
Sustain'd the shock of common enmity; 
Long as her ship tossed with so many freaks, 
Had all the world in arms against her bent, 
Was never seen, that any fortune's wreaks 
Could break her course begun with brave intent. 
But when the object of her virtue failed, 
Her power itself agains itself did arm; 
As he that having long in tempest sailed, 
Fain would arrive, but cannot for the storm, 
If too great wind against the port him drive, 
Doth in the port itself his vessel rive. 


22 

When that brave honour of the Latin name, 
Which bound her rule with Africa, and Byze, 
With Thames' inhabitants of noble fame, 
And they which see the dawning day arise; 
Her nurslings did with mutinous uproar 
Hearten against herself, her conquer'd spoil, 
Which she had won from all the world afore, 
Of all the world was spoil'd within a while. 
So when the compass'd course of the universe 
In six and thirty thousand years is run, 
The bands of th' elements shall back reverse 
To their first discord, and be quite undone: 
The seeds, of which all things at first were bred, 
Shall in great Chaos' womb again be hid. 


23 

O wary wisdom of the man, that would 
That Carthage towers from spoil should be forborn, 
To th' end that his victorious people should 
With cankering leisure not be overworn; 
He well foresaw, how that the Roman courage, 
Impatient of pleasure's faint desires, 
Through idleness would turn to civil rage, 
And be herself the matter of her fires. 
For in a people given all to ease, 
Ambition is engend'red easily; 
As in a vicious body, gross disease 
Soon grows through humours' superfluity. 
That came to pass, when swoll'n with plentious pride, 
Nor prince, nor peer, nor kin they would abide. 


24 

If the blind fury, which wars breedeth oft, 
Wonts not t' enrage the hearts of equal beasts, 
Whether they fare on foot, or fly aloft, 
Or arméd be with claws, or scaly crests; 
What fell Erynnis with hot burning tongs, 
Did grip your hearts, with noisome rage imbew'd, 
That each to other working cruel wrongs, 
You blades in your own bowels you embrew'd? 
Was this (ye Romans) your hard destiny? 
Or some old sin, whose unappeased guilt 
Power'd vengeance forth on you eternally? 
Or brother's blood, the which at first was spilt 
Upon your walls, that God might not endure, 
Upon the same to set foundation sure? 


25 

O that I had the Thracian Poet's harp, 
For to awake out of th' infernal shade 
Those antique Cæsars, sleeping long in dark, 
The which this ancient City whilome made: 
Or that I had Amphion's instrument, 
To quicken with his vital note's accord, 
The stony joints of these old walls now rent, 
By which th' Ausonian light might be restor'd: 
Or that at least I could with pencil fine, 
Fashion the portraits of these palaces, 
By pattern of great Virgil's spirit divine; 
I would assay with that which in me is, 
To build with level of my lofty style, 
That which no hands can evermore compile. 


26 

Who list the Roman greatness forth to figure, 
Him needeth not to seek for usage right 
Of line, or lead, or rule, or square, to measure 
Her length, her breadth, her deepness, or her height: 
But him behooves to view in compass round 
All that the ocean grasps in his long arms; 
Be it where the yearly star doth scorch the ground, 
Or where cold Boreas blows his bitter storms. 
Rome was th' whole world, and all the world was Rome, 
And if things nam'd their names do equalize, 
When land and sea ye name, then name ye Rome; 
And naming Rome ye land and sea comprise: 
For th' ancient plot of Rome displayéd plain, 
The map of all the wide world doth contain. 


27 

Thou that at Rome astonish'd dost behold 
The antique pride, which menaced the sky, 
These haughty heaps, these palaces of old, 
These walls, these arcs, these baths, these temples hie; 
Judge by these ample ruins' view, the rest 
The which injurious time hath quite outworne, 
Since of all workmen held in reck'ning best, 
Yet these old fragments are for patterns born: 
Then also mark, how Rome from day to day, 
Repairing her decayéd fashion, 
Renews herself with buildings rich and gay; 
That one would judge, that the Roman dæmon 
Doth yet himself with fatal hand enforce, 
Again on foot to rear her pouldred corse. 


28 

He that hath seen a great oak dry and dead, 
Yet clad with relics of some trophies old, 
Lifting to heaven her agéd hoary head, 
Whose foot in ground hath left but feeble hold; 
But half disbowel'd lies above the ground, 
Showing her wreathéd roots, and naked arms, 
And on her trunk all rotten and unsound 
Only supports herself for meat of worms; 
And though she owe her fall to the first wind, 
Yet of the devout people is ador'd, 
And many young plants spring out of her rind; 
Who such an oak hath seen let him record 
That such this city's honor was of yore, 
And 'mongst all cities flourishéd much more. 


29 

All that which Egypt whilome did devise, 
All that which Greece their temples to embrave, 
After th' Ionic, Attic, Doric guise, 
Or Corinth skill'd in curious works to 'grave; 
All that Lysippus' practick art could form, 
Appeles' wit, or Phidias his skill, 
Was wont this ancient city to adorn, 
And the heaven itself with her wide wonders fill; 
All that which Athens ever brought forth wise, 
All that which Africa ever brought forth strange, 
All that which Asia ever had of prize, 
Was here to see. O marvelous great change: 
Rome living, was the world's sole ornament, 
And dead, is now the world's sole monument. 


30 

Like as the seeded field green grass first shows, 
Then from green grass into a stalk doth spring, 
And from a stalk into an ear forth grows, 
Which ear the fruitfull grain doth shortly bring; 
And as in season due the husband mows 
The waving locks of those fair yellow hairs, 
Which bound in sheaves, and laid in comely rows, 
Upon the naked fields in stacks he rears: 
So grew the Roman Empire by degree, 
Till that barbarian hands it quite did spill, 
And left of it but these old marks to see, 
Of which all passersby do somewhat pill: 
As they which glean, the relics use to gather, 
Which th' husbandman behind him chanced to scatter. 


31 

That same is now nought but a campion wide, 
Where all this world's pride once was situate. 
No blame to thee, whosoever dost abide 
By Nile, or Ganges, or Tigris, or Euphrate, 
Ne Africa thereof guilty is, nor Spain, 
Nor the bold people by the Thame's brinks, 
Nor the brave, warlike brood of Alemagne, 
Nor the born soldier which Rhine running drinks; 
Thou only cause, O civil fury, art 
Which sowing in the Aemathian fields thy spite, 
Didst arm thy hand against thy proper heart; 
To th' end that when thou wast in greatest height 
To greatness grown, through long prosperity, 
Thou then adown might'st fall more horribly. 


32 

Hope ye, my verses, that posterity 
Of age ensuing shall you ever read? 
Hope ye that ever immortality 
So mean harp's work may challenge for her mead? 
If under heaven any endurance were, 
These monuments, which not in paper writ, 
Put in porphyry and marble do appear, 
Might well have hop'd to have obtained it. 
Na th' less my lute, whom Phoebus deigned to give, 
Cease not to sound these old antiquities: 
For if that time do let thy glory live, 
Well mayst thou boast, how ever base thou be, 
That thou art first, which of thy Nation sung 
Th' old nonor of the people gowné long. 


L' Envoi 

Bellay, first garland of free Poesy 
That France brought forth, though fruitful of brave wits, 
Well worthy thou of immorality, 
That long hast travail'd by thy learned writs, 
Old Rome out of her ashes to revive, 
And give a second life to dead decays: 
Needs must he all eternity survive, 
That can to other give eternal days. 
Thy days therefore are endless, and thy praise 
Excelling all, that ever went before; 
And after thee, 'gins Bartas high to raise 
His heavenly Muse, th' Almighty to adore. 
Live, happy spirits, th' honour of your name, 
And fill the world with never dying fame.



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