When in the Thracian dust uprooted lay,
In ruin vast, the strength of Italy,
And Fate had doomed Hesperia’s valleys green,
And Tiber’s shores,
The trampling of barbarian steeds to feel,
And from the leafless groves,
On which the Northern Bear looks down,
Had called the Gothic hordes,
That Rome’s proud walls might fall before their swords;
Exhausted, wet with brothers’ blood,
Alone sat Brutus, in the dismal night;
Resolved on death, the gods implacable
Of heaven and hell he chides,
And smites the listless, drowsy air
With his fierce cries of anger and despair.
‘O foolish virtue, empty mists,
The realms of shadows, are thy schools,
And at thy heels repentance follows fast.
To you, ye marble gods
(If ye in Phlegethon reside, or dwell
Above the clouds), a mockery and scorn
Is the unhappy race,
Of whom you temples ask,
And fraudulent the law that you impose.
Say, then, does earthly piety provoke
The anger of the gods?
O Jove, dost thou protect the impious?
And when the storm-cloud rushes through the air,
And thou thy thunderbolts dost aim,
Against the _just_ dost thou impel the sacred flame?
Unconquered Fate and stern necessity
Oppress the feeble slaves of Death:
Unable to avert their injuries,
The common herd endure them patiently.
But is the ill less hard to bear,
Because it has no remedy?
Does he who knows no hope no sorrow feel?
The hero wages war with thee,
Eternal deadly war, ungracious Fate,
And knows not how to yield; and thy right hand,
Imperious, proudly shaking off,
E’en when it weighs upon him most,
Though conquered, is triumphant still,
When his sharp sword inflicts the fatal blow;
And seeks with haughty smile the shades below.
‘Who storms the gates of Tartarus,
Offends the gods.
Such valor does not suit, forsooth,
Their soft, eternal bosoms; no?
Or are our toils and miseries,
And all the anguish of our hearts,
A pleasant sport, their leisure to beguile?
Yet no such life of crime and wretchedness,
But pure and free as her own woods and fields,
Nature to us prescribed; a queen
And goddess once. Since impious custom, now,
Her happy realm hath scattered to the winds,
And other laws on this poor life imposed,
Will Nature of fool-hardiness accuse
The manly souls, who such a life refuse?
‘Of crime, and their own sufferings ignorant,
Serene old age the beasts conducts
Unto the death they ne’er foresee.
But if, by misery impelled, they sought
To dash their heads against the rugged tree,
Or, plunging headlong from the lofty rock,
Their limbs to scatter to the winds.
No law mysterious, misconception dark,
Would the sad wish refuse to grant.
Of all that breathe the breath of life,
You, only, children of Prometheus, feel
That life a burden hard to bear;
Yet, would you seek the silent shores of death,
If sluggish fate the boon delay,
To you, alone, stern Jove forbids the way.
‘And thou, white moon, art rising from the sea,
That with our blood is stained;
The troubled night dost thou survey,
And field, so fatal unto Italy.
On brothers’ breasts the conqueror treads;
The hills with fear are thrilled;
From her proud heights Rome totters to her fall.
And smilest thou upon the dismal scene?
Lavinia’s children from their birth,
And all their prosperous years,
And well-earned laurels, hast thou seen;
And thou _wilt_ smile, with ray unchanged,
Upon the Alps, when, bowed with grief and shame,
The haughty city, desolate and lone,
Beneath the tread of Gothic hordes shall groan.
‘Behold, amid the naked rocks,
Or on the verdant bough, the beast and bird,
Whose breasts are ne’er by thought or memory stirred,
Of the vast ruin take no heed,
Or of the altered fortunes of the world;
And when the humble herdsman’s cot
Is tinted with the earliest rays of dawn,
The one will wake the valleys with his song,
The other, o’er the cliffs, the frightened throng
Of smaller beasts before him drive.
O foolish race! Most wretched we, of all!
Nor are these blood-stained fields,
These caverns, that our groans have heard,
Regardful of our misery;
Nor shines one star less brightly in the sky.
Not the deaf kings of heaven or hell,
Or the unworthy earth,
Or night, do I in death invoke,
Or thee, last gleam the dying hour that cheers,
The voice of coming ages. I no tomb
Desire, to be with sobs disturbed, or with
The words and gifts of wretched fools adorned.
The times grow worse and worse;
And who, unto a vile posterity,
The honor of great souls would trust,
Or fit atonement for their wrongs?
Then let the birds of prey around me wheel:
And let my wretched corpse
The lightning blast, the wild beast tear;
And let my name and memory melt in air!’