A ROMAN LAWYER IN JERUSALEM
Marcus, abiding in Jerusalem,Greeting to Caius, his best friend in Rome!Salve! these presents will he borne to youBy Lucius, who is wearied with this place,Sated with travel, looks upon the EastAs simply hateful—blazing, barren, bleak,And longs again to find himself in Rome,After the tumult of its streets, its trainsOf slaves and clients, and its villas coolWith marble porticoes beside the sea,And friends and banquets—more than all, its games—This life seems blank and flat. He pants to standIn its vast circus all alive with headsAnd quivering arms and floating robes—the airThrilled by the roaring fremitus of men—The sunlit awning heaving overhead,Swollen and strained against its corded veinsAnd flapping out its hem with loud report—The wild beasts roaring from the pit below—The wilder crowd responding from aboveWith one long yell that sends the startled bloodWith thrill and sudden flush into the cheeks—A hundred trumpets screaming—the dull thumpOf horses galloping across the sand—The clang of sabbards, the sharp clash of steel—Live swords, that whirl a circle of grey fire—Brass helmets flashing 'neath their streaming hair—A universal tumult—then a hushWorse than the tumult—all eyes staining downTo the arena's pit—all lips set close—All muscles strained—and then that sudden yell,Habet!—That's Rome, says Lucius! so it is!That is, 'tis his Rome—'tis not yours and mine.
And yet, great Jupiter here at my side,He stands with face aside as if he sawThe games he thus describes, and says, "That's life!Life! life! my friend, and this is simply death!Ah! for my Rome!" I jot his very wordsJust as he utters them. I hate these games,And Darius knows it, yet he will go on,And all against my will he stirs my blood—I suspend my letter for a while.
A walk has calmed me—I begin again—Letting this last page, since it is written, stand.Lucius is going: you will see him soonIn our great Forum, there with him will walk,And hear him rail and rave against the East.I stay behind—for these bare silences,These hills that in the sunset melt and burn,This proud stern people, these dead seas and lakes,These sombre cedars, this intense still sky,To me, o'erwearied with life's din and strain,Are grateful as the solemn blank of nightAfter the fierce day's irritant excess;Besides, a deep absorbing interestDetains me here, fills up my mind, and swaysMy inmost thoughts—has got, as 'twere a gripeUpon my very life, as strange as new.I scarcely know how well to speak of this,Fearing your raillery at best—at worstEven your contempt; yet, spite of all, I speak.
First, do not deem me to have lost my head,Sunstruck, as that man Paulus was at Rome.No, I am sane as ever, and my pulseBeats even, with no fever in my blood.And yet I half incline to think his words,Wild as they were, were not entirely wild.Nay, shall I dare avow it? I half tend,Here in this place, surrounded by these men—Despite the jeering natural at first,And then the pressure of my life-long thoughtTrained up against it—to excuse his faith,And half admit the Christus he thinks GodIs, at the least, a most mysterious man....