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Journeys Through Bookland, Vol. 6

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By Lord Macaulay

Note.—This spirited poem by Lord Macaulay is founded on one of the most popular Roman legends. While the story is based on facts, we can by no means be certain that all of the details are historical.

According to Roman legendary history, the Tarquins, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus and Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, were among the early kings of Rome. The reign of the former was glorious, but that of the latter was most unjust and tyrannical. Finally the unscrupulousness of the king and his son reached such a point that it became unendurable to the people, who in 509 B. C. rose in rebellion and drove the entire family from Rome. Tarquinius Superbus appealed to Lars Porsena, the powerful king of Clusium for aid and the story of the expedition against Rome is told in this poem.

Lars Porsena of ClusiumBy the Nine Gods he sworeThat the great house of TarquinShould suffer wrong no more.By the Nine Gods he swore it,And named a trysting day,And bade his messengers ride forthEast and west and south and north,To summon his array.

East and west and south and northThe messengers ride fast,And tower and town and cottageHave heard the trumpet’s blast.Shame on the false EtruscanWho lingers in his home,When Porsena of ClusiumIs on the march for Rome.

The horsemen and the footmenAre pouring in amainFrom many a stately market-place;From many a fruitful plain.From many a lonely hamlet,Which, hid by beech and pine,Like an eagle’s nest, hangs on the crestOf purple Apennine;

 * * * * * * * *

There be thirty chosen prophets,The wisest of the land,Who alway by Lars PorsenaBoth morn and evening stand:Evening and morn the ThirtyHave turned the verses o’er,Traced from the right on linen whiteBy mighty seers of yore.

And with one voice the ThirtyHave their glad answer given:“Go forth, go forth, Lars Porsena;Go forth, beloved of Heaven:Go, and return in gloryTo Clusium’s royal dome;And hang round Nurscia’s altarsThe golden shields of Rome.”

And now hath every citySent up her tale of men:The foot are fourscore thousand,The horse are thousand ten.Before the gates of SutriumIs met the great array.A proud man was Lars PorsenaUpon the trysting day.

For all the Etruscan armiesWere ranged beneath his eye,And many a banished Roman,And many a stout ally;And with a mighty followingTo join the muster cameThe Tusculan Mamilius,Prince of the Latian name.

But by the yellow TiberWas tumult and affright:From all the spacious champaignTo Rome men took their flight.A mile around the city,The throng stopped up the ways;A fearful sight it was to seeThrough two long nights and days.

For aged folks on crutches,And women great with child,And mothers sobbing over babesThat clung to them and smiled,And sick men borne in littersHigh on the necks of slaves,And troops of sunburnt husbandmenWith reaping-hooks and staves,

And droves of mules and assesLaden with skins of wine,And endless flocks of goats and sheep,And endless herds of kine,And endless trains of wagonsThat creaked beneath the weightOf corn-sacks and of household goods,Choked every roaring gate.

Now, from the rock TarpeianCould the wan burghers spyThe line of blazing villagesRed in the midnight sky.The Fathers of the City,They sat all night and day,For every hour some horseman cameWith tidings of dismay.

To eastward and to westwardHave spread the Tuscan bands;Nor house nor fence nor dovecoteIn Crustumerium stands.Verbenna down to OstiaHath wasted all the plain;Astur hath stormed Janiculum,And the stout guards are slain.

Iwis, in all the Senate,There was no heart so bold,But sore it ached, and fast it beat,When that ill news was told.Forthwith up rose the Consul,Uprose the Fathers all;In haste they girded up their gowns,And hied them to the wall....