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Home | Archives & Cast | Shop | Contact Kel | The Story So Far

11/13/2017

Kel's Reading Room

Wherein here and there, now and again, to this one and that one I offer up the lush, overlooked, overwrought, hallucinogenic and old-school.

Karl Marx called Thomas Babington Macaulay a systematic falsifier of history...

Yep:

HORATIUS
Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859)

I
Lars Porsena of Clusium
By the Nine Gods he swore
That the great house of Tarquin
Should suffer wrong no more.
By the Nine Gods he swore it       
And named a trysting day,
And bade his messengers ride forth
East and west and south and north 
To summon his array.

II
East and west and south and north
The messengers ride fast,
And tower and town and cottage
Have heard the trumpet's blast.
Shame on the false Etruscan
Who lingers in his home
When Porsena of Clusium
Is on the march for Rome.

III
The horsemen and the footmen
Are pouring in amain
From 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 crest
Of purple Apennine.

IV
From lordly Volaterræ
Where scowls the far-famed hold
Piled by the hands of giants
For godlike kings of old,
From seagirt Populonia
Whose sentinels descry
Sardinia's snowy mountaintops
Fringing the southern sky.

V
From the proud mart of Pisæ,
Queen of the western waves,
Where ride Massilia's triremes
Heavy with fair-haired slaves,
From where sweet Clanis wanders
Through corn and vines and flowers,
From where Cortona lifts to heaven
Her diadem of towers.

VI
Tall are the oaks whose acorns
Drop in dark Auser's rill,
Fat are the stags that champ the boughs
Of the Ciminian hill.
Beyond all streams Clitumnus
Is to the herdsman dear,
Best of all pools the fowler loves
The great Volsinian mere.

VII
But now no stroke of woodman
Is heard by Auser's rill,
No hunter tracks the stag's green path
Up the Ciminian hill.
Unwatched along Clitumnus
Grazes the milk-white steer,
Unharmed the water fowl may dip
In the Volsinian mere.

VIII
The harvests of Arretium
This year,old men shall reap
This year young boys in Umbro
Shall plunge the struggling sheep.
And in the vats of Luna
This year the must shall foam
Round the white feet of laughing girls
Whose sires have marched to Rome.

IX
There be thirty chosen prophets,
The wisest of the land,
Who alway by Lars Porsena
Both morn and evening stand.
Evening and morn the Thirty
Have turned the verses o'er,
Traced from the right on linen white
By mighty seers of yore.

 X
And with one voice the Thirty
Have their glad answer given,
"Go forth, go forth, Lars Porsena,
Go forth, beloved of Heaven,
Go and return in glory
To Clusium's royal dome
And hang round Nurscia's altars
The golden shields of Rome."

XI
And now hath every city
Sent up her tale of men,
The foot are fourscore thousand,
The horse are thousands ten.
Before the gates of Sutrium
Is met the great array.
A proud man was Lars Porsena
Upon the trysting day.

XII
For all the Etruscan armies
Were ranged beneath his eye,
And many a banished Roman
And many a stout ally.
And with a mighty following
To join the muster came
The Tusculan Mamilius,
Prince of the Latian name.

XIII
But by the yellow Tiber
Was tumult and affright,
From all the spacious champaign
To Rome men took their flight.
A mile around the city
The throng stopped up the ways.
A fearful sight it was to see
Through two long nights and days.

XIV
For aged folks on crutches
And women great with child,
And mothers sobbing over babes
That clung to them and smiled,
And sick men borne in litters
High on the necks of slaves,
And troops of sun-burned husbandmen
With reaping-hooks and staves.

XV
And droves of mules and asses
Laden with skins of wine,
And endless flocks of goats and sheep
And endless herds of kine,
And endless trains of wagons
That creaked beneath the weight
Of corn-sacks and of household goods
Choked every roaring gate.

XVI
Now from the rock Tarpeian
Could the wan burghers spy
The line of blazing villages
Red in the midnight sky.
The Fathers of the City
They sat all night and day,
For every hour some horseman came
With tidings of dismay.

XVII
To eastward and to westward
Have spread the Tuscan bands,
Nor house, nor fence, nor dovecote
In Crustumerium stands.
Verbenna down to Ostia
Hath wasted all the plain.
Astur hath stormed Janiculum,
And the stout guards are slain.

XVIII
I wis, 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,
Up rose the Fathers all,
In haste they girded up their gowns
And hied them to the wall.

XIX
They held a council standing
Before the River-Gate.
Short time was there ye well may guess
For musing or debate.
Out spake the Consul roundly,
"The bridge must straight go down,
For since Janiculum is lost
Nought else can save the town."

XX
Just then a scout came flying,
All wild with haste and fear.
"To arms! To arms, Sir Consul:
Lars Porsena is here."
On the low hills to westward
The Consul fixed his eye
And saw the swarthy storm of dust
Rise fast along the sky.

XXI
And nearer fast and nearer
Doth the red whirlwind come,
And louder still and still more loud
From underneath that rolling cloud
Is heard the trumpet's war-note proud,
The trampling and the hum.
And plainly and more plainly
Now through the gloom appears,
Far to left and far to right,
In broken gleams of dark-blue light,
The long array of helmets bright,
The long array of spears.

XXII
And plainly and more plainly
Above that glimmering line
Now might ye see the banners
Of twelve fair cities shine.
But the banner of proud Clusium
Was highest of them all,
The terror of the Umbrian,
The terror of the Gaul.

XXIII
And plainly and more plainly
Now might the burghers know
By port and vest, by horse and crest
Each warlike Lucumo.
There Cilnius of Arretium
On his fleet roan was seen,
And Astur of the four-fold shield,
Girt with the brand none else may wield,
Tolumnius with the belt of gold,
And dark Verbenna from the hold
By reedy Thrasymene.

XXIV
Fast by the royal standard,
O'erlooking all the war,
Lars Porsena of Clusium
Sat in his ivory car.
By the right wheel rode Mamilius
Prince of the Latian name,
And by the left false Sextus
That wrought the deed of shame.

XXV
But when the face of Sextus
Was seen among the foes
A yell that rent the firmament
From all the town arose.
On the house-tops was no woman
But spat towards him and hissed,
No child but screamed out curses
And shook its little fist.

XXVI
But the Consul's brow was sad
And the Consul's speech was low,
And darkly looked he at the wall
And darkly at the foe.
"Their van will be upon us
Before the bridge goes down.
And if they once may win the bridge,
What hope to save the town?"

XXVII
Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate,
"To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods.

XXVIII
"And for the tender mother
Who dandled him to rest,
And for the wife who nurses
His baby at her breast,
And for the holy maidens
Who feed the eternal flame,
To save them from false Sextus
That wrought the deed of shame.

XXIX
"Haul down the bridge, Sir Consul,
With all the speed ye may.
I, with two more to help me,
Will hold the foe in play.
In yon strait path a thousand
May well be stopped by three.
Now who will stand on either hand
And keep the bridge with me?"

XXX
Then out spake Spurius Lartius,
A Ramnian proud was he.
"Lo, I will stand at thy right hand,
And keep the bridge with thee."
And out spake strong Herminius,
Of Titian blood was he.
"I will abide on thy left side,
And keep the bridge with thee."

XXXI
"Horatius," quoth the Consul,
"As thou sayest so let it be."
 And straight against that great array
Forth went the dauntless Three.
For Romans in Rome's quarrel
Spared neither land nor gold,
Nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life
In the brave days of old.

XXXII
Then none was for a party,
Then all were for the state.
Then the great man helped the poor,
And the poor man loved the great.
Then lands were fairly portioned,
Then spoils were fairly sold.
The Romans were like brothers
In the brave days of old.

XXXIII
Now Roman is to Roman
More hateful than a foe,
And the Tribunes beard the high
And the Fathers grind the low.
As we wax hot in faction
In battle we wax cold,
Wherefore men fight not as they fought
In the brave days of old.

XXXIV
Now while the Three were tightening
Their harness on their backs
The Consul was the foremost man
To take in hand an axe.
And Fathers mixed with Commons
Seized hatchet, bar and crow
And smote upon the planks above,
And loosed the props below.

XXXV
Meanwhile the Tuscan army,
Right glorious to behold,
Came flashing back the noonday light
Rank behind rank, like surges bright
Of a broad sea of gold.
Four hundred trumpets sounded
A peal of warlike glee
As that great host with measured tread
And spears advanced and ensigns spread,
Rolled slowly towards the bridge's head
Where stood the dauntless Three.

XXXVI
The Three stood calm and silent
And looked upon the foes,
And a great shout of laughter
From all the vanguard rose.
And forth three chiefs came spurring
Before that deep array,
To earth they sprang, their swords they drew
And lifted high their shields and flew
To win the narrow way.

XXXVII
Aunus from green Tifernum,
Lord of the Hill of Vines,
And Seius, whose eight hundred slaves
Sicken in Ilva's mines,
And Picus, long to Clusium,
Vassal in peace and war,
Who led to fight his Umbrian powers
From that gray crag where, girt with towers,
The fortress of Nequinum lowers
O'er the pale waves of Nar.

XXXVIII
Stout Lartius hurled down Aunus
Into the stream beneath.
Herminius struck at Seius,
And clove him to the teeth.
At Picus brave Horatius
Darted one fiery thrust,
And the proud Umbrian's gilded arms
Clashed in the bloody dust.

XXXIX
Then Ocnus of Falerii
Rushed on the Roman Three,
And Lausulus of Urgo,
The rover of the sea,
And Aruns of Volsinium,
Who slew the great wild boar,
The great wild boar that had his den
Amidst the reeds of Cosa's fen
And wasted fields and slaughtered men
Along Albinia's shore.

XL
Herminius smote down Aruns.
Lartius laid Ocnus low.
Right to the heart of Lausulus
Horatius sent a blow.
"Lie there," he cried, "fell pirate!
No more, aghast and pale,
From Ostia's walls the crowd shall mark
The track of thy destroying bark.
No more Campania's hinds shall fly
To woods and caverns when they spy
Thy thrice accursed sail."

XLI
But now no sound of laughter
Was heard among the foes.
A wild and wrathful clamor
From all the vanguard rose.
Six spears' lengths from the entrance
Halted that deep array,
And for a space no man came forth
To win the narrow way.

XLII
But hark! The cry is Astur,
And lo, the ranks divide
And the great Lord of Luna
Comes with his stately stride.
Upon his ample shoulders
Clangs loud the four-fold shield,
And in his hand he shakes the brand
Which none but he can wield.

XLIII
He smiled on those bold Romans
A smile serene and high,
He eyed the flinching Tuscans
And scorn was in his eye.
Quoth he, "The she-wolf's litter
Stand savagely at bay.
But will ye dare to follow,
If Astur clears the way?"

XLIV
Then whirling up his broadsword
With both hands to the height
He rushed against Horatius
And smote with all his might.
With shield and blade Horatius
Right deftly turned the blow.
The blow, though turned, came yet too nigh,
It missed his helm but gashed his thigh,
The Tuscans raised a joyful cry
To see the red blood flow.

XLV
He reeled and on Herminius
He leaned one breathing-space,
Then like a wild cat mad with wounds
Sprang right at Astur's face.
Through teeth and skull and helmet
So fierce a thrust he sped,
The good sword stood a hand-breadth out
Behind the Tuscan's head.

XLVI
And the great Lord of Luna
Fell at that deadly stroke
As falls on Mount Alvernus
A thunder smitten oak.
Far o'er the crashing forest
The giant arms lie spread,
And the pale augurs, muttering low,
Gaze on the blasted head.

XLVII
On Astur's throat Horatius
Right firmly pressed his heel,
And thrice and four times tugged amain
Ere he wrenched out the steel.
"And see," he cried, "the welcome,
Fair guests, that waits you here!
What noble Lucomo comes next
To taste our Roman cheer?"

XLVIII
But at his haughty challenge
A sullen murmur ran
Mingled of wrath and shame and dread
Along that glittering van.
There lacked not men of prowess,
Nor men of lordly race,
For all Etruria's noblest
Were round the fatal place.

XLIX
But all Etruria's noblest
Felt their hearts sink to see
On the earth the bloody corpses
In the path the dauntless Three.
And from the ghastly entrance
Where those bold Romans stood,
All shrank like boys who unaware
Ranging the woods to start a hare
Come to the mouth of the dark lair
Where, growling low, a fierce old bear
Lies amidst bones and blood.

L
Was none who would be foremost
To lead such dire attack,
But those behind cried, "Forward!"
And those before cried, "Back!"
And backward now and forward
Wavers the deep array,
And on the tossing sea of steel
To and frow the standards reel
And the victorious trumpet-peal
Dies fitfully away.

LI
Yet one man for one moment
Strode out before the crowd.
Well known was he to all the Three,
And they gave him greeting loud.
"Now welcome, welcome, Sextus!
Now welcome to thy home!
Why dost thou stay and turn away?
Here lies the road to Rome."

LII
Thrice looked he at the city,
Thrice looked he at the dead,
And thrice came on in fury
And thrice turned back in dread.
And white with fear and hatred
Scowled at the narrow way
Where wallowing in a pool of blood
The bravest Tuscans lay.

LIII
But meanwhile axe and lever
Had manfully been plied
And now the bridge hung tottering
Above the boiling tide.
"Come back, come back, Horatius!"
Loud cried the Fathers all.
"Back, Lartius! Back, Herminius!
Back, ere the ruin fall!"

LIV
Back darted Spurius Lartius,
Herminius darted back.
And as they passed, beneath their feet
They felt the timbers crack.
But when they turned their faces
And on the farther shore
Saw brave Horatius stand alone,
They would have crossed once more.

LV
But with a crash like thunder
Fell every loosened beam,
And like a dam the mighty wreck
Lay right athwart the stream.
And a long shout of triumph
Rose from the walls of Rome
As to the highest turret-tops
Was splashed the yellow foam.

LVI
And like a horse unbroken
When first he feels the rein,
The furious river struggled hard
And tossed his tawny mane
And burst the curb and bounded,
Rejoicing to be free,
And whirling down in fierce career
Battlement and plank and pier
Rushed headlong to the sea.

LVII
Alone stood brave Horatius,
But constant still in mind.
Thrice thirty thousand foes before,
And the broad flood behind.
"Down with him!" cried false Sextus
With a smile on his pale face.
"Now yield thee," cried Lars Porsena,
"Now yield thee to our grace."

LVIII
Round turned he, as not deigning
Those craven ranks to see.
Nought spake he to Lars Porsena,
To Sextus nought spake he.
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.

LVIX
"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.

LX
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.

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

LXII
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
Bore bravely up his chin.

LXIII
"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."

LXIV
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.

LXV
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.

LXVI
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.

LXVII
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.

LXVIII
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.

LXIX
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.

LXX
When the goodman mends his armor
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.

Pepperpot Piper is written & illustrated by Joseph Kelly
All content copyright © Joseph Kelly
All rights reserved