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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Coliseum

By Lord Byron (1788–1824)

From ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’

ARCHES on arches! as it were that Rome,

Collecting the chief trophies of her line,

Would build up all her triumphs in one dome,

Her Coliseum stands; the moonbeams shine

As ’twere its natural torches, for divine

Should be the light which streams here, to illume

This long explored but still exhaustless mine

Of contemplation; and the azure gloom

Of an Italian night, where the deep skies assume

Hues which have words, and speak to ye of heaven,

Floats o’er this vast and wondrous monument,

And shadows forth its glory. There is given

Unto the things of earth, which Time hath bent,

A spirit’s feeling, and where he hath leant

His hand, but broke his scythe, there is a power

And magic in the ruined battlement,

For which the palace of the present hour

Must yield its pomp, and wait till ages are its dower.

And here the buzz of eager nations ran,

In murmured pity, or loud-roared applause,

As man was slaughtered by his fellow-man.

And wherefore slaughtered? wherefore, but because

Such were the bloody Circus’s genial laws,

And such the imperial pleasure.—Wherefore not?

What matters where we fall to fill the maws

Of worms—on battle-plains or listed spot?

Both are but theatres where the chief actors rot.

I see before me the Gladiator lie:

He leans upon his hand—his manly brow

Consents to death, but conquers agony,

And his drooped head sinks gradually low;

And through his side the last drops, ebbing slow

From the red gash, fall heavy, one by one,

Like the first of a thunder-shower; and now

The arena swims around him—he is gone,

Ere ceased the inhuman shout which hailed the wretch who won.

He heard it, but he heeded not—his eyes

Were with his heart, and that was far away;

He recked not of the life he lost, nor prize,

But where his rude hut by the Danube lay,

There were his young barbarians all at play,

There was their Dacian mother—he, their sire,

Butchered to make a Roman holiday:

All this rushed with his blood. Shall he expire,

And unavenged?—Arise, ye Goths, and glut your ire!


A ruin—yet what ruin! from its mass

Walls, palaces, half-cities, have been reared;

Yet oft the enormous skeleton ye pass,

And marvel where the spoil could have appeared.

Hath it indeed been plundered, or but cleared?

Alas! developed, opens the decay,

When the colossal fabric’s form is neared:

It will not bear the brightness of the day,

Which streams too much on all years, man, have reft away.

But when the rising moon begins to climb

Its topmost arch, and gently pauses there;

When the stars twinkle through the loops of time,

And the low night-breeze waves along the air

The garland-forest which the gray walls wear,

Like laurels on the bald first Cæsar’s head;

When the light shines serene, but doth not glare,—

Then in this magic circle raise the dead:

Heroes have trod this spot—’tis on their dust ye tread.