A Night Vision in the Colosseum at Rome
by Alexander Anderson
I sit upon a shattered shaft, as if Time, worn and blind,
Had smote himself in sudden rage and left one limb behind.
And lo the morn comes slowly up with sweet and saintly pace,
While all the crowding stars draw near to gaze upon her face.
O solemn moon, O sad sweet stars, thus looked ye in that time
When the dim years were red with blood, and drunk with lust and crime.
Come, let their spirit touch my brow, and let their spells be cast,
And fold me in their ghostly arms, and lay me in the past.
Ho! let there be a holiday that we may see once more
The wild arena thick with dust we soon shall lay with gore.
What! shall a Roman suckle not his iron strength that makes
His shield-fenced phalanx like the rock on which the ocean breaks?
Yea! by the gods, let all our veins leap with that blood anew,
Which from the she-wolf's dugs the twins in their wild hunger drew.
Hark! as a long deep sudden peal of thunder rolls along,
So through the corridors a hundred thousand footsteps throng.
Here proud imperial Titus sweeps for one swift hour a god,
And all the mightiest of Rome impatient wait his nod.
The bolts are drawn, and forth at once a hundred lions spring,
That, like a tawny whirlwind, sweep in rage around the ring.
Their naked fangs drip blood but still amid their savage play,
The Romans whisper each; 'what gladiators fight to-day?'
Clear the arena! we must see the muscles stretch and start,
Or heave in death; a life is naught if sculptors learn their art.
And forth each gladiator steps a proud look in his eye,
For well they know that Rome to-day looks on to see them die.
They fight. One falls, and falling, turns to make his last appeal,
In vain, there thunders forth the cry, 'Thou slave receive the steel.'
The victor strikes, the victim sinks — my God! what faith can come
To wrench this blood-thirst from the heart and strike the tiger dumb.
Lo, as an earthquake rends the hills that hem an inland lake,
And downward through each yawning gulf the black waves foam and shake,
So sinks the human tide, while Time, still faithful to his trust,
Rains through the years that muffle him a silent storm of dust.
Till, as a rainbow bends itself, so through the wasting night
There bursts, inwoven with keen stars, a bow of living light;
And underneath, the Cross on which with brow all dim and torn,
The Christ of sorrow, toil and pain, and of the crown of thorn,
At whom the gods of Rome fall down and shiver as they lie,
Or lift in white despair their shattered hands against the sky.
And from those grand eyes dark with love, a glorious light is shed,
The far-off nations feel its beams and bow in awe their head.
And now—as when a slave, set free from the corroding load
Of chains, springs up and in that love stands with his face to God—
'Behold our God!' they cry, and all the eager heavens above
Send on from spinning sun to sun the victor-shout of love;
For lo, the light that crowns the Cross shoots through the starry scope,
And rears against the rising years a golden arch of hope,
Through which, as when some mighty host looms upwards huge and dim,
March the great destinies to shape this God-made world and him.