The Roman Wall

By George Sterling

(A victorian Speaks)

Right high our fathers reared its strength
    Against an unpermitted foe,
With towers that erred along its length:
    "Thus far, no farther, shall ye go!"

Ours was a fat and gentle land
    Of tended road and ordered shires.
Well 'stablished by the heavy hand
    And hard-won wisdom of our sires.

Unharried in that pleasantness
    We dreamt to dwell (O dream too bright!),
And prosper in our fields' excess,
    And do the thing we thought was right.

Immune, aloof, oh! fledged with peace,
    We saw the placid years unfold,
Gathered the garden's mild increase.
    And knelt at altars kind and old.

Far north, in haze of rain or fog,
    Survived a weird and shaggy folk;
From heathered hill to quavering bog
    They ran unhindered by our yoke.

From sea to sea, far-sentineled,
    Mossy, immense, the Wall endured.
We knew each fortalice firm-held
    And our inheritance assured.

"We knew!" We did but dream we knew,
    Deluded in our ethnic scorn;
While autumn glowed and skies were blue,
    The terminating plot was born.

It was no trumpet brayed them in;
    Their captains did not lead the van.
A laugh—and where the Wall had been
    Stood the abrupt barbarian!

Our augurs cried not of the day—
    The sceptic horde came unforetold.
We shudder at the tunes they play,
    Yet have they come to share our gold.

They camp in every sacred spot;
    Their middens taint the morning breeze—
Vandal and Viking, Pict and Scot,
    And. hairy folk from over-seas.

Elder, we do not like their songs—
    A fact that moves them not at all,
Too many to be bound with thongs
    And haled beyond the prostrate Wall.

They will not drink our costly wines,
    Contented with their swinish brews.
Their hands are hostile to our shrines
    And pacts long-held with god and muse.

Brazen, unawed, a facile spawn,
    They house the magpie and the cur
In wattled huts that soil the lawn
    Where once the flawless marbles were.

It may be they have come to stay,
    Indifferent to a chary host;
Our sons may welcome them some day.
    And of that rabble make the most.

But our undignant eyes we cast,
    And our offended ears we turn.
On vistas purple with the Past
    And twilights where the gods return.

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