The Goths In Campania.

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(Placidia, in the Tent of Adolphus.)

I AM not a Roman when he looks upon me
With those mild eyes of unaccustomed blue;
Woman, not Roman, when his strong embraces
Crush me with rugged promises of love,
Time was, ere yet the Gothic trump had broken
The dream of that inviolate majesty
Whose very sleep was empire — Rome its pillow —
Its couch, the world — its overhanging, heaven;
Time was, when only words of courtly homage
Brought to mine ear the import of such praise
As had bestirred Divinity to wonder
That men should deem it of so high account,
When careful speech of long premeditation
Lost grace and aptitude in present awe;
When lips, late ruddy with the blood of Caesars,
Grew white in rash petition for such boons
As gods had smiled at — unrewarding favour,
A word, a look, yea, even indifference,
As if in me the fear of adverse fortune
Had recognized some godhead of caprice.
But when the sun shone in the palace garden,
And May was in the roses and in me,
And all my soul cried out for what it had not,
To crown the life of summer and my own,
Honorius' sister, Theodosius' daughter,
Placidia, I, of Roman maidens first,
Had welcomed fellowship and clasped intrusion; —
Yet no man asked my heart, no man my love.
None to the longing of my life made answer;
None broke the still Imperial solitude
With sweet audacity of hardy wooing;
None wronged the princess by the woman's right.
Such time had been, until this bold Adolphus
With warrior-laugh o'erleaped prerogative,
And caught me for a spoil beneath his buckler,
The princess captive, but the woman free.
A dreary code of law inscribed in purple
Had been the record of Placidia's years,
But that this Goth from out the Boreal lustre
Of his blue eye shed heav'n upon the page,
And wrote in crimson characters of triumph
The story of a glad captivity.
For in restraint of foot I leaped to rescue
From golden chains and regal servitude;
And this my durance is a fond redemption
That makes me free to love, and to be loved.
Yet there are moments, when as now he slumbers
Beside my feet, 'mid these disorder'd spoils
That make my prison-tent a Roman rain —
Fierce moments of resurgent memory,
Full of rebuke of race and name forsaken,
And peopled with the spirits of the past.
Oh, it doth wrench me when his heedless fingers,
Circling the chalice in Faternian dreams —
The golden chalice that my father drank of,
Enriched with his own emblems, priceless work,
Gazing whereon his well-instructed spirit
Enhanced the vintage with the pride of art —
Relax and glide adown the rare embossment,
Until they touch that laurelled head, whose nod,
More than of Jove, shook not Olympus only,
But Jove himself, and all his kindred gods.
Then daughter, sister, princess, rise within me,
A trinity abhorrent of itself —
That other self, which, when Adolphus sleepeth,
Sleeps, and, when he awaketh, wakes to him.
Why should the spirit of my father vex me?
Or what allegiance owe I unto him
Who dwells apart, inglorious in Ravenna,
And could not, if he would, renew my state?
I see them not, and wherefore should I deem me
So much beholden to the unbeheld?
I hear them not; shall I be answerable
To irresponsive death and voiceless sloth?
They touch me not; can unembracing shadow
With close assurance compass me about?
Nor eye, nor ear, nor any sense declares them,
Unseen, unechoing, uncomforting:
But eye, and ear, and every sense is captive,
And thrall for ever to the comely Goth.
Why should the spirit of my father vex me?
Behold, I give to him a worthier son!
And though he be barbarian who woos me,
The Roman bride shall wed his heart to Rome.
One thing I owe — beyond all ransom precious —
To father, brother, and Imperial name,
The chastity that makes me worth the winning,
A virgin love unstained of force or guile.
For this I thank thee, Theodosius, father;
For this, Honorius, thy fraternal name;
Nor thee the less, thou sleeping soul of honour,
That no barbarian art in sense of law.
For this, to silk and purple, crowns historic,
Goblets of gold and priceless spoil of pearl —
To all the glories of the cunning workman,
Sculptured, or graven, or inlaid with gems —
To all the glittering legacies of triumph,
And hoarded trophies of a thousand years —
To all the wealth of harvest, pasture, vintage,
To corn and cattle, oil, and spice, and wine —
Yea, to the sacred things of God, most welcome!
Since thou hast kept me sacred, even from thee.
The noon consumes me in the thick pavilion,
Yet I am fain of close-drawn solitude,
Lest I should look upon the godless riot,
That, once seen, haunts me like a dream of shame.
For all around the large-limbed Goths were lying
Beneath the plane-trees — yet but half-perceived
'Mid soft entanglement of arms and tresses
By captive beauty wreathed around its lords;
The pride of Romans, daughters of great houses,
Hiding their faces from my pitying gaze
In hideous refuge of barbarian bosoms . . .
God pardon them the wrong He hindered not!
God take my thanks for what is more than empire,
And speed the warrior whom no greedy haste
Hath spurred beyond the pace of loyal loving,
The pure caress, and broken utterance
Of mingling tongues half-learnt in march of conquest —
To which the ordered flow of Roman speech
Is feeble — rich in sweetest hesitations,
And wishful voids of tongueless eloquence.
He stirs, and this pavilion's girth becometh
My orb of lands, and hallowed round of love.
He wakes, and country is a dream forgotten:
Where thou, Adolphus, art, there is my Rome.

© James Brunton Stephens