Horatius at the Bridge — Lord Macaulay


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.


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.


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;


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 mountain-tops     Fringing the southern sky;


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.’


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.


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.


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.


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,


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 waggons     That creaked beneath the weight Of corn-sacks and of household goods,     Choked every roaring gate.


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.


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.


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.


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.’


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?’


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,


‘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?


‘Hew 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?’


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.’


‘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.


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.


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.


Now while the Three were tightening     Their harnesses 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.


Meanwhile the Tuscan army,     Right glorious to behold, Come 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.


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;


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 grey crag where, girt with towers, The fortress of Nequinum lowers     O’er the pale waves of Nar.


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.


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.


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.’


But now no sound of laughter     Was heard among the foes. A wild and wrathful clamour     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.


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.


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?’


Then, whirling up his broadsword     With both hands to the heights 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.


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.


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’s arms lie spread; And the pale augurs, muttering low,     Gaze on the blasted head.


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 Lucumo comes next     To taste our Roman cheer?’


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.


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.


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 fro the standards reel; And the victorious trumpet-peal     Dies fitfully away.


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


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.


But meanwhile axe and lever     Have manfully been plied; And now the bridge hangs tottering     Above the boiling tide. ‘Come back, come back, Horatius!’     Loud cried the Fathers all. ‘Back, Lartius! back, Herminius!     Back, ere the ruin fall!’


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.


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.


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.


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!’


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 Palatins     The white porch of his home; And he spake to the noble river     That rolls by the towers of Rome.


‘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.


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.


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


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     Bare bravely up his chin.


‘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.’


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.


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.


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.


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.


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;


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;


When the goodman mends his armour,     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.



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