Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Shadows on the Road - Robert E. Howard

Nial of Ulster, welcome home!
What saw you on the road to Rome?―
Legions thronging the fertile plains?
Shouting hordes of the country folks
With the harvest heaped in their groaning wains?
Shepherd piping under the oak?
Laurel chaplet and purple cloak?
Smokes of the feasting coiled on high?
Meadows and fields of the rich, ripe green
Lazing under a cobalt sky?
Brown little villages sleeping between?
What saw you on the road to Rome?
"Crimson tracks in the blackened loam,
"Skeleton trees and a blasted plain,
"A heap of skulls and a child insane,
"Ruin and wreck and the reek of pain
"On the wrack of the road to Rome."

Nial, what saw you in Rome?―
Purple emperors riding there,
Down aisles with walls like marble foam,
to the golden trumpet's mystic flare?
Dark-eyed women who bind their hair,
As they bind men's hearts, with a silver comb?
Spires that cleave through the crystal air,
Arch and altar and amaranth stair?
Nial, what saw you in Rome?
"Broken shrines in the sobbing gloam.
"Bare feet spurning the marble flags,
"Towers fallen and walls digged up,
"A woman in chains and filthy rags.
"Goths in thee Forum howled to sup,
"With an emperor's skull for a drinking-cup.
"The black arch clave to the broken dome.
"The Coliseum invites the bat.
"The Vandal sits where the Caesars sat;
"And the shadows are black on Rome."

Nial, Nial, now you are home.
Why do you mutter and lonely roam?
"My brain is sick and I know no rest;
"My heard is stone in my frozen breast,
"For the feathers fall from the eagle's crest
"And the bright sea breaks in foam―
"Kings and kingdoms and empires fall,
"And the mist-black ruin covers them all,
"And the honey of life is a bitter gall
"Since I traveled the road to Rome."

3.5 out of 5