The Ruines of Rome

Edmund Spenser

Note on the Renascence Editions text:

This html etext of The Ruines of Rome was prepared from Ernest de Sélincourt's Spenser's Minor Poems [Oxford, 1910] by Risa S. Bear at the University of Oregon. The text is in the public domain. Coding is copyright © The University of Oregon, March 1996.

Ruines of Rome: by Bellay.
YE heauenly spirites, whose ashie cinders lie
Vnder deep ruines, with huge walls opprest,
But not your praise, the which shall neuer die
Through your faire verses, ne in ashes rest;
If so be shrilling voyce of wight aliue
May reach from hence to depth of darkest hell,
Then let those deep Abysses open riue,
That ye may vnderstand my shreiking yell.
Thrice hauing seene vnder the heauens veale
Your toombs deuoted compasse ouer all,
Thrice vnto you with lowd voyce I appeale,
And for your antique furie here doo call,
The whiles that I with sacred horror sing
Your glorie, fairest of all earthly thing.
Great Babylon her haughtie walls will praise,
And sharped steeples high shot vp in ayre;
Greece will the olde Ephesian buildings blaze;
And Nylus nurslings their Pyramides faire;
The same yet vaunting Greece will tell the storie
Of Ioues great Image in Olympus placed,
Mausolus worke will be the Carians glorie,
And Crete will boast the Labyrinth, now raced;
The antique Rhodian will likewise set forth
The great Colosse, erect to Memorie;
And what els in the world is of like worth,
Some greater learned wit will magnifie.
But I will sing aboue all moniments
Seuen Romane Hils, the worlds 7. wonderments.
Thou stranger, which for Rome in Rome here seekest,
And nought of Rome in Rome perceiu'st at all,
These same olde walls, olde arches, which thou seest,
Olde Palaces, is that which Rome men call.
Behold what wreake, what ruine, and what wast,
And how that she, which with her mightie powre
Tam'd all the world, hath tam'd herselfe at last,
The pray of time, which all things doth deuowre.
Rome now of Rome is th' onely funerall,
And onely Rome of Rome hath victorie;
Ne ought saue Tyber hastning to his fall
Remaines of all: O worlds inconstancie.
That which is firme doth flit and fall away,
And that is flitting, doth abide and stay.
She, whose high top aboue the starres did sore,
One foote on Thetis, th' other on the Morning,
One hand on Scythia, th' other on the More,
Both heauen and earth in roundnesse compassing,
Ioue fearing, least if she should greater growe,
The old Giants should once againe vprise,
Her whelm'd with hills, these 7. hils, which be nowe
Tombes of her greatnes, which did threate the skies:
Vpon her head he heapt Mount Saturnal,
Vpon her bellie th' antique Palatine,
Vpon her stomacke laid Mount Quirinal,
On her left hand the noysome Esquiline,
And Cælian on the right; but both her feete
Mount Viminall and Auentine doo meete.
Who lists to see, what euer nature, arte,
And heauen could doo, O Rome, thee let him see,
In case thy greatnes he can gesse in harte,
By that which but the picture is of thee.
Rome is no more: but if the shade of Rome
May of the bodie yeeld a seeming sight,
It's like a corse drawne forth out of the tombe
By Magicke skill out of eternall night:
The corpses of Rome in ashes is entombed,
And her great spirite reioyned to the spirite
Of this great masse, is in the same enwombed;
But her braue writings, which her famous merite
In spight of time, out of the dust doth reare,
Doo make her Idole through the world appeare.
Such as the Berecynthian Goddesse bright
In her swift charret with high turrets crownde,
Proud that so manie Gods she brought to light;
Such was this Citie in her good daies fownd:
This Citie, more than that great Phrygian mother
Renowm'd for fruite of famous progenie,
Whose greatnes by the greatnes of none other,
But by her selfe her equall match could see:
Rome onely might to Rome compared bee,
And onely Rome could make great Rome to tremble:
So did the Gods by heauenly doome decree,
That other earthlie power should not resemble
Her that did match the whole earths puissance,
And did her courage to the heauens aduaunce.
Ye sacred ruines, and ye tragick sights,
Which onely doo the name of Rome retaine,
Olde moniments, which of so famous sprights
The honour yet in ashes doo maintaine:
Triumphant Arcks, spyres neighbours to the skie,
That you to see doth th' heauen it selfe appall,
Alas, by little ye to nothing flie,
The peoples fable, and the spoyle of all:
And though your frames do for a time make warre
Gainst time, yet time in time shall ruinate
Your workes and names, and your last reliques marre.
My sad desires, rest therefore moderate:
For if that time make ende of things so sure,
It als will end the paine, which I endure.
Through armes and vassals Rome the world subdu'd,
That one would weene, that one sole Cities strength
Both land and sea in roundnes had suruew'd,
To be the measure of her bredth and length:
This peoples vertue yet so fruitfull was
Of vertuous nephewes, that posteritie
Striuing in pwer their grandfathers to passe,
The lowest earth ion'd to the heauen hie;
To th' end that hauing all parts in their power,
Nought from the Romane Empire might be quight,
And that though time doth Commonwealths deuowre,
Yet no time should so low embase their hight,
That her head earth'd in her foundations deep,
Should not her name and endles honour keep.
Ye cruell starres, and eke ye Gods vnkinde,
Heauen enuious, and bitter stepdame Nature,
Be it by fortune, or by course of kinde
That ye doo weld th' affaires of earthlie creature;
Why haue your hands long sithence traueiled
To frame this world, that doth endure so long?
Or why were not the Romane palaces
Made of some matter no lesse firme and strong?
I say not, as the common voyce doth say,
That all things which beneath the Moone have being
Are temporall, and subiect to decay:
But I say rather, though not all agreeing
With some, that weene the contrarie in thought;
That all this whole shall one day come to nought.
As that braue sonne of Aeson, which by charmes
Atcheiu'd the golden Fleece in Colchid land,
Out of the earth engendred men of armes
Of Dragons teeth, sowne in the sacred sand;
So this braue Towne, that in her youthlie daies
An Hydra was of warrious glourious,
Did fill with her renowmed nourslings praise
The firie sunnes both one and other hous:
But they at last, there being then not liuing
An Hercules, so ranke seed to represse;
Emongst themselues with cruell furie striuing,
Mow'd downe themselues with slaughter mercilesse;
Renewing in themselues that rage vnkinde,
Which whilom did those earthborn brethren blinde.
Mars shaming to haue giuen so great head
To his off-spring, that mortall puissaunce
Puft vp with pride of Romane hardie head,
Seem'd aboue heauens powre it selfe to aduaunce;
Cooling againe his former kindled heate,
With which he had those Romane spirits fild;
Did blowe new fire, and with enflamed breath,
Into the Gothicke colde hot rage instil'd:
Then gan that Nation, th' earths new Giant brood,
To dart abroad the thunder bolts of warre,
And beating downe these walls with furious mood
Into her mothers bosome, all did marre;
To th' end that none, all were it Ioue his sire
Should boast himselfe of the Romane Empire.
Like as whilome the children of the earth
Heapt hils on hils, to scale the starrie skie,
And fight against the Gods of heauenly berth,
Whiles Ioue at them his thunderbolts let flie;
All suddenly with lightning ouerthrowne,
The furious squadrons downe to ground did fall,
That th' earth vnder her childrens weight did grone,
And th' heauens in glorie triumpht ouer all:
So did that haughtie front which heaped was
on those seuen Romane hils, it selfe vpreare
Ouer the world, and lift her loftie face
Against the heauen, that gan her force to feare.
But now these scorned fields bemone her fall,
And Gods secure feare not her force at all.
Nor the swift furie of the flames aspiring,
Nor the deep wounds of victours raging blade
, Nor ruthlesse spoyle of souldiers blood-desiring,
The which so oft thee (Rome) their conquest made;
Ne stroke on stroke of fortune variable,
Ne rust of age hating continuance,
Nor wrath of Gods, nor spight of men vnstable,
Nor thou opposd' against thine owne puissance;
Nor th' horrible vprore of windes high blowing,
Nor swelling stremes of that God snakie-paced,
Which hath so often with his ouerflowing
Thee drenched, haue thy pride so much abaced;
But that this nothing, which they haue thee left,
Makes the world wonder, what they haue from thee reft.
As men in Summer fearles passe the foord,
Which is in Winter lord of all the plaine,
And with his tumbling streames doth beare aboord
The ploughmans hope, and shepheards labour vaine:
And as the coward beasts vse to despise
The noble Lion after his liues end,
Whetting their teeth, and with vaine foolhardise
Daring the foe, that cannot him defend:
And as at Troy most dastards of the Greekes
Did braue about the corpes of Hector colde;
So those which whilome wont with pallid cheekes
The Romane triumphs glorie to behold,
Now on these ashie tombes shew boldnesse vaine,
And conquer'd dare the Conquerour disdaine.
Ye pallid spirits, and ye ashie ghoasts,
Which ioying in the brightnes of your day,
Brought foorth those signes of your presumptuous boasts
Which now their dusty reliques do bewray;
Tell me ye spirits (sith the darksome riuer
Of Styx, not passable to soules returning,
Enclosing you in thrice three wards for euer,
Doo not restraine your images still mourning)
Tell me then (for perhaps some one of you
Yet here aboue him secretly doth hide)
Doo ye not feele your torments to accrewe,
When ye sometimes behold the ruin'd pride
Of these old Romane works built with your hands,
Now to become nought els, but heaped sands?
Like as ye see the wrathfull Sea from farre,
In a great mountaine heap't with hideous noyse,
Eftsoones of thousand billowes shouldred narre,
Against a Rocke to breake with dreadfull poyse:
Like as ye see fell Boreas with sharpe blast,
Tossing huge tempests through the troubled skie,
Eftsoones hauing his wide wings spent in wast,
To stop his wearie cariere suddenly:
And as ye see huge flames spred diuerslie,
Gathered in one vp to the heauens to spyre,
Eftsoones consum'd to fall downe feebily:
So whilom did this Monarchie aspyre
As waues, as winde, as fire spred ouer all,
Till it by fatall doome adowne did fall.
So long as Ioues great Bird did make his flight,
Bearing the fire with which heauen doth vs fray,
Heauen had not feare of that presumptuous might,
With which the Giaunts did the Gods assay.
But all so soone, as scortching Sunne had brent
His wings, which wont the earth to ouerspredd,
The earth out of her massie wombe forth sent
That antique horror, which made heauen adredd.
Then was the Germane Rauen in disguise
That Romane Eagle seene to cleaue asunder,
And towards heauen freshly to arise
Out of these mountaines, now consum'd to pouder.
In which the foule that serues to beare the lightning,
Is now no more seen flying, nor alighting.
These heapes of stones, these old wals which ye see,
Were first enclosures but of saluage soyle;
And these braue Pallaces which maystred bee
Of time, were shepheards cottages somewhile.
Then tooke the shepheards Kingly ornaments
And the stout hynde arm'd his right hand with steele:
Eftsoones their rule of yearely Presidents
Grew great, and sixe months greater a great deele;
Which made perpetuall, rose to so great might,
That thence th' Imperiall Eagle rooting tooke,
Till th'heauen it selfe opposing gainst her might,
Her power to Peters successor betooke;
Who shepheardlike, (as fates the same foreseeing)
Doth shew, that all things turne to their first being.
All that is perfect, which th' heauen beautifies;
All that's imperfect, borne belowe the Moone;
All that doth feede our spirits and our eies;
And all that doth consume our pleasures soone;
All the mishap, the which our daies outweares,
All the good hap of th' oldest times afore,
Rome in the time of her great ancesters,
Like a Pandora, locked long in store.
But destinie this huge Chaos turmoyling,
In which all good and euill was enclosed,
Their heauenly vertues from these woes assoyling,
Caried to heauen, from sinfull bondage losed:
But their great sinnes, the causers of their paine,
Vnder these antique ruines yet remaine.
No otherwise than raynie cloud, first fed
With earthly vapours gathered in the ayre
, Eftsoones in compas arch't, to steepe his hed,
Doth plonge himselfe in Tethys bosome faire;
And mounting vp againe, from whence he came,
With his great bellie spreds the dimmed world,
Till at the last dissoluing his moist frame,
In raine, or snowe, or haile he forth is horld;
This Citie, which was first but shepheards shade,
Vprising by degrees, grewe to such height,
That Queene of land and sea her selfe she made.
At last not able to beare so great weight,
Her power disperst, through all the world did vade;
To shew that all in th' end to nought shall fade.
The same which Pyrrhus, and the puissaunce
Of Afrike could not tame, that same braue Citie,
Which with stout courage arm'd against mischaunce,
Sustein'd the shocke of common enmitie;
Long as her ship tost with so manie freakes,
Had all the world in armes against her bent,
Was neuer seene, that anie fortunes wreakes
Could breake her course begun with braue intent.
But when the obiect of her vertue failed,
Her power it selfe against it selfe did arme;
As he that hauing long in tempest sailed,
Faine would ariue, but cannot for the storme,
If too great winde against the port him driue,
Doth in the port it selfe his vessell riue.
When that braue honour of the Latine name,
Which mear'd her rule with Africa, and Byze,
With Thames inhabitants of noble fame,
And they which see the dawning day arize;
Her nourslings did with mutinous vprore
Harten against her selfe, her conquer'd spoile,
Which she had wonne from all the world afore,
Of all the world was spoyl'd within a while.
So when the compast course of the vniuerse
In sixe and thirtie thousand yeares is ronne,
The bands of th' elements shall backe reuerse
To their first discord, and be quite vndonne:
The seedes, of which all things at first were bred,
Shall in great Chaos wombe againe be hid.
O warie wisedome of the man, that would
That Carthage towres from spoile should be forborne,
To th' end that his victorious people should
With cancring laisure not be ouerworne;
He well foresaw, how that the Romane courage,
Impatient of pleasures faint desires,
Through idlenes would turne to ciuill rage,
And be her selfe the matter of her fires.
For in a people giuen all to ease,
Ambition is engendred easily;
As in a vicious bodie, grose disease
Soone growes through humours superfluitie.
That came to passe, when swolne with plenties pride,
Nor prince, nor peere, nor kin they would abide.
If the blinde furie, which warres breedeth oft,
Wonts not t'enrage the hearts of equall beasts,
Whether they fare on foote, or flie aloft,
Or armed be with clawes, or scalie creasts;
What fell Erynnis with hot burning tongs,
Did grype your hearts, with noysome rage imbew'd,
That each to other working cruell wrongs,
Your blades in your owne bowels you embrew'd?
Was this (ye Romanes) your hard destinie?
Or some old sinne, whose vnappeased guilt
Powr'd vengeance forth on you eternallie?
Or brothers blood, the which at first was spilt
Vpon your walls, that God might not endure,
Vpon the same to set foundation sure?
O that I had the Thracian Poets harpe,
For to awake out of th' infernall shade
Those antique Cæsars, sleeping long in darke,
The which this auncient Citie whilome made:
Or that I had Amphions instrument,
To quicken with his vitall notes accord,
The stonie ioynts of these old walls now rent,
By which th' Ausonian light might be restor'd:
Or that at least I could with pencill fine,
Fashion the pourtraicts of these Palacis,
By paterne of great Virgils spirit diuine;
I would assay with that which in me is,
To builde with leuell of my loftie style,
That which no hands can euermore compyle.
Who list the Romanes greatnes forth to figure,
Him needeth not to seeke for vsage right
Of line, or lead, or rule, or squaire, to measure
Her length, her breadth, her deepnes, or her hight:
But him behooues to vew in compasse round
All that the Ocean graspes in his long armes;
Be it where the yerely starre doth scortch the ground,
Or where colde Boreas blowes his bitter stormes.
Rome was th' whole world, and al the world was Rome,
And if things nam'd their names doo equalize,
When land and sea ye name, then name ye Rome;
And naming Rome ye land and sea comprize:
For th' auncient Plot of Rome displayed plaine,
The map of all the wide world doth containe.
Thou that at Rome astonisht dost behold
The antique pride, which menaced the skie,
These haughtie heapes, these palaces of olde,
These wals, these arcks, these baths, these temples hie;
Iudge by these ample ruines vew, the rest
The which inurious time hath quite outworne,
Since of all workmen helde in reckning best,
Yet these olde fragments are for paternes borne:
Then also marke, how Rome from day to day,
Repayring her decayed fashion,
Renewes herselfe with buildings rich and gay;
That one would iudge, that the Romaine Dæmon
Doth yet himselfe with fatall hand enforce,
Againe on foote to reare her pouldred corse.
He that hath seene a great Oke drie and dead,
Yet clad with reliques of some Trophees olde,
Lifting to heauen her aged hoarie head,
Whose foote in ground hath left but feeble holde;
But halfe disbowel'd lies aboue the ground,
Shewing her wreathed rootes, and naked armes,
And on her trunke all rotten and vnsound
Onely supports herselfe for meate of wormes;
And though she owe her fall to the first winde,
Yet of the deuout people is ador'd,
And manie yong plants spring out of her rinde;
Who such an Oke hath seene let him record
That such this Cities honour was of yore,
And mongst all Cities florished much more.
All that which Aegypt whilome did deuise,
All that which Greece their temples to embraue,
After th' Ionicke, Atticke, Doricke guise,
Or Corinth skil'd in curious workes to graue;
All that Lysippus practike arte could forme,
Apelles wit, or Phidias his skill,
Was wont this auncient Citie to adorne,
And the the heauen it selfe with her wide wonders fill;
All that which Athens euer brought forth wise,
All that which Afrike euer brought forth strange,
All that which Asie euer had of prise,
Was here to see. O meruelous great change:
Rome liuing, was the worlds sole ornament,
And dead, is now the worlds sole moniment.
Like as the seeded field greene grasse first showes,
Then from greene grasse into a stalke doth spring,
And from a stalke into an eare forth-growes,
Which eare the frutefull graine doth shortly bring;
And as in season due the husband mowes
The wauing lockes of those faire yeallow heares,
Which bound in sheaues, and layd in comely rowes,
Vpon the naked fields in stackes he reares:
So grew the Romane Empire by degree,
Till that Barbarian hands it quite did spill,
And left of it but these olde markes to see,
Of which all passers by doo somewhat pill:
As they which gleane, the reliques vse to gather,
Which th' husbandman behind him chanst to scater.
That same is now nought buta champian wide,
Where all this worlds pride once was situate.
No blame to thee, whosoeuer dost abide
By Nile, or Gange, or Tygre, or Euphrate,
Ne Afrike therof guiltie is, nor Spaine,
Nor the bolde people by the Thamis brincks,
Nor the braue warlicke brood of Alemaine,
Nor the borne Souldier which Rhine running drinks:
Thou onely cause, O Ciuill furie, art
Which sowing in the Aemathian fields thy spight,
Didst arme thy hand against thy proper hart;
To th'end that when thou wast in greatest hight
To greatnes growne, through long prosperitie,
Thou the adowne might'st fall more horriblie.
Hope ye my verses that posteritie
Of age ensuing shall you euer read?
Hope ye that euer immortalitie
So meane Harpes worke may chalenge for her meed?
If vnder heauen anie endurance were,
These moniments, which not in paper writ,
But in Porphyre and Marble doo appeare,
Might well haue hop'd to haue obtained it.
Nath'les my Lute, whom Phoebus deignd to giue,
Cease not to sound these olde antiquities:
For if that time doo let thy glorie liue,
Well maist thou boast, how euer base thou bee,
That thou art first, which of thy Nation song
Th'olde honour of the people gowned long.
Bellay, first garland of free Poësie
That France brought forth, though fruitfull of braue wits,
Well worthie thou of immortalitie,
That long hast traueld by thy learned writs,
Olde Rome out of her ashes to reuiue,
And giue a second life to dead decayes:
Needes must he all eternitie suruiue,
That can to other giue eternall dayes.
Thy dayes therefore are endles, and thy prayse
Excelling all, that euer went before;
And after thee, gins Bartas hie to rayse
His heauenly Muse, th' Almightie to adore.
Liue happie spirits, th' honour of your name,
And fill the world with neuer dying fame.

F I N I S.

Continue on to Muiopotmos, or the Fate of the Butterflie.

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