|Pompeii is an ancient Roman city that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. This poem was published in the posthumous anthology The Garden of Years and Other Poems (1904).|
The giant slept, and pigmies at his feet,
Like children moulding monuments of snow,
Piled stone on stone, mapped market-place and street,
And saw their temples column-girdled grow:
And, slowly as the gradual glaciers grope
Their way resistless, so Pompeii crept,
Year by long year, across the shelving slope
Toward the sea:—and still the giant slept.
Belted with gardens, where the shivered glass
Of falling fountains broke the pools’ repose,
As they had been asleep upon the grass,
A myriad villas stretched themselves and rose:
And down her streets, grown long and longer still,
Grooving the new-laid stones, the chariots swept,
And of a sudden burst upon the hill
Vast amphitheatres. Still the giant slept.
With liquid comment of the wooing doves,
With wanton flowers, sun-conjured from the loam,
Grew the white city of illicit loves,
Hostess of all the infamy of Rome!
A marble harlot, scornful, pale, and proud,
Her Circean court on ruin’s brink she kept,
Lulled by the adoration of the crowd
To lethal stupor. Still the giant slept.
Incense-encircled, pacing day by day
Through temple-courts reëchoant with song,
Sin-stunned and impercipient, on her way
She dragged her languid loveliness along.
With lips whereon a dear damnation hung,
With dark, dream-clouded eyes that never wept,
Flawlessly fair, the faulty fair among,
She kissed and cursed:—and still the giant slept.
Here, for a mute reminder of her shame,
Her ruins gape out baldly from their tomb;
A city naked, shorn of all but name,
Blinking and blind from all her years of gloom:
A beldam who was beauty, crying alms
With leprous lips that mouthe their prayers in vain;
Her deaf destroyer to her outstretched palms
Respondeth not. The giant sleeps again!
This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.