Lays of Ancient Rome/The Prophecy of Capys

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The Prophecy of Capys
The she-wolf Lupa nurturing Romulus and Remus.

A Lay Sung at the Banquet in the Capitol, on the Day Whereon
Manius Curius Dentatus, a Second Time Consul, Triumphed Over King
Pyrrhus and the Tarentines, in the Year of the City CCCCLXXIX.


     Now slain is King Amulius,
          Of the great Sylvian line,
     Who reigned in Alba Longa,
          On the throne of Aventine.
     Slain is the Ponfiff Camers,
          Who spake the words of doom:
     "The children to the Tiber,
          The mother to the tomb."


     In Alba's lake no fisher
          His net to-day is flinging;
     On the dark rind of Alba's oaks
          To-day no axe is ringing;
     The yoke hangs o'er the manger;
          The scythe lies in the hay:
     Through all the Alban villages
          No work is done to-day.


     And every Alban burgher
          Hath donned his whitest gown;
     And every head in Alba
          Weareth a poplar crown;
     And every Alban door-post
          With boughs and flowers is gay,
     For to-day the dead are living,
          The lost are found to-day.


     They were doomed by a bloody king,
          They were doomed by a lying priest,
     They were cast on the raging flood,
          They were tracked by the raging beast;
     Raging beast and raging flood
          Alike have spared the prey;
     And to-day the dead are living,
          The lost are found to-day.


     The troubled river knew them,
          And smoothed his yellow foam,
     And gently rocked the cradle
          That bore the fate of Rome.
     The ravening she-wolf knew them,
          And licked them o'er and o'er,
     And gave them of her own fierce milk,
          Rich with raw flesh and gore.
     Twenty winters, twenty springs,
          Since then have rolled away;
     And to-day the dead are living:
          The lost are found to-day.


     Blithe it was to see the twins,
          Right goodly youths and tall,
     Marching from Alba Longa
          To their old grandsire's hall.
     Along their path fresh garlands
          Are hung from tree to tree:
     Before them stride the pipers,
          Piping a note of glee.


     On the right goes Romulus,
          With arms to the elbows red,
     And in his hand a broadsword,
          And on the blade a head—
     A head in an iron helmet,
          With horse-hair hanging down,
     A shaggy head, a swarthy head,
          Fixed in a ghastly frown—
     The head of King Amulius
          Of the great Sylvian line,
     Who reigned in Alba Longa,
          On the throne of Aventine.


     On the left side goes Remus,
          With wrists and fingers red,
     And in his hand a boar-spear,
          And on the point a head—
     A wrinkled head and aged,
          With silver beard and hair,
     And holy fillets round it,
          Such as the pontiffs wear—
     The head of ancient Camers,
          Who spake the words of doom:
     "The children to the Tiber;
          The mother to the tomb."


     Two and two behind the twins
          Their trusty comrades go,
     Four and forty valiant men,
          With club, and axe, and bow.
     On each side every hamlet
          Pours forth its joyous crowd,
     Shouting lads and baying dogs,
          And children laughing loud,
     And old men weeping fondly
          As Rhea's boys go by,
     And maids who shriek to see the heads,
          Yet, shrieking, press more nigh.


     So marched they along the lake;
          They marched by fold and stall,
     By cornfield and by vineyard,
          Unto the old man's hall.


     In the hall-gate sat Capys,
          Capys, the sightless seer;
     From head to foot he trembled
          As Romulus drew near.
     And up stood stiff his thin white hair,
          And his blind eyes flashed fire:
     "Hail! foster child of the wondrous nurse!
          Hail! son of the wondrous sire!"


     "But thou—what dost thou here
          In the old man's peaceful hall?
     What doth the eagle in the coop,
          The bison in the stall?
     Our corn fills many a garner;
          Our vines clasp many a tree;
     Our flocks are white on many a hill:
          But these are not for thee.


     "For thee no treasure ripens
          In the Tartessian mine;
     For thee no ship brings precious bales
          Across the Libyan brine;
     Thou shalt not drink from amber;
          Thou shalt not rest on down;
     Arabia shall not steep thy locks,
          Nor Sidon tinge thy gown.


     "Leave gold and myrrh and jewels,
          Rich table and soft bed,
     To them who of man's seed are born,
          Whom woman's milk have fed.
     Thou wast not made for lucre,
          For pleasure, nor for rest;
     Thou, that art sprung from the War-god's loins,
          And hast tugged at the she-wolf's breast.


     "From sunrise unto sunset
          All earth shall hear thy fame:
     A glorious city thou shalt build,
          And name it by thy name:
     And there, unquenched through ages,
          Like Vesta's sacred fire,
     Shall live the spirit of thy nurse,
          The spirit of thy sire.


     "The ox toils through the furrow,
          Obedient to the goad;
     The patient ass, up flinty paths,
          Plods with his weary load:
     With whine and bound the spaniel
          His master's whistle hears;
     And the sheep yields her patiently
          To the loud-clashing shears.


     "But thy nurse will hear no master,
          Thy nurse will bear no load;
     And woe to them that shear her,
          And woe to them that goad!
     When all the pack, loud baying,
          Her bloody lair surrounds,
     She dies in silence, biting hard,
          Amidst the dying hounds.


     "Pomona loves the orchard;
          And Liber loves the vine;
     And Pales loves the straw-built shed
          Warm with the breath of kine;
     And Venus loves the whispers
          Of plighted youth and maid,
     In April's ivory moonlight
          Beneath the chestnut shade.


     "But thy father loves the clashing
          Of broadsword and of shield:
     He loves to drink the steam that reeks
          From the fresh battlefield:
     He smiles a smile more dreadful
          Than his own dreadful frown,
     When he sees the thick black cloud of smoke
          Go up from the conquered town.


     "And such as is the War-god,
          The author of thy line,
     And such as she who suckled thee,
          Even such be thou and thine.
     Leave to the soft Campanian
          His baths and his perfumes;
     Leave to the sordid race of Tyre
          Their dyeing-vats and looms;
     Leave to the sons of Carthage
          The rudder and the oar;
     Leave to the Greek his marble Nymphs
          And scrolls of wordy lore.


     "Thine, Roman, is the pilum:
          Roman, the sword is thine,
     The even trench, the bristling mound,
          The legion's ordered line;
     And thine the wheels of triumph,
          Which with their laurelled train
     Move slowly up the shouting streets
          To Jove's eternal flame.


     "Beneath thy yoke the Volscian
          Shall vail his lofty brow;
     Soft Capua's curled revellers
          Before thy chairs shall bow:
     The Lucumoes of Arnus
          Shall quake thy rods to see;
     And the proud Samnite's heart of steel
          Shall yield to only thee.


     "The Gaul shall come against thee
          From the land of snow and night;
     Thou shalt give his fair-haired armies
          To the raven and the kite.


     "The Greek shall come against thee,
          The conqueror of the East.
     Beside him stalks to battle
          The huge earth-shaking beast,
     The beast on whom the castle
          With all its guards doth stand,
     The beast who hath between his eyes
          The serpent for a hand.
     First march the bold Epirotes,
          Wedged close with shield and spear
     And the ranks of false Tarentum
          Are glittering in the rear.


     "The ranks of false Tarentum
          Like hunted sheep shall fly:
     In vain the bold Epirotes
          Shall round their standards die:
     And Apennine's gray vultures
          Shall have a noble feast
     On the fat and the eyes
          Of the the huge earth-shaking beast.


     "Hurrah! for the good weapons
          That keep the War-god's land.
     Hurrah! for Rome's stout pilum
          In a stout Roman hand.
     Hurrah! for Rome's short broadsword
          That through the thick array
     Of levelled spears and serried shields
          Hews deep its gory way.


     "Hurrah! for the great triumph
          That stretches many a mile.
     Hurrah! for the wan captives
          That pass in endless file.
     Ho! bold Epirotes, whither
          Hath the Red King taken flight?
     Ho! dogs of false Tarentum,
          Is not the gown washed white?


     "Hurrah! for the great triumph
          That stretches many a mile.
     Hurrah! for the rich dye of Tyre,
          And the fine web of Nile,
     The helmets gay with plumage
          Torn from the pheasant's wings,
     The belts set thick with starry gem
          That shone on Indian kings,
     The urns of massy silver,
          The goblets rough with gold,
     The many-colored tablets bright
          With loves and wars of old,
     The stone that breathes and struggles,
          The brass that seems to speak;—
     Such cunning they who dwell on high
          Have given unto the Greek.


     "Hurrah! for Manius Curius,
          The bravest son of Rome,
     Thrice in utmost need sent forth,
          Thrice drawn in triumph home.
     Weave, weave, for Manius Curius
          The third embroidered gown:
     Make ready the third lofty car,
          And twine the third green crown;
     And yoke the steeds of Rosea
          With necks like a bended bow,
     And deck the bull, Mevania's bull,
          The bull as white as snow.


     "Blest and thrice blest the Roman
          Who sees Rome's brightest day,
     Who sees that long victorious pomp
          Wind down the Sacred Way,
     And through the bellowing Forum,
          And round the Suppliant's Grove,
     Up to the everlasting gates
          Of Capitolian Jove.


     "Then where, o'er two bright havens,
          The towers of Corinth frown;
     Where the gigantic King of Day
          On his own Rhodes looks down;
     Where oft Orontes murmurs
          Beneath the laurel shades;
     Where Nile reflects the endless length
          Of dark red colonnades;
     Where in the still deep water,
          Sheltered from waves and blasts,
     Bristles the dusky forest
          Of Byrsa's thousand masts;
     Where fur-clad hunters wander
          Amidst the northern ice;
     Where through the sand of morning-land
          The camel bears the spice;
     Where Atlas flings his shadow
          Far o'er the western foam,
     Shall be great fear on all who hear
          The mighty name of Rome."

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.