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The Last Day of Pompeii. Oil painting by Karl Briullov, c. 1827–1833

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!

Pompeii, 1900.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.