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Passion-flowers

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Julia's Poetry: Passion-Flowers
A Picnic Among the Ruins of Ostia

Say they, a famous seaport town,
One look abroad I bid thee cast,
Then tell me if thou canst descry
A dwelling here, or there a mast.

Of all its old magnificence
Stands one poor skeleton of brick;
With grass are sown the hidden streets,
The palace ploughed in furrows thick.

And this the temple of a God,
The body of a mighty thought!
Here vowed the heart, elate with hope,
When priests the struggling victim brought--

Hearts like these hearts of ours, that drink
Existence as an endless cup,
And smile to hear of an abyss
Where life and strength are swallowed up.

These men our brothers were, but built
Of sturdier frame and mind than we;
Tamed by their will, th' unruly flood
Led their proud galleys to the sea.

Walk further, let my guidance show
One crumbling tower of Trajan's port:
Strange that Christ's vicar, God-inspired,
Has never had as wise a thought.

But we, at Vecchis'a hostel left,
Brag on to Rome or bags and baggage,
While on the Dogana, cringing low,
Wonders that Englishment are savage!

Within the ruined temple's shade
Spread the white cloth, for we incline
To revel in the glorious past,
But in the present tense to dine.

Flirt on, young lady, doze, old lord,
While I my slender museling nurse
With fragments of Horatian odes,
Or with the grand old Goethe's verse.

Fall too, my friends, in Bacchus' name.
And make me, if you will, his priest -
That was a proper sort of God
Who thought not scorn to bless a feast:

For his divinity, of old
Hearing us call, had hastened hither,
And sat, till votary and god
Reeled homeward, drunkenly, together.

Pour the libation! see, how lights
The Capri, in this cup of mine!
Drink to those ancient Heathen fools
Who mixed sea-water with their wine-

And in that pledge forget with me
The sorrow of the wanderers' star,
The sigh for that we might have been,
The lonely grief at that we are.

What boots it, brothers? had we lived
In utmost valor, utmost bliss,
Tamed mighty nations, built great towns,
Time would have brought our works to this.

Or had some graceful fragment cast
Its shadow to a distant age,
Barbarians whom we never knew
Had squabbled for our heritage.

See, the fierce charioteer of Day
Drives to the wave his smoking steeds;
The world may breathe, the tyrant drops
The lash, the slave no longer bleeds.

And soft the pious Evening steals,
To watch her fiery father's rest;
A whispered Ave seems her voice,
And one pure gem hangs on her breast.

As yonder sun, an exiled king,
Each day his slumbering world retakes,
And from the dark domain of Night,
As sure as God, his conquest makes;

So the immortal principle,
That fills creation with its breath,
Daily from rudest chaos wrings
Souls which, like ours, can laugh at death.