CANTO THE SIXTH.

 

ARGUMENT.

 

The Poet meets with the Spirit of JUSTINIAN, who laments the fall of the Empire.

 

“ WHEN ROME’s Imperial Eagle soar’d away,

Steering her flight against the rising ray,

Wing’d by great CONSTANTINE, to seek the soil

From whence the Warrior loos’d his fatal prow,

Who With LAVINIA pledg’d his second vow,

Near the dark HELLESPONT she clos’d his toil.

 

II.

 

“ Two hundred circles of the Sun and more,

Had seen his aiery on his native shore,

Safe in his mighty wings extended shade,

On fair EUROPA’s verge : there many a hand,

From year to year, the rod of Empire spann’d,

Ere time to me the sign of rule convey’d.

 

III.

 

“ JUSTINIAN I was call’d ‑--The legal code,

Warm’d by humanity and love to God,

My hand reform’d ; with long assiduous care

Its rigors I relax’d, or nerv’d anew

Its too indulgent laws, till SATAN drew

Around my heedless steps his fatal snare.

 

IV.

 

“ The close connexion of the Pow’r divine

With frail humanity on DAVID’s line,

Stagger’d my faith, till AGABITUS came,

And purg’d the film terrene that dimm'd my sight :

Now I behold in Heav’n’s meridian light,

Things far beyond a mortal’s feeble aim.

 

V.

 

“ My heart I gave to Heav’n, kind Heav’n inspir’d

Noble designs, and all my bosom fir’d

With hope to mitigate those ills that wait

On social life ; while, with sagacious care,

Great BELISARIUS kept the storm of war

Aloof, and left me time to cure the State.

 

VI.

 

“ This your first question solves ; but ere I tell

The state of those that here in transport dwell,

A short digression claims the foremost place,

To shew the guilt of these contending Bands        

That rend th’ Imperial sign with bloody hands,

Which GUELPHS oppose, and GHIBELLINES disgrace.

 

VII.

 

“ From that dread moment when young PALLAS fell,

It seem’d like young AURORA to dispel

The shades of Night, and lift its sacred head,

Hovering above proud ALBA’s regal tow’rs,

Till full three hundred Suns had run their course,

Then, when the three bold brethren fell, it fled.

 

VIII.

 

“ What glories in the field it won, you know,

From the rapt SABINE to LUCRETIA’s woe ;

While seven successive Kings its flag unfurl’d

Against the neighb’ring tribes : and how the GAUL

And GREEK beheld their bloody banner fall,

Before the future Mistress of the world.

 

IX.

 

“ TORQUATUS, QUINTUS, long on earth renown’d ;

The FABIAN and the DECIAN name shall sound,

In the full Pæans of the Blest above :

Under that dreadful ensign, waving high,

Thro’ the dark natives of a burning Sky

They mow’d their way, where Po’s deep waters move.

 

X.

 

“ When that proud standard led the long array,

The bloody fields beneath the setting day

Planted with trophies, show’d the mighty hand

Of SCIPIO, where it rag’d : while sunward led,

Great POMPEY’s bands the sign of battle spread ;

A name yet mournful to thy native land.

 

XI.

 

“ But, ere the nations rested yet from blood,

Ere heav’nly Peace her radiant aspect shew’d,

And on the ransom’d clime serenely smil’d ;

Great JULIUS by the vote of ROME arose,

The VAR, the RHINE, his early triumphs knows,

The RHONE, the SEINE, and ESAR’s utmost wild.

 

XII.

 

“ From sad RAVENNA, thro’ the ROMAN Sky

So swift his Eagles flew, the Poet’s eye

The lightning of their course could hardly scan ;

He struck MASSILIA, and he conquer’d SPAIN,

Then on his smoking path return’d again,

And back like thunder to DURAZZO ran.

 

XIII.

 

“ Thence, without respite, on the foe he flew,

And o’er the mountains of THESSALIA drew

His cohorts, like the flying rock of Heav’n

When POMPEY’s angry clarion call’d afar---

Old NILE ! you wept the victim of the war,

By unrelenting fate to slaughter giv’n.

 

XIV.

 

“ Soon to ANTANDROS on the winds he pass’d,

Where HECTOR’s tomb o’erlooks the wat’ry waste,

And thence o’er Egypt his destroying hand

Stretch’d, like an angry God ; his conqu’ring host

With fiery‑footed rage the Desart cross’d,

And pour’d destruction on NUMIDIA’s band.

 

XV.

 

“ Again the welkin rung with new alarms,

The vengeful brood of POMPEY calls to arms ;

Sad theme of sorrow in the depths of Hell,

Where sullen CASSIUS, in alternate lay,

With BRUTUS chants OCTAVIAN’s mighty sway,

And Demons listen while their doom they tell.

 

XVI.

 

“ HIS deeds MUTINA with PERUSIA know,

And CLEOPATRA’s sunk in deepest woe,

Who fled the venom’d aspic’s rage in vain ;

To the red Sea his conqu’ring Eagle flew,

Till Peace recall’d the golden age anew,

And JANUS clos’d his jarring valves again.

 

XVII.

 

“ But all th’ Imperial Ensign’s spreading fame

(Past and to come) had sunk before the claim

Of the third Owner of the sov’reign pow’r,

Had he but seiz’d the fair occasion giv’n,

To ’venge the slighted dignity of Heav’n,

When the MESSIAH bled on JORDAN’s shore.

 

XVIII.

 

“ But heav’nly Justice, tho’ in torpor deep

In dark VESPASIAN’s breast seem’d to sleep,

Like lightning darted on the purer Mind

Of TITUS, when, by holy wrath inspir’d,

From SALEM’s factious rebels he requir’d

The debt of vengeance by his God enjoin’d.

 

XIX.

 

“ When with envenom’d tooth the ALPINE snake,

Stealing insidious from his native brake,

The holy Vestal on her shrine assail’d ;

My Eagle, rousing at the GALLIC cry,

With lighting on his pinions swept the Sky,

And the fell reptile to his den repell’d.

 

XX.

 

“ Hence may your judgment on the feuds decide,

That waste my old dominion far and wide ;

But who can tell who most our peace destroys ?

He who displays the lilied flag afar,

Or with th’ Imperial Sign provokes the war ;

My bleeding country each in turn destroys.

 

XXI.

 

“ False GHIBELLINE ! the sacred symbol yield,

That leads your legions to the bloody field ;

Or with more noble arts adorn your name :

Just in the cause in which you should display

That sacred Ensign in the eye of Day,

ASTREA’s cause and HER’s should be the same.

 

XXII.

 

“ Shall ANJOU’s pride th’ Imperial Eagle dare ?---

A nobler Savage in a bloodier war

Has felt his talons and forsook the field :

The Son has often mourn’d the Father’s crime ;

Heav’n will not circumvent his flight sublime,

In partial favour to the lilied shield.

 

XXIII.

 

“ This little world that kindles in the trace

Of PHOEBE’s Ear, and wheels his burning race

Nearer his throne, contains within its bound

Those Souls refin’d, who, by the gen’ral flame

Of honour, fir’d to win a deathless name,

Fill’d with incessant toil their mortal round.

 

XXIV.

 

“ Their ardent eyes were fix’d on Fame alone,

With poor ambition to this lower zone,

Their aspirations took their humble flight :

Thrice happy ! if, to further Heav’n’s design,

Their days were spent, and then a brighter Sign,

Had giv’n a fairer lot of Love and Light.

 

XXV.

 

“ But to compare our virtues with our gains,

Is one glad task of these Cærulean plains,

So well adjusted by the heav’nly scale ;

New transport from the contemplation flows,

’Till with intenser flame the Spirit glows,

O’er which nor doubt nor envy can prevail.

 

XXVI.

 

“ As diff’rent notes in harmony conspire,

So in gradation due, our heav’nly choir,

A general symphony of transport swell :

See ROMEO’s Spirit where it moves along,

And sheds new glory on the chosen throng ;

He, for his gen’rous toils, untimely fell.

 

XXVII.

 

“ But soon RAIMONDO’s province paid the fine,

For his base treatment of the Man divine ;

For their proud Lord the people much endur’d.

Ill fares the Man whom envy leads astray ;

His four fair Daughters shar’d Imperial sway :

A poor and lonely Sage their crowns secur’d.

 

XXVIII.

 

“ Base sycophants employ’d their usual art,

And RAYMOND’s Soul, by slander’s rankling dart

Empoison’d, found the baleful venom spread :

He call’d him to refund his hoarded gain ;

With calm integrity the hoary Swain

The spring‑tide of the public wealth display’d.

 

XXIX.

 

“ Thence worn with years and poverty he stray’d,

And thro’ ungrateful nations begg’d his bread,

In deep tranquillity, to Heav’n resign’d.

O had the world but known that noble Soul,

That o’er Earth’s dim face benighted stole,

New praise his former praise had left behind !”

 

 

END OF THE SIXTH CANTO.