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The world gave signs of war: Nature reversed
In monstrous tumult fraught with prodigies
Her laws, and prescient spake the coming guilt.
How seemed it just to thee, Olympus' king,
That suffering mortals at thy doom should know
By dreadful omens massacres to come?
Or did the primal parent of the world
When first the flames gave way and yielding left
Matter unformed to his subduing hand,
And realms unbalanced, fix by stern decree
Unalterable laws to bind the whole
(Himself, too, bound by law), so that for aye
All Nature moves within its fated bounds?
Or, is Chance sovereign over all, and we
The sport of Fortune and her turning wheel?
Whate'er be truth, keep thou the future veiled
From mortal vision, and amid their fears
May men still hope.
Thus known how great the woes
The world should suffer, from the truth divine,
A solemn fast was called, the courts were closed,
All men in private garb; no purple hem
Adorned the togas of the chiefs of Rome;
No plaints were uttered, and a voiceless grief
Lay deep in every bosom : as when death
Knocks at some door but enters not as yet,
Before the mother calls the name aloud
Or bids her grieving maidens beat the breast,
While still she marks the glazing eye, and soothes
The stiffening limbs and gazes on the face,
In dread, not sorrow yet, in wondering awe
Of death approaching: and with mind distraught
Clings to the dying in a last embrace.
The matrons laid aside their wonted garb:
Crowds filled the temples-on the unpitying stones
Some dashed their bosoms; others bathed with tears
The statues of the gods; some tore their hair
Upon the holy threshold, and with shrieks
And vows unceasing called upon the names
Of those whom mortals supplicate. Nor all
Lay in the Thunderer's fane: at every shrine
Some prayers were offered which refused would bring
Reproach on heaven. One whose livid arms
Were dark with blows, whose cheeks with tears bedewed,
Cried, 'Now, unhappy mothers, rend the lock,
Nor keep your sorrows till the battle day :
Now ye may weep: when either chieftain wins
Rejoice ye must.' Thus sorrow stirs itself.
Meanwhile the men in seeking either camp
And marching onward in the path to war,
Address the cruel gods in just complaint.
Happy the youths who born in Punic days
On Cannae's uplands or by Trebia's stream
Fought and were slain! What wretched lot is ours!
No peace we ask for: let the nations rage;
Rouse fiercest cities! may the world find arms
To wage a war with Rome: let Parthian hosts
Rush forth from Susa; Scythian Ister curb
' No more the Massagete: unconquered Rhine
' Let loose from furthest North her fair-haired tribes:
' Elbe, pour thy Suevians forth! Let us be foes
' Of all the peoples. May the Getan press
' Here, and the Dacian there; Pompeius meet
'The Eastern archers, Caesar in the West
' Confront th' Iberian. Leave to Rome no hand
' To raise against herself in civil strife.
' Or, if Italia by the gods be doomed,
' Let all the sky, fierce Parent, be dissolved
'And falling on the earth in flaming bolts,
' Their hands still bloodless, strike both leaders down,
' With both their hosts! Why plunge in novel crime
' To settle which of them shall rule in Rome?
' Scarce were it worth the price of civil war
' To hinder either.' Thus the patriot voice
Still found an utterance, soon to speak no more.
Meantime, the aged fathers o'er their fates
In anguish grieved, detesting life prolonged
That brought with it another civil war.
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