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With swift advance
They seize the space that yet delays the fates
Till short the span dividing. Then they gaze
For one short moment where may fall the spear,
What hand may deal their death, what monstrous task
Soon shall be theirs; and all in arms they see,
In reach of stroke, their brothers and their sires
With front opposing; yet to yield their ground
It pleased them not. But all the host was dumb
With horror; cold upon each loving heart,
Awe-struck, the life-blood pressed; and all men held
With arms outstretched their javelins for a time,
Poised yet unthrown. Now may th' avenging gods
Allot thee, Crastinus,1 not such a death
As all men else do suffer! In the tomb
May'st thou have feeling and remembrance still!
For thine the hand that first flung forth the dart,
Which stained with Roman blood Thessalia's earth.
Madman! To speed thy lance when Caesar's self
Still held his hand! Then from the clarions broke
The strident summons, and the trumpets blared
Responsive signal. Upward to the vault
The sound re-echoes where nor clouds may reach
Nor thunder penetrate; and Haemus' slopes 2
Reverberate to Pelion the din;
Pindus re-echoes; OEta's lofty rocks
Groan, and Pangaean cliffs, till at their rage
Borne back from all the earth they shook for fear.
Unnumbered darts they hurl, with prayers diverse;
Some hope to wound: others, in secret, yearn
For hands still innocent. Chance rules supreme,
And wayward Fortune upon whom she wills
Makes fall the guilt. Yet, for the hatred bred
By civil war suffices spear nor lance,
Urged on their flight afar: the hand must grip
The sword and drive it to the foeman's heart.
But while Pompeius' ranks, shield wedged to shield,
Were ranged in dense array, and scarce had space
To draw the blade, came rushing at the charge
Full on the central column Caesar's host,
Mad for the battle. Man nor arms could stay
The crash of onset, and the furious sword
Clove through the stubborn panoply to the flesh,
There only stayed. One army struck-their foes
Struck not in answer; Magnus' swords were cold,
But Caesar's reeked with slaughter and with guilt.
Nor Fortune lingered, but decreed the doom
Which swept the ruins of a world away.
Soon as withdrawn from all the spacious plain,
Pompeius' horse was ranged upon the flanks;
Passed through the outer files, the lighter armed
Of all the nations joined the central strife,
With divers weapons armed, but all for blood
Of Rome athirst: then blazing torches flew,
Arrows and stones, and ponderous balls of lead
Molten by speed of passage through the air.
There Ituraean archers and the Mede
Winged forth their shafts unaimed, till all the sky
Grew dark with missiles hurled; and from the night
Brooding above, Death struck his victims down.
Guiltless such blow, while all the crime was heaped
Upon the Roman spear. In line oblique
Behind the standards Caesar in reserve
Had placed some companies of foot, in fear
The foremost ranks might waver. These at his word,
No trumpet sounding, break upon the ranks
Of Magnus' horsemen where they rode at large
Flanking the battle. They, unshamed of fear
And careless of the fray, when first a steed
Pierced through by javelin spurned with sounding hoof
The temples of his rider, turned the rein,
And through their comrades spurring from the field
In panic, proved that not with warring Rome
Barbarians may grapple. Then arose
Immeasurable carnage: here the sword,
There stood the victim, and the victor's arm
Wearied of slaughter. Oh, that to thy plains,
Pharsalia, might suffice the crimson stream
From hosts barbarian, nor other blood
Pollute thy fountains' sources! these alone
Shall clothe thy pastures with the bones of men!
Or if thy fields must run with Roman blood
Then spare the nations who in times to come
Must be her peoples!
Now the terror spread
Through all the army, and the favouring fates
Decreed for Caesar's triumph: and the war
Ceased in the wider plain, though still ablaze
Where stood the chosen of Pompeius' force,
Upholding yet the fight. Not here allies
Begged from some distant king to wield the sword:
Here were the Roman sons, the sires of Rome,
Here the last frenzy and the last despair:
Here, Caesar, was thy crime: and here shall stay
My Muse repelled: no poesy of mine
Shall tell the horrors of the final strife,
Nor for the coming ages paint the deeds
Which civil war permits. Be all obscured
In deepest darkness! Spare the useless tear
And vain lament, and let the deeds that fell
In that last fight of Rome remain unsung.
1 This act of Crastinus is recorded by Plutarch ('Pompeius,' 71), and by Caesar, 'De Bello Celtico,' Book III., 91. Caesar called him by name and said: 'Well, Crastinus, shall we win to-day?' 'We shall win with glory, Caesar,' he replied in a loud voice, 'and to-day you will praise me, living or dead.' - Drury, 'History of Rome,' vol. iii., 312. He was placed in a special tomb after the battle.
2 See on line 203.
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