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The Coliseum

Cantos CXLII-CXLV, of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1818)


The Roman Coliseum at night

The Roman Coliseum at night

Michel Collot
The poet Lord Byron visited the Roman Colosseum (spelled in his version the Coliseum) in the early nineteenth century, as did many of his fellow writers and poets. Here is his written version of his feelings on seeing the ruins, published as part of his tour de force, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage:


But here; where Murder breathed her bloody steam;
And here, where buzzing nations choked the ways
And roar'd or murmur'd like a mountain stream
Dashing or winding as its torrent strays;
Here, where the Roman million's blame or praise
Was death or life, the playthings of a crowd,
My voice sounds much--and fall the starts' faint rays
On the arena void--seats crush'd--walls bow'd--
And galleries, where my steps seem echoes strangely loud.

A ruin--yet what a ruin! from its mass
Walls, palaces, half-cities have been rear'd
Yet oft the enormous skeleton ye pass,
And marvel where the spoil could have appear'd.
Hath it indeed been plunder'd, or but clear'd?
Alas, developed, opens the decay,
When the colossal fabric's form is near'd:
It will not bear the brightness of the day,
Which streams too much on all--years--man--have reft away.

But when the rising moon, begins to climb
Its topmost arch, and gently pauses there;
When the stars twinkle through the loops of time,
And the low night-breeze waves along the air
The garland forest, which the grey walls wear,
Like laurels on the bald first Caesar's head;
When the light shines serene but doth not glare;
Then in this magic circle raise the dead:
Heroes have trod this spot--'tis on their dust ye tread.

"While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand;
When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall;
And when Rome falls--the World." From our own land
Thus spake the pilgrims oe'r this mighty wall
In Saxon times, which we are wont to call
Ancient; and these three mortal things are still
On their foundations, and unalter'd all;
Rome and her Ruin past Redemption's skill,
The World, the same wide den--of thieves or what ye will.

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