Henry O'Meara Ballads of America



AUGUST 24, A.D. 79
WIDESPREAD the centuries, like cinders down Vesuvia's side,
Have passed o'er dead Pompeii since that last, that fatal tide
Of flame and livid lava fell, enfolding thick in gloom
Her homes, her pomp, her stricken site in one vast living tomb.
Festive the day broke over broad Campania's plain and town,
And even grim Vesuvius' brow for once forgot to frown,
While all encircling hills exulted in the morning's breath,
When doomed Pompeii's people thronged to glut their eyes on death.
Her gaudy villas smiled above the mist and valley then,
Her red-tiled roofs and time-worn towers rose young and gay again;
Forum and stately arch of triumph shadowed naught of strife -
Portal and crowning statue greeted laden streams of life.
Stay! for despite their joy the prescient Pliny, wise as brave,
Forboding, marks the trembling shore repel the tardy wave,
And listening, hears with soul of awe, the murmur hoarse and deep
Along the beauteous river's bank and laughing meadow creep!
"The gods protect the guiltless! vengeful Orcus bursts with ire!" -
Swift the velaria tent reveals the Mountain's rav'nous fire;
The gladiator, quivering low, is left to rise or die-
Lions athirst for life now turn, with human fear, to fly.
Night o'er the realm of Noon with rushing blackness swoops on all,
Vesuvia's vapor, shaped like pine trees, sprea ing as a pall;
In vain the priest of Isis craves to light the sacred flame,
Vainly the guard of Rome is nerved to body forth her name.
The late Gomorrah, as the old, in ashes sinks at last-
Her day is come, her doom is sealed, - her living power is past.
And yet exhumed Pompeii lives again to tell her story-
Clearer than Pliny's classic -page to light her age and glory.
Thus oft o'erpowering fate that seems to leave the heart forlorn
Serves but to save the d thought and worth for ages yet unborn,
As still survives and speaks above her ashes and her woe
The city burned and buried eighteen hundred years ago.


Edited and formatted by Sheldon Brown

updated Wednesday, April 19, 2000
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