Helen Darbishire and Ernest De Selincourt (eds), The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, Vol. 3: Miscellaneous Sonnets; Memorials of Various Tours; Poems to National Independence and Liberty; The Egyptian Maid; The River Duddon Series; The White Doe and Other Narrative Poems; Ecclesiastical Sonnets (Second Edition)

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Editor’s NoteXXVIIIthe pillar of trajan

[Composed 1825–6.—Published 1827.]

  • 1Where towers are crushed, and unforbidden weeds
  • 2O'er mutilated arches shed their seeds;
  • pg 2303And temples, doomed to milder change, unfold
  • 4A new magnificence that vies with old;
  • 5Firm in its pristine majesty hath stood
  • 6A votive Column, spared by fire and flood:—
  • 7And, though the passions of man's fretful race
  • 8Have never ceased to eddy round its base,
  • 9Not injured more by touch of meddling hands
  • 10Than a lone obelisk, 'mid Nubian sands,
  • 11Or aught in Syrian deserts left to save
  • 12From death the memory of the good and brave.
  • 13Historic figures round the shaft embost
  • 14Ascend, with lineaments in air not lost:
  • 15Still as he turns, the charmed spectator sees
  • 16Group winding after group with dream-like ease;
  • 17Triumphs in sun-bright gratitude displayed,
  • 18Or softly stealing into modest shade.
  • 19—So, pleased with purple clusters to entwine
  • 20Some lofty elm-tree, mounts the daring vine;
  • 21The woodbine so, with spiral grace, and breathes
  • 22Wide-spreading odours from her flowery wreaths.
  • 23   Borne by the Muse from rills in shepherds' ears
  • 24Murmuring but one smooth story for all years,
  • 25I gladly commune with the mind and heart
  • 26Of him who thus survives by classic art,
  • 27His actions witness, venerate his mien,
  • 28And study Trajan as by Pliny seen;
  • 29Behold how fought the Chief whose conquering sword
  • 30Stretched far as earth might own a single lord;
  • 31In the delight of moral prudence schooled,
  • 32How feelingly at home the Sovereign ruled;
  • 33Best of the good—in pagan faith allied
  • 34To more than Man, by virtue deified.
  • 35   Memorial Pillar! 'mid the wrecks of Time
  • 36Preserve thy charge with confidence sublime—
  • 37The exultations, pomps, and cares of Rome,
  • 38Whence half the breathing world received its doom;
  • 39Things that recoil from language; that, if shown
  • 40By apter pencil, from the light had flown.
  • 41A Pontiff, Trajan here the Gods implores,
  • 42There greets an Embassy from Indian shores;
  • pg 23143Lo! he harangues his cohorts—there the storm
  • 44Of battle meets him in authentic form!
  • 45Unharnessed, naked, troops of Moorish horse
  • 46Sweep to the charge; more high, the Dacian force,
  • 47To hoof and finger mailed;—yet, high or low,
  • 48None bleed, and none lie prostrate but the foe;
  • 49In every Roman, through all turns of fate,
  • 50Is Roman dignity inviolate;
  • 51Spirit in him pre-eminent, who guides,
  • 52Supports, adorns, and over all presides;
  • 53Distinguished only by inherent state
  • 54From honoured Instruments that round him wait;
  • 55Rise as he may, his grandeur scorns the test
  • 56Of outward symbol, nor will deign to rest
  • 57On aught by which another is deprest.
  • 58—Alas! that One thus disciplined could toil
  • 59To enslave whole nations on their native soil;
  • 60So emulous of Macedonian fame,
  • 61That, when his age was measured with his aim,
  • 62He drooped, 'mid else unclouded victories,
  • 63And turned his eagles back with deep-drawn sighs:
  • 64O weakness of the Great! O folly of the Wise!
  • 65   Where now the haughty Empire that was spread
  • 66With such fond hope? her very speech is dead;
  • Critical Apparatus67Yet glorious Art the power of Time defies,
  • 68And Trajan still, through various enterprise,
  • 69Mounts, in this fine illusion, toward the skies:
  • 70Still are we present with the imperial Chief,
  • 71Nor cease to gaze upon the bold Relief
  • 72Till Rome, to silent marble unconfined,
  • 73Becomes with all her years a vision of the Mind.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
p. 229. XXVIII. The Pillar of Trajan: "These verses perhaps had better be transferred to the class of 'Italian Poems'. I had observed in the Newspaper, that the Pillar of Trajan was given as a subject for a prize-poem in English verse. I had a wish perhaps that my son, who was then an undergraduate at Oxford, should try his fortune, and I told him so; but he, not having been accustomed to write verse, wisely declined to enter on the task; whereupon I showed him these lines as a proof of what might, without difficulty, be done on such a subject."—I. F.
Before ed. 1845 placed among Poems of Sentiment and Reflection. "The Pillar of Trajan" was set as the subject for the Newdigate at Oxford in 1826. Hence the date of W.'s verses. W.'s note (1827) on ll. 45, 46, "Here and infra; see Forsyth", gives the source from which he obtained much of the detail which he introduces into the poem. The book referred to is Remarks on Antiquities, Arts, and Letters, during an Excursion in Italy in 1802–3, by Joseph Forsyth, London, 1816. A copy of the book presented, with autograph, by Rogers was in the Rydal Mount Library.
Critical Apparatus
67 power 1837: sweep 1827–32
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