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They held a council standing
Before the River-gate;

Short time was there, ye well may guess,

For musing or debate.

Out spoke the Consul roundly:

"The bridge must straight go down;

For, since Janiculum is lost,

Nought else can save the town."

Just then a scout came flying,

All wild with haste and fear:
"To arms! to arms! Sir Consul!
Lars Porsena is here."

On the low hills to westward
The Consul fix'd his eye,
And saw the swarthy storm of dust
Rise fast along the sky.

And nearer fast and nearer

Doth the red whirlwind come;
And louder still, and still more loud,
From underneath that rolling cloud,
Is heard the trumpet's war-note proud,
The trampling and the hum.
And plainly and more plainly

Now through the gloom appears,
Far to left and far to right,

In broken gleams of dark-blue light,
The long array of helmets bright,
The long array of spears.

[Here Horatius, Lartius, and Herminius undertake to keep back the enemy from passing the bridge till it can be hewn down.]

Meanwhile the Tuscan army,

Right glorious to behold,

Came flashing back the noonday light,
Rank behind rank, like surges bright

Of a broad sea of gold.
Four hundred trumpets sounded

A peal of warlike glee,

As that great host, with measured tread,
And spears advanced, and ensigns spread,
Roll'd slowly towards the bridge's head,
Where stood the dauntless Three.

The Three stood calm and silent,
And look'd upon the foes,
And a great shout of laughter
From all the vanguard rose:
And forth three chiefs came spurring

Before that mighty mass ;

To earth they sprang, their swords they drew,
And lifted high their shields, and flew

To win the narrow pass.

[Several of the Tuscan chiefs try to force the passage, but are slain by Horatius and his companions.]

But all Etruria's noblest

Felt their hearts sink to see
On the earth the bloody corpses,
In the path the dauntless Three:
And, from the ghastly entrance

Where those bold Romans stood,
All shrank, like boys who unaware,
Ranging the woods to start a hare,
Come to the mouth of the dark lair
Where, growling low, a fierce old bear
Lies amidst bones and blood.

Was none who would be foremost
To lead such dire attack;

[blocks in formation]

But meanwhile axe and lever

Have manfully been plied;

And now the bridge hangs tottering
Above the boiling tide.

"Come back, come back, Horatius!"
Loud cried the Fathers all.
"Back, Lartius! back, Herminius!
Back, ere the ruin fall!"

Back darted Spurius Lartius;
Herminius darted back:

And, as they pass'd, beneath their feet
They felt the timbers crack.
But when they turn'd their faces,
And on the farther shore
Saw brave Horatius stand alone,

They would have cross'd once more.

But with a crash like thunder
Fell every loosen'd beam,
And, like a dam, the mighty wreck
Lay right athwart the stream:
And a long shout of triumph
Rose from the walls of Rome,
As to the highest turret-tops
Was splash'd the yellow foam.

And, like a horse unbroken

When first he feels the rein,
The furious river struggled hard,
And toss'd his tawny mane;
And burst the curb, and bounded,
Rejoicing to be free;

And whirling down, in fierce career,
Battlement, and plank, and pier,
Rush'd headlong to the sea.

Alone stood brave Horatius,

But constant still in mind; Thrice thirty thousand foes before, And the broad flood behind. "Down with him!" cried false Sextus,

With a smile on his pale face, "Now yield thee," cried Lars Porsena,

"Now yield thee to our grace."

Round turn'd he, as not deigning
Those craven ranks to see;
Nought spake he to Lars Porsena,
To Sextus nought spake he;
But he saw on Palatinus

The white porch of his home;
And he spake to the noble river
That rolls by the towers of Rome.
"Oh, Tiber! father Tiber!
To whom the Romans pray,
A Roman's life, a Roman's arms,
Take thou in charge this day!"
So he spake, and speaking sheathed
The good sword by his side,
And with his harness on his back,
Plunged headlong in the tide.

No sound of joy or sorrow

Was heard from either bank; But friends and foes in dumb surprise, With parted lips and straining eyes, Stood gazing where he sank; And when above the surges They saw his crest appear,

All Rome sent forth a rapturous cry, And even the ranks of Tuscany Could scarce forbear to cheer.

But fiercely ran the current,

Swollen high by months of rain:
And fast his blood was flowing;
And he was sore in pain,
And heavy with his armour,
And spent with changing blows:

And oft they thought him sinking,
But still again he rose.

Never, I ween, did swimmer,

In such an evil case,

Struggle through such a raging flood
Safe to the landing place:
But his limbs were borne up bravely
By the brave heart within,
And our good father Tiber
Bare bravely up his chin.

"Curse on him!" quoth false Sextus;

"Will not the villain drown?

But for this stay, ere close of day
We should have sack'd the town!"
"Heaven help him!" quoth Lars Porsena,
"And bring him safe to shore;
For such a gallant feat of arms
Was never seen before."

And now he feels the bottom;
Now on dry earth he stands;
Now round him throng the Fathers
To press his gory hands ;

And new with shouts and clapping,
And noise of weeping loud,
He enters through the River-gate,
Borne by the joyous crowd.

They gave him of the corn-land,
That was of public right,
As much as two strong oxen

Could plough from morn till night;
And they made a molten image,

And set it up on high,

And there it stands unto this day
To witness if I lie.

It stands in the Comitium',
Plain for all folk to see;
Horatius in his harness,
Halting upon one knee :
And underneath is written,
In letters all of gold,

How valiantly he kept the bridge
In the brave days of old.

And still his name sounds stirring
Unto the men of Rome,

As the trumpet-blast that cries to them
To charge the Volscian 2 home:

The Comitium was the place where the Roman people assembled on occasions of common interest. It lay between the Palatine and Tarpeian Hills, and was so called from the verb coire, to come together.


* The Volscians were a people who inhabited a part of Latium. They lay south-east of Rome, and extended to the coast.

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