By the Aurelian Wall

Original Text: 
Bliss Carman, By the Aurelian Wall And Other Elegies (Boston: Lamson, Woolfe, 1898), pp. 9-14. PS 8455 A7B8 Robarts Library.
In Memory of John Keats
2Where the long shadows of the centuries fall
3From Caius Cestius' tomb,
4A weary mortal seeking rest found room
5For quiet burial,
6Leaving among his friends
7A book of lyrics.
8Such untold amends
9A traveller might make
10In a strange country, bidden to partake
11Before he farther wends;
12Who slyly should bestow
13The foreign reed-flute they had seen him blow
14And finger cunningly,
15On one of the dark children standing by,
16Then lift his cloak and go.
17The years pass. And the child
18Thoughtful beyond his fellows, grave and mild,
19Treasures the rough-made toy,
20Until one day he blows it for clear joy,
21And wakes the music wild.
22His fondness makes it seem
23A thing first fashioned in delirious dream,
24Some god had cut and tried,
25And filled with yearning passion, and cast aside
26On some far woodland stream,--
27After long years to be
28Found by the stranger and brought over sea,
29A marvel and delight
30To ease the noon and pierce the dark blue night,
31For children such as he.
32He learns the silver strain
33Wherewith the ghostly houses of gray rain
34And lonely valleys ring,
35When the untroubled whitethroats make the spring
36A world without a stain;
37Then on his river reed,
38With strange and unsuspected notes that plead
39Of their own wild accord
40For utterances no bird's throat could afford,
41Lifts it to human need.
42His comrades leave their play,
43When calling and compelling far away
44By river-slope and hill,
45He pipes their wayward footsteps where he will,
46All the long lovely day.
47Even his elders come.
48"Surely the child is elvish," murmur some,
49And shake the knowing head;
50"Give us the good old simple things instead,
51Our fathers used to hum."
52Others at open door
53Smile when they hear what they have hearkened for
54These many summers now,
55Believing they should live to learn somehow
56Things never known before.
57But he can only tell
58How the flute's whisper lures him with a spell,
59Yet always just eludes
60The lost perfection over which he broods;
61And how he loves it well.
62Till all the country-side,
63Familiar with his piping far and wide,
64Has taken for its own
65That weird enchantment down the evening blown,--
66Its glory and its pride.
67And so his splendid name,
68Who left the book of lyrics and small fame
69Among his fellows then,
70Spreads through the world like autumn--who knows when?--
71Till all the hillsides flame.
73Hear it upbruited from the unresting sea;
75Whose yellow leaves repeat it, seems to know
76A new felicity.
77Even the shadows tall,
78Walking at sundown through the plain, recall
79A mound the grasses keep,
80Where once a mortal came and found long sleep
81By the Aurelian Wall.


1] John Keats (1795-1821), English poet who died in Rome and was buried in the old Protestant Cemetery to the right of the Pyramid of Caius Cestius (died 12 BC), praetor and tribune of the plebs. The two towers on either side of the Gate of St. Paul are from the time of Aurelian, Roman emperor (212?-275). Shelley is also buried with Keats in this cemetery. Back to Line
72] Grand Pré: Carman's home in Nova Scotia, the "great meadow" on the Bay of Fundy.
Margaree: small town in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Back to Line
74] Gaspereau: unidentified. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.