Robert Browning: They sent a million fighters forth South and North
From Love Among the Ruins (1855)
Where the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles
Miles and miles
On the solitary pastures where our sheep
Tinkle homeward thro’ the twilight, stray or stop
As they crop –
Was the site once of a city great and gay,
(So they say)
Of our country’s very capital, its prince
Held his court in, gathered councils, wielding far
Peace or war.
Now, – the country does not even boast a tree,
As you see,
To distinguish slopes of verdure, certain rills
From the hills
Intersect and give a name to, (else they run
Where the domed and daring palace shot its spires
Up like fires
O’er the hundred-gated circuit of a wall
Made of marble, men might march on nor be prest
And such plenty and perfection, see, of grass
Such a carpet as, this summer-time, o’er-spreads
Every vestige of the city, guessed alone,
Stock or stone –
Where a multitude of men breathed joy and woe
Lust of glory pricked their hearts up, dread of shame
Struck them tame;
And that glory and that shame alike, the gold
Bought and sold.
Now, – the single little turret that remains
On the plains,
By the caper overrooted, by the gourd
While the patching houseleek’s head of blossom winks
Through the chinks –
Marks the basement whence a tower in ancient time
And a burning ring, all round, the chariots traced
As they raced,
And the monarch and his minions and his dames
Viewed the games.
In one year they sent a million fighters forth
South and North,
And they built their gods a brazen pillar high
As the sky
Yet reserved a thousand chariots in full force –
Gold, of course.
O heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
Shut them in,
With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
Love is best.