Timeless voices still echo within the ruins of the Flavian Amphitheater: that ones of the people who rejoiced, suffered or gazed there in wonder, and that ones of the people who dreamed of the greatness of Ancient Rome, who painted their visions or filled sheets of papers with passionate verses. The nocturnal splendor of the Colosseum also charmed the alienated and mysterious soul of Edgar Allan Poe, the eerie giant of American literature.
Lone ampitheatre! Grey Coliseum!
Type of the antique Rome! Rich reliquary
Of lofty contemplation left to Time
By buried centuries of pomp and power!
At length, at length — after so many days
Of weary pilgrimage, and burning thirst,
(Thirst for the springs of love [lore] that in thee lie,)
I kneel, an altered, and an humble man,
Amid thy shadows, and so drink within
My very soul thy grandeur, gloom, and glory.
Vastness! and Age! and Memories of Eld!
Silence and Desolation! and dim Night!
Gaunt vestibules! and phantom-peopled aisles!
I feel ye now: I feel ye in your strength!
O spells more sure then [than] e’er Judæan king
Taught in the gardens of Gethsemane!
O charms more potent than the rapt Chaldee
Ever drew down from out the quiet stars!
Here, where a hero fell, a column falls:
Here, where the mimic eagle glared in gold,
A midnight vigil holds the swarthy bat:
Here, where the dames of Rome their yellow hair
Wav’d to the wind, now wave the reed and thistle:
Here, where on ivory couch the Cæsar sate,
On bed of moss lies gloating the foul adder:
Here, where on golden throne the monarch loll’d,
Glides spectre-like unto his marble home,
Lit by the wan light of the horned moon,
The swift and silent lizard of the stones.
These crumbling walls; these tottering arcades;
These mouldering plinths; these sad, and blacken’d shafts;
These vague entablatures; this broken frieze;
These shattered cornices; this wreck; this ruin;
These stones, alas! — these grey stones — are they all;
All of the great and the colossal left
By the corrosive hours to Fate and me?
“Not all,” — the echoes answer me; “not all:
Prophetic sounds, and loud, arise forever
From us, and from all ruin, unto the wise,
As in old days from Memnon to the sun.
We rule the hearts of mightiest men: — we rule
With a despotic sway all giant minds.
We are not desolate — we pallid stones;
Not all our power is gone; not all our Fame;
Not all the magic of our high renown;
Not all the wonder that encircles us;
Not all the mysteries that in us lie;
Not all the memories that hang upon,
And cling around about us now and ever,
And clothe us in a robe of more than glory.”
Edgar Allan Poe (Boston, 1809 – Baltimore, 1849)
Considered by its own author as one of his best poems in a 1844 letter to James Russell Lowell, the lyric poem on “The Coliseum” firstly appeared on the 26th October 1833 issue of the Baltimore Saturday Visiter, together with the “MS. Found in a Bottle”, which was awarded a prize as the best short story in the contest sponsored by the literary journal. Recalling the ancient poetics of ruins, here Poe evokes the grandiose atmosphere lingering on the Colosseum, imaging himself as a traveler who contemplates the majestic monument through the gloom at the end of a long and tiring journey. Notwithstanding those imposing yet decaying ruins represent the downfall of Ancient Rome, “prophetic sounds” still endure and remind every wise man to understand that more than the past glory survive: not all the power, wonder and memories are gone.
This poem was later revised and republished, then it was incorporated in “Politian”, a melodrama set in 16th century Rome and the only known play written by Poe, which was underway at that time and never completed.