Frances Ellen Watkins

Here you will find the Long Poem The Hermit's Sacrifice of poet Frances Ellen Watkins

The Hermit's Sacrifice

From Rome's palaces and villas 
Gaily issued forth a throng; 
From her humbler habitations 
Moved a human tide along. 

Haughty dames and blooming maidens, 
Men who knew not mercy's sway, 
Thronged into the Coliseum 
On that Roman holiday. 

From the lonely wilds of Asia, 
From her jungles far away, 
From the distant torrid regions, 
Rome had gathered beasts of prey. 

Lions restless, roaring, rampant, 
Tigers with their stealthy tread, 
Leopards bright, and fierce, and fiery, 
Met in conflict wild and dread. 

Fierce and fearful was the carnage 
Of the maddened beasts of prey, 
As they fought and rent each other 
Urged by men more fierce than they. 

Till like muffled thunders breaking 
On a vast and distant shore, 
Fainter grew the yells of tigers, 
And the lions' dreadful roar. 

On the crimson-stained arena 
Lay the victims of the fight; 
Eyes which once had glared with anguish, 
Lost in death their baleful light. 

Then uprose the gladiators 
Armed for conflict unto death, 
Waiting for the prefect's signal, 
Cold and stern with bated breath. 

"Ave Caesar, morituri, 
Te, salutant," rose the cry 
From the lips of men ill-fated, 
Doomed to suffer and to die. 

Then began the dreadful contest, 
Lives like chaff were thrown away, 
Rome with all her pride and power 
Butchered for a holiday. 

Eagerly the crowd were waiting, 
Loud the clashing sabres rang; 
When between the gladiators 
All unarmed a hermit sprang. 

"Cease your bloodshed," cried the hermit, 
"On this carnage place your ban;" 
But with flashing swords they answered, 
"Back unto your place, old man." 

From their path the gladiators 
Thrust the strange intruder back, 
Who between their hosts advancing 
Calmly parried their attack. 

All undaunted by their weapons, 
Stood the old heroic man; 
While a maddened cry of anger 
Through the vast assembly ran. 

"Down with him," cried out the people, 
As with thumbs unbent they glared, 
Till the prefect gave the signal 
That his life should not be spared. 

Men grew wild with wrathful passion, 
When his fearless words were said 
Cruelly they fiercely showered 
Stones on his devoted head. 

Bruised and bleeding fell the hermit, 
Victor in that hour of strife; 
Gaining in his death a triumph 
That he could not win in life. 

Had he uttered on the forum 
Struggling thoughts within him born, 
Men had jeered his words as madness, 
But his deed they could not scorn. 

Not in vain had been his courage, 
Nor for naught his daring deed; 
From his grave his mangled body 
Did for wretched captives plead. 

From that hour Rome, grown more thoughtful, 
Ceased her sport in human gore; 
And into her Coliseum 
Gladiators came no more.