achievement
non sibi sed toti

Classics Teaching Resources


Roman Britain - landscapes

We who live in England use roads the Romans made.
Pots and coins may surface beneath our garden spade.
Excavate a car-park and find a Roman town;
What they left remains here, not many inches down.
But the hopes, ambitions, loves and hates and fears,
Are they lost for ever, down the fading years?
Where we lesser mortals find them past our reach,
Poets have imagined, given those spirits speech.

David Parsons, May 2004

On other pages:

Invasion
Soldiers
Landscapes
Hadrian's Wall
Living
Leaving
Aftermath
Now and Then
On this page:

On Wenlock Edge by A.E. Housman
Night Is On The Downland by John Masefield
The River's Tale by Rudyard Kipling
Uriconium by Wilfred Own
Here the legion halted ... by John Masefield
The Roman Road by Thomas Hardy
The Ruin - Old English poem

On Wenlock Edge

by A.E. Housman

 


On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble;
  His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
  And thick on Severn snow the leaves.
 
'Twould blow like this through holt and hanger
  When Uricon the city stood:
'Tis the old wind in the old anger,
  But then it threshed another wood.
 
Then, 'twas before my time, the Roman
  At yonder heaving hill would stare:
The blood that warms an English yeoman,
  The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.
 
There, like the wind through woods in riot,
  Through him the gale of life blew high;
The tree of man was never quiet:
  Then 'twas the Roman, now 'tis I.
 
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
  It blows so hard, 'twill soon be gone:
To-day the Roman and his trouble
  Are ashes under Uricon.

Night Is On The Downland

by John Masefield

  	
  	Night is on the downland, on the lonely moorland,
On the hills where the wind goes over sheep-bitten turf,
Where the bent grass beats upon the unplowed poorland
And the pine-woods roar like the surf.

Here the Roman lived on the wind-barren lonely,
Dark now and haunted by the moorland fowl;
None comes here now but the peewit only,
And moth-like death in the owl.

Beauty was here in on this beetle-droning downland;
The thought of a Caesar in the purple came
From the palace by the Tiber in the Roman townland
To this wind-swept hill with no name.

Lonely Beauty came here and was here in sadness,
Brave as a thought on the frontier of the mind,
In the camp of the wild upon the march of madness,
The bright-eyed Queen of the Blind.

Now where Beauty was are the wind-withered gorses,
Moaning like old men in the hill-wind's blast;
The flying sky is dark with running horses,
And the night is full of the past.

The River's Tale

Prehistoric - Rudyard Kipling



Twenty bridges from Tower to Kew--
(Twenty bridges or twenty-two)--
Wanted to know what the River knew,
For they were young, and the Thames was old
And this is the tale that River told:--

"I walk my beat before London Town,
Five hours up and seven down.
Up I go till I end my run
At Tide-end-town, which is Teddington.
Down I come with the mud in my hands
And plaster it over the Maplin Sands.
But I'd have you know that these waters of mine
Were once a branch of the River Rhine,
When hundreds of miles to the East I went
And England was joined to the Continent.

"I remember the bat-winged lizard-birds,
The Age of Ice and the mammoth herds,
And the giant tigers that stalked them down
Through Regent's Park into Camden Town.
And I remember like yesterday
The earliest Cockney who came my way,
When he pushed through the forest that lined the Strand,
With paint on his face and a club in his hand.
He was death to feather and fin and fur.
He trapped my beavers at Westminster.
He netted my salmon, he hunted my deer,
He killed my heron off Lambeth Pier.
He fought his neighbour with axes and swords,
Flint or bronze, at my upper fords,
While down at Greenwich, for slaves and tin,
The tall Phoenician ships stole in,
And North Sea war-boats, painted and gay,
Flashed like dragon-flies, Erith way;
And Norseman and Negro and Gaul and Greek
Drank with the Britons in Barking Creek,
And life was gay, and the world was new,
And I was a mile across at Kew!
But the Roman came with a heavy hand,
And bridged and roaded and ruled the land,
And the Roman left and the Danes blew in--
And that's where your history-books begin!"

Rudyard Kipling 	

Uriconium: an Ode

  	
  	It lieth low near merry England's heart
Like a long-buried sin; and Englishmen
Forget that in its death their sires had part.
And, like a sin, Time lays it bare again
To tell of races wronged,
And ancient glories suddenly overcast,
And treasures flung to fire and rabble wrath.
If thou hast ever longed
To lift the gloomy curtain of Time Past,
And spy the secret things that Hades hath,
Here through this riven ground take such a view.
The dust, that fell unnoted as a dew,
Wrapped the dead city's face like mummy-cloth:
All is as was: except for worm and moth.

Since Jove was worshipped under Wrekin's shade
Or Latin phrase was writ in Shropshire stone,
Since Druid chaunts desponded in this glade
Or Tuscan general called that field his own,
How long ago? How long?
How long since wanderers in the Stretton Hills
Met men of shaggy hair and savage jaw,
With flint and copper prong,
Aiming behind their dikes and thorny grilles?
Ah! those were days before the axe and saw,
Then were the nights when this mid-forest town
Held breath to hear the wolves come yelping down,
And ponderous bears 'long Severn lifted paw,
And nuzzling boars ran grunting through the shaw.

Ah me! full fifteen hundred times the wheat
Hath risen, and bowed, and fallen to human hunger
Since those imperial days were made complete.
The weary moon hath waxen old and younger
These eighteen thousand times
Without a shrine to greet her gentle ray.
And other temples rose; to Power and Pelf,
And chimed centurial chimes
Until their very bells are worn away.
While King by King lay cold on vaulted shelf
And wars closed wars, and many a Marmion fell,
And dearths and plagues holp sire and son to hell;
And old age stiffened many a lively elf
And many a poet's heart outdrained itself.

I had forgot that so remote an age
Beyond the horizon of our little sight,
Is far from us by no more spanless gauge
Than day and night, succeeding day and night,
Until I looked on Thee,
Thou ghost of a dead city, or its husk!
But even as we could walk by field and hedge
Hence to the distant sea
So, by the rote of common dawn and dusk,
We travel back to history's utmost edge.
Yea, when through thy old streets I took my way,
And recked a thousand years as yesterday,
Methought sage fancy wrought a sacrilege
To steal for me such godly privilege!

For here lie remnants from a banquet table -
Oysters and marrow-bones, and seeds of grape -
The statement of whose age must sound a fable;
And Samian jars, whose sheen and flawless shape
Look fresh from potter's mould.
Plasters with Roman finger-marks impressed;
Bracelets that from the warm Italian arm
Might seem to be scarce cold;
And spears - the same that pushed the Cymry west-
Unblunted yet; with tools of forge and farm
Abandoned, as a man in sudden fear
Drops what he holds to help his swift career:
For sudden was Rome's flight, and wild the alarm.
The Saxon shock was like Vesuvius' qualm.

O ye who prate of modern art and craft .
Mark well that Gaulish brooch, and test that screw!
Art's fairest buds on antique stem are graft.
Under the sun is nothing wholly new!
At Viricon today
The village anvil rests on Roman base
And in a garden, may be seen a bower
With pillars for its stay
That anciently in basilic had place.
The church's font is but a pagan dower:
A Temple's column, hollowed into this.
So is the glory of our artifice,
Our pleasure and our worship, but the flower
Of Roman custom and of Roman power.

O ye who laugh and, living as if Time
Meant but the twelve hours ticking round your dial,
Find it too short for thee, watch the sublime,
Slow, epochal time-registers awhile,
Which are Antiquities.
O ye who weep and call all your life too long
And moan: Was ever sorrow like to mine?
Muse on the memories
That sad sepulchral stones and ruins prolong.
Here might men drink of wonder like strong wine
And feel ephemeral troubles soothed and curbed.
Yet farmers, wroth to have their laws disturbed,
Are sooner roused for little loss to pine
Than we are moved by mighty woes long syne.

Above this reverend ground, what traveller checks?
Yet cities such as these one time would breed
Apocalyptic visions of world-wrecks.
Let Saxon men return to them, and heed!
They slew and burnt,
But after, prized what Rome had given away
Out of her strength and her prosperity.
Have they yet learnt
The precious truth distilled from Rome's decay?
Ruins! On England's heart press heavily!
For Rome hath left us more than walls and words
And better yet shall leave; and more than herds
Or land or gold gave the Celts to us in fee;
E'en Blood, which makes poets sing and prophets see.

Wilfred Owen

Here the legion halted ...

by John Masefield.
Here the legion halted, here the ranks were broken, And the men fell out to gather wood; And the green wood smoked, and bitter words were spoken, And the trumpets called to food. And the sentry on the rampart saw the distance dying To the smoke of distance blue and far, And heard the curlew calling and the own replying As the night came cold with one star; And thought of home beyond, over moorland, over marshes, Over hills, over the sea, across the plains, across the pass, By a bright sea trodden by the ships of Tarshis, The farm, with cicadea in the grass. And thought as I: "Perhaps, I may be done with living To-morrow, when we fight. I shall see those souls no more. O beloved souls, be beloved in forgiving The deeds and words that make me sore."

The Ruin

Translation here
WrŠtlic is ■es wealstan;          wyrde gebrŠcon,
burgstede burston,       brosna­ enta geweorc.
Hrofas sind gehrorene,             hreorge torras,
hrungeat berofen,                       hrim on lime,
scearde scurbeorge           scorene, gedorene,
Aeldo undereotone.                   Eor­grop hafa­
waldendwyrhtan,          forweorone, geleorene
heard gripe hrusan,                   o■ hund cnea
wer■eoda gewitan.             Oft ■Šs wag gebad,
rŠghar and readfah,                 rice  Šfter o■rum,
ofstondem under stormum; steap geap gedreas.
...........................................
 
Mod monade,                 myne swiftne gebrŠgd;
hwŠtred in hringas,                  hygerof gebond
weallwalan wirum                  wundrum togŠedre.
Beorht wŠeron burgrŠced,          burnsele monige,
heah horngestreon,                 heresweg micel,
meodoheall monig                    mondreama full,
o■■Št ■Št onwende,                  wyrd seo swi■e
Crungon walo wide,             cwoman woldagas
swylt eall fornom                      secgrofra wera;
wurdon hyra wigsteal               westensta■olas
brosnade burgsteall.               Betend crungon,
hergas to hrusan.    For■on ■as hofu dreorgia­
and ■aes teaforgeapa               tigelum sceade­
hrostbeages hrof.             Hryre wong gecrong
gebrocen to beorgum           ■Šr iu beorn monig
glŠdmod and goldbeorht         gleoma gefrŠtwed,
wlonc and wingal                   wighyrstum scan,
seah on sinc, on sylfor,           on searogimmas,
on ead, on Šht,                         on eorcanstan,
on ■as beorhtan burg                  bradan rices.
Stanhofu stodan,                stream hate wearp
widan wylme;                        weal eall befeng
beorhtan bosme                   ■Šr ■a ba■u wŠron,
hat on hre■re;                          ■Št wŠs hy­elic.
Leton ■onne geotan                ......................
ofer harne stan                         hate streamas
under............                          ....................
o■■Št hringmere,                      Hate..............
................                         ■Šr ■a ba■u wŠron.
...........................................

 
WrŠtlic is ■es wealstan;          wyrde gebrŠcon,
burgstede burston,       brosna­ enta geweorc.
Hrofas sind gehrorene,             hreorge torras,
hrungeat berofen,                       hrim on lime,
scearde scurbeorge           scorene, gedorene,
Aeldo undereotone.                   Eor­grop hafa­
waldendwyrhtan,          forweorone, geleorene
heard gripe hrusan,                   o■ hund cnea
wer■eoda gewitan.             Oft ■Šs wag gebad,
rŠghar and readfah,                 rice  Šfter o■rum,
ofstondem under stormum; steap geap gedreas.
...........................................
  
Mod monade,                 myne swiftne gebrŠgd;
hwŠtred in hringas,                  hygerof gebond
weallwalan wirum                  wundrum togŠedre.
Beorht wŠeron burgrŠced,          burnsele monige,
heah horngestreon,                 heresweg micel,
meodoheall monig                    mondreama full,
o■■Št ■Št onwende,                  wyrd seo swi■e
Crungon walo wide,             cwoman woldagas
swylt eall fornom                      secgrofra wera;
wurdon hyra wigsteal               westensta■olas
brosnade burgsteall.               Betend crungon,
hergas to hrusan.    For■on ■as hofu dreorgia­
and ■aes teaforgeapa               tigelum sceade­
hrostbeages hrof.             Hryre wong gecrong
gebrocen to beorgum           ■Šr iu beorn monig
glŠdmod and goldbeorht         gleoma gefrŠtwed,
wlonc and wingal                   wighyrstum scan,
seah on sinc, on sylfor,           on searogimmas,
on ead, on Šht,                         on eorcanstan,
on ■as beorhtan burg                  bradan rices.
Stanhofu stodan,                stream hate wearp
widan wylme;                        weal eall befeng
beorhtan bosme                   ■Šr ■a ba■u wŠron,
hat on hre■re;                          ■Št wŠs hy­elic.
Leton ■onne geotan                ......................
ofer harne stan                         hate streamas
under............                          ....................
o■■Št hringmere,                      Hate..............
................                         ■Šr ■a ba■u wŠron.
...........................................

The Roman Road

  	
  	The Roman Road runs straight and bare
As the pale parting-line in hair
Across the heath. And thoughtful men
Contrast its days of Now and Then,
And delve, and measure, and compare;

Visioning on the vacant air
Helmeted legionnaires, who proudly rear
The Eagle, as they pace again
The Roman Road.

But no tall brass-helmeted legionnaire
Haunts it for me. Uprises there
A mother's form upon my ken,
Guiding my infant steps, as when
We walked that ancient thoroughfare,
The Roman Road.

Thomas Hardy

I have heard of, but do not know,
Lucie-Smith, Edward (b. 1933) At the Roman Baths, Bath.

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