achievement
non sibi sed toti

Classics Teaching Resources


Roman Britain - Leaving

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:

The Roman Centurion's Song by Rudyard Kipling
The Frontier by John Masefield

The Roman Centurion's Song

Roman Occupation of Britain, A.D. 300

by Rudyard Kipling
Legate, I had the news last night --my cohort ordered home
By ships to Portus Itius and thence by road to Rome.
I've marched the companies aboard, the arms are stowed below:
Now let another take my sword. Command me not to go!

I've served in Britain forty years, from Vectis to the Wall,
I have none other home than this, nor any life at all.
Last night I did not understand, but, now the hour draws near 
That calls me to my native land, I feel that land is here.

Here where men say my name was made, here where my work was done;
Here where my dearest dead are laid--my wife--my wife and son;
Here where time, custom, grief and toil, age, memory, service, love,
Have rooted me in British soil. Ah, how can I remove?

For me this land, that sea, these airs, those folk and fields suffice.
What purple Southern pomp can match our changeful Northern skies,
Black with December snows unshed or pearled with August haze--
The clanging arch of steel-grey March, or June's long-lighted days?                      

You'll follow widening Rhodanus till vine and olive lean
Aslant before the sunny breeze that sweeps Nemausus clean
To Arelate's triple gate; but let me linger on,
Here where our stiff-necked British oaks confront Euroclydon!

You'll take the old Aurelian Road through shore-descending pines
Where, blue as any peacock's neck, the Tyrrhene Ocean shines.
You'll go where laurel crowns are won, but -- will you e'er forget
The scent of hawthorn in the sun, or bracken in the wet?

Let me work here for Britain's sake -- at any task you will--
A marsh to drain, a road to make or native troops to drill.
Some Western camp (I know the Pict) or granite Border keep,
Mid seas of heather derelict, where our old messmates sleep.

Legate, I come to you in tears -- My cohort ordered home!
I've served in Britain forty years. What should I do in Rome?
Here is my heart, my soul, my mind -- the only life I know.
I cannot leave it all behind. Command me not to go!

The Frontier

by John Masefield

COTTA. LUCIUS. THEIR CHIEF.

Cotta. Would God the route would come for home.
My God! this place, day after day,
A month of heavy march from Rome 1
This camp, the troopers' huts of clay,
The horses tugging at their pins,
The roaring brook and then the whins,
And nothing new to do or say! 
LUCIUS  They say the tribes are up.
COTTA,                            Who knows !
LUCIUS. Our scouts say that they saw their fires.
COTTA. Well, if we fight it 's only blows
And bogging horses in the mires.
LUCIUS. Their raiders crossed the line last night,
Eastward from this, to raid the stud ;
They stole our old chief's stallion. Kite.
He's in pursuit.
COTTA.           That looks like blood.
LUCIUS. Well, better that than dicing here
Beside this everlasting stream.
COTTA. My God! I was in Rome last year,
Under the sun ; it seems a dream..
LUCIUS. Things are not going well in Rome;
This frontier war is wasting men
Like water, and the Tartars come
In hordes.
COTTA.    We beat them back agen.
LUCIUS So far we have, and yet I feel
The empire is too wide a bow
For one land's strength.
COTTA 		The stuff's good steel.
LUCIUS Too great a strain may snap it, though.
If we were ordered home . . .
COTTA 			Good Lord ! , . .
LUCIUS If ... then our friends, the tribesmen there,
Would have glad days.

cotta.                This town would flare
To warm old Foxfoot and his horde.
Lucius. We have not been forethoughtful here,
Pressing the men to fill the ranks;
Centurions sweep the province clear.
cotta. Rightly.
Lucius.         Perhaps.
cotta.                    We get no thanks.
Lucius. We strip the men for troops abroad,
And leave the women and the slaves
For merchants and their kind. The graves
Of half each province line the road ;
These people could not stand a day
Against the tribes, with us away.
cotta. Rightly.
Lucius.         Perhaps.
cotta.                   Here comes the Chief.
Lucius. Sir, did your riders catch the thief ?
chief. No ; he got clear and keeps the horse.
But bad news always comes with worse ;
The frontier 's fallen, we're recalled,
Our army 's broken, Rome 's appalled!
My God! the whole world 's in a blaze,
So now we've done with idle days,
Fooling on frontiers. Boot and start.
It gives a strange feel in the heart
To think that this, that Rome has made,
Is done with. Yes, the stock 's decayed.
We march at once. You mark my words ;
We're done, we're crumbled into sherds ;
We shall not see this place, again
When once we go.
Lucius.          Do none remain ?
chief. No, none ; all march. Here ends the play.
March, and burn camp. The order's gone ;
Your men have sent your baggage on.
cotta. My God! hark how the trumpets bray!
chief. They do. You see the end of things.
The power of a thousand kings
Helped us to this, and now the power
Is so much hay that was a flower.
lucius. We have been very great and strong.
chief, That's over now.
lucius.                  It will be long
Before the world will see our like
chief. We've kept these thieves beyond the dyke
A good long time, here on the Wall.
Lucius. Colonel, we ought to sound a call
To mark the end of this.
chief.                  We ought.
Look, there 's the hill-top where we fought
Old Foxfoot. Look, there on the whin.
Old ruffian knave! Come on! Fall in!

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