Silchester

Poem By John Kenyon

My travels' dream and talk for many a year,
At length I view thee, hoary Silchester!
Pilgrim long vowed; now only hither led,
As with new zeal by fervent Mitford fed,
Whose voice of poesy and classic grace
Had breathed a new religion on the place.

'Scaped from the pride, the smoke, the busy hum
Of our metropolis, a later Rome,
How sweet to win one calm, uncrowded day,
Where congregated man hath passed away!

For these old city-walls, a half-league round,
Are but the girdle now of rural ground;
These stones from far-off fields, toil-gathered thence
For man's protection, but a farm's ring-fence;
The fruit of all his planning and his pain
By Nature's certain hand resumed again!

Yet eyes instructed, as along they pass,
May learn from crossing lines of stunted grass,
And stunted wheat-stems, that refuse to grow,
What intersecting causeways sleep below.
And ploughshare, deeplier delving on its path,
Will oft break in on pavement quaint or bath;
Or flax-haired little one, from neighbouring cot,
Will hap on rusted coin, she knows not what;
'Bout which, though grave collectors make great stir,
Some pretty pebble found had more contented her.

From trees that shade thine amphitheatre,
Hoarse caws the rook, and red-breast carols clear;
All silent else! nor human foot nor call
Are heard to-day within its turfy wall;
Gone—many a century since—its shouts—its shows.
Here thought may now hold commune with repose.

Yet sheds the sun no other evening glow,
Than tinged these walls two thousand years ago;
While leaves, e'en such as then in autumn fell,
Twirling adown with faint decaying smell,
Mix with the pensive thoughts of ruin well.

These walls already reared did Cæsar see?
Rose they, Stonehenge! coevally with thee,
Whose years, in prose untold or Druid-rhyme,
Still baffle thought—the riddle of old Time?
Or was it Rome first fixed to fortify
This pleasant spot? deserted when? or why?
What name, familiar to historic ear,
Ruled this hill-circled track, Proconsul here;
And master of these fields, though fair they be,
Sighed for his sunny vines beyond the Tyrrhene sea?

Within these bounds when Jove's high altar stood,
Was the oak worshipped in yon sloping wood?
And did cach creed, as creeds are wont to do,
The other scorn, and hold itself the true?

Declare, Geologist! what ancient sea
These flinty nodules fashioned, thus to be
Ruin or rock, as each—a mystery!

Thy very name a puzzle! Yet, I wis,
Seanning these flints, 'twas 'Castrum Silicis,'
My books away, I vouch not how it is;
For heavy tomes of antiquarian lore
Burden the traveller much, if reader more.

In vain for Cicerone round I seek;
Speak, ancient bulwarks! your own story speak;
Vexed heretofore by dilettanti lungs,
How often have I wished that stones had tongues!

Can He explain, stretched silent as his fold,
Perchance of Latin blood, yon shepherd old,
Himself a crumbling ruin of fourscore?
'The Romish folk, he says, dwelt here of yore;'
'Tis all he knows—the learned searce know more.
Slow I muse on, in idle question lost,
If knowledge or if mystery please the most.

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