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But all Etruria’s noblest
Felt their hearts sink to see On the earth the bloody corpses,
In the path the dauntless Three; And, from the ghastly entrance,
Where those bold Romans stood, All shrank, like boys who unaware, Ranging the woods to start a hare, Come to the mouth of the dark lair, Where, growling low, a fierce old bear
Lies amidst bones and blood.
Was none who would be foremost
To lead such dire attacks ;
And those before cried “ Back!”
Wavers the deep array;
Dies fitfully away.
But meanwhile axe and lever
Have manfully been plied ;
Above the boiling tide.
“ Come back, come back, Horatius ! ”
Loud cried the Fathers all, “ Back, Lartius! back, Herminius!
Back, ere, the ruin fall!”.
Back darted Spurius Lartius,
Herminius darted back: And, as they passed, beneath their feet
They felt the timbers crack.
And on the farther shore
They would have crossed once more.
But with a crash like thunder
Fell every loosened beam,
Lay right athwart the stream :
Rose from walls of Rome, As to the highest turret-tops
Was splashed the yellow foam.
And like a horse unbroken,
When first he feels the rein, The furious river struggled hard,
And tossed his tawny mane,
· And burst the curb, and bounded,
Rejoicing to be free,
Rushed headlong to the sea.
Alone stood brave Horatius,
But constant still in mind; Thrice thirty thousand foes before,
And the broad flood behind. “ Down with him!” cried false Sextus,
With a smile on his pale face. “Now yield thee,” cried Lars Porsena
“Now yield thee to our grace.”
Round turned he, as not deigning
Those craven ranks to see; Nought spake he to Lars Porsena,
To Sextus nought spake he; But he saw on Palatinus
The white porch of his home; And he spake to the noble river
That rolls by the towers of Rome :
Oh Tiber! Father Tiber!
To whom the Romans pray,
Take thou in charge this day!”
So he spake, and speaking sheathed
The good sword by his side,
Plunged headlong in the tide.
No sound of joy or sorrow
Was heard from either bank ; But friends and foes in dumb surprise, With parting lips and straining eyes,
Stood gazing where he sank ; And when above the surges
They saw his crest appear, All Rome sent forth a rapturous cry, And even the ranks of Tuscany
Could scarce forbear to cheer.
But fiercely ran the current,
Swollen high by months of rain ; And fast his blood was Howing ;
And he was sore in pain, And heavy with his armour,
And spent with changing blows : And oft they thought him sinking,
But still again he rose.
· Never, I ween did swimmer,
In such an evil case, Struggle through such a raging flood
Safe to the landing-place :
But his limbs were borne up bravely
By the brave heart within, And our good Father Tiber
Bare bravely up his chin.
“ Curse on him!” quoth false Sextus ;
“ Will not the villain drown? But for this stay, ere close of day
We should have sacked the town!” “Heaven help him!” quoth Lars Porsena,
“ And bring him safe to shore, For such a gallant feat of arms
Was never seen before.”
And now he feels the bottom ;
Now on dry earth he stands ;
To press his gory hands;
And noise of weeping loud,
Borne by the joyous crowd.
They gave him of the corn-land,
That was of public right, As much as two strong oxen
Could plough from morn till night ;