The Ghosts of Tempe

NOT the old Valley, but where Hadrian made
His little Hellas ; where, dark overgrown
With aged ilex now, the ruined stone
Looses memorial voice which makes a moan
When the wind rises : here the ghosts have strayed
For centuries, unhappy ghosts, that still
Mutter at twilight down the cavernous hill.
For these are they who felt the inspiring air
Of conquest thicken slowly, felt the breeze
Die from their banners and their plumes ; and these
Met their own eyes uplooking from the lees
Of glory, but laughed loud, and twined their hair
With roses, and lay listening all day long
To Greek lips fluting and to clear Greek song.
For they were fair, and how should beauty cloud
Her shining hair with ashes ? White their hands
As wan white lilies born in shadowed lands,
And red their lips as if the poppied bands
They kissed upon a sweetheart breast endowed
Their own fine tint for guerdon. How should they
Shroud their sweet limbs in armor for affray ?
And through the night, were the pale slave girls tired ?
They urged them lute on lute to mad increase
Till the homesick marbles of their stolen Greece
Sighed. And through all the vale was no surcease
Of revelry ; for villaed Tibur fired
The night with scarlet torches, too, and sang,
And clear across the trees her laughter rang.
But sometimes, did a slave girl drop her lute
In tears and jar the rhythm ? Did the flame
Of the torches cower and darken at the name
Of Hellas dead ? Did an owl cry ? Or came
A dank, unnatural wind ? They shuddered, mute,
Stilled the insisting music, rose, flung all
Their crumpled poppies down, and from the hall
Rushed out upon the hill, to find the night
Heavy with portent, and their ancient fear
Swelled cold within them : ominous they could hear
The tread of swift barbarian feet, where sheer
To the hot zenith leaped the northern light.
And some cried, “ Rome !” “Come back to Rome !” And some
Were smit with fears and sudden hatreds dumb.
Till the spell broke again, and with the morn
They laughed, and bathed their faces in the dew
Of the rose garden. Now when mists are blue,
And the straight cypresses are threaded through
With scarves of it, that company forlorn
Still weeps for Rome, and laughs and weeps in change,
To echoes of old music, faint and strange.
Maude Caldwell Perry.