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Caractacus

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2022

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Summary

Before proud Rome's imperial throne,

In mind's unconquer’d mood,

As if the triumph were his own,

The dauntless captive stood;

None, to have seen his freeborn air,

Had fancied him a prisoner there.

Though through the crowded streets of Rome,

With slow and stately tread,

Far from his own lov’d island-home

That day in triumph led,—

Unbow’d his head, unbent his knee,

Undimm’d his eye, his aspect free.

A free and fearless glance he cast

On temple, arch, and tower,

By which the long procession pass’d

Of Rome's victorious power;

And somewhat of a scornful smile

Upcurl’d his haughty lip the while.

And now he stood with brow serene

Where slaves might prostrate fall;

Bearing a Briton's manly mien

In Caesar's palace hall;

Claiming, with kindling brow and cheek,

The privilege e’en there to speak.

Nor could Rome's haughty Lord withstand

The claim that look preferr’d;

But motion’d with uplifted hand

The suppliant should be heard;

If he, indeed, a suppliant were,

Whose glance demanded audience there.

Deep stillness fell on all the crowd;

From Claudius on his throne

Down to the meanest slave that bow’d

At his imperial tone;

Silent his fellow-captives’ grief,

As fearless spoke the Island Chief.

“Think not, thou Eagle-Lord of Rome,

And master of the world,

Though vict’ry's banner o’er thy dome

In triumph now be furl’d,

I would address thee as thy slave,—

But as the bold should greet the brave.

“I might perchance, could I have deign’d

To hold a Vassal's throne,

E’en now in Britain's isle have reign’d,

A king, in name alone.—

Yet holding, as thy meek ally,

A monarch's mimic pageantry.

“Then through Rome's crowded streets, this day,

I might have rode with thee;

Not in a captive's base array,

But fetterless, and free;—

If freedom he could hope to find

Whose bondage is of heart and mind.

“But canst thou marvel that,—freeborn,

With heart and hope unquell’d,

Throne, crown, and sceptre I should scorn,

By thy permission held?

Or that I should retain my right,

’Till wrested by a conqueror's might?

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Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2020

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