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        ~ Historical & Classical Poetry ~


The Gold and the Grey 

Shadows and echoes haunt my dreams with dim and subtle pain,
With the faded fire of a lost desire, like a ghost on a moonlit plain,
In the pallid mist of death-like sleep she comes again to me:
I see the gleam of her golden hair and her eyes like the deep grey sea.

We came from the North as the spume is blown when the blue tide billows down,
The kings of the South were overthrown in ruin of camp and town,
Temple and shrine we dashed to dust, and roared in the dead gods' ears;
We saw the fall of the kings of Gaul and shattered the Belgae spears.

And South we rolled like a drifting cloud, like a wind that bends the grass,
But we smote in vain on the gates of Spain for our own kin held the Pass.
Then again we turned where the watch-fires burned to mark the lines of Rome,
And fire and tower and standard sank as ships that die in foam.

The legions came, hard hawk-eyed men, war-wise in march and fray,
But we rushed like a whirlwind on their ranks and swept their lines away.
Army and consul we overthrew, staining the trampled loam;
Horror and fear like a lifted spear lay hard on the walls of Rome.

Our mad desire was a flying fire that should burn the Roman gate--
But our day of doom lay hard on us, at a toss of the dice of Fate.
There rose a man in the ranks of Rome--ill fall the cursed day!
Our German allies bit the dust and we turned hard at bay.

Over the land like a ghostly hand the mists of morning lay,
We smote their horsemen in the mist and hacked a bloody way.
We smote their horsemen in a cloud and as the mists were cleared
Right through the legion massed behind our headlong squadron sheared.

Saddle to saddle we chained our ranks for nothing of war we knew
But to charge in the old wild Celtic way--and die, or slash right through.
We left red ruin in our wake, dead men in ghastly ranks
When fresh, unwearied Roman arms smote hard upon our flanks.

Baffled and weary, red with wounds, leaguered on every side,
Chained to our doom we smote in vain, slaughtered and sank and died.
Writhing among the horses' hoofs, torn and slashed and gored,
Gripping still with a bloody hand a notched and broken sword,

I heard the war-cry growing faint, drowned by the trumpet's call,
And the roar of "Marius! Marius!" triumphant over all.
Through the bloody dust and the swirling fog as I strove in vain to rise,
I saw the last of the warriors fall and swift as a falcon flies.

The Romans rush to the barricade where the women watched the fight--
I heard the screams and I saw steel flash and naked arms toss white.
The ravisher died as he gripped his prey, by the dagger swiftly driven--
By the next stroke, with her own hand, the heart of the girl was riven.

Brown fingers gripped white wrists in vain--blood flecked the weary loam--
The Cimbri yield no virgin-slaves to glut the lords of Rome!
And I saw as I crawled like a crippled snake to slay before I died,
Unruly golden hair that tossed in high barbaric pride.

Her slim foot pressed a dead man's breast, her proud head back was thrown,
Matching the steel she held on high, her eyes in glory shone.
I saw the gleam of her golden hair and her eyes like the deep gray sea--
And the love in the gaze that sought me out, barbaric, fierce and free--
Then the dagger fell and the skies fell too and the mists closed over me.

Like phantoms into the ages lost has the Cimbrian nation passed;
Destiny shifts like summer clouds on Grecian hilltops massed.
Untold centuries glide away, Marius long is dust;
Even eternal Rome has passed in days of decay and rust.
But memories live in the ghosts of dreams and dreams still come to me,
And I see the gleam of her golden hair and her eyes like the deep grey sea.

Robert E. Howard (1906-1936)

Image: "Viking ship on the voyage to Jomsburg" by Viktor Gernhard.