Horatius at the Bridge — Lord Macaulay (excerpt)


But the Consul’s brow was sad,
    And the Consul’s speech was low,
And darkly looked he at the wall,
    And darkly at the foe.
‘Their van will be upon us
    Before the bridge goes down;
And if they once may win the bridge,
    What hope to save the town?’


Then out spake brave Horatius,
    The Captain of the gate:
‘To every man upon this earth
    Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
    Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
    And the temples of his Gods,


‘And for the tender mother
    Who dandled him to rest,
And for the wife who nurses
    His baby at her breast,
And for the holy maidens
    Who feed the eternal flame,
To save them from false Sextus
    That wrought the deed of shame?


‘Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul,
    With all the speed ye may;
I, with two more to help me,
    Will hold the foe in play.
In yon strait path a thousand
    May well be stopped by three.
Now who will stand on either hand,
    And keep the bridge with me?’


Then out spake Spurius Lartius;
    A Ramnian proud was he:
‘Lo, I will stand at thy right hand,
    And keep the bridge with thee.’
And out spake strong Herminius;
    Of Titian blood was he:
‘I will abide on thy left side,
    And keep the bridge with thee.’


‘Horatius,’ quoth the Consul,
    ‘As thou sayest, so let it be.’
And straight against that great array
    Forth went the dauntless Three.
For Romans in Rome’s quarrel
    Spared neither land nor gold,
Nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life,
    In the brave days of old.


Then none was for a party;
    Then all were for the state;
Then the great man helped the poor,
    And the poor man loved the great:
Then lands were fairly portioned;
    Then spoils were fairly sold:
The Romans were like brothers
    In the brave days of old.


Now Roman is to Roman
    More hateful than a foe,
And the Tribunes beard the high,
    And the Fathers grind the low.
As we wax hot in faction,
    In battle we wax cold:
Wherefore men fight not as they fought
    In the brave days of old.