The Duomo of Syracuse


Two English travellers walked through Syracuse,
And gazed upon the Duomo. " Strange," said one,
" To find such relic of departed times,
And such a junction of the Old and New,
The Pagan Temple and the Christian shrine.
It shocks the notions of us western men,
To find such combination in a church.
Minerva and the Virgin are not names
That people like to utter in one breath."
" Yet," said the other, " if we think awhile,
Odd as it seems, that old Minerva's fane
Should echo with the chants of Christian priests,
And that these Pagan relics should endure
So far into the middle of this age
Of printing, electricity, and steam;
These ancient pillars are but harmless stones,
That do not fructify; but in our thoughts,
Our actions, and our modes of utterance,
We have some relics that are stranger far.
Our very " Sunday " is a Pagan word,
The relic of a worship long expired.
Our " Monday " Pagan; " Tuesday " ; all the week —
We've not a single name among the seven,
That is not heathen — either Greek or Norse.
And then our months are quite as destitute
Of Christian meaning; only one of twelve,
And that in language hidden from the crowd,
Proclaims its true relation to the year —
April — the opener of the breathing spring.
The rest are either named from heathen gods,
And heathen Caesars; relics of their pride —
Or carry like September to the three
That follow to the climax of the year
A false misnumbering, on their innocent fronts,
Stamped on them by the Pagan men of Rome.
" But all our speech is tainted less or more
With the incongruous mixture: lovers still
Write, speak and think of Venus and her charms.
Cupid is more a Cupid to the mass
Of European people, young and old,
Than e'er he was to Romans or to Greeks.
Hymen's a name familiar to all ears,
And bears his torch as bravely as of yore —
While Bacchus plays a part in modern speech,
As if the English really credited
That such a being brewed their foaming malt,
Or for the French and Germans pressed the grape.
We blame the " Fates " for our calamities,
And " Fortune, " in the speech of heedless men,
Is a blind goddess, as she was of old.
'Tis scarcely twenty years since poets dropped
Their invocations to the " tuneful nine: " —
But they've learned better; and if poet now
Appealed, except in jesting, to the Muse,
The critics, daily and hebdomadal,
Monthly and quarterly, would tilt him down
And crush him for the future into prose —
Or, better still, to silence, and a trade.
" Not only these, which are but forms of words,
But Pagan thoughts and Pagan rites remain,
And Pagan superstitions without end.
Omens and auguries, Pagan every one,
Infect the popular mind. We spill the salt,
And dread calamity. The thirteenth guest
Sits at the board, and gloom but ill concealed
Dwells in each Pagan mind. The blazing coal
Flies from the grate — and lo! the gossip sees
A coffin or a purse. The piebald horse,
Or flight of magpies, or a bumpkin's path,
Becomes an augury of good or ill.
In fact, good friend, if we reflect we'll find
We're somewhat heathen through all Christendom.
Minerva's pillars, Pagan though they be,
Yet serve a Christian end in Syracuse:
We cannot say as much for Pagan words
And Pagan thoughts that linger with ourselves."
Rate this poem: 


No reviews yet.