Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ROMAIOS, by WILLAM GAY BALLANTINE

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

ROMAIOS, by            
First Line: Twas in the crowded avenue; o'erhead
Last Line: To shine resplendent in thy future's crown!
Subject(s): Ethnic Groups - United States; Greek Language; New York City; United States - Immigration & Emigtration; Manhattan; New York, New York; The Big Apple

'Twas in the crowded avenue; o'erhead
Thundered the trains; below the pavement shook
With quivering cables; everywhere the crush
Of horses, wheels, and men eddied and swirled.
A river of humanity swept by
With faces hard as ice. I stopped beside
A little push-cart filled with southern fruits
And dickered with the huckster, "Three for five?"
"No, two," in broken English. There we stood—
He shabby, stooping, wolfish, all intent
Upon a penny, I to him no more
Than just another stranger from the throng
Trampling each other in this fierce new world.

Then looking in his sordid eyes I said,
Using the tongue of Plato and of Paul,
"Art thou a Roman?" Never magic word
Of wizard or enchanter wrought more sure.
The man erect, transfigured, eyes on fire,
Lips parted, breath drawn fast, thrust in my hands
His double handful. Huckster? No, a king!
"Could I speak Roman? Did I share it all—
The memories, the pride, the grief, the hope?"
Then welcome to the best of all he had.
Wouldst know, self-glorified American,
The name that sums the grandest heritage
Race ever owned? 'Tis "Roman" spoke in Greek;
ROMAIOS they call it. Constantine the Great,
Fixed with new capital where East meets West,
Brought Rome's imperial law, the Cross of Christ,
The art and tongue of Greece—the whole world's best;
And in that fairest spot new Christian Rome
Reigned queen a thousand years, until the Turk
Fell like a blight, and darkness shrouded all.

But still that name lives in the exiles' dreams,
All glories, Christian, Hebrew, Roman, Greek,
Blend in that one unequalled Romaios.
Abraham, Moses, Homer, Phidias,
Cæsar, Paul, Chrysostom, Justinian,
Bozzaris, Ypsilanti, Byron, all
Are his. O blessed America, these men
That come in rags, bring jewels in their hearts
To shine resplendent in thy future's crown!

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