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"A helmet of the legion, this that long and deep hath lain..." | 08-Nov-05

"A helmet of the legion, this that long and deep hath lain..."

This quote comes from a 1930s school poetry that was read at Primary School.

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Comments:

In my final years at school in the late 1950's the English teacher set the class the task of condensing a longer poem into a short one, I chose this very one which I believe was entitled: On A Roman Helmet by W H. Ogilvie. I can't remember the entire poem but the lines I used went something like this; A helmet of the legion, this that long & deep hath lain, come back to to taste the loving kiss of sun & wind again, ah! touch it with a reverent hand for, here lies within its burnished dome, the glory that was Rome!
I myself have tried to find it since in books & on the internet but can find no attribution to Ogilvie.
Lyndon Evans

Full text of 'On a Roman Helmet (Found at Newstead)' by Will Ogilvie, probably published first in a Scottish newspaper and reprinted in his "The Land we Love" now put on internet by University of California, LA

ON A ROMAN HELMET
(Found at Newstead)

A HELMET of the legion, this,
That long and deep hath lain,
Come back to taste the living kiss
Of sun and wind again.
Ah! touch it with a reverent hand,
For in its burnished dome
Lies here within this distant land
The glory that was Rome!

The tides of sixteen hundred years
Have flowed, and ebbed, and flowed,
And yet ? I see the tossing spears
Come up the Roman Road;
"While, high above the trumpets pealed,
The eagles lift and fall,
And, all unseen, the War God's shield
Floats, guardian, over all !

Who marched beneath this gilded helm?
Who wore this casque a-shine ?
A leader mighty in the realm ?
A soldier of the line ?
The proud patrician takes his rest
The spearman's bones beside,
And earth who knows their secret best
Gives this of all their pride!

With sunlight on this golden crest
Maybe some Roman guard,
Set free from duty, wandered west
Through Memory's gates unbarred;
Or climbing Eildon cleft in three,
Grown sick at heart for home,
Looked eastward to the grey North Sea
That paved the road to Rome.

Or by the queen of Border streams
That flowed his camp beneath
Long dallied with the dearer dreams
Of love as old as death,
And doffed this helm to dry lips' need,
And dipped it in the tide,
And pledged in brimming wine of Tweed
Some maid on Tiber-side.

Years pass; and Time keeps tally,
And pride takes earth for tomb,
And down the Melrose valley-
Corn grows and roses bloom;
The red suns set, the red suns rise,
The ploughs lift through the loam,
And in one earth-worn helmet lies
The majesty of Rome.
Geoffrey Roper

We had to learn this at my London grammar school in the early 1950s. I'm pretty sure that we only covered the first three verses and, amazingly, I can recall it more or less exactly the only poetry that I do remember.
Thank you Geoffrey Roper for the full text.
Larry Lewendon


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