THE LAST TOKEN
W. A. Eaton & Bond Andrews (1898)
A holiday in Rome - the azure sky
Was all unflecked by the clouds as if the eye
Of the Eternal looked from Heaven's high dome
On the great city, proud, Imperial Rome!
The Coliseum was crowded, row on row
A sea of human faces all aglow
With mad excitement for the day would be
A rare occasion of wild revelry.
For there were gladiator fights and shows
Of manly strength and as a fitting close
To the diversions of that joyous time
A band of Christians, whose most heinous crime
Was preaching a new doctrine, were to be
Thrown to the lions that all the crowd might see
How little the strange God, to whom they prayed,
Cared if his followers were stoned or flayed.
The sports are over and the setting sun
Is hurrying towards the West as if to shun
The sickening sight. A sudden hush upon the people fell,
And then uprose a fierce and savage yell.
See where they come, that faithful little band,
Chanting a hymn about their Fatherland:
The Heaven of which they speak with so much joy,
That home of happiness without alloy!
See yonder maiden with the saint-like face
And form of beauty, full of fire and grace,
She lifts her head as if she were a queen.
No trace of fear in her actions seen.
Now come the lions growling with rage,
Hungry and glad to leave their tight-barred cage.
See yonder royal beast with flowing mane
Lashing his side and roaring with disdain,
Gazing around upon the yelling crowd,
Answering their shouts by growlings long and loud.
The maiden stands as statue-like as death,
The crowd in terror gaze with bated breath.
While as she stands, there falls just by her feet
A lovely rose, still filled with perfume sweet.
Upward she gazes with wide-open eyes,
Ah well she knows who flung the dainty prize.
'Tis he, her lover, who had vainly tried
To win her from the faith for which she died.
He worshipped Venus, Bacchus, and the train
Of heathen gods who do their votaries chain
To sinful pleasures, making virtue nought.
She was a Christian, and had often sought
To stir his heart with love of Him who died,
But he had laughed at her most earnest prayer,
And tossed a goblet in the sunny air,
And said `We live and die, then take our fill
Of pleasure now, and let them groan that will.
Why should we waste our youth in solemn fast,
If we are buried just like dogs at last?
Nay, drive this Christian nonsense from your head
And be my own, and then when we are wed
We will worship Venus and the God of Love.
Give me your hand, say Yes, my gentle dove.'
And as she told him she must confess
Her faith in Christ though martyrdom no less
Was the reward of all who worshipped Him,
Of all who dared to chant their holy hymn.
And now she was to prove her faith by death.
The lions were close, she almost felt their breath
Upon her cheek. She stood with anguish dumb,
And strained her eyes to see if he had come
To watch her die. The rose had fallen there,
She stooped and placed it in her raven hair.
Then looked again and saw her lover's face,
And arms held down as if he would embrace
Her even now. A moment, and she turned
From her set purpose. Then new ardour burned
Within her breast and she stood proud and calm,
As if she knew the lions could do no harm.
And then uprose the Christians' holy hymn.
The sickening sight now makes the senses swim.
And we will draw a veil o'er the sad scene.
Night in the Coliseum - the crowd has gone -
One being wanders in that scene forlorn.
He stands upon the place where she had died.
And breathes the name of Christ the crucified.
And stooping down, among the martyred dead,
He finds a rose now dyed a deeper red.
Some fragments of a dress he knew was hers,
He places in his breast and new life stirs
Within his heart, and as he leaves the place
With head bowed low, with slow and solemn pace.
He softly murmurs as he homeward goes:
`Jesus, be Thou my guide till life shall close.'
But was he coward? Did he hide away?
Not many weeks, on a great festal day,
Another band of Christians stood to die,
Lifting their glorious hymn of triumph high.
Where she had stood he boldly takes his stand,
A withered rose clasped in his strong right hand.
I encourage you if you never have to read Foxe's book of martyrs. Even just the first few pages will give you a greater appreciation for the sacrifice that went on before us.
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