19th Century Women's Poetry

Juliet Lewis Campbell (1823-?)

Born in in Williamsport, PA, Juliet Lewis was the daughter of a prominent lawyer and judge; her mother may have died when she was young because Juliet was sent to a female seminary and later to a French boarding school in Philadelphia. She began writing at about age 14. The Roman woman Tarpeia figured prominently in several nineteenth-century poems (see Anne Lynch Botta and Louise Imogen Guiney in Bennett and in Walker).

Tarpaeia, the daughter of Tarpeius, the keeper of the Roman capitol, agreed to betray it into the hands of the Sabines on this condition, "that she should have for her reward that which they carried upon their left arms," meaning the golden bracelets they wore upon them. The Sabines having been let in by Tarpeia, according to compact, Titus, their king, well pleased with having carried the place, yet detesting the manner in which it was done, commanded the Sabines to give the traitoress her promised reward, by throwing to her all they wore upon there left arms; and therewith, unclasping his bracelet from his left arm, he cast that, together with his shield, upon her. All the Sabines following the example of their chief, the traitoress was speedily overwhelmed with the number of bracelets and shields heaped upon her, and perished beneath them.
Unblushingly the maiden stood,--
Rome's recreant, shameless child!
While round were ranged her country's foes,
Those Sabine warriors wild.
They stood with lips all proudly curl'd,
And brows bent down in ire,
And eyes, that on the traitoress
Flash'd forth their haughty fire,
As though they'd sear her very soul
With their consuming scorn;
Such deep disdain, a noble heart
Had never brook'd or borne.
In his right hand each warrior clasp'd
His blade, all stain'd with gore,
While on his stout left arm, a shield
Of massive weight he bore;
And round that arm a bracelet bright
Was bound--of shining gold:
'T was for those gleaming bands, that Rome,
Proud boasting Rome, was sold.
All silently they stood, when hark!
Their lord and chieftain speaks:
"Ha! this is well; her just reward
From us, Tarpeia seeks.
Thy heritage--is Rome's deep hate;
Thy memory--lasting shame;
And thou hast wedded to a curse
Thy once untarnish'd name.
Thy father is the prey of worms,
His life-blood stains my blade;
Thy city is one mighty bier
On which her sons are laid.
Thy home,--earth does not hold a spot
Loathsome enough for thee,
And one long life of bitter woe,
Of torture, agony,
Were all too blissful for thy lot;
And shall I let thee live,
When anguish, such as thou should'st feel,
This world can never give?
But I have not discharged the debt
From Sabines due to thee:--
Warriors, on your left arms, you bear
The price of treachery!"
He threw to her the bribe, for which
Imperial Rome was lost,
And there upon the traitoress
His heavy shield he toss'd.
She fell beneath it, with one shriek,
One agonizing moan,
While fast the weighty shields were piled,
And golden bracelets thrown.
Buried beneath her infamy,
Crush'd 'neath her weight of guilt,
Her ignominious monument
Of her reward was built.