Prag, golden

Prag, golden

Im Meerblau des Abends,
im Windschutz der Burg
ersteigen die steilen
sandfarbnen Stufen
zwei Schatten und flüstern
und lachen und schweigen.

Schleier, besetzt
mit zahllosen Perlen,
die Büsche im Regen;
Kelche, geblasen
aus purpurnem Glas,
die berstenden Blüten.

Landschaft von Türmen,
spiegelnde Schluchten –
Bilder in Winkeln
des unruhigen Herzens,
Erinnerung an Träume,
an Heimat der Zukunft.

Reigen von Brücken,
behütet von Engeln,
von Helden der Vorzeit.
Türmende Treppen,
hängende Gärten,
Stadt ohne Alter.

Christina Egan © 2004


 My impression may work quite well in a translation software.

If you have the opportunity to visit one city only in Europe north of the Alps, let it be Prague. It is Central Europe in a nutshell. And it is enchanted…

The Czech Republic is a lovely little country anyway, with countless hills and lakes, mediaeval castles and market squares — absurdly romantic!

By the way, two other excellent destinations in Europe, other than Mediterranean, are Tallinn (Estonia) and Bruges (Belgium).

Siegeskranz

Siegeskranz

Vor fünfzehnhundert Jahren,
da hab’ ich einen Kranz
aus Lorbeer und aus Ölzweig
gelöst und eingepflanzt.

Mein einst mit dunklem Lorbeer
gekröntes goldnes Haar
blieb fortan ungefeiert
und bleichte Jahr um Jahr.

Nach sieben Sommern aber
bot meine Ölbaumschar
die  bittersüßen Früchte
mit stolzem Lächeln dar.

Und Völker schwollen, ebbten,
und Rom verging in Rauch;
doch aus dem Kreis von Zweigen
entsproß noch Strauch um Strauch.

Und Bäume blühten, dorrten
und sanken in den Staub;
doch immer wieder grünte
das zähe Ölbaumlaub.

Nach fünfzehnhundert Jahren
betret’ ich einen Hain
aus silberhellen Hölzern
und spüre: Er ist mein.

Christina Egan © 2015

Olive grove, trunks and tree-tops silvery grey, like ashes.

Someone plants an olive grove towards the end of the Roman Empire, comes back to earth fifteen hundred years later — and recognises the descendants of her or his trees, which have survived the Dark Ages and are still thriving.

The narrator had taken the original olive shoots from her (more likely, his) victory garland, for instance for a poetic contest; so they could be an image for a contribution to civilisation in late antiquity which is relevant to this day.

For an English story about the end of Rome and its afterlife, go to The City Lit Up.

Photograph: ‘Olivenbäume in Umbrien’ by Adrian Michael.

The Spirits of Nimrod

The Spirits of Nimrod

The Spirits of Nimrod
stood tall and stood fast
to guard empty castles
of empires past.

The spirits of marble
were shaken at last:
their wings broken off,
their beards ground to dust.

The proud heads of Nimrod
are curls without face,
their eloquent pedestals
frames without phrase.

Yet some still have lips
to whisper by dusk
and some stir their wings
deep under the mud.

The Spirits of Nimrod
will rise like the sun,
invincible eagles:
beware when they come!

Christina Egan © 2016

Ruins with many columns in arid, hilly land.

Invaluable buildings and sculptures of great antiquity and beauty have recently been destroyed by Daesh (so-called Islamic State). Nimrod was one place affected by those war crimes and Palmyra another.

These lines evoke the return of the gods — not as pagan deities but as statues: as witnesses of history and works of art, which we worship in our own way and will reconstruct, recreate, document, or remember.

Photograph: Diocletian’s camp in Palmyra, Syria (2010). By Bernard Gagnon (Own work) [GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

Paths from the Past

Paths from the Past

Flagstone on flagstone,
the pavement unrolls
beneath my eyes,
my resolute feet.

My steps seem to follow
irresistible tracks,
invisible traces,
uncharted faultlines.

Memory maybe
from before my birth?
Destiny maybe
beyond my death?

Flagstone on flagstone,
the story unfolds
beneath my breath,
my dexterous fingers.

Christina Egan © 2015

Straight Roman road with ruins and trees to the left and right, in the dusk

I begin the year with a Roman road for the third time round!

I do not speak of natural or magical force fields but of manmade structures; however, these are imbued with destiny, in that people were meant to build them, move along them, or return to them… perhaps even after thousands of years.

Roman road in Carthage, Tunisia. Photograph: Christina Egan © 2014

Arles im Winter

Arles im Winter

Die Fensterläden wie ein Farbenkasten,
kornblumenblau und flieder und türkis;
die goldnen Wände, die im Wind verblaßten,
die Gasse, die den kurzen Schnee verschlief.

Die Bogengänge wie bestickte Bänder,
die Krippenbilder wie ein Glockenspiel…
Und das Theater wechselnder Gewänder,
wo nie – seit Rom – der letzte Vorhang fiel.

Die weiche Luft am weiten Strom von Norden,
wo beißendkalter Wind bis eben blies,–
er wälzt sich meerwärts, kostet wohl schon morgen
Kornblumenblau und Flieder und Türkis!

Christina Egan © 2016

Lane with old houses, window shutters in various shades of turquoise and green.The Old Town of Arles is huddled together within the precincts of the Roman city, next to the vast River Rhône  and close to its mouth into the Mediterranean Sea – with the churches built of the stones of the temples and the houses built with the stones of the theatre.

Down the funnel of the river valley, there is a forceful and often icy wind, the Mistral; but there is also a mild wind from south, the Wind from the Sea, which may warm up the city in the midst of winter, so that you can sit in the Roman ruins…

Model village on steep hills as backdrop to a nativity scene

There are exhibitions of nativity scenes and figurines in all styles, even contemporary, at Saint-Trophime; in another mediaeval church, a whole side-chapel is filled with a model village with rocks and trees, running water and flickering fire, and hundreds of tiny local people.

I have written another poem on Arles and the Vent de la mer  in French and English. This one here may work quite well in a translation software.

Photographs: Arles. Christina Egan © 2011.

The City Lit Up

The City Lit Up

I lived between Ilex and Salix,
just north of Londinium Town,
and sometimes I climbed to the moss-well
between the oaks and looked down.

I looked at the thatch and the roof-tiles,
as red as the embers beneath,
I looked at the timber and marble,
the highways connecting the heath,

the gates, the walls and the broad bridge,
the fields afloat on the clay;
and I wondered if London would stretch
as vast as the valley one day,

Pond in park, surrounded by bare trees, with tiny island

as vast as Rome, which had risen
from marshes and slopes long ago,
with columns touching the heavens
because the gods willed it so;

and if Rome could ever be shrinking
and sinking into the bog,
or London be burning or flooding
and melting into the fog…

The city lit up in the sunset
and faded away in the dusk;
I felt the chill in the oak-wood,
and down to my villa I rushed.

I entered the gate by the willows
and strode through the dolphins’ yard,
I passed the flickering torches
and stopped by my forefathers’ hearth.

Roman mosaic of a mansion

My name was Appius Felix,
an heir to Aeneas of Troy;
I kept the seals and the idols
to pass them on to my boy.

I used the sword and the saddle,
I held the lyre and quill.
I lived between Ilex and Salix,
at the foot of the Moss-Well Hill.

Christina Egan © 2016


As you can see from the 100-metre-high summit of the Muswell Hill, London does stretch for many miles nowadays, filling the valley to both sides of the meandering River Thames.

You will also notice that there are large patches of green everywhere, some of them left over from ancient marshland and woodland. If you know your way, you can walk across London through woods and meadows, across hills and along rivers for miles!

My Roman observer lives in modern-day Wood Green or Bounds Green, near fictitious hamlets or villas called Ilex (holly or oak) and Salix (willow or osier).

This man firmly believes that gods guard his city and his country and that spirits guard his home and his family. He pursues some useful career in the service of the Empire, but he is also a bit of a poet.

I named him Appius after the statesman of the Republic who had contributed so much to Rome’s infrastructure as well as intellectual life, and Felix because he counts himself lucky.


 

You can find more on Londinium’s fortifications at Ode to London Wall  and more about its straight or winding highways at Quo vadis?

Photographs: Country villa, late Roman mosaic, Bardo Museum, Tunis. —  Pond in Tottenham, North London. Christina Egan © 2014

Glazed Clay

Jar, elegantly curved, with brown and blue glaze.Glazed Clay

Two mighty rivers’ ceaseless flow
beneath a high and cloudless sky;
to either side the ochre glow
of arid countries rolling by;

and here and there a golden maze,
the buildings’ cubes, the cities’ grid:
this jar with blue and brownish glaze
from Babylon still mirrors it.

Christina Egan © 2016

Mesopotamian jar (9th to 7th c. BC) Photograph: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The city and country of ‘Babylon’ were under Assyrian rule at the time the little jar was made, but I just used the name as the most familiar for all the civilisations of Mesopotamia.

For a German poem about Babylon with the Euphrates and the Hanging Gardens, see Die Hängenden Gärten.

The perfect elegance of this tiny everyday object is an example for the simple beauty I call for in Fewer Things, where you can also see a red Roman bowl.