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.

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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

Die Störche entflohen dem Norden

Die Störche entflohen dem Norden

Die Störche entflohen dem Norden,
Und nie mehr ziehn sie zurück:
Mir ist mein Kindlein gestorben,
Und nie mehr find ich mein Glück.

Mein einziges Kind ist gestorben,
Und niemand hat es bemerkt –
Denn niemals sah es den Morgen,
Und niemand hat mich gestärkt.Two storks in a nest, standing very close together, surmounted by a triangular tree and a steep roof, in the dusk.

Mein Lächeln muß ich mir borgen,
Wenn Frühjahr die Täler doch färbt:
Mir ist es, als wär ich gestorben,
Und niemand hätt’ mich beerbt.

Mir ist es, als wär’ ich im Norden,
Auf Nebelinseln, daheim:
Der Sommer hatt’ mich umworben
Und ließ mich dann achtlos allein.

Die Störche sind immer geborgen
In Kreisen von Sonne und Wind…
Doch ich erwache in Sorgen:
Mir lachte im Traume das Kind.

Christina Egan © 2013

Nest with two storks in North African city with crumbling walls and palm trees.

This is the story of a woman who lost her only child before birth or at birth, or who never had one at all and will never have one.

This poem sounds like a folksong and could be set to music.It may also work well in a translation software.

 

Photographs: Wyk on Föhr, Germany / Marrakesh, Morocco. Christina Egan © 2014/2012.

The Man is Not in his Seat

The Man is Not in his Seat

The coffee is still on the table,
the table is still in the street,
the seat is still in the corner:
but the man is not in his seat.

Perhaps he has gone to his office,
perhaps he has gone to the park;
perhaps he’ll be back in a minute,
perhaps he’ll be back before dark.

I think he is due in the morning,
I think he is due every day;
I think we have all of us seen him
whenever the bus passed this way.

The coffee dries out on the table,
the table is still in the street,
the seat is still in the corner:
but the man is not in his seat.

A friend may have called at the café
and lead him away with a smile;
or a man in a car brought a message,
so he said: I might be a while.

Or else he will never return here
to raise his glass to the street:
The stranger who passed was an angel
to take him away from his seat.

Christina Egan © 2015

In memoriam Erdogan Güzel
Murdered in the street in Wood Green,
London, England, on 10.7.2015
Requiescat in pace

SEMPER AMEMUS

SEMPER AMEMUS
 
Ein großer lila Schmetterling
an einem feinen Silberband:
ein einfallsreiches Ornament
von unbekannter Künstlerhand,

das man vielleicht den Mauerresten
des Vorstadthauses einst entringt,
in sorgsam aufgereihten Kästen
dem Publikum zur Ansicht bringt.

Bis dahin werden Bild und Name
der Trägerin verloren sein;
nur ein verbeulter Brillenrahmen
wirft einen warmen Kupferschein,

und, rätselhaft, ein Silberring
trägt eine Inschrift auf Latein.
Die Zeitung schreibt: Der Schmetterling
mag Zeugnis einer Liebe sein.
 
Christina Egan © 2015

A woman's throat with a large butterfly pendant in silver and purple and a long blond ringlet on her dark garment.This story takes place in the future: when we are the past  unearthed, marvelled at, mused about. The inscription on the ring – which is a real item from the year 2000 AD – means ‘May we always love each other’.

Quo vadis?

Quo vadis?

Roman mosaic of bottle and cupI drank a cup of strong red wine,
and half of it I somehow spilt…
That was still in another life,
before this winding lane was built…
It was along the straight wide road,
beneath a square of bright-red tiles…
I spilt it from a bright-red cup,
and then I walked from town for miles…
I limped along the riverside,
I lay down in the damp dark fern…
I spilt my wine, I spilt my life:
one day, I shall have to return.

Christina Egan © 2015

Roman mosaic of a mansion

This story was inspired by the winding highways and the straight Roman road meeting at Tottenham, London, England.

The Latin title means ‘Where are you going?’ and may imply a reproach to someone who is trying to flee their place in life.

See also my poem By the Highway
(in German and English versions).

Roman mosaics, Bardo Museum, Tunis.
Photographs: Christina Egan © 2014

An der breiten Straße / By the Highway

An der breiten Straße

In des Stadttors Schatten steh’ ich,
Wo die Straße sich entrollt:
Und die Stadt ist nicht von Marmor
Und das Pflaster nicht von Gold.

An der breiten Straße sitz’ ich
Eine Stunde und ein Jahr:
Und ich träume, und ich hoffe,
Und ich warte immerdar.

Händler fahren ihre Waren,
Pilger ziehen aus und ein,
Gräber reihen sich allmählich:
Und ich werde selbst zu Stein.

Eines Nachts verkünden Sterne:
Gehe aus und such’ dein Glück!
Eines Tages bringst du’s hierher,
Denn die Stadt ruft dich zurück.

Christina Egan © 2015

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

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

By the Highway

In the city gate I’m standing,
Where the outbound road‘s unrolled:
And the city’s not of marble
And the pavement not of gold.

By the highway I am sitting,
First an hour, then a year:
And I’m dreaming, and I’m hoping,
And I’m waiting, sitting here.

Merchants cart their goods to market,
Pilgrims visit and go home,
Tombs line up along the highway:
Slowly, I, too, turn to stone.

Yet one night some stars announce it:
Seek your luck now, seek your track!
And one day bring back your luck here,
When the city calls you back.

Christina Egan © 2015

This poem is timeless. A similar song is part of my play The Bricks of Ur, which is set 4,000 years ago. Another story from a highway outside a Roman city is Quo vadis?.View of Roman Cologne: a large neat grid of buildings with red tiles, located on flat land by a wide river“Roman Cologne, reconstruction” by Nicolas von Kospoth via Wikimedia.

This poem or song was inspired by ancient Roman tombs along Severinstraße, the straight road leading southwards out of Cologne, Germany (left in the picture). Artistic impressions of a Cologne city gate and a highway lined by tombs are online on p. 48 and p. 28-29 of Römer Straßen Köln. When I wrote the poem, I did not know that at times, Severinstraße was known as “Lata platea” or “Breite Straße” (“Broadway”)!

Postscriptum:  This was my first post ever! Roman roads and Cologne are two of my favourite subjects; so you can link to the texts covering them directly.