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

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

Ode to London Wall

Ode to London Wall

Moss is conquering your broken stones,
weeds are rooting between your bricks;
but you still stand tall, Wall,
facing the winds, the seasons, the years.

The round foundations of your towers
harbour herbs now, neatly labelled;
but your walkways bore watchmen once,
to guard the goods going round and the people.

You lie at my feet now, tall Wall,
I look down from the walkway above you;
but when I step down by two thousand years,
I see you could shelter me still or crush me.

And then I seem to remember –
we have met before, Wall –
you guarded me indeed –
and I guarded you!

On the treacherous clay we erected you,
in the obnoxious fog and sleet:
even and straight and strong as a rock,
forming a line in the marshy meadow,

forming a square along the vague river,
forming a knot in the net of roads,
from London to Chester and York,
from Paris to Sousse and Palmyra.

O Wall of soldiers and explorers,
O Wall of merchants and accountants:
yes,
you still stand tall and you talk,
you tell me to tell your story to all.

Christina Egan © 2015

High wall of neatly piled stone and brick in the midst of the city

You can see a section of the Wall of London and learn more about it in the Roman Galleries of the Museum of London. A visit there inspired me to write these lines. I talk to the stones as they talk to me; and I pass their story on.

Photograph: Roman city wall near Tower Hill Tube station,
by Mariordo (Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz).

London Wall Had Fallen Down

London Wall had fallen down,
brick by brick and stone by stone;
in the crenellation’s crown,
storks and starlings built their home.

London Wall stood in the mud,
but we fixed it brick by brick,
and we filled the wasteland up
with new lanes across the grid.

London Wall was melting down,
but we used it stone by stone;
and we built a bigger town
on the ground of proud old Rome!

Christina Egan © 2015

After the end of the Roman Empire, the Roman City of London was left uninhabited for generations, while a new city sprung up next to it; later, the original precincts became the centre again. This area is now known as ‘The City of London’, although it forms only a small part of the centre of town.

Musical score of 'London Bridge is falling down'

 

This little song alludes to the nursery rhyme London Bridge is falling down.

Le vent de la mer se lève

Le vent de la mer se lève
(Alyscamps, Arles)

Tout doux, le vent de la mer se lève
parmi les colonnes à l’aube de l’an,
dans mon esprit réjouissant
ressuscitant mon ancien rêve,
un rêve de tuiles couleurs du couchant,
un rêve de murs couleurs océan.

Le vent se renforce et lève la sève
des hauts platanes le long de la rue,
ces forts piliers du ciel du Midi…
Mais quel tombeau révèle le rêve,
lieu lumineux et réapparu ?
Ô vent de la mer, Ô vent de ma vie !

Christina Egan © 2015

Wide avenue with sarcophagi to the left and right,leading to a mediaeval portal. Winter scene in fair weather, light-brown and light-blue.

Alyscamps, Arles. Photograph:  Christina Egan © 2010

 

The Wind from the Sea is rising
(Alyscamps, Arles)

The Wind from the Sea is rising, all mild,
between the columns and graves at the dawn
of the year, stirring up in my jubilant mind
my resplendent dream of antiquity,
a dream of tiles resembling the sun,
a dream of walls resembling the sea.

The wind is now swelling and ready to rouse
the sap in the plane-trees along the wide road,
those pillars supporting the sky of the South…
Which tomb may hold my mystery of old,
the luminous place that has just reappeared?
O Wind from the Sea, O wind of my soul!

Christina Egan © 2016

Painting by van Gogh: Avenue with very high trees, with path and foliage in bright orange, sarcophagi and sky in blue.

The Roman cemetery known as the Alyscamps has been immortalised by Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent van Gogh: L’Allée des Alyscamps (1888). Photograph: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

You can read an English and German poem about a Roman road in France at Where Road and River Meet / Überm Fluß . 

Where Road and River Meet

Where Road and River Meet
(Ambrussum, France)

I hold the echo of a thousand feet,
of hob-nailed sandals and of dainty boots;
I hold the echo of a thousand wheels,
of carts and coaches and a thousand hooves.

My inside holds the echo of the waves,
the splashing of the oars, of hands and feet,
the shouts and sighs of children and of slaves:
I am the arch where road and river meet.

I have withstood the floods, withstood the storms;
of once eleven comrades, I’m the last.
I guard the memory with sturdy arms:
I’ll hold your voices, too, when you have passed.

Christina Egan © 2015

Überm Fluß
(Ambrussum, Frankreich)

Den Nachhall halte ich von tausend Schritten,
Sandalen grob und Stiefeln elegant,
den Nachhall auch von tausend Rädern, Ritten,
von Karren und von Kutschen über Land.

Mein Hohlraum widerhallt vom Wellenschlagen,
vom frischen Klatsch von Ruder, Hand und Fuß,
von Seufzer oder Ruf von Kindern, Sklaven:
Ich bin der Brückenbogen überm Fluß.

Ich widerstand den Fluten und den Stürmen;
elf Kameraden einst,nur ich blieb stehn.
Gedenken sammle ich mit starken Armen —
und eure Stimmen im Vorübergehn.

Christina Egan © 2015

Grey Roman arch on two bridge pillars between blue water and blue sky

The remaining arch of the  Pont Ambroix at Ambrussum, once part of the Via Domitia from Italy through France to Spain.


Photograph: By Clem Rutter, Rochester, Kent, via Wikimedia Commons.

I begin this year’s posts like last years’: with a Roman road !

The Pattern of a Yesterday / Golden Dell

The Pattern of a Yesterday
(Knossos, Crete)

Knossos: woman in very colourful blouse sitting in a reconstructed window of the palace, in front of the same very colourful mural shown in the other photo.

the colossal columns
of the proud pine-trees
that lofty canopy offering shelter
from the flood of sun

the black and white and blood-red pillars
in the serene maze of the palace
those patches in the pattern of a yesterday
which is millennia past

Christina Egan © 2012


Flourishes on a mural, turquoise on luminous red and yello

 

The same mural in the palace
at Knossos, Crete. 
Photograph:
Harrieta171 via Wikimedia.

For German poems about Crete,
go to the cycle Kretische Küste.
For more about Crete, see below!


Golden Dell
(Chania, Crete)

You sip your coffee in the market-square
lapped by a sky and sea which both are blue;
you notice other folk from everywhere
and read this was the Roman forum, too.

You pass a corner with a golden dell:
stairs down and down, a hundred ages’ span…
The layers blur, solidify and swell,
and history unfolds, a dazzling fan.

Christina Egan © 2015


 

The Minoan civilisation is the oldest urban civilisation in Europe. The royal palace at Knossos, dating back almost 3,500 years, has the first stone street of Europe. Chania on Crete, a city of stone even 5,000 years ago, is one of the oldest continously inhabited European settlements. You look back on 100 and more generations…

My German translation of the first poem is called gesternmuster.

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