So this is city, is it? Dug earth, its water fired to air. Rust rocks smoothed to steel, Shouldering elm, And sand for eyes.
After long travels, the final arrival in the city is always worth celebrating in writing. The Anglo-Saxon poem, ‘The Ruin’ in the Exeter Book here in Devon does just that; the writer unfamiliar with the great urban works of the Romans arrives in one of their British cities 300 years after they have left. Ruin expresses the travel writer’s understanding of the deserted urban space. Notice the two older runes, wynn and thorn. They had no equivalent Latin character when the verse below was transcribed. They do not flow with the river of half-uncials of the other letters and they stand alone. They are ‘islanded on rocks’.
In ‘City’ from my collection, Europa I try to convey the wonder of a traveller who has never seen a European city and its buildings. The travel writer makes sense of the scene using only the elements of nature. Bricks are not in the writer’s word hoard, so they appear as clay dug out of the ground, dried and baked.
I started to collect these poems to celebrate Britain confirming its European status as an EU Maastricht Treaty signatory in 1992. And to ask if it is possible to have travel poetry? Let’s finish the post with the French translation from Europa of those opening lines:
'La grande ville' C'est la ville, n'est-ce pas ? La terre creusée, son eau tirée à l'air. Les rocs de rouille lissés à l'acier, L'orme endossant, Et pour les yeux, on a le sable.