The piece that prompted my current theme: an extract from
(Poem #509) The Golden Road to Samarkand
HASSAN: Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells, When shadows pass gigantic on the sand, And softly through the silence beat the bells Along the Golden Road to Samarkand. ISHAK: We travel not for trafficking alone; By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned: For lust of knowing what should not be known We take the Golden Road to Samarkand. MASTER OF THE CARAVAN: Open the gate, O watchman of the night! THE WATCHMAN: Ho, travellers, I open. For what land Leave you the dim-moon city of delight? MERCHANTS (with a shout): We take the Golden Road to Samarkand! (The Caravan passes through the gate) THE WATCHMAN (consoling the women): What would ye, ladies? It was ever thus. Men are unwise and curiously planned. A WOMAN: They have their dreams, and do not think of us. VOICES OF THE CARAVAN (in the distance singing): We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.
The theme of wanderlust may be hackneyed, but when it's expressed in phrases as beautiful as Flecker's, well, it's impossible not to be moved. Every single line of today's poem is close to perfection... indeed, at times, 'The Golden Road' approaches the lyrical heights achieved by the likes of Keats and Coleridge . The feelings of those left behind by the travellers to Samarkand are captured wonderfully well, in the poignant line - "They have their dreams, and do not think of us". Also noteworthy is Flecker's use of slightly archaic phrasing (for instance, in the Watchman's words) to convey a sense of remove (both temporal and spatial) from the present day... very nicely done. Incidentally, I find this a very Kiplingesque poem - devotees of 'Kim', especially, will know exactly what I mean. thomas.  High praise indeed. And sadly, like Keats, Flecker died tragically young - see the biographical notes below. [Bio] James Elroy Flecker, English poet, was born in London on November 5, 1884. His death in 1915 at the age of thirty was "unquestionably the greatest premature loss that English literature has suffered since the death of Keats" (Macdonald, 1924). The eldest son of the Rev. W. H. Flecker, Headmaster of Dean Close School, Flecker attended Trinity College, Oxford, and also Caius College, Cambridge, where he studied oriental languages in preparation for a consular career. From 1910 to 1913 he held a series of minor consular posts in Constantinople, Smyrna, and Beirut, and these appointments reinforced his life-long love for the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Flecker's health was not robust (he had been diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1910 shortly after he entered the consular service) and he was forced to take frequent leaves of absence from his posts, sometimes to return to England and sometimes to visit sanatoria in Switzerland. He died in Davos, Switzerland, on January 3, 1915, and is buried in Cheltenham, England, at the foot of the Cotswold Hills. His grave is marked with a granite cross inscribed with the poet's own words: "O Lord, restore his realm to the dreamer." -- [broken link] http://strong.uncg.edu/flecker.html [Moreover] This is the perfect time to share an extract from Italo Calvino's wonderful wonderful book 'Invisible Cities': "Proceeding eighty miles into the northwest wind, you reach the city of Euphemia, where the merchants of seven nations gather at every solstice and equinox. The boat that lands there with a cargo of ginger and cotton will set sail again, its hold filled with pistachio nuts and poppy seeds, and the caravan that has just unloaded sacks of nutmegs and raisins is already cramming its saddlebags with bolts of golden muslin for the return journey. But what drives men to travel up rivers and cross deserts to come here is not only the exchange of wares, which you could find, everywhere the same, in all the bazaars inside and outside the Great Khan's empire, scattered at your feet on the same yellow mats, in the shade of the same awnings protecting them from the flies, offered with the same lying reduction in prices. You do not come to Euphemia only to buy and sell, but also because at night, by the fires all around the market, seated on sacks or barrels or stretched out on piles of carpets, at each word that one man says - such as "wolf", "sister", hidden treasure", "battle", "scabies", "lovers" - the others tell, each one, his tale of wolves, sisters, treasures, scabies, lovers, battles. And you know that in the long journey ahead of you, when to keep awake against the camel's swaying or the junk's rocking, you start summoning up your memories one by one, your wolf will have become another wolf, your sister a different sister, your battle other battles, on your return from Euphemia, the city where memory is traded at every solstice and at every equinox." -- Italo Calvino About 'Invisible Cities': "This most beautiful of his books throws up ideas, allusions and breathtaking imaginative insights on almost every page. Each time he returns from his travels, Marco Polo is invited by Kublai Khan to describe the cities he has visited... although he makes Marco Polo summon up many cities for the Khan's imagination to feed on, Calvino is describing only one city in this book. Venice, that decaying heap of incomparable splendour, still stands as substantial evidence of man's ability to create something perfect out of chaos." -- Paul Bailey, Times Literary Supplement Marco Polo may have been talking about Venice, but his words fit Flecker's description of Samarkand (and the traders who journey there) (not to mention the romance of the Silk Road) almost perfectly. [On the theme] Most of our themes last only for a week or so; this time, though, I'm going to continue for as long as I can find relevant poems to run. Shouldn't be too hard a task, actually... ... meanwhile, list-member Vikram Doctor recommends "Peter Hopkirk's book 'Foreign Devils On The Silk Road'. It's about the rediscovery of the lost cities of the Silk Route in the Gobi and Takla Makan deserts in the last century by people like Aurel Stein. Along with the cities they uncovered huge amounts of book and art treasures, principally in the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas. The book is totally fascinating and a complete page turner. Hopkirk has written a series of good books on Central Asia, but this is the one I enjoyed the most." Thanks, Vik, I'll definitely try to get my hands on a copy. [Minstrels Links] THE WATCHMAN (consoling the women): What would ye, ladies? It was ever thus. Men are unwise and curiously planned. A WOMAN: They have their dreams, and do not think of us. reminds me of Kipling's 'Harp Song of the Dane Women': What is a woman that you forsake her, And the hearth-fire and the home-acre, To go with the old grey Widow-maker? of which the entirety can be found at poem #143 Another marvellous Kipling evocation of 'The Soul of all the East' is 'The Buddha at Kamakura, archived at poem #379