The Last Day of Pompeii...A Poem



People talked and played with friends and pets,

enjoyed the sun, let soar their pleasures high

with birds so free in flight, in song in flowered tree

that matched the joy of hearts in honeyed southern

air and light. Life was as it's thought to be.

What could contradict such view? This would be

another glorious day in paradise.


One dog, then all, began to whine, then howl

with inexplicable distress. Cooing doves

were driven from their trees in grey-white rout

of whistling wings. Roosters dissonant crowed

in chorus as if the sun were midday born.

But something far different – like Frankenstein to man –

was coming to life, manufactured by god.


The rumbling began, impatient, low,

shivering walls, trembling cup and platter

in nervous crockery nudge and chatter.

Hanging planters commenced to sway.

The rumble went away...then magnified, returned

when muscular Vesuvius flexed and boomed ---

with startled glances cast. Dishes fell

from shelves to crash and shatter on the floor.

As the volcano flared ascendant,

water in garden fountains ebbed and died,

one last living jet to heaven sent.


Blasts of sound and smoke exploded, ash and stone

blown sky-high, cascaded molten down

upon the once god-favored town, now god-rejected,

hideous in its destiny, the fair face

of its populace filled with final fear.


The volcano assault sent immensities of earth

and smoke and flame, so high, so dark,

the sky was filled with darkness,

the great sun overcome, as if flung in a sack

and thrown away. Not a glimmer remained,

no shard of light to break the blackness

of day turned night. Nothing could be seen

but blackness; the earth and Pompeii's world

were shaken to their core. People died

from darkness, drowned in air thick as dirt,

thick enough to plant a fig tree in.


They died from crushing stone, the fumes, the smoke

that had no life to give, but all to take.

All was taken. Life, love, hope, home.

All dead in attitudes grotesque, at peace;

some like sleep, some in struggle to survive,

breathe, shelter, protect their own.


But they did not die fast enough

to deny awareness of their fate.

They recoiled, reeled in shock and horror,

unbelieving; shrieked and screamed

in disbelief as much as loss and pain.

Stunned beyond imagining by fact beyond escape,

the fantasy-loving mind of man collided

head-on with reality. Who can know

that such a thing can ever come to pass

in such a world as this?


It is said the blind were fortunate

because the darkness of the eye

and death that everywhere descended,

though dark as darkest night,

was no darker than their usual day.

They did not have to see the ending

of their world as they, too, passed away.


Dire forces vast, beyond

the child-like mind of man to comprehend;

such savage devastation, the foundation

of the world, no matter how gaily apparitioned.

The citizens of Pompeii came to see,

to understand, if for one moment only,

how slight the things of man, no matter

how seeming grand. Beyond life's fairest kiss,

there is a deep, oh, such an abyss

that swallows all, contains in gentleness,

great, gulping horror and ferocity,

all that have ever lived upon the earth.


Farewell, smoke-stained, lava-burned and buried

Pompeii. Your frescoes and mosaics interred

with your agony for two thousand years,

at last revealed, that we may think on you,

and the nature of our own brief lives

(think not this was but some other ones' bad luck

that has no meaning for our destiny).

Meditate on god's strange love

-- like wrath to other eyes –

that brings such dismal end to his creation.


Think then on nature, her rich, clear sky,

the song of birds, the seeming solid, life-filmed

crust and grace of earth that masks the molten force

below that ever kills and kills us all.

Then wonder at the evil ways of man, the wounded,

seething soul that dwarfs by cruel immensity

the cauldron heat, intensity of great Vesuvius.


Our future is hidden for a time

by fair enticement, the blinded eye of man,

until the world's and our collapse. We inhabit

the unstable satellite of a fiery star; how could

we not be consumed by such intemperance?


The pork chop newly-laid in the cool, black pan

knows as much of orange-tipped flame below

as this madness of the world is known to man.


Copyright by Don Gray


Don Gray Art  •  Poems