‘He beheld the city, and wept over it.’ Luke 19.41
We went up Mount Vesuvius by bus,
and stood on the rim of the crater
watching gases emerge from fissures.
We bought two bottles – a red and a white –
of the local wine, Lachryma Christi,
for a fellow atheist from the gift shop.
As we walked back down the fertile slopes – the sea
before us, hazy, tranquil – we heard
a cuckoo. All of Campania seemed stilled –
as if it were spring in a lost England.
When we visited the ruins of Pompeii
later we strolled wherever we wanted
unescorted, through bars, behind shop fronts,
into decorated brothels – and lounged
beside empty pools in the atria
of the houses of the very rich.
On a sunny April day – the odd sparrow
hopping and cricket chirping, with the gentlest
of winds off the Bay of Naples – among
those tidied, geometrical remains,
the end of days was unimaginable!