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‘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!




© Copyright David Selzer
3 Responses
  • Ian Craine
    April 24, 2020

    We went up Vesuvius too – on foot as I recall, a King’s School trip in 1960. The thing was smoking moodily but risk management had yet to be born.

  • Elise Oliver
    April 24, 2020

    Confessions of an atheist. It was some time before I summoned the courage to actually swallow the Lachryma Christi. Unfortunately, the holy spirit was not enhanced or invoked by having been laid to rest and, contrary to the Gospel according to John, the miracle that actually incurred was that of turning water into vinegar.
    At the time, Sylvia’s evocative description of the slopes of Vesuvius being littered with empty coke cans was, per se, a vivid and enduring image of the ‘end of days’ and one which I will retain to the end of my days.

    • David Selzer
      April 24, 2020

      Sylvia and I had forgotten the coke cans. Maybe I should revise the piece in due course?

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