Volcano poetry

Yes, you read that right…volcano poetry..that is to say poems about volcanoes, not poems composed by volcanoes….although I would pay good money to see Vesuvius show up at Cafe Pretentious for open-mic poetry night wearing a beret and dark glasses and erupting a little spoken-word…but…..that musing is for another day.

Volcanoes have inspired writers from antiquity, as seen in Virgil’s Aenid

Portus ab accessu uentorum immotus et ingens 570
ipse: sed horrificis iuxta tonat Aetna ruinis,
interdumque atram prorumpit ad aethera nubem
turbine fumantem piceo et candente fauilla,
attollitque globos flammarum et sidera lambit;
interdum scopulos auulsaque uiscera montis 575
erigit eructans, liquefactaque saxa sub auras
cum gemitu glomerat fundoque exaestuat imo.
fama est Enceladi semustum fulmine corpus
urgeri mole hac, ingentemque insuper Aetnam
impositam ruptis flammam exspirare caminis, 580
et fessum quotiens mutet latus, intremere omnem
murmure Trinacriam et caelum subtexere fumo.
noctem illam tecti siluis immania monstra
perferimus, nec quae sonitum det causa uidemus.
nam neque erant astrorum ignes nec lucidus aethra 585
siderea polus, obscuro sed nubila caelo,
et lunam in nimbo nox intempesta tenebat

Beautiful no doubt…IF you can read Latin. However, Virgil had the advantage of getting to write his poem in his own native language. The real challenge is to translate it into English and keep the meter without losing the fundamental gist of the text nor magnificence of the epic poem as a whole. John Dryden seems to have done a pretty good job of it in the late 17th century.

The port capacious, and secure from wind,
Is to the foot of thund’ring Aetna join’d.
By turns a pitchy cloud she rolls on high;
By turns hot embers from her entrails fly,
And flakes of mounting flames, that lick the sky.
Oft from her bowels massy rocks are thrown,
And, shiver’d by the force, come piecemeal down. Oft liquid lakes of burning sulphur flow, Fed from the fiery springs that boil below. Enceladus, they say, transfix’d by Jove, With blasted limbs came tumbling from above; And, where he fell, th’ avenging father drew This flaming hill, and on his body threw. As often as he turns his weary sides, He shakes the solid isle, and smoke the heavens hides. In shady woods we pass the tedious night,
Where bellowing sounds and groans our souls affright,
Of which no cause is offer’d to the sight;
For not one star was kindled in the sky,
Nor could the moon her borrow’d light supply;
For misty clouds involv’d the firmament,
The stars were muffled, and the moon was pent

Of course Virgil was probably not the first to create a song or poem that mentions volcanoes..and unfortunately, neither was he the last. In my ongoing quest for All-Things-Volcanoey I have stumbled across (or should I say “stepped in”) this work by Emily *ptOOey* Dickinson. (My apologies to the readers)


Volcanoes be in Sicily
And South America
I judge from my Geography
Volcanoes nearer here
A Lava step at any time
Am I inclined to climb
A Crater I may contemplate
Vesuvius at Home

*sigh* And that is not her last volcano poem, nor her worst, but we will speak of Emily Dickinson no more. That’s not what I brought you all here for.

This last poem is by a new friend of mine who I met online in a chat room dedicated to Bardarbunga. We’re all volcano-nerds and several of us, myself included, have mucked about with poetic pastiches to popular songs (yet another topic for another day), but Leslie Gompf has taken it to the next level with her tribute to Bardarbunga.

Bravo, Leslie!


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