Nicholas Michell

What ruins draw us to Vesuvius' side?
Not one gray temple, arch, or tower of pride —
A buried city meets the curious gaze,
Charms while it awes, and wraps us in amaze.
Called from the grave of dim Lethean years,
Her graceful form again Pompeii rears,
Reveals her winding streets, her frescoed walls,
Gods on her hearths, and pictures in her halls,
And wants but white-robed priest, and toga'd sage,
The mooned chariot, and the peopled stage,
Once more the town of classic times to be,
The home of taste, the pearl of Italy.
But Death and Quiet spread their pinions here,
And faintest whispers strangely strike the ear;
Halls for long ages shut from cheerful day,
Temple and bath, and narrow tomb-lined way,
Sleep in the Summer sun, while calmly spread
Soft azure skies above Vesuvius' head.
Not such that day of fear, whose records still
Wake in the musing bosom terror's thrill,
When from the shaken mountain's labouring throes,
Havoc was born, and Ruin darkly rose,
While, like another Sodom, shore and plain
Were swept by flames, and whelmed by fiery rain.
Here, with doomed Pliny, let our eye survey*
The mount's first wrath — the herald of dismay
High shoots above a sable sulphurous cloud,
Then spreads and stoops, like pine by tempests bowed;
Anon, a sound, like whir of bickering wheels,
On noonday's stifling air portentous steals;
Then louder rumblings wake the echoes round,
While a quick ceaseless tremor shakes the ground.
Gradual heaven's depths the volumed vapour fills,
The sun grows dark above the Western hills;
On thunder, drear eclipse, waits no such gloom,
E'en shrinking brutes expect some fearful doom.

The great volcano, Mount Vesuvius erupted on 24th August 79 AD, burying - and preserving for posterity - the roman resort of Pompeii

Author's Note: In the afternoon of the 24th of August, a. d. 79, Pliny the Elder, in order to obtain a nearer view of the eruption, which had just commenced, rowed from Misenum to Stabiae, and there, not many hours after he had landed, perished from suffocation.