Vulcan was real, alive as you were,
you and your language, long dead now.
Your town was prosperous, with its paved streets,
bars, bath-houses, brothels,
mosaics, painted walls, graffiti.
Your domestic gods too were real to you;
they had saved you before,
and when the superhuman hammer blows shook
your houses, you repaired them,
decorated in greater splendour,
erected a temple to your protectors.
But Vulcan was not appeased - years are not long
to the lord of earth and fire.
This time he struck swiftly, sending you death
from his mountain, overwhelming you
as you ran. Your garden
gave you no protection,
hot fumes choked you,
hot ash surrounded you,
sealed in your tomb as you died.
They excavated your town,
marvelled at its completeness.
In the ash that filled your garden
they found hollows,
and, filling the hollows with plaster,
found you. No, not you,
but echoes of yourselves,
like statues in a museum.
We came to see you, and after that
to the Academy, standing in awe
at David's perfect marble humanity.
But we were troubled by the others,
the uncompleted ones, the Prisoners,
their twisted limbs, hidden faces,
frozen in the act of emerging
from the stone, recalling too painfully
in their unfinished creation
your own agonised poses
as you died.
"I had seen birth and death,
but had thought they were different."
The quotation at the end is from Eliot's Journey of the Magi - see my collection "My Favourite Poetry".
For photos see - www.amusingplanet.com/2011/04/garden-of-fugitives-fossilized-victims.html
and - www.accademia.org/explore-museum/artworks/michelangelos-prisoners-slaves/