The road before me

I know not where I go,
All I know is where I’ve been,
But the road unto morrow,
Holds hopes and sorrows unseen

So before the dawn has broken,
Before I set forth in daylight,
Before I am by alarm awoken,
I am greeted with a wondrous sight

A city upon the water floating,
Criss-crossing canals neatly arranged,
Great harbour and rich merchant boating,
Where ideas and goods are exchanged

The day is spent in museum halls,
Their walls bedecked with Old Masters,
Dulling memory of desert malls
Their perfect art to outlast us

Here they dine on fish and cheese,
Lovers they of fermentation,
Downed with beer of ten degrees,
Fine Trappist brew the libation.

‘neath neon glow with eyes wide open,
Do youths and lechers by night convene,
And in their prurient devotion,
Indulge themselves in delights obscene.

But this city burns more than red
In coffee shop and public square
Do fragrant smoky tendrils spread,
Vagrants smoking without a care

Then crossing to London vast,
Tunnel ‘neath the Channel’s breadth,
Thankful to emerge at last,
Like Poseidon from the depths

A palace grand and a tower
Bridge the old and the new,
The globe its stage, the sea its power,
Three crosses, red, white and blue

Under Saint Paul’s largest dome
The singers’ song at eventide
The evensong sung on its own
Awakens the soul of the tired

Though the sun sets upon its realm,
Still lingers long the light of eld
Lo! the ones who conn’d the helm
Ensuring our rights were upheld

Gone are the dark satanic mills
Now smothering smog yields to blue
And greening scars on the hills
Conceals the black whence empire grew

The river runs deep, inexorably,
And deep waters are never still
Coursing blood rushes within me
Of travel, I’d not my fill

So following those ancient feet east,
Past the pleasant pastures green,
I met with a peripatetic priest
Who told me of a thing he’d seen:

‘The longer a man lonely wanders
The further from home he strays,
The shallower his nightly slumbers
The harder to keep his demons at bay

For when a man roams alone too long
He finds the skies ever more grey,
So better to find yourself at home, my son,
And in the winter there remain’

I heard his words but brushed them off,
His truth I was yet to know,
And though the skies did darken some,
Every season must come and go

So onward into the world I went,
Munich, Venice, Berlin and Prague
Five thousand miles and ten weeks I spent
And never once was sleeping hard

The world about was brought within
Filling the font of my dreams
But what value when knowledge thin?
Ever more to learn, it seems

Princes, doges and sculptors all
Confide their secrets in the stones.
I searched beyond city walls tall
In the fields where bones are sown

Risen from its paper mausoleum
History is not a dusty page
Cathedral, castle and Colosseum
Monuments that transcend their age

Here history’s ink runs with blood.
A year may come when it dries
Or Europe may drown in the flood:
Who knows where the future lies?

Overcome by waves uncontrolled
The rushing river ran too wild
Too much for my eyes to behold
Too many conflicts unreconciled

Into the gloom I awaken,
Unhappy thoughts upon my mind
From dreams of battle I am shaken
By conflict of a different kind

I sit and listen to the morn,
The rush and roar of urban war,
As harsh horns herald breaking dawn
And the traffic jam outside my door

Setting myself for the day ahead,
I lace my boots and brush my hair
But now my feet feel as lead
And blue sky belies fouler air

So alone I roam the old Roman road,
Under charcoal skies solitary
Besides the ruins of antiquity
Priestly wisdom no longer mystery

Did I lonely wander too long?
And from my hearth too far stray?
I forget how long I have been gone
Or when last skies were not grey

Better soon I find myself home
Beyond museum halls and desert malls
Distant from the glories of Rome
Distant from Berlin’s graffitied walls

But the road unto morrow
Holds hopes and sorrows unseen

2016
The story of my backpacking across Europe, in verse