"Last Day of Pompeii," Karl Bryullov, 1833, WikiArt photo.
“Last Day of Pompeii,” Karl Bryullov, 1833, WikiArt photo.

Paulus:
My family survived first eruptions of Vesuvius,
Protection of granite arches, fortunate ones,
Faithful to the gods, praying as fire and cloud
Reigned the night, columns toppling, burning
Homes and villas regardless of wealth, rank,
Or sworn allegiance to Emperor Titus Flavius
Vespasianus, Pompeii, year A.D. 79.
 

Vestal Chorus:
O! Ancient kindlers, sacred flame immemorial,
Realm of earth, element of fire, holy hearth of
Blesséd goddess Vesta, divine protector of Rome
And home hearths, quell fire beneath the earth,
Protect House of Paulus, faithful in deadly fires,
Searing ash, refuge of vaulted stone, sins purged,
Prayers to blessed virgin of temple flames.

Paulus:
Huddled in center of our villa, to Vulcan and
Vesta we prayed, to save Antronia and our child,
Julia, I cared not for myself, walls crumbling,
Victims of choking ash collapsing in the streets.
“Vesta, save my family, that we endure horrific
Night,” I prayed aloud amidst panic of quaking
Earth, fiery rock crushing bodies and souls.
 

Vestal Chorus:
O! Holy sepulture, transforming crucible of heat
And flame, bones ash-caked, flesh malleable as
Clay, offerings of first-fruits, hearths swept clean,
Mercurial fire-rites, all things old consumed in
Transforming flames, “Garden of Fugitives,”
Faith and fertility, husband’s seed, creation of
Thy mother’s womb, chaste adolescent daughter.
 

Vesta and Paulus:
“Paulus, death is unavoidable,” Vesta replied.
“Yet, gods decreed that you endure in forms
They decide.” As fiery clouds engulfed us, I
Agreed, muttering thanks. “For centuries you
Will sleep,” were last words Vesta spoke, pain
Of metamorphoses from living flesh and bone
To casts of ash and pumice.
 

"Garden of Fugitives" Pompeii victims, 79 A.D., Wikipedia photo.
“Garden of Fugitives” Pompeii victims, 79 A.D., Wikipedia photo.

Vestal Chorus:
O! Depths of time and silence House of Paulus
Endured, Pompeii buried, Vesuvius wrath and
Heart beats quelled, decades passed as running
Streams, first glimmer of daylight, rapping tools,
Bodies unearthed, three brands with life kindling,
Mysterious and sacred, souls dwelling in furnace-
Fired vessels, existing between life and death.
 

Paulus:
As many others, we were buried deep in burning
Ash, father, daughter, wife, three immortal souls
Bound by loyalty and love to each other and to
Gods, to breathe sweet air again, family resurrected,
Three body casts crumbled, we arose anew, living
Amongst olive groves and wheat fields, villa we
Returned in shadow of Mount Vesuvius.

This poem includes chorus stanzas. Lines for “Paulus” are more
narrative, where those for “Vestal Chorus” are more lyrical, relating
insight on Pompeii destruction and ancient traditions of Vesta.

For more on preservation of Pompeii body casts,
see “Mail Online” news article.

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