Cycling the Appian Way | Maggie Butt


    Our wheels bump-and-jar on the flatblack stones

    which once vibrated to the drubbing feet

    of legionnaires, leaving forum and family behind,

    marching south in the scent of pine-and-thyme

    to unknown battles, glory-and-gore,

    past Seneca’s marbled monument,

    How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live!


    Bouncers guard the gates of swanky villas

    as wedding guests judder past in blackedout

    cars, oversized as their self-importance,

    Look at those whose prosperity men flock to behold;

    they are smothered by their blessings,

    forcing us to the edge-of-the-road, like housemaids

    in a manor house turning their faces to the wall.


    We wait in the shade of umbrella pines as they joltpast,

    ruining their suspension, sweeping up drives

    towards cocktails-and-cocaine, the parry-and-thrust

    of their egos. It is not that we have a short space of time,

    but that we waste much of it.


    We cycle on, creating our own breeze,

    the sun licking tawny stripes across the cobbles;

    past empty tombs, flayed of their marble-skins

    hollowed of their human-hearts,

    You do not seize it, you neither hold it back,

    nor impose delay upon the swiftest thing in the world,

    but you allow it to slip away.


    Thin Roman bricks, baked on a day like today

    by sweatingslaves, burning limestone

    for cement. And someone, shattered

    apart by grief for that one irreplaceable soul

    who used to hold his head justso, and say,

    Life is long enough…

                        if the whole of it is well invested

    who liked to stroll the Via Appia at sunset,

    who would have nodded approval as we passed.



    (Quotes from Seneca, “On the Shortness of Life’

    translated by John W. Basore, 1932)

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