Tuesday, August 21, 2012

John Burgon: Petra

As it is John Burgon's birthday today, I thought it appropriate to post this segment of his poem Petra.  John Burgon was an English Anglican divine who became Dean of Chichester Cathedral in 1876.  He is unique in his place in English poetry.  There are poets, as well as composers and novelists and artists and singers, who are known for one work only.  Burgon  is singular in that he is known for one line only.

The entire poem is 370 lines long, but the part that gets most frequently quoted is the last fourteen lines and is sometimes classified as a sonnet.  

Petra is a real place.  According to the Wikipedia entry , 

"Petra (Greek, petra, meaning stone;  Arabic Al-Batra is a historical and archaeological  city in the Jordanian governorate of  Ma'an that is famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system. Established possibly as early as 312 BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans, it is a symbol of Jordan as well as its most visited tourist attraction. It lies on the slope of  Mount Hor in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of  Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Arabia. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985."

There are numerous pages on the Web which feature photographs of the now abandoned city.  If you haven't seen it, I would recommend checking out some of the sites.  It is a spectacular site.  By the way, if you watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you have seen some of it for the ending of the film was shot there.  

Which line do you think is the famous line that marks John Burgon's place in literary history?

It seems no work of Man's creative hand,
by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,
match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city . . . half as old as time.

-- John Burgon --
(August 21, 1813--August 4, 1888)

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