In this time of lockdown, quarantine, restricted travel and isolatoin from people and places, many of us are exploring what’s on our doorstep. We’re also resorting to armchair travel to escape to our dream destinations. I’m rereading some of my favourite travel writers and searching out travel poetry that takes me to the far-flung shores of imagination.
I came across this poem ‘Consolation’ in Solo Traveler’s World collection of 16 Best Poems about Travel and Life. American Billy Collins was Poet Laureate of the United States and, in 2016, was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
During the stay-at-home confinement period necessitated by the Coronavirus pandemic beginning in March 2020, Collins, like many others in the arts, has appeared regularly on on Facebook Live offering his art to a worldwide audience, reading poems and talking about poetry
Consolation celebrates the simple pleasure of travelling closer to home, rather than jetting off to foreign destinations. Published in 1991 (I think), it has a very particular resonance in the the time of Covid-19 restrictions.
How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer,
wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hilltowns.
How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets,
fully grasping the meaning of every roadsign and billboard
and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots.
There are no abbeys here, no crumbling frescoes or famous
domes and there is no need to memorize a succession
of kings or tour the dripping corners of a dungeon.
No need to stand around a sarcophagus, see Napoleon’s
little bed on Elba, or view the bones of a saint under glass.
How much better to command the simple precinct of home
than be dwarfed by pillar, arch, and basilica.
Why hide my head in phrase books and wrinkled maps?
Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyes camera
eager to eat the world one monument at a time?
Instead of slouching in a café ignorant of the word for ice,
I will head down to the coffee shop and the waitress
known as Dot. I will slide into the flow of the morning
paper, all language barriers down,
rivers of idiom running freely, eggs over easy on the way.
And after breakfast, I will not have to find someone
willing to photograph me with my arm around the owner.
I will not puzzle over the bill or record in a journal
what I had to eat and how the sun came in the window.
It is enough to climb back into the car
as if it were the great car of English itself
and sounding my loud vernacular horn, speed off
down a road that will never lead to Rome, not even Bologna.