Our language can be seen as an ancient city.
It should be entered from the old quarter
At its center, the easiest part to get lost in.
—It happened to many of us here, as children:
Suddenly looking up to no one you knew,
Turning the wrong way down a street like this
Into a maze of old houses, smaller streets,
Till you face, down an impasse, a cold church
Looming like a ship.
—Later, we notice less
But know more. For instance, that the front of
The Church of the Innocents, with its calm
Orders of columns, is centuries younger than
The heavy buttresses behind; that it stands
On the site of minor thermae, built around
A spring with curative virtue, now gone.
Gone, too, the marshes on whose hem
An unknown people raised a settlement
That conquerors preferred to build over
Than remove—the marshes to be claimed later,
Acre by acre, if the city were ever to grow,
As it did.
How much stone from the first
Stone buildings must still be here somewhere,
In a foundation, a cistern, a wall—
Re-using the old is always easier,
And there is so much old stonework here.
Sometimes inscriptions are found, and pondered.