PLAKA

This verse commemorates one of those totally inexplicable experiences which are rare indeed. I mean, an overwhelming feeling, amounting almost to a conviction, that an event actually did happen which defies all logic and strains credulity to the limit.

This one came about on our first visit to Athens. We'd been advised that the Athens of the early nineteenth century contained about as many inhabitants as today's Worcestershire village where we lived at the time, and consisted almost entirely of the district called Plaka which clusters around the foot of the Acropolis.

We had chosen a bed-and-breakfast hotel only a modest stone's throw from the top of Adrianou, the street which runs through the centre of Plaka, and set off to explore the area after breakfast on the first morning.

It was as we turned the corner of a square near the top of Plaka into Adrianou that I had an astonishing feeling of familiarity with a setting which I knew I had never seen before. It was almost as though I knew what was round the next corner.

The feeling haunted me throughout the few days we were there, grew dim over the following year or two until it was almost forgotten, and then returned - in the same spot on the same corner - with even greater force on our next visit to Athens .

The experience brought vividly to mind another very real experience that I had had some years earlier during a visit to my birthplace in the suburb of Grimesthorpe in Sheffield, a place near to the steelworks which then gave Sheffield its industrial traditions.

It is not a pleasant experience to find that the place in which one was born has been bulldozed out of existence.

Hence this verse . . .

PLAKA

I thought to live again my childhood days;
To see once more the place where I was born.
Nothing remained of those time-hallowed ways;
I stood like Ruth amid the alien corn,
With new-laid concrete now beneath my feet.
No squalling children, thin and poorly-clad,
No hopscotch paving, no rough-cobbled street,
Sad railings fronting houses just as sad.
A board proclaimed 'Industrial Estate',
Adding to grievous loss a burning hate.

Years afterward, I trod another street,
A street I knew I had not seen before
And might not see again this side the tomb,
Yet most familiar and, remembered, sweet,
A joy recalled, to make my spirit soar
As Athens said to me, 'Child, welcome home !'

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