Friday, 31 May 2013

I Met a Traveller.....

"That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach."
Aldous Huxley

This quote appeared on my radar just after returning home from our trip to 'The Stans'. I can't remember where I saw it but it dovetails perfectly with the thoughts I had before we left home.

'I met a traveller from an antique land' has been rattling around in my brain for many years, thanks to an exercise in Kate Grenville's "The Writing Book", without me fully realising what it was or where it came from.

It seemed like it would make the perfect introduction for the journal I intended to keep on the trip. Some quick research and I discovered it comes from the poem 'Ozymandias' (by Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1818) and essentially speaks about the transient nature of leadership and the inevitable decline of leaders and their empires no matter how vast and powerful they are in their own time - a lesson that perhaps Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Adolph (or the idiot child in North Korea) to name only a few should have taken on board.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, it frequently cropped up in  the commentary on a number of our guided tours at various historical sites.

The exercise involves using each word of the borrowed text (in order) as the first word of the your next sentence - like an acrostic poem. As I explained the exercise to a fellow traveller my own brain, stimulated by recent experiences, went into overdrive and this is the result......
                                  (A couple of small paintings we bought will set the scene.)


I Met a Traveller From an Antique Land

I followed the winding paths of the caravans along the Old Silk Road.

Met with weather-wizened faces and equally curious stares we shared wide smiles and delighted both in each other and new knowledge.

A journey filled with romantic visions of handcrafted beauty, heavily-laden, gently swaying camels and tinkling silver bells.

Traveller, where do you come from? What is your name? How (old) are you? Do you want to change money?

From Ashgabat to Almaty I stood in the footsteps of Genghis Khan and pondered, 'What makes such a man?'

An era of unspeakable barbarism where civilisations were razed to the ground, yet some true wonders remained untouched.

Antique remnants of structures stand defiant and proud in the desert as the bitter winds chill me to the bones and the swirling sands around my feet rise and fill my ears, nose and mouth with the harsh truth of life.

Land echoing with ghostly footsteps and whispering voices among the rocks and deep within the singing sands.

(Hand-painted on antique silk paper.)

(It's salt, not snow.)

   (A 'traveller' I met on the days that brought the ideas crashing together.....all romantic visions of caravans were well and truly knocked out that day. )

Sue xxxx

For anyone  interested here is Shelley's poem:


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'


  1. Your "exercise" paints a wonderful picture... a series of art quilts will no doubt emerge!

    1. Many thanks - I have a head full of ideas, hopefuly something will eventuate one day.