On May 8, 1902, a violent volcanic eruption of Mount Pelée, in the French Caribbean territory of Martinique, killed 30,000 people and destroyed the entire city of Saint-Pierre within minutes. It has been called the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century.
The popular Egyptian poet Hafiz Ibrahim (1871 – 1932), wrote a 9-line poem in Arabic in response to the eruption, containing some moral reflections. It involves an anthropopathic depiction of the volcano, and of earth as the volcano’s mother. In light of humanity’s long history of bloodshed upon the earth, Ibrahim construes the volcanic eruption as poetic justice.
Below is my quick English translation in blank verse (anapaestic tetrameter).
In their blood did they garb thee, and then yet more blood. And on thee they played out hideous war after war. So since Cain thou hast donned human blood as a cloak, And the slayings of innocents thou hast beheld. Thou may well be excused, then, if thou art unkind, Even if thou become a great well-spring of woe. People lie, the volcano has not done us wrong, By its spitting out lava and ash in the air. Nay, his mother it is that they have distressed, So he showed them a little of her hidden disgust. For how long have they angered her yet she kept calm, Until finally she gave them their just deserts. O ye people, if this be the anger of Earth, Then imagine how great shall be Heaven's own wrath. Yea be sure, up above there's for justice a stage, And on earth, too has judgment concealed well its snares. So be wary of the earth, and of Heaven as well, And beware ye of Hell on the ground and in space.
– Suheil Laher
PHOTO CREDIT: New York Public Libraries Digital Collections, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/5e66b3e8-70a6-d471-e040-e00a180654d7