.

A fabled place adrift in history
Which makes the spirit ache for what was lost;
A masterpiece destroyed in mystery
Then resurrected at a crippling cost;
A priceless room of amber! A caprice
Of luxe and lavish rococo design—
Of shining tiles rich in royal lore
Which speak of vanished times. Each amber piece
Evokes grand waltzes, caviar, fine wine
As well as aching tragedy and war.

This room was gifted by the Prussian crown
To Peter, Greatest of the Russian Czars,
Who brought it to St. Petersburg. Its brown
And ochre panels gleamed like russet stars.
Its walls glowed warmth, its honey-colored stones
Like basket-straw and hazel-colored eyes,
Each finely fixed into a golden frame.
Flames of umber, bronze and agate tones
Were crafted into walls a czar would prize.
And all of Europe coveted its fame.

Through war and revolution these walls stood;
Napoleon. The Bolshevik regime.
Though Russia starved, enduring drought and flood,
The Amber Room survived—a gilded dream.
Then World War II saw bombs rain from the skies.
The amber walls were stored, the frames left bare.
As tanks approached no art was spared war’s doom.
The Nazis stole the priceless walls—a prize
They shipped to Konigsberg. The trail ends there.
And no one since has found the Amber Room.

When War was done the Allies searched the mines,
The railway tunnels, bunkers, armories;
The Amber Room was gone. The surest signs
Showed nothing left, not even one gold frieze.
But in War’s fall-out dare we mourn lost Art?
When lives and homes and nations are destroyed,
And people freeze from lack of clothes or coal?
Yes! For History extinguished cleaves the heart.
Though life and wealth are crushed into the void
It’s Culture’s death that most affronts the soul.

For Art bespeaks identity and hope.
When people are inflicted so with loss
The faith that sings through Art can help them cope.
Icons in the nave. A hand-carved cross.
Hence, Russians built a new Room, stone by stone.
The soul of beauty had to be restored!
Though life may ache with tragedy and gloom
Such ruin’s not the final word alone—
Men must rebuild what they can scarce afford,
For what is life without an Amber Room?

.

.

Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


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21 Responses

  1. Cheryl Corey

    Brian, when I saw the photo I couldn’t wait to read your poem, because – I swear to God – not too long ago I was thinking about the Amber Room. How majestic the original must have looked! If only the search would be undertaken again! I appreciate the time and thought you put into writing this poem. I like the rhymes of caprice/piece, armories/frieze. Thanks again.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you so much, Cheryl! I was fascinated by the Amber Room ever since I saw a documentary on it a few years ago. It seemed impossible to me that something so distinctive and beautiful could just disappear off the face of the Earth. I’m with you… I hope they find it!

      Reply
  2. Peter Hartley

    Brian – I’d never heard of the Amber Room before so thank you for introducing me to it. The reconstruction looks sumptuous in the photograph, and so, incidentally is your poetry. I like the way that you have contrasted the value of human life with that of the exquisite art mankind has created.

    Reply
  3. Margaret Coats

    Brian, I have my own hierarchy of words to describe excellent poems, but I wouldn’t know which to choose for this one. I’ll go for Peter’s “sumptuous” as best in at least one respect. This “Mystery” deals with glories we all admire in artistic achievement, as well as the highest human values that have become part of the Amber Room’s history. You leave nothing out. The carefully chosen color words display the beauty of the natural substance. I love them, but there are more stunning lines here, starting with the first. “Adrift in history” suggests the fascinating fable to come, and from my own point of view, tells where the original Room is now. I think the Amber Room disappeared at Konigsberg because the Germans loaded it on a ship to take back to Berlin, probably via Stettin. Ship and Room are lost at sea. That idea enables me to think of the amber as recycled in the Baltic, where it may yet be washing up on shores. Or it will come to shore in the future, as amber can stay in seafloor pits for a very long time before a fierce-enough tempest loosens it from the mud. But once loosened, it floats.

    “History extinguished cleaves the heart.” How much you say in these words! And “men must rebuild what they can scarce afford.” These lines take us beyond even the artistic and historical realms, into what is personal, familial, and spiritual. That means, of course, that your final line is still more of a gem than the first. What is life without an Amber Room? Thanks for creating this one in beautiful, memorable verse.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you, Margaret, for this magnificent comment! I’m very grateful for your input and appreciation! Do know that this piece was inspired by your poetry about amber a few months back. And thank you for the extra details about the Amber Room’s history. I’ve heard many theories and my first choice would be to see it found intact, but if that’s no longer possible I like your idea of its amber pieces washing up on the shores of the Baltic.

      Reply
  4. Jeff Eardley

    Brian, thank you for this highly readable and most informative piece. Like Peter, I had never heard of the Amber room. I guess it might be at the bottom of the sea or gracing the guest bathroom room of some oligarch.
    I really hope it turns up to enrich our lives once more. I love history in poetry and this is another gem.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much, Jeff! I’m glad I got to introduce you to an interesting subject. I very much enjoy trying to bring history alive.

      Reply
  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    Some Italian mosaics were part of the original Amber Room. I have heard that one of them is located in Germany now, and seems to have been traced to the family of one of the German soldiers who helped in the dismantling and transport of the room in 1945.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      That would make perfect sense. Knowing human nature, when the Germans were retreating it seems probable that much looting took place of the art treasures the Nazis had stolen. Stolen artworks still turn up from time to time even after all these years.

      Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much, Mike! And thank you for the article. I just read it and it’s a very good summary of the history of the Amber Room and the theories about where it might have disappeared to.

      Reply
  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Brian, your poem is exquisite and does the opulence of the subject matter every justice by bringing the Amber Room to life with lush and lavish language that sings to the ear as it speaks to the heart. I love the internal rhyme – the alliteration and assonance are smooth and melodic. I also love the form. I have thoroughly enjoyed the historic aspects of the poem and the comments, but it’s the questions your poems often pose that hold the most interest for me. The penultimate stanza is a prime example. The juxtaposition of the words frieze and freeze in making your point is a touch of genius. The fine details and effort that has gone into this admirable poem has paid off. It’s absolutely magnificent and I will be returning to read it again and again. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Susan, I’m always overjoyed to get your comments and insights! “Exquisite” makes my day! Thank you so much for your kind words about my poem. I’m especially pleased that you enjoyed my attempts at alliteration and assonance — you are so adept at these tools and I’m learning from your poetry how to enjoy the sheer deliciousness of words. I’m extremely pleased you caught the frieze/freeze usage (I did something similar earlier, too, with flame and frame.) This subject matter –dealing as it does with such meticulously shaped mosaics and the very nature of art — seemed like the right time to try to use these types of poetic details. Once again, thank you Susan!

      Reply
  7. C.B. Anderson

    I’ll have you know, Brian, that a poetic account of a historic tale is one of the hardest things to write, which is something you now must realize, because the imagination is constrained to follow a specific set of events, which can often lead to stiff, wooden lines. But you have managed to avoid that pitfall. Your lines are extremely lucid and never stilted. In other words, you are a master of the craft and should, at this point, accept nothing from yourself other than sheer perfection. I would like to dwell in such an amber room, unless I could only do so as a fossilized insect caught in the sap of some ancient tree.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much, C.B. I’m very grateful for your comment. I too would like to dwell in such a room and your mention of fossilized insects is actually quite intriguing. That in itself would make a very interesting subject for a poem!

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        Actually, Brian, i think that poem has already been written. It’s called Jurassic Park. We’ve actually had quite a bit of amber around here lately, though we are thousands of miles from the Baltic Sea.

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