Cambodia: “Of marble men and maidens overwrought, with forest branches and the trodden weed”

Museums, I once read, are where art goes to die.  In jungles, you can watch it fall apart, smell it decay, feel the tree roots bursting through walls and wrapping themselves around the lintels.

I expect to be awed when I visit places like St. Paul’s Cathedral in London or Museo del Prado in Madrid and while I usually am, my reaction to the well-preserved architecture or a painting on a wall is less visceral than when I encountered Beng Malea, a temple two hours from Siem Riep.  Beng Malea is slowly falling to ruin.  It is certainly unsafe in some places but you are allowed to climb on it in others.

O Attic shape! fair attitude! with brede

Of marble men and maidens overwrought,

With forest  branches and the trodden weed;

Thou, silent form! dost tease us out of thought

As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!

When old age shall this generation waste,

Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe

Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,–that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

–John Keats, Ode to a Grecian Urn


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