The Fall of Byzantium – Part I

In the land of summer’s ever-heat,

In the city between the seas,

At the place where all the crossroads meet,

The ancients dwelt in peace.

 

Age on age they built her high,

With walls of polished stone,

They reached her towers to the sky,

And crowned her with a dome.

 

Of Byzantium the traders dreamed,

Where the streets were set with gold,

With dromons did the waters teem,

Where half the world was sold.

 

Of Grecian east and Europe’s flank,

That were her sweet estate,

The finest jewel of highest rank,

The Holy Gilded Gate.

 

But her people were now lessened,

Her walls were barely kept,

By war her men were chastened,

And her strength it feebly slept.

 

For she was old before she was born,

The city beside the foam,

Because of the name they crowned her with,

Because of that name of age and myth,

They called her a second Rome.

 

For Rome was burned long ago,

By the men of the frozen east,

Now alone did Byzantium stand,

Beyond Asia’s final strand,

At the mercy of the Beast.

 

Alone was Constantinople in the night,

Between two worlds she lay,

With foes to her left and nearest right,

Like a lions timid prey.

 

Alone did she guard the gates of the west,

With the last of Roman might,

Beyond was a host by the devil possessed,

Behind were friends that would not fight.

 

Long was the sad vigil she did keep,

While others slept in peace,

She had sailed the waters of the deep,

But all her toils came to grief,

And Greece was lost to the Greeks.

 

Long was the sad vigil she did keep,

Harsh horns in ears were rung.

For skies were black with gathering gloom,

And the hills were crowned with massing doom,

Like nightmares in a sleep.

 

As the mounted men of Constantine,

Slept beneath the loam,

So the chelandions of old Byzantine,

Sank beneath the foam.

 

And banners that blazed with the Christian sign,

Fell before the crescent moon,

To the last least men of Caesar’s line,

Death was come too soon.

 

And all the rivers the Saracens crossed,

Were turned to putrid blood,

Until all the east to Rome was lost,

As famine follows a flood.

 

A shape of former fears,

Was loosed upon the world,

A forest as of glinting spears,

With a banner all unfurled.

 

Beyond the Oxus the Turkmen came,

To Chalcedon’s ancient walls,

A lord of war and warlike fame,

With an army of his thralls.

 

And death rode among this heathen horde,

Its praise was on their lips,

And men with desert voices roared,

Of Rome’s appointed eclipse.

 

And the men of the turban and the blade,

Put all earth beneath their feet.

And Constantine he heard the drum,

And heard the massing voices hum,

The hymn of his defeat.

 

For endless aeons had Romans stood,

And held the world at bay,

The wicked world of rash red blades,

Of emerald flags and lightning raids,

When fires burn up the day.

 

But Constantine of Royal house,

He roused himself at last,

No craven man or fearful mouse,

But proud hero of the past.

 

A dream he saw before his eyes,

A passing veil of hope,

Another world neath golden skies,

His inner fire to stoke.

 

A vision that slow crept in his mind,

Of fiery dauntless deeds,

To nearest fear it made him blind,

Despair’s first chosen seeds.

 

He rallied all his men around,

With words of strength and hope,

And in their hearts did love abound,

For him of the Royal yoke.

 

They sallied out from Byzantium’s walls,

And crossed the close kept sea,

Caesar then came but for a day,

His arm in strength held the sway,

With might that swept the Turks away,

His heart was fair and free.

But Eastmen near subdued the land,

A Christless calvary:

Who spoke not of the Virgin birth,

And held the Cross as little worth,

Nor kept God of the One in Three.

 

The field he saw drank up the blood,

A crimson lake of death,

A broken coronet lying in the mud,

He beheld his final breath.

 

The vision passed away at length,

Constantine sat cold,

And though youth still had all strength,

His heart felt hard and old.

 

On his hoary throne he sat,

In deepening despair,

The clouds of war were dark and fat,

And fear was on the air.

 

In the many pillared hall,

Beneath the glittering domes,

The king sat under a darkling pall,

And dreamed of better Romes.

 

But Decius the wisest man,

Of Constantine’s fair court,

Stepped beneath the heavenly span,

And said what others ought.

 

“Little does it profit the mightiest of kings,

To know tomorrow’s way,

Of all the days that heaven brings,

Only God can ever say.

 

“For we are men of wine and bread,

We live as men reborn,

For us there are no tears to shed,

Who n’er know coming morn.

 

“So sit not here and think on death,

Oh lord of latter Rome,

Rejoice that you may still draw breath,

And see the lights of home.

 

“A blessing is this hour for all,

To choose the side of truth,

And answer the ancient sacred call,

Man denied in distant youth.

 

“For we are glad in unknown ways,

We trust to an unknown plan,

For our faith is faith for better days,

In the returning Son of Man.

 

“So if we perish by sword or arrow’s edge,

We die to rise once more,

But those who make another pledge,

Have ope’d the devil’s door.

 

“Let us rise up and fight,

For those who know not how,

And God shall gird us round with might,

As Peter on the prow.”

 

Constantine sat in amaze,

His sceptre he let slip,

With eyes all set ablaze,

But silence on his lip.

 

And Decius the priest,

Took up the gleaming rod,

And knelt before his liege,

Good servant of his God.

 

Up rose Constantine the king,

And smiled at the speaker,

Held his sceptre in the air on high,

And gave the famous battle cry,

The glorious “Stauros Nika!”

 

And the people of his heart,

Sang out the Kyrie,

And vowed to do their part,

Upon that fateful day.

 

The king went to his fragrant gardens,

And by a tree he stood,

A sorrowful tree of upturned roots,

With n’er a blossom and rotten shoots,

All cankered aged wood.

 

And courtly men they stood fast by,

And looked upon their lord,

With crooked hearts and tongues that lie,

And eyes that see the world awry,

But pieces on a board.

 

The emperor dismissed them,

With a waving of his hand,

And now by life condemned,

They fled from out the land.

 

In the purple-peacock evening,

At the dying of the light,

When the clouds were gold and dreaming,

At the onrush of the night.

 

Sat Constantine in thought,

With a wind in the west,

And the sun come to naught,

Sat Constantine at rest.

 

But Decius the wise,

Came humbly up at length,

To aid and not chastise,

But offer all his strength.

 

Constantine thus made him,

His counsel and his friend,

But asked that he would leave him,

His broken hopes to mend.

 

Upon the dusty ruddy earth,

He knelt him down to pray,

The virtuous man of noble birth,

Was prostrate in the clay.

 

Prayed he long into the night,

That final king of Rome,

He prayed then to the God of Light,

For kin and hearth and home.

 

Prayed he long into the night,

With the Holy Queen,

The one who is the Lord’s delight,

She of heaven’s gleam.

 

And the dark dead tree of iron bark,

Under which he lay,

Shot silver light from every edge,

Grew thickly like a yeoman’s hedge,

Flung down roots in violent fledge,

And filled him with dismay.

From the air the sweetest voice,

Like sunbeams on a bay;

Like a bell in some forgotten land,

Or the tune of an angelic band,

Chased all ugly fears away.

 

When all at once before him,

The Lady stood in blue,

In the dull light of the evening,

The air was changed in hue.

For the embers of the sun,

Were turned to glowing green,

And the moon on heaven’s run,

Grew pallid in her gleam.

 

Thus was the Lady in burning light,

Who stood beside the tree,

A vision of the other life,

Like a star upon the sea.

 

She smiled a smile to the king,

That sets all hearts afire,

A smile that makes the angels sing,

Like clearest blue sapphire.

 

The king his heart now floated,

Free of earthly bond,

And grew he now devoted,

To the Queen of Far Beyond.

 

“Say oh, Mother Mary,

What tale as of future things,

Like softened callings of the dove,

Softens all men’s hearts to love,

And set’s you down by heavens wings.

 

“Do I toil in vain near death?

Am I left alone by God?

Shall I stand the demon’s breath?

Or bow before his rod?”

 

A voice came down like moonlight,

Sweeter than the rose,

And spoke to Constantine the king,

Spoke of clear but secret things,

A wise man never knows.

 

Like the note of a trumpet blast,

Or the call of mountain water,

She spoke to him at length and last,

Spoke dear heaven’s daughter.

 

“Did’st thou call me down below,

To do the augurs work,

To tell thee how the seasons grow,

Or whither goes the Turk?

 

“Any man may call to me,

From out the dead of night,

And he that toils in open lands,

Who labours with his aching hands,

Is not beyond my sight.

 

“Countless little children,

Innocent as the dove,

Have seen me on the hillside,

Or in the clouds above.

 

“Yea any man may call to me,

In his great distress,

When all the world is darkened glass,

And all his years have seemed to pass,

Without his wrongs redressed.

 

“But all I tell thee is not past,

Nor in the future found,

I give thee all thy souls repast,

Like manna from the ground.

 

“The men of the sunken east,

Have fallen far away,

And they of the emerald banner,

Grow stronger by the day.

 

“All the mountains are marching in the night,

Thy sword may break at last,

I give ye naught for your delight,

For the gulf of gloom is vast.

 

“But you and yours are Christian men,

Your duty is to truth,

Or shall ye shirk to witness then,

And let the devil loose?

 

“I give thee little comfort king,

In these tidings that I tell,

Save that thou do a mighty deed,

The noblest of thy noble breed,

Who now in heaven dwell.

 

“The sky is growing red again,

The flames will climb the higher,

The final hope of Rome is near,

Who fights the flames with fire.”

 

And even as the last word died,

Upon the shining lips,

Of She that is the sweetest wind,

That guides a thousand ships.

 

There came the sound of drums afar,

Like the footfall of some hulking beast,

And the men of sallow skin and eyes,

Of charcoal beards and desert cries,

Had come to claim their feast.

 

The Virgin Queen was seen no more,

In the gardens of the king,

And all the sound of heav’nly choirs,

The silver cymbals and burnished lyres,

Was changed to battle din.

 

For the men of sallow skin and eyes,

Who lived near the Kaaba stone,

Were singing in their hundred sighs,Facebooktwitter




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