|Byzantine Art in the Church of Our Saviour at Chora
Sailing Back from Byzantium
Back home from a week in Istanbul (Byzantium/Constantinople).
The vanished Kingdom of Byzantium is best celebrated in Yeats’ beautiful poem, “Sailing to Byzantium.”
THAT is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
– Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
Byzantium of course no longer exists. It was destroyed by the Crusaders in 1204. One of them leaves an account of The Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors,
“Within the Palace, there were fully 500 halls, all connected with one another, and all made with gold mosaic. And in it were fully 30 chapels, great and small, and one called the Holy Chapel, which was so rich and noble that there was not a hinge or band that was not all of silver, and there was no column that was not of jasper or porphyry or some other precious stone.”
By the time, the crusaders left the Palace it was virtually destroyed, and the old Byzantium is now best seen in Ravenna which we visited last year, the lovely mosaics constructed by craftsmen sent from Byzantium.
And now, I am so enjoying my regular life of reading and writing and reading Scripture and praying (and other things besides). It is a bit intense, and I felt the need of a break, and the best part of travel is that it makes the life you left behind seem doubly sweet on your return.