The Poetry Corner

Constantinople, March MCMXV

By Victoria Mary Sackville-West

I Queen of a double empire still she stands, And watches with superb indifferent eyes The eager wooing of Imperial hands Towards so fair and coveted a prize. Royal and imperial suitors has she known Pass one by one across her dreaming years, And some a while have climbed the golden throne, And some have passed away in blood and tears; For many emperors have sought her grace Since the first Constantine in sweeping cloak Her seven hills with broad unhurrying pace Measured, and rested not till Heaven spoke. A haughty fatalist Byzantium waits What chance the storing centuries bring forth: Another lover almost at the gates, Heralded by the cannon of the North, A Northern King to wed the Eastern Queen, An iron clasp to set the shining gem, Thrice-changed Constantinople to be seen The Jewel of a Russian diadem! II O Saint Sophia, where the footstep falls Softly beneath the roofs of burnished gold, Shields of the Caliphs hang upon thy walls, Brand of bereaved dishonour ages old. His charger raised on Christian corpses high, O ravished bride of Christianity!, Here struck Mahomet's hand as he rode by, And seared the lustre of the porphyry, And, interrupted in the sacred feast, Hearing the advent of the conqueror surge, Into the wall miraculous the priest Entered, and waits the summons to emerge. So on that high and ceremonial day When Russian Czar and prince, and Christian lord Throng Saint Sophia in their packed array To see the church's heritage restored, When from mosaics re-established saints Look down once more upon a Christian crowd, And Echo startles into life, and faints With rapture at Gregorian chanting loud, And Mass magnificently moving on Towards its climax, brings the moment near After the lapse of many centuries gone For Christ in priestly hands to reappear, When the exultant organ's chord has ceased And every head is bowed expectantly, Then at the altar the Byzantine priest Shall hold aloft the Host triumphantly!