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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Greece and Turkey in Europe: Vol. XIX. 1876–79.

Turkey in Europe, and the Principalities: Constantinople (Byzantium, Stamboul)

The Greek at Constantinople

By Richard Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton (1809–1885)


In stern magnificence look down

On the bright lake and stream of sea,

And glittering theatre of town:

Above the throng of rich kiosks,

Above the towers in triple tire,

Above the domes of loftiest mosques,

These pinnacles of death aspire.

It is a wilderness of tombs,—

Where white and gold and brilliant hue

Contrast with Nature’s gravest glooms,

As these again with heaven’s clear blue:

The city’s multitudinous hum,

So far, yet strikes the listening ear,—

But what are thousands to the sum

Of millions calmly sleeping here?

For here, whate’er his life’s degree,

The Muslim loves to rest at last,

Loves to recross the band of sea

That parts him from his people’s past.

’T is well to live and lord o’er those

By whom his sires were most renowned,

But his fierce heart finds best repose

In this traditionary ground.

From this funereal forest’s edge

I gave my sight full range below,

Reclining on a grassy ledge,

Itself a grave, or seeming so:

And that huge city flaunting bright,

That crowded port and busy shore,

With roofs and minarets steeped in light,

Seemed but a gaudy tomb the more.

I thought of what one might have hoped

From Greek and Roman power combined,

From strength, that with a world had coped,

Matched to the queen of human mind;—

From all the wisdom, might, and grace,

That Fancy’s gods to man had given,

Blent in one empire and one race,

By the true faith in Christ and Heaven.

The finest webs of earthly fate

Are soonest and most harshly torn;

The wise could scarce discriminate

That evening splendor from the morn:

Though we, sad students of the past,

Can trace the lurid twilight line

That lies between the first and last,

Who bore the name of Constantine.

Such were my thoughts and such the scene,

When I perceived that by me stood

A Grecian youth of earnest mien,

Well suiting my reflective mood:

And when he spoke, his words were tuned

Harmonious to my present mind,

As if his spirit had communed

With mine, while I had there reclined.

“Stranger! whose soul has strength to soar

Beyond the compass of the eye,

And on a spot like this can more

Than charms of form and hue descry,

Take off this mask of beauty,—scan

The face of things with truth severe,—

Think, as becomes a Christian man,

Of us thy Christian brethren here!

“Think of that age’s awful birth,

When Europe echoed, terror-riven,

That a new foot was on the earth,

And a new name come down from Heaven;

When over Calpe’s straits and steeps

The Moor had bridged his royal road,

And Othman’s sons from Asia’s deeps

The conquests of the Cross o’erflowed.

“Think, if the arm of Charles Martel

Had failed upon the plain of Tours,

The fate, whose course you know so well,

This foul subjection had been yours:

Where then had been the long renown

France can from sire to son deliver?

Where English freedom rolling down,

One widening, one continuous river?

“Think with what passionate delight

The tale was told in Christian halls,

How Sobieski turned to flight

The Muslim from Vienna’s walls;

How, when his horse triumphant trod

The burgher’s richest robes upon,

The ancient words rose loud,—‘From God

A man was sent whose name was John.’

“Think not that time can ever give

Prescription to such doom as ours,

That Grecian hearts can ever live

Contented serfs of barbarous powers;

More than six hundred years had past,

Since Moorish hosts could Spain o’erwhelm,

Yet Boabdil was thrust at last,

Lamenting, from Grenada’s realm.

“And if to his old Asian seat,

From this usurped unnatural throne,

The Turk is driven, ’t is surely meet

That we again should hold our own:

Be but Byzantium’s native sign

Of Cross on Crescent once unfurled,

And Greece shall guard by right divine

The portals of the Eastern world.

“Before the small Athenian band

The Persian myriads stood at bay,

The spacious East lay down unmanned

Beneath the Macedonian’s sway:

Alas! that Greek could turn on Greek,—

Fountain of all our woes and shame,—

Till men knew scarcely where to seek

The fragments of the Grecian name.

“Know ye the Romans of the North?

The fearful race whose infant strength

Stretches its arms of conquest forth,

To grasp the world in breadth and length?

They cry, ‘That ye and we are old,

And worn with luxuries and cares,

And they alone are fresh and bold,

Time’s latest and most honored heirs!

“Alas for you! alas for us!

Alas for men that think and feel,

If once beside this Bosphorus

Shall stamp Sclavonia’s frozen heel!

O, place us boldly in the van,

And ere we yield this narrow sea,

The past shall hold within its span

At least one more Thermopylæ.”