Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE GREEK AT CONSTANTINOPLE, by RICHARD MONCKTON MILNES

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE GREEK AT CONSTANTINOPLE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The cypresses of scutari
Last Line: "at least one more thermopylae."
Alternate Author Name(s): Houghton, 1st Baron; Houghton, Lord
Subject(s): Constantinople; Istambul; Byzantium

THE cypresses of Scutari
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 Thermopylae."

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