“Sailing to Byzantium”

A lovely poem by William Butler Yeats about one of the most interesting cities on the planet — Byzantium, which was renamed Constantinople, which is now known as Istanbul:

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.

Constantine’s “New Rome,” capital of the Byzantine emperors and then of the Ottoman sultans, controlling the north-south waterway of the Bosporus that connects the Mediterranean and the Sea of Marmara on the south to the Black Sea on the north, literally part European and part Asian, straddling the land bridge between the two continents — this is an unbelievably important and unspeakably significant place.

Beautiful mosques, with their tall and characteristically Ottoman Turkish “pencil minarets”:

Gorgeously set amidst large bodies of water:

With great shopping and great food:

Quite simply, one of my very favorite places to be.

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