Victoria Mary Sackville-West

Constantinople, March MCMXV

Victoria Mary Sackville-West, Lady Nicolson, (9 March 1892 – 2 June 1962), usually known as Vita Sackville-West, was an English author and garden designer.






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!

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