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The Well Read Poem

Mar 15, 2021

Welcome to Season 2 of The Well Read Poem podcast. During this season, our host, classicist and poet Thomas Banks will be reading and interpreting six poems of history. This week's poem is "Constantinople" by J. C. Squire. Poem begins at timestamp 4:29.


by Sir John Collings Squire

Does the church stand I raised
Against the unchristened East?
Still do my ancient altars bear
The sacrificial feast?

My jewels are they bright,
My marbles and my paint,
Wherewith I glorified the Lord
And many a martyred Saint?

And does my dome still float
Above the Golden Horn?
And do my priests on Christmas Day
Still sing that Christ was born?


Though dust your house, Justinian,
Still stands your lordliest shrine,
But the dark men who walk therein,
Know not of bread nor wine.

They fell long since upon your stones,
And made your colours dim,
Their priests who pray on Christmas Day
They sing no Christmas hymn.

But a voice at evening goes
From every climbing tower,
Crying a word you never heard,
A name of desert power.


For seven hundred years
We gripped a weakening blade,
Keeping the gateway of the West
With none to give us aid.

Till at the last they broke
What Constantine had built,
And by the shattered wall the blood
Of Constantine was spilt.

Do men remember still
The manner of my death,
How after all those failing years
I at the last kept faith?

They know it for a bygone thing
True but indifferent,
For many a fight has come to pass
Since to the wall you went.

Westward and northward, Emperor,
Poured on that bloody brood,
Till those must turn to save themselves
Who had known not gratitude.

One fought them on the Middle Sea,
One at Vienna's gate,
And then the kings of Christendom
Watched the red tide abate.

Till in the end Byzantium
Heard a returning war;
But still a Mehmet holds your tomb ...
Keep silence ... ask no more.