Listener JB has written a beautiful poem about the final fall of Constantinople in 1453. Enjoy and let him know what you think in the comments below.
The Fall of Constantinople
Tonight is the last night the city will stand.
It has stood for one thousand years,
And in legend, it has stood long before.
Her walls, the land walls, rear high like the heads of dinosaurs,
Defiant against anything that sea, land, or space
On the plain, the beautiful sultan sits in his tent.
He is young, his face seems unmarred by battle,
Though it has seen a hundred lifetimes’ share.
He is twenty-one years old, and
At Christmastime last year, he bought a gun.
He bought it from a smith who lived in a village
On the Black Sea.
The Emperor declined to pay his fee.
And so tonight, the silence on the Marmara is ethereal.
The ghost of Achilles surfs the waves.
Even Thales has risen from his ancient grave and put aside his books
To observe this,
The end of an empire.
Almost eight centuries since Mohammed walked the earth
Almost twenty-two since the kindness of a wolfmother,
The sort of kindness that only dogs know, and can share,
Suckled two boys by a river,
And kept them as her own.
Tonight is the twenty-eighth day of the month
That is named after the daughter of the Titan
That upholds the world on his weary shoulders;
And a two thousand year old empire
Tonight shrugs and bows,
And shows to its enemies
That it has been tired, so tired, for a long time.
The mist around the Golden Horn thickens,
Pours onto the land.
She feels her end near.
When the morning comes, the beautiful sultan arises from his cushion.
He has not slept. No one has.
He summons the gunner, who tells him that the land walls
That have stood for one thousand years,
Will only take a few more shots from the great gun and that
They will not hold for one more day.
When the sun crests the horizon, he orders it loaded.
He orders it to be fired again.
He knows that on this morning, he will end an empire,
And found another whose songs will be sung for centuries.
Inside the city, the soldiers are awake. All of their family and friends are dead.
They lie in the street. There is no time to bury them.
They have seen them cut or torn apart by the
Missiles of the enemy.
Their fear is cut mercifully by wine, passed from the mouth of man to man.
A Celtic poet would say in times long future,
The breath of god is but one breath, and it is passed from person to person,
For all of time.
But tonight, and this morning, at the final fall of Rome, it is passed by flask,
From one man to the next.
The gun is fired. The Sultan saw the sun and now he knows that the end of his enemies and of the Enemies of his people is near.
The walls that have stood for one thousand years,
Now they have a hole.
It is five-thirty in the morning, and he orders his men to fill the hole.
They spill in.
The Romans, their final dawn come at last, see the Muslims spill into their city,
The Muslims are beautiful and regal in their crimson-green and leather.
It is like a dream,
The land walls turned to stones scattered upon the ground.
Today, there is only one God.
His name is War, and his prophet is called Death.
The last emperor of Rome, Constantine,
The eleventh Palaiologos,
Is an exhausted forty-eight year old man.
When he took the purple and sat the throne,
He expected administrative duties.
But on this morning, he knows, the empire is dead.
The beautiful empire, that has stood so long,
Through the boldness of Augustus,
The brutality of Pertinax,
The perversity of Nero,
And the wisdom of Aurelius.
The eleventh Palaiologos knows that it has fallen to him
To decide how the Roman Empire dies.
He sees from a distance the Muslims come, clambering over rocks.
The nightmare vision of emperors long dead,
Who would have instead gone to their bed and awaited
The cold blade on their jugular while they
Curled under silk sheets.
But this Constantine, the eleventh Palaiologos,
He laces his boots.
He takes his sword,
And he sees his men about him passing the breath of god from man to man
And he knows that it is only one breath, one flask, passed from man to man
In eternal communion
From the beginning of time.
The wall is finally down. Not even the land walls stand forever.
The Sultan’s men gather themselves in the street,
Adjusting shoulder straps, fastening gauntlets, focusing eyes,
The city they have longed for is within their grasp.
They are inside her.
The Romans stand in bafflement,
The nightmare they have seen unfolding for decades
Now stands before them in flesh and blood.
The mist of the morning
Only partially obscures their vision of
The Muslims as they take their first steps
On the streets of the new city.
The Romans stand in awe,
Not realizing until now
Their ancient enemy
Has always been.
At this moment, Constantine
Finishes lacing his boots,
And his hand grasps his sword.
He is forty-eight years old,
And nothing he has ever done
Will equal what he is about to do.
The wolfmother, Romulus, Remus, Numa,
Scipio, the Grachii,
Pompey and Antony,
Cicero, Cleopatra, and Cato,
Caesars Julius and Augustus,
Crixus, Gannicus, and Spartacus,
All of the souls who ever found their own
Soul’s web knit with the web of the
Soul of Rome,
And even Thales and Achilles, unlikely bedmates whose shades found companionship
In death, out on the waves,
They all stir from their rest to observe
In holy honor,
The end of the great empire.
The breath of god is dropped from the hand of the last man,
Transformed from breath to blood –
The blood of Christ, made so when the wine hits the dirt of the street
Of Holy Constantinople, and it
Gleams crimson in the light of the Byzantine sunrise.
His men focus on him,
They feel his courage,
The kind that only comes as a partner to Death.
The holy light of all Byzantium past and future engulfs him and he begins to run.
His men pause, but follow. They are few,
And the enemy is many;
And into the embrace of the Muslims,
They baptize themselves.
Rome ends at the moment that the sword of the eleventh Palaiologos
Strikes the breastplate of the foremost enemy.
What happens to bodies, the carnage, is banal.
What lives forever is the spirit, the memory,
The way that we remember them,
Who fought and struggled and bled,
And it belongs to the poets of ancient futures to ensure
That their profound striving
Is remembered for the brief moments that this universe continues.
The purple is marred in the dirt, bodies destroyed.
The chance of victory passed several days before.
The only choice remaining was how to die,
Gloriously, or in terror.
As the eleventh Palaiologos chooses glory, Mehmet enters the church of the Holy Wisdom,
And there the beautiful sultan transforms it, for a time,
And the holy wisdom changes forms again, having done so countless times before and
Knowing that she will do so again for endless iterations.
She will exist across universes,
And she will render the concept of eternity meaningless.