Have you ever been to Istanbul? If you haven’t, read very carefully the following verses by the irish poet W.B. Yeats (1865-1939). They stand at beginning of The Tower (1928). Let your mind flow, remember Constantinople and Byzantium, older names for the same magical city, located on the Bosphorus Strait in the natural harbor known as the Golden Horn, in the northwest of Turkey. Its the only metropolis in the world situated on two continents, Europe (Thrace) and Asia (Anatolia). Eastern and western culture have left their signs of beauty and wisdom in this wonderful place. Let’s remember them, not those of war and folly. Istanbul is full of monuments and remains of its pagan -greek and hellenistic, roman-, christian -mainly orthodox-, islamic and turkish past.

Read the verses. They are a meditation on time and age, on beauty and wisdom. On time and on age, if adorned with beauty and wisdom. A meditation on eternity.

Admire the images too: paintings by the russian artist Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900), which show Istambul in the midst of the XIXth century.

Ivan Aivazovsky - Vista del Bósforo (wipaintings.org)

This is the poem:

Sailing to Bizantium


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 Bizantium.


O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the golden 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.

Ivan Aivazovsky - Golden Horn (wipaintings.org)

Let’s leave Bizantium for the moment. Let’s prepare a trip to Istanbul. By the way, did you know this poem of Yeats, so short and of so a transparent and simple beauty:

He wishes for the cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, beeing poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

That’s beeing a great poet.

Ivan Aivazovsky - The bay Golden Horn (wikipaintings.org)

And that’s beeing a great painter.

See you in Istanbul!