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western twilight

27 January 2010

Another night dawns.
The Moon rises, the Day dies,
Bleeding purple darkness into the sky.
I drown in that sorrowful sea,
And all my loves borrow something
From my Self–yet all such self-love
Is but pride, and vanity, and doubt.

Maybe the sun still shines in the East,
But in this Western world, the lonely City’s streets
Lead, inexorably, not to Rome,
But to waste, disgrace, and defeat;
The City no longer remembers Truth,
And Money is now the medium of Exchange;
What occidental hope of denuded Christian brotherhood
Can keep us from being estranged?

If hope there is yet to be found, while the world remains,
It lies in the sounding songs of chants composed
In the house of Holy Wisdom, under the golden domes
Of lost Byzantium;
There the chanting monks pictures on parchments draw
Proving that Being’s great chain
Is just another western delusion.

Standing at the door of the west
Looking at my despised portion
I watch the sun set below a profound horizon
And pray to find again what we all have lost:

In the gate of Saint Sophia, amid patriarchs and popes,
I saw the Emperor sitting, and the smoke of earthly hopes
went up to him as incense, and the tapers shone around
as prayers before the Emperor, sitting aureoled and crowned.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. 27 January 2010 17:03

    And yet there is a promise
    that all will be restored
    though now it is our hearts
    through which abundant grace is poured
    and the fact that we’re restricted
    doesn’t limit His great grace
    for His fingers tangle through
    the worst we manage to displace
    and by His complex presence
    we find the guarantee
    the garden lost will be redeemed
    and all His glory see.

  2. 27 January 2010 20:19

    Is this one of those times where you try to provide me with a happy (happier?) ending?

  3. 28 January 2010 14:28

    btw…those quoted last four lines are from Charles Williams’ poem “Taliessin’s Song of Byzantium.”

  4. 28 January 2010 20:17

    Well, I’m sorry. I can’t help riffing off your stuff sometimes. *laugh* I do love to end with the positive, you know. Because it is the “hope that is within us” that is compelling.

    And I knew it was a quote because of the format, though I didn’t know from whom.

  5. 29 January 2010 14:07

    See, in some ways, this reflects the same ideas (but from a different point of view) of the ‘vision of byzantium’ fragment. It isn’t a hopeless, I think as you might’ve found it on a first reading; there’s something definitely hopeless about where the speaker finds himself–but he is looking at the place where hope might yet still reside. The function of the quote is to set up the comparison (and, indeed, to end up at the same theme CW’s poem begins with) between the unique symphony of the sacred person of the Emperor in terms of the hope the speaker is looking for. There’s a sense in which the western mind, polluted by dualism, can no longer be whole–in fact, the history of modernist literature is about the loss of wholeness and the resulting fragmentation of reality. So here, for me, Byzantium represents a place that has never lost that wholeness, but is not as strange and alien as, say, something truly Oriental. Byzantium stands at the half-way point, the mean between the two extremes, where virtue and honor might still be found. And it is the hope of recovering those ideals, which the speaker knows about, but the lands wherein he lives now no longer possess, that the poem ends. In that respect, it IS a happy ending…but it is, I admit, somewhat bittersweet.

  6. 29 January 2010 21:53

    Hmm…. now that you’ve filled me in on the basic worldview backing it, I do see what you mean. That’s one of the precarious things about poetry, though it is also the part I consider its strongest point. Through eyes backed by other thoughts and intentions, the meaning is easily altered.

    I still stand by my response, though. Because hope is not afar off. Hehe…. Now I’m off to comment on your comment on my poem.

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