Copyright (c) 2001 First Things 109 (January 2001): 6, 8, 17, 24.
According to Polybius
The sea route to Byzantium
Was fortunate in ways not clear
When looking at the map.
Across the Bosporus, Cyzicus
Seemed no less favored than its neighbor,
But its port was inaccessible
To boats sailing direct;
Voyagers from the Black Sea
Were swept by currents west and south
Into the harbor of Byzantium
Even when the wind held fair
For passage into Cyzicus.
A sailor from the south
Bound for Cyzicus from Greece
Or Syria was blown off course
By the prevailing winds
Directly to Byzantium.
In those times, one could not
Not sail to Byzantium.
Gossamer rain enveiling night
(Earth’s latest circuit nearly closed) just might
Mean more than weathermen surmise,
The questing man reasons as he plies
Narrow streets. Christmas being nigh,
Adorning lights fill in for stars on high
And salve the rawness in the air.
“Weather weaves a moody tale,” declares
The questing man, who in his heart compares
The spray of rain with memories grown faint,
Yet dampening the spirit with a plaint
Of longing. “The soul’s the instrument
Records the massive fronts of sentiment
Aroused when skies delight or tempests rage,
Those never forecast on the weather page.”
We’ve almost forgotten to sing the sun down:
in candle–lit vespers
where cowled troops turn out
to sing phos hilaron, serious and steady,
or at some evening sacrifice
at the edge of the world where the sea fingers in
all along the tired shore,
or in a cave subterranean
where a deacon serves amber confessionals
and gold penitentials as rock shakes the floor
or out in a clearing
where a campfire holds orbits,
or here at this table, limbs folded, eyes pillowed.
Ignored in the evening the sun may rise dog–faced,
meat teeth lacerating the flesh of all labor
indoors and out.
Put to bed with a song
it returns like the palm of a hand
running rays through the waves of the wind,
soothing the backs of old fields,
jostling new feathery growth that turns up
like a fuzz on the side of a hill.
It’s something about the darkness of the place,
when I relax a moment to decide
what makes this work so pleasing; is it the thrill
of lights trained on the tall cross, or perhaps
the colored figures in the glass? But then
the stack of staves upon the stand cries out
for study, and fingers arch again and dance,
though not gracefully at first—more like cautious
children avoiding creaky boards. Yet hidden pipes
still awake and sing—and the dark, cool room
seems full. And then I realize: it is.