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POETRY: Aya-Sophia by Osip Mandelstam



In Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, the church, then mosque and now museum Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) still looms large.


Aya-Sophia - here the Lord Ordained
That emperors & nations should halt!
In fact your dome, a witness said,
Hangs from heaven by a chain.

All ages take their measure from Justinian:
Diana, from her shrine in Ephesus, allowed
One hundred & seven green marble pillars
To be pillaged for a foreign god.

How did your bountiful builder feel
When - with open hands & lofty spirit -
He set the apses and the chapels,
Pointing them to West & East?

A splendid temple, bathing in the world -
A festival of light from forty windows;
Under the dome, on pendentives, the four Archangels
Sailing onward, lovelier than the world.

And this sage and spherical building
Will outlive nations and their centuries.
Nor will the seraphs' resonant sobbing
Warp the dark gilt surfaces.

Osip Mandelstam [1912] translated by James Greene  

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