Posted by: John Looker | 5 April, 2011


Here is the last poem in the series about Constantinople/ Byzantium/ Istanbul:


Through the tower with its oriental arch,
through the turnstiles, to the first enclosure,
clutching our phones and cans of drink, we’re each
an idle chattering sightseer.

We snigger as we trip through the narrow realm
where eunochs spent their regimented lives,
and rush the state apartments to get to rooms
where concubines pretended love.

Can’t we hear – among the exquisite tiles –
echoes of the women talking: the latest ruse
to pass the time, rumours of change, and tales
of a rival’s fall … another’s rise?

Can’t we see – seated on low divans
around the throne or brought together for meals –
the men of power in convoluted debate:
their slow speech, their quick minds?

Now, from one of the gardens we find a view
down to the waters of the Golden Horn – afloat
with tankers, ferries, every yacht in vogue
and (really?) the rigging of the Ottoman fleet.


© JohnStevens 2011


  1. great John! today’s men of “power” are slow if mind and quick if speech. I enjoyed imagining the waters as they must have been during ottomans reign.


    • Many thanks Fred. As you can see, I found the place inspirational – but I’ve worked the theme out of my system now (just as well I guess!)


  2. This is beautiful John,

    I was right there with you enjoying every moment in the reality and in the imagination.

    You capture so well the voyeur and the gossip in us all 🙂

    Nothing really changes


    • Thanks a lot David. I suppose society and culture change but the underlying human passions and fears go on from epoch to epoch. Well, that’s more or less what I had in mind!


  3. The last part…congratulations. That touristy perspective, it holds—while probing behind the surfaces, with subtly and style. Very nice. I confess part of me likes it and part of me does not. At some point I would like to see the applecart upturned and that doesn’t quite happen. What does happen? We clutch, we chat, we’re idle, we snigger, we can’t hear, we can’t see…finally, finally, we find a view ‘of tankers, ferries’—pretty definite here—of every yacht in vogue—I see rich people idle, sitting on decks in the sun—or are the rich people someplace else, their yachts moored and empty? And finally… ‘and (really?) the rigging of the Ottoman fleet.’ Hey, maybe that applecart does get upturned… ‘cause (really) that last line is worth the price of admission, open ended and originating from some place outside the poem we’re in. A great place to end.
    Come on. Let’s go back to the hotel. I’ve still got some of that muscatel in my suitcase.


    • Thanks Jim. I’ll accept that glass of wine – but I’ll also reimburse your price of admission because that last line owes something to you. I had a lot of trouble with the ending, and for a long time it was more upbeat and clunking, but I pondered your remark about restraint and struggled through different revisions to this one. So thank you – it shows the benefits of criticism.


  4. This is great, John, with your trademark atmosphere and precisely-observed details. The image of the tourists ‘clutching phones and cans of drink’ in this ancient place is a powerful one; I always wonder at those who spend their entire trip looking through the viewfinder of a camcorder, seeing only a digitised picture, and missing the real thing. I love the plea in your ‘Can’t we hear…can’t we see’ – the cry of every true poet, I suspect. A fitting end to a fine series.


    • Many thanks Nick. I suspect I was helped along the way on this trip by the sad fact that my own camera broke on the first morning so I had to use my eyes and ears!!


  5. Some places just seem to be waiting for poets like you 🙂 You brought Topkapi as it was (must have been) back to life.


    • You are very generous Ina! Topkapi is an impressive place despite the thousands of tourists crowding around (like me!).


  6. enjoyed your word flow..
    well done poetry,

    Glad to find you via Ina, she nominated you for an award.

    invite you to join us, link in 1 to 3 poems, give encouragements, and get the same.

    hope to see you around.


    • Thank you – I’ve looked at your site with interest and I shall try to keep up with you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: