Daily Draw December 11th, 2011
Since I finished reading the book Armenian Golgotha about the Armenian genocide that took place shortly before and during the first World War, I keep seeing references to Armenia in a kind of synchronistic urgency. Last night I was watching House Hunters International on television and a young couple were moving from Boston to Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia. It was interesting to see how they are improving the Armenian economy and renovating old buildings after the fall of the Soviet Union.
I couldn’t help but notice how the country has shrunk from its ancestral lands. They were a vital part of the Byzanytine and Sassanid Empires, a vital culture in Europe up until they were slaughtered in the 20th century into a half-remembered society of darkly handsome people from an obscure republic, instead of the kingdom they really were.
There is something about that word “Byzantium.” Perhaps it’s a romantic echo of the poem Sailing to Byzantium by Yeats and a rather ethereal story by Robert Silverberg of the same name that I studied about eight years ago on a reading list. I remember getting all fired up about the Byzantine Empire and going to a lot of trouble to hunt up a travel book by Osbert Lancaster, the British illustrator, that was called Sailing to Byzantium: An Architectural Companion. Here is the book with some sample illustrations by Lancaster.
I continued my interest in the Byzantine Empire through my study of Constantine and his mother Helena in the Tarot of the Saints, as well as Sophia on the The World card in that deck. I have wanted a copy of a television series that John Romer did for The Learning Channel called Byzantium: The Lost Empire. It finally came back in stock online so I have bought it for Christmas. I was overjoyed to be able to finally get this history DVD after all these years. Apart from seeing the Hagia Sophia back in the 1970s in Kenneth Clark’s series Civilisation, I was awed by the church when John Romer’s television series Testament featured it. It is a magical place.
There is something very satisfying when all your interests and old threads of imagination come together. That’s how I felt today.
NINE OF COINS
From the glorious Nigel Jackson Tarot:
We seat ourselves in the enormous room of imagination and warm ourselves at the fire of history, eyes closed dreaming of Byzantium. The torch of history and the staff of pilgrimage rest by the hearth while light bathes the drowsy Emperor off the hammered shields on the wall of ages.
Comfort and wealth come from much more than monetary gain, they come from the mind as well.
Sailing To Byzantium
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 Byzantium.
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold 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.
William Butler Yeats