“Not illuminated by the sun, but generated within,”
Says Procopius, referring to the radiance.
The dome seems to float above a ring of light,
And the sunbeams, all we know of heaven,
Cross and recross in their descent, amplifying
Each other and casting complex shadows,
Shifting in pattern with the time of day.
The system of support, admitting so much light,
Is burdened to its extreme, and the columns
Shed fine flakes of stone in their distress.

Hagia Sophia, an unorthodox construction,
Was imagined by Anthemius and Isidore, both Greeks,
At the behest of Justinian and with the grace of God.
In points of design, in the question of funding,
Sometimes an angel was required to intervene.
Even so, there have been accidents.
In May of 558, the dome itself collapsed;
But the fallen portions are always rebuilt,
Redesigned or replicated according to circumstances,
Producing slow motion across fourteen hundred years.

Ottoman Turks razed the atrium, raised four minarets,
And the golden tessellation, representing heaven,
Has largely been destroyed. It is miraculous
That the structure itself survives, withstanding
Over two hundred earthquakes and having suffered
Invading armies to ride right to its altar.
And now we, too, make the approach,
Approximating our intentions and design,
Bearing the marks of our own mutability,
Ideas insisted upon.


Poetry, Vol. 134, No. 2 (May, 1979), p. 86. Thanks to Sylvain for sending this poem.