Astride the Golden Horn, where Occident
__And Orient collide, the silhouettes
__of minarets co-mingle with the scent
__of spice and sound of drums and castanets.
The medieval mosques of Suleyman
__And Sultan Ahmet are beyond the pale.
__But Hagia Sophia’s lavish span
__Is beauty, wrapped in wonder—nonpareil.
What next? The Grand Bazaar and the Topkapi,
__A shawarma lunch, and hookah when you’ve eaten.
__Enjoy a Turkish bath after your coffee—
__The thrill of being steamed, scrubbed down, and beaten.
At dusk, the muezzins’ calls to evening prayer
Resound and echo in the twilight air.



James A. Tweedie is a recently retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He likes to walk on the beach with his wife. He has written and self-published four novels and a collection of short stories. He has several hundred unpublished poems tucked away in drawers.

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6 Responses

  1. Lawrence Fray

    Atmospheric, exotic and very clever. This is a well-woven sonnet; thank you.

  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    This beautifully crafted sonnet, replete with sumptuous language and exotic images to luxuriate in, is a real Sunday morning treat. I particularly like the aural delight of the piece. Occident/Orient, and (my favorite); silhouettes/minarets/castanets, are a masterstroke. On the strength this sensory sonnet, I am booking a ticket for Istanbul.

    • James A. Tweedie

      Sadly, I was only able to spend three full days in one small corner of this vast, sprawling, exotic, modern, ancient, complex, thoroughly fascinating megalopolis. The poem is an attempt to sort out and distill the essence of what I felt, saw, and experienced in a way that would preserve the memory for myself and make it accessible to others. This is the second in a series of five such sonnets. Like they say, “More to come.”

      • Peter Hartley

        James – I’ve been to Istanbul at least four times and to have done so enhances my reading of your poetry, which distils the essence of an utterly vast city split geographically (as Iceland is geologically at Thingvellir) between two great continents. It’s salutary to note, as I’m sure you will have done, that adjacent stall-holders in the suks have no fear of theft, either between themselves or from the punters. It just doesn’t happen. Is the Agia Sofia the mosque that spent a long part of its history as a Christian basilica and still has Christian symbols just below the level of the dome (on the inside). Unfortunately my visits have been necessarily fleeting and the last one was many years ago. But you managed to transport me there for a brief spell.

  3. James A. Tweedie

    Peter, You are correct. The name, Hagia Sophia, is Greek for Holy Wisdom. It was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 537 AD and served as a Christian church until 1453 when, after the fall of Constantinople to the Muslims, it was converted to a mosque. At that point, many of the mosaics were defaced and/or covered with paint or plaster. In 1931 the Turkish government seized the building and converted it to a museum, which is what it remains today. Massive reconstruction and restoration revealed that many of the mosaics were still intact. They have now been exposed and restored. The work is ongoing. When I was there in 2014 nearly 1/4 of the interior space was filled with massive scaffolding from which the restoration and repairs were being made. The dome remained the largest of its type for nearly 1,000 years until it was exceeded, in 1436, by Brunelleschi’s dome in the cathedral in Florence, Italy (the Pantheon’s dome is larger but is of a different design still unmatched to this day).

    Not only is this building one of the true wonders of the world, but the fact that it has remained standing for nearly 1,500 years is a miracle in and of itself. It remains one of the great joys of my life to have had the privilege of seeing it in person.

    Istanbul’s spectacular medieval mosques of Sultan Ahmet (aka “the Blue Mosque”) and Suleyman, were built in imitation and homage to the architecture of Hagia Sophia.

    I am pleased to hear that my poem captured some of you own memories of Istanbul.


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