Letters from Turkey, by Mary Wortley Montagu


Written in the Chiask, at Pera, overlooking Constantinople, December 26th, 1718.
By Lady Mary Wortley Montague.

GIVE me, great God! Said I, a little farm,

In summer shady, and in winter warm;

Where a clear spring gives birth to murm’ring brooks,

By nature gliding down the mossy rocks.

Not artfully by leading pipes convey’d,

Or greatly falling in a forc’d cascade,

Pure and unsully’d winding thro’ the shade.

All-bounteous Heaven has added to my prayer

A softer climate, and a purer air.

OUR frozen ISLE now chilling winter binds,

Deform’d by rains, and rough with blasting winds;

The wither’d woods grow white with hoary frost,

By driving storms their verdant beauty lost,

The trembling birds their leafless covert shun,

And seek, in distant climes a warmer sun:

The water-nymphs their silent urns deplore,

Ev’n Thames benum’d’s a river now no more:

The barren meads no longer yield delight,

By glist’ring snows made painful to the sight.

HERE summer reigns with one eternal smile,

Succeeding harvests bless the happy soil.

Fair fertile fields, to whom indulgent Heaven

Has ev’ry charm of ev’ry season given;

No killing cold deforms the beauteous year,

The springing flowers no coming winter fear.

But as the parent Rose decays and dies,

The infant-buds with brighter colour rise,

And with fresh sweets the mother’s scent supplies,

Near them the Violet grows with odours blest,

And blooms in more than Tyrian purple drest;

The rich Jonquils their golden beams display,

And shine in glories emulating day;

The peaceful groves their verdant leaves retain,

The streams still murmur undefil’d with rain,

And tow’ring greens adorn the fruitful plain.

The warbling kind uninterrupted sing,

Warm’d with enjoyments of perpetual spring.

HERE, at my window, I at once survey

The crowded city and resounding sea;

In distant views the Asian mountains rise,

And lose their snowy summits in the skies;

Above those mountains proud Olympus towers,

The parliamental seat of heavenly powers.

New to the sight, my ravish’d eyes admire

Each gilded crescent and each antique spire,

The marble mosques, beneath whose ample domes

Fierce warlike sultans sleep in peaceful tombs;

Those lofty structures, once the Christians boast,

Their names, their beauty, and their honours lost;

Those altars bright with gold and sculpture grac’d,

By barb’rous zeal of savage foes defac’d:

Sophia alone her ancient name retains,

Tho’ unbelieving vows her shrine profanes;

Where holy saints have died in sacred cells,

Where monarchs pray’d, the frantic Dervise dwells.

How art thou fall’n, imperial city, low!

Where are thy hopes of Roman glory now?

Where are thy palaces by prelates rais’d?

Where Grecian artists all their skill display’d,

Before the happy sciences decay’d;

So vast, that youthful kings might here reside,

So splendid, to content a patriarch’s pride;

Convents where emperors profess’d of old,

Their labour’d pillars that their triumphs told;

Vain monuments of them that once were great,

Sunk undistinguish’d by one common fate;

One little spot, the tenure small contains,

Of Greek nobility, the poor remains.

Where other Helens with like powerful charms,

Had once engag’d the warring world in arms;

Those names which royal ancestors can boast,

In mean mechanic arts obscurely lost:

Those eyes a second Homer might inspire,

Fix’d at the loom destroy their useless fire;

Griev’d at a view which struck upon my mind

The short-liv’d vanity of human kind.

IN gaudy objects I indulge my sight,

And turn where Eastern pomp gives gay delight;

See the vast train in various habits drest,

By the bright scimitar and sable vest,

The proud vizier distinguish’d o’er the rest;

Six slaves in gay attire his bridle hold,

His bridle rich with gems, and stirrups gold;

His snowy steed adorn’d with costly pride,

Whole troops of soldiers mounted by his side,

These top the plumy crest Arabian courtiers guide.

With artful duty, all decline their eyes,

No bellowing shouts of noisy crowds arise;

Silence, in solemn state, the march attends,

Till at the dread divan the slow procession ends.

YET not these prospects all profusely gay,

The gilded navy that adorns the sea,

The rising city in confusion fair,

Magnificently form’d irregular;

Where woods and palaces at once surprise,

Gardens on gardens, domes on domes arise,

And endless beauties tire the wand’ring eyes;

So sooth my wishes, or so charm my mind,

As this retreat secure from human kind.

No knave’s successful craft does spleen excite,

No coxcomb’s tawdry splendour shocks my sight;

No mob-alarm awakes my female fear,

No praise my mind, nor envy hurts my ear,

Ev’n fame itself can hardly reach me here:

Impertinence with all her tattling train,

Fair-sounding flattery’s delicious bane;

Censorious folly, noisy party-rage

The thousand tongues with which she must engage,

Who dares have virtue in a vicious age.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58