The Gates of Damascus

JNW_0019

Bab al-Jabiyah Damascus

Four great gates has the city of Damascus
And four Great Wardens, on their spears reclining,
All day long stand like tall stone men
And sleep on the towers when the moon is shining.
This is the song of the East Gate Warden
When he locks the great gate and smokes in his garden.
Postern of Fate, the Desert Gate, Disaster’s Cavern, Fort of Fear,
The Portal of Bagdad am I, and Doorway of Diarbekir.
The Persian Dawn with new desires may net the flushing mountain spires:
But my gaunt buttress still rejects the suppliance of those mellow fires.
Pass not beneath, O Caravan, or pass not singing. Have you heard
That silence where the birds are dead yet something pipeth like a bird?
Pass not beneath! Men say there blows in stony deserts still a rose
But with no scarlet to her leaf–and from whose heart no perfume flows.
Wilt thou bloom red where she buds pale, thy sister rose? Wilt thou not fail
When noonday flashes like a flail? Leave nightingale the caravan!
Pass then, pass all! “Bagdad!” ye cry, and down the billows of blue sky
Ye beat the bell that beats to hell, and who shall thrust you back? Not I.
The Sun who flashes through the head and paints the shadows green and red,–
The Sun shall eat thy fleshless dead, O Caravan, O Caravan!
And one who licks his lips for thirst with fevered eyes shall face in fear
The palms that wave, the streams that burst, his last mirage, O Caravan!
And one–the bird-voiced Singing-man–shall fall behind thee, Caravan!
And God shall meet him in the night, and he shall sing as best he can.
And one the Bedouin shall slay, and one, sand-stricken on the way
Go dark and blind; and one shall say–“How lonely is the Caravan!”
Pass out beneath, O Caravan, Doom’s Caravan, Death’s Caravan!
I had not told ye, fools, so much, save that I heard your Singing-man.
This was sung by the West Gate’s keeper
When heaven’s hollow dome grew deeper.
I am the gate toward the sea: O sailor men, pass out from me!
I hear you high in Lebanon, singing the marvels of the sea.
The dragon-green, the luminous, the dark, the serpent-haunted sea,
The snow-besprinkled wine of earth, the white-and-blue-flower foaming sea.
Beyond the sea are towns with towers, carved with lions and lily flowers,
And not a soul in all those lonely streets to while away the hours.
Beyond the towns, an isle where, bound, a naked giant bites the ground:
The shadow of a monstrous wing looms on his back: and still no sound.
Beyond the isle a rock that screams like madmen shouting in their dreams,
From whose dark issues night and day blood crashes in a thousand streams.
Beyond the rock is Restful Bay, where no wind breathes or ripple stirs,
And there on Roman ships, they say, stand rows of metal mariners.
Beyond the bay in utmost West old Solomon the Jewish King
Sits with his beard upon his breast, and grips and guards his magic ring:
And when that ring is stolen, he will rise in outraged majesty,
And take the World upon his back, and fling the World beyond the sea.
This is the song of the North Gate’s master,
Who singeth fast, but drinketh faster.
I am the gay Aleppo Gate: a dawn, a dawn and thou art there:
Eat not thy heart with fear and care, O brother of the beast we hate!
Thou hast not many miles to tread, nor other foes than fleas to dread;
Homs shall behold thy morning meal and Hama see thee safe in bed.
Take to Aleppo filigrane, and take them paste of apricots,
And coffee tables botched with pearl, and little beaten brassware pots:
And thou shalt sell thy wares for thrice the Damascene retailers’ price,
And buy a fat Armenian slave who smelleth odorous and nice.
Some men of noble stock were made: some glory in the murder-blade;
Some praise a Science or an Art, but I like honorable Trade!
Sell them the rotten, buy the ripe! Their heads are weak; their pockets burn.
Aleppo men are mighty fools. Salaam Aleikum! Safe return!
This is the song of the South Gate Holder,
A silver man, but his song is older.
I am the Gate that fears no fall: the Mihrab of Damascus wall,
The bridge of booming Sinai: the Arch of Allah all in all.
O spiritual pilgrim rise: the night has grown her single horn:
The voices of the souls unborn are half adream with Paradise.
To Meccah thou hast turned in prayer with aching heart and eyes that burn:
Ah Hajji, wither wilt thou turn when thou art there, when thou art there?
God be thy guide from camp to camp: God be thy shade from well to well;
God grant beneath the desert stars thou hear the Prophet’s camel bell.
And God shall make thy body pure, and give thee knowlede to endure
This ghost-life’s piercing phantom-pain, and bring thee out to Life again.
And God shall make thy soul a Glass where eighteen thousand Γ†ons pass.
And thou shalt see the gleaming Worlds as men see dew upon the grass.
And sons of Islam, it may be that thou shalt learn at journey’s end
Who walks thy garden eve on eve, and bows his head, and calls thee Friend.
James Elroy Flecker

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29 thoughts on “The Gates of Damascus

  1. John, I’ve looked at your photo over and over. It’s chilling, more so because I really can’t tell if you’ve photographed department store mannequins or humans. Knowing your work, I’m guessing that these are young men but I’m confounded by the plastic sheen on their skin and their fixed expressions.

    1. You are right in that more often than not people feature in my images, in this case though they are shop dummies, I did shoot some other shots with passing people but thought this more poignant

  2. Very powerful, as a woman from the Middle East, from neighboring Lebanon, I had tears in my eyes reading this poem. I pray for peace and safety in this part of the world, for the suffering to cease and for glories to be part of our heritage again. There’s too much destruction now 😦

    1. Thank you Zeina
      Lebanon has of course suffered immeasurably, I first visited Beirut just after the end of the civil war and the impact changed my life in many ways, I had taken the boat from Cyprus to Jouni as flying was not an option, when I returned to Cyprus after two weeks in Lebanon I could hardly speak, I spent the next few days just sitting on the dock staring back across the Mediterranean.
      I read Beirut Fragments by Jean Said Makdisi which brought tears to my eyes, I never imagined I would live through such a similar story.
      Sad times but I have faith in the future, a long road maybe but I am sure things will change for the better.
      John

      1. Yes, we’re fine, John. As you say, people tend to get on with their lives until the violence actually touches them personally – and even then if possible. I always appreciate your lucid writing about events at Ground Zero in Syria.

  3. What a captivating shot & an awesome choice of writing to complement the photo. As I read about these powerful writing, I felt moved. I am curious about this man & his writings, I thank you for sharing this . I want you to know that what you are doing is really a passionate action. I love your work.

    1. Thank you so much. Its very heartening to read your comments.
      Photography is easy for me, words not so much, but then again sometimes a certain situation or feeling and they come very easily too.
      Again thank you πŸ™‚

    1. Lebanon is sadly in a terrible state and in many ways sums up the injustice, in Turkey Syrians are marginally better off but still desperate for a real life, not much to ask you would think.
      Sad times.

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