In Officio Exsequarium

Come, let us bid the last of our farewells
To one who sleeps on the retiring ship;
November’s breath respires the mournful knells;
“Lord, give him rest” is murmured lip to lip.

What is our life, if not a morning dew,
A flash of light upon the fleeting waves?
O where is youth that plays beneath the yew
Whose shade encompasses our future graves?

A peerless beauty now appears as grass,
And here a genius rests beneath a stone.
If every love from our embrace must pass,
Come, let our tears anoint the Christ, alone.

Fair Mother of the Sun that never sets,
Beseech our King to solve them of their debts.

 

Poet’s Note:
 
The traditional, solemn Commemoration of the Dead on November 2, also known as the Feast of All Souls, immediately follows that of All the Saints. Sonnet 30 from “Sonnets for Christ the King” is inspired by the many prayers, antiphons, hymns, sequences, lessons, orations, readings, offices, and Masses of the dead—from the Latin, Mozarabic, and Greek traditions—which form the divine liturgy of this celebration which has been so badly truncated and deformed by the diabolical sect of Vatican II as to have fallen virtually into extinction.
 
The sonnet’s title refers directly to the inexhaustibly rich Office of the Dead (in particular Matins, Lauds, and Vespers). It would take at least a hundred pages fully to describe the many ceremonies and traditions belonging to the liturgy of this great day when faithful throughout the Christian world visit the tombs of their loved ones who have left before them. However, the poem’s final couplet distills the very essence of this commemoration, namely, the boundless solicitude of the Church Militant on earth in her mission to release the souls of the faithful departed, the Church Suffering in Purgatory, from the purifying flames by which the divine justice cleanses them of sins for which satisfaction was not yet made whilst they tarried on this earth.

 

Joseph Charles MacKenzie is a traditional lyric poet, the only American to have won Scottish International Poetry Competition. His poetry has appeared in The New York Times, The Scotsman (Edinburgh), The Independent (London), US News and World Report, Google News, and many other outlets. He writes primarily for the Society of Classical Poets (New York) and Trinacria (New York). MacKenzie has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

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22 Responses

  1. E. V.

    Good morning, Joseph Charles Mackenzie! As always, your poems are a reflection of the Society of Classical Poets at its best! I don’t believe one needs to be Catholic to appreciate the poetic beauty you’ve composed with perfect meter. This is a great sonnet.

    Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      What you indicate, E.V., would appear to be quite general, indeed, as my non-Catholic customers have responded well to the hardcover edition “Sonnets from Christ the King.”

      As you can see from hitting the “Buy Now” button on the following link, the “Sonnets for Christ the King” are now selling as far away in Australia and New Zealand:

      https://mackenziepoet.com/bookstore/

      Reply
  2. Joe Tessitore

    How beautiful and timely is this!

    Bravo, Joseph Charles!

    I join with E.V. In saying that this is the Society at its very best!

    Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      I sincerely hope, Mr. Tessitore, that you will please consider getting the companion audiobook of “Sonnets for Christ the King,” as something tells me you have an ear for euphony.

      Veteran English stage actor Ian Russell’s voice is simply fantastic. He is one of the last to have retained the “Received English” accent considered the “gold standard” of English. The audiobook was digitally remastered in an award-winning L.A. studio so you get every nuance of Ian Russell’s voice.

      And because you have always been so very gracious, I hope you will accept 40% off the MSRP of both the hardcover and audiobook by using coupon code CLASSICALPOETS here:

      https://mackenziepoet.com/shop/

      Reply
  3. Monty

    For one as markedly unfamiliar with the poem’s subject as myself; there was no mistaking its class. A disciplined, descriptive and seemingly effortless use/arrangement of words: neatly summed-up by the above commenter as ‘poetic beauty’. Further, I felt that lines 7 and 8 were, themselves, worthy of being their own couplet; and an imaginative, thought-provoking couplet at that . . capable of gracing any poem.
    Bien joué.

    You may or may not have noticed an invigorating debate on these pages in recent days . . regarding the rights, or otherwise, of a writer in extending or stretching a word to somewhere where it doesn’t naturally belong: in order to ‘gain’ a syllable. With that in my mind, I found it mildly ironic to notice that you’d attempted the opposite effect – the ‘losing’ of a syllable – with your use of the word ‘genius’.

    Reply
    • Monty

      I should qualify my above utterances by stating that I’m fully aware – given the nature of the word ‘genius’ – that ya didn’t have the option (as writers often do) of replacing one or more letter(s) with an apostrophe to lose a syllable. It’s a tough one, ain’t it . . kē garnē, as they say in Nepal (what can one do).

      Reply
      • Monty

        I haven’t consulted a dictionary: I’m just going by an off-the-top-of-my-head feeling; and that feeling is . . If one considers the word ‘genius’ to contain only 2-syllables, then it must follow that they would consider ‘ingenious’ and ‘ingenuous’ to contain only 3-syllables; thus the latter would be pronounced ‘in-jen-yass’. It don’t sound right, does it . . and to pronounce it as such, one has to omit the first ‘u’.. which is in itself the 3rd of the 4 syllables. Have we the licence to extract the first ‘u’ from ‘ingenuous’?

        Like I said, it’s only a feeling . .

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        It’s true what you say, Mr. Quintanilla, but please keep in mind that this is America where Catholics must be denigrated however excellent their works, even if it means just making stuff up—which is how “genius” somehow manages to get three (do I hear four?) syllables and counting.

        It’s the usual routine. I’m used to it, so no worries.

        Hey, at least the current debate is funny and hilarious, a mite friendlier than what the KKK used to do us Catholics.

  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    The use in the final line of the verb “solve” in its earlier (and etymologically correct) sense of “release” or “untie” or “let loose” is striking. MacKenzie likes to go back to the original root meanings of words, and summon up their primal force.

    He does this equally well in line 12, where the phrase “anoint the Christ” is very deliberately constructed. The article /the/ is not there simply to make metrical position in an iambic line. He is also hearkening back to the original Greek CHRISTOS, which means “anointed,” and “the Christ” means “the anointed one, the kingly savior.” Imagining the tears of grief as a species of human anointment for the divinely anointed Christ is a brilliant “conceit,” as it would have been called in the seventeenth century.

    Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      This is precisely where I insist, and shall continue to insist, that the true critic of the Ars Poetic Nova—the critic of the future—must possess a solid background in philology (with its ancillary disciplines of morphology and phonology), an outstanding knowledge of modern and classical European languages, as well as a superior formation in religion and philosophy. Such a critic is Dr. Joseph Salemi who is able consistently to identify the linguistic elements that form the structural underpinnings of my poems.

      Unfortunately, the Classical Poets movement is dogged by false critics of questionable education, null-and-void philosophical formation, and shop-worn liberal tendencies thinly disguised by self-revealing statements such as “while I am in principle opposed to this liberal writer I nevertheless admire him” thereby divorcing the art of the critic from any vestige of literary integrity or even personal honour. Mediocre both by formation and in the very practice of their art, such “critics” are an element of regression in an otherwise forward-moving milieu.

      By what efficient charm or bizarre spell they hold over gullible minds, by what subtle ruse or leftist stratagem such “critics” are able to insinuate themselves into a movement where they are seen as out-of-place, obsolescent, or backward—if not perfectly odd—remains a question which I feel must be addressed if classical poetry is ever to advance pure and free without admixture of the same British-style Marxism that destroyed twentieth-century poetry and culture in the first place.

      It is to the detriment of our movement that the likes of these should be allowed, for any reason whatsoever, to pollute it from within by the posting of vague and hastily written reviews in praise of their fellow modernists—outright free-verse feminists and amateurish, pseudo-formalists—who by their mediocrity and incompetence, let alone their complete rejection of history and tradition, are antithetical to the very principles of classical poetry represented by this distinguished venue.

      Reply
      • Monty

        1/ How you see it.

        Ah, the perfect example of that most shallow of human follies: to form an opinion of someone before knowing the facts. Or the religious folly of dismissively compartmentalising humans into this or that category . . just as you’ve done in this case. You’ve attempted to comparmentalise me as an anti-catholic american whose only aim is to denigrate the work of a catholic: even if it means ‘making stuff up’. After you’ve read the following words, I hope you have the honesty and decency to say to yourself: “Yeah, maybe I did jump the gun a little bit.”

        2/ How it actually is.

        a/ I’m not American. I grew up in Britain, and I’ve lived for the last 18 years in Provence (in the South of France). Mentally, Provence is it’s own entity, in a way morally separated from the rest of France and central europe (more of a mediterannean existence). As such, it’s less susceptible to the blights of its neighbouring countries: politics, religion, political-correctness, etc . . hence one can exist in Provence fairly freely and unconditionally.

        b/ I’m not anti- (or pro) catholic; I’m not anti- (or pro) any religious or political belief. My only belief is in the natural world, and the human existence within it. I’m not an atheist: if we’re talking about a non-belief in god, then my personal non-belief may be more absolute, more unwavering, than most atheists! But I won’t attribute the atheist (or any other) label to myself. The only label I’ll accept is that of a human being; which I may extend to a european human being . . but no further. In fact, I’ve been so successful in rendering my life to be unaware of and immune from politics and religion . . I’m not sure that I even know the difference between a catholic and a protestant. So, I hope you’re now able to see that your immediate paranoia of a cath-attack was so hopelessly unfounded (at the same time, I fully appreciate that in a country such as America – so helplessly and inextricably embroiled in religion – such paranoia must always be lurking on the periphery; ever ready to manifest itself in what one perceives to be an attack against one’s perceived beliefs).

        c/ No one, including yourself, could possibly read my above appraisal of your sonnet . . and deduce that I was in any way denigrating your work (or even attempting to). I can only assume that ya were temporarily blinded by paranoia. My appraisal was genuine and unconditional; and I stand by every word I said. It’s yourself who’s seemingly trying to detract from my appraisal. The way I see it is . . if that same praise had come from a catholic, it would be unambiguously high praise; but the fact that it came from a non-believer surely speaks volumes for the quality and elegance of your sonnet . . the very fact that I – as a committed non-believer – was able to relish it purely as a piece of art; free from all external conditions, religious hinderances, free even from the very subject matter . . is the highest of praise! Can ya not see that? Or d’ya not wanna see it? It’s there . . for anyone to see.

        d/ I haven’t “made anything up”. I see and hear ‘genius’ as 3-syllables. I felt that sure of it, that I didn’t feel the need to consult a dictionary. Yeah, ya “did hear 4 syllables” mentioned, but that was in reference to another word I was using as an example: ‘ingenuous’. The reason being that I felt ‘ingenuous’ to be so blatantly a 4-syllable word, and as such, ‘ingenious’ must also be 4 syllables . . meaning ‘genius’ must be 3 syllables.
        But I’ve since consulted a dictionary (and other such aids), and I’ve subsequently learnt that ‘genius’ can be pronounced using either 2 or 3 syllables: both are equally acceptable. One reference went on to say that on your side of the pond, 2 syllables was the preferred pronunciation: which I assume can only be because of differing speech-patterns either side of the pond. So, even though I now readily accept that it can be used as 2 syllables . . I wasn’t wrong in seeing it as 3, and as such, I never “made anything up”. The only thing I DID make was a query . . a genuine and valid little query.
        How alarming it then was to witness how rapidly that little query degenerated into religious paranoia (even the KKK got a mention) and unfounded accusations! ‘Twas so irrelevant and unnecessary . . . and so indicative of the perils of religion.
        As I’ve mentioned elsewhere: I feel that if all humans who believed in god were content to just BELIEVE, then religion wouldn’t be half the problem it is. But they’re not content to just believe . . they also feel that their belief bestows on them the right to disparage and belittle those of other (or no) beliefs. It seems that many believers get more of a kick from disparaging the ‘enemy’ than they do from their belief.

        I trust that ya now consider yourself to’ve been slightly ahead of the gun.

        Have a good life . . .

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        Dear “Monty,”

        Glad to know your attack was merely the usual “benign” and “well-meaning” secularist-atheist, British ex-pat bigotry, as opposed to “religious” bigotry.

        I am also glad your illustrious career as an anonymous syllable counter on the Society of Classical poets gives you existential fulfillment as the culmination of your life.

        Sorry Provence could not fill that infinitely deep spiritual void for you.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Thank you, Mr. Behrens. I must tell you that I have been enjoying of late your highly readable website (a good lesson in web presentation for poets).

      It was the greatest privilege of my life to have been selected to write the “Sonnets for Christ the King.” If I produced no other poetry, I would consider my life as a poet fulfilled by these alone.

      Reply
  5. C.B. Anderson

    “Till death do us part” only comes close to the marriage of Christ and his bride, The Church. Imagine me, an ordinary Protestant, feeling chills go up and down his spine as he reads this. No matter whom you give the credit to, this poem resonates through the upper epicycles of the celestial spheres, or so I hear it.

    Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      You are the only one so far, Mr. Anderson, who has expressed knowledge of how Mary came to occupy the couplet and to mark the actual suspended volta. Yes, I absolutely intended Mary to be a figure of the Church. While the Mystical Body possesses the plenitude of graces accumulated by all the acts, prayers, and penances of its members, Mary has that special role in the economy of grace, as it is through her that we ask Our Lord to apply the merits of our acts for the release of those who have left this world before us.

      I think it is only by a kind of grace that a reader may have the kind of reaction you have had, because it results from a vision of the “big picture” of grace, if you will. A lot to take in all at once, but you have done so.

      Reply
  6. David Watt

    Your sonnet stands as a conclusive argument in favor of formal poetry over that of free verse. Beautiful, structured phrases; yet on reading, there is no hint of undue effort in construction.

    Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      It is a funny thing, Mr. Watt, that I have worn myself out a little this very afternoon making precisely that argument for formal poetry—this time at a gathering of Scottish Americans where I recited Robert Louis Stevenson, William Henry Ogilvie, and my personal mentor Sam Gilliland.

      Sadly, I see within this very venue reviews in praise of mediocre “poetry”—outright amateur free-verse and liberal modernism—that could not be more antithetical to the kind of argument you and I and many others are making through the practice of our art.

      Reply

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