Sonnet XLIV. The Finding

Let not this grief across her face invade,
Dear God! Thou madest these my one true care!
Not Egypt, where we hid Him and He played,
Could fade her brightness with its desert glare.

But where? With other children? Hurt? Oh, no!
God, give me strength! Has Herod won at last?
Destroy me, lest the Virgin sense my woe!
Oh, let us find Him! Hasten, hasten fast!

Impossible! Yet… could my eyes deceive?
That distant figure in the Temple’s light…
Among the Doctors, dost thou not perceive?
I kneel before my God and bless His might!

For, I forget—the Infant’s now a boy.
For, I forget—my sorrows are my joy.

From Sonnets for Christ the King

 

Joseph Charles MacKenzie is the first and last American to win First Place in the Long Poem Section of the Scottish International Poetry Competition, Henry M. Austin Poetry Prize.

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11 Responses

  1. Sally Cook

    This is a very deep and sensitive poem. But of course you already know that about it.

    I admire your strict rhyme and meter, and your clear language. As I have not yet caught up with all you have written for this site, When I do, I’ll be back.

    In the meantime, thank you for your defense of Western culture, and the long list of achievements on which we depend for worthwhile world concepts.

    Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Thank you, Madame, for your appreciative remark in return for may I please offer you a very brief explication.

      The 44th sonnet of Sonnets For Christ the King was composed on the Octave Day of the Epiphany. Liturgically speaking, the Breviarium Romanum, in its many readings, prayers, and lessons, focuses increasingly on the Holy Family whose feast has taken place within the same Octave.

      So, the light of the first Epiphany, the manifestation of the Divinity via the appearance in Bethlehem of the three Magi, must at all cost continue to cast its splendor on subsequent events celebrated in the many hymns, antiphons, and sequences of the related feats during the later season of Christmas which only ends with the Feast of the Purification on February 2.

      Retain simply that the liturgical cycle increasingly centers on Jesus’s relation to and presence in the Temple.

      Therefore, the foster father of Jesus, must be presented in the poem as Epiphanic, hence verse 12 in which the Divinity is manifested by his kneeling. But as Joseph is the saint who is closest to us in terms of our humanness, he must also be presented as a participant in our own growing awareness of the Infant’s real identity.

      But, as you suggest so well in your comment—what I think you mean by the word “sensitive”—is the depth of Joseph’s paternal love which perfectly identifies the joys of fatherhood with its many sorrows. Then, again, we see in the couplet Joseph’s real approximation to all earthly fathers—who have been true (not all are)—but also his real proximity to anyone who has ever loved, thereby opening what is uniquely Joseph’s to other relations: mother/daughter, husband/wife, priest/flock, the called to the vocations to which they are called.

      But most important of all is the foreseeing and the echoing the love the ultimate Father bears for us, the Father in whose presence Joseph finds himself.

      Reply
  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    This sonnet in the voice of St. Joseph has a perfect octet-sestet divsion, with la volta marked clearly by the word “Impossible!” in line 9. The problem/resolution structure is vivid: the octet describes the near-panic of St. Joseph when he discovers that Jesus is missing, while the sestet presents a father’s relief at finding the young boy speaking in the Temple.

    The closing couplet goes even further: it ties up the contrasting emotions of terrified fear and joyous consolation into one neat unity that symbolizes the whole economy of salvation: namely, that sorrow and tribulation are necessary concomitants of final joy.

    Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Dear Readers, Dr. Salemi’s interpretation and explication of the text of Sonnet 44 from Sonnets for Christ the King is how I would like readers to understand the poem. I speak as the poem’s author.

      Reply
  3. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    St. Joseph is a Patriarch of the New Testament, fully aware of the divinity of the Infant placed under his protection.

    I am grateful to Evan Mantyk for posting the image by Ingres at the head of this poem. One of its most important features is the division of the canvas in half. The entire left side of the image is in shadow to symbolize that the Old Testament was but a figure, a shadow of the New. The right half is in full light, symbolizing the Lumen Christi, the Light of the World and the New Dispensation.

    Yet the two halves of the image, like the Old and New Testaments themselves, are perfectly harmonized. The tablets of the law retain their central position, yet Christ, the law of love, is enthroned before them. St. Joseph stands behind the Blessed Virgin on the right, almost hidden, but wearing the white beard which in Christian art is symbolic of a patriarch.

    There is a great deal more to be said about the myriad details of this painting. It was Ingres’s last. The 1842 commission by Queen Marie-Amélie (for the chapel of her Chateau de Bizy) was lost as a result of her exile to England during the Revolution of 1848. Ingres began work on “Jésus parmi les docteurs” in 1842 and completed the work in in the last years of his life.

    Like Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, “Jésus parmi les docteurs” was completed without commission, for the glory of God alone. The number of studies Ingres created for this one work far surpasses that for all his other works.

    Reply
  4. Satyananda Sarangi

    Sir, it has always been a great pleasure to read your poetry. A very few contemporary poets have been the steering light to me in this post-modern world devoid of class and beauty. I have loved every sonnet from ‘Sonnets for Christ the King’ that has been posted here.
    Here’s this thing- though I belong to Hinduism, I could connect to this poem very well. This is what makes your poetry special for true art unites the different minds from over the world. It, in itself, is the universe that urges us to behave as one family. Needless to say, such poetry is what people in their early twenties need as of now.

    Grateful for the inspiration. Poems such as these provide the impetus to young people like me who’ve shunned the lackluster modernist verses.

    Reply
  5. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    Kind Sir,

    If poets governed the world, it would be a singing contest instead of a battlefield.

    Your comment is the best reminder of the universality of the beautiful in art, the basis of myriad appropriations and borrowings among various cultures, places, and times.

    For, the deepest aspirations of the human soul are not unique to one group or another. If they were, St. Thomas the Apostle would not have had any reason to set sail for India in 52 AD or to shed his blood for his beloved Indian people near Chennai some 20 years later.

    I find your comment—that of a young, emerging poet—inspiring and recommend it to every reader of this site.

    Reply
    • Satyananda Sarangi

      Sir, it is kind on your part to say this. But to be frank, ever since I have read poems on this site, I am in awe of poets here. I have been telling many free verse poets to come here and learn the art. Personally, poems of yours, Joseph S. Salemi, Amy Foreman and essays by James Sale. 🙂

      This sonnet reminded me of some lines from an old poem of mine( though it is nowhere close to poems here in rhythm and meter):

      The corpse of sorrow is set on its pyre,
      Carried by Grit, Love, Mercy and Wisdom;
      Eight feet of these pall-bearers in rhythm,
      Echo the will of our heavenly sire.

      © 2016 Satyananda Sarangi. All rights reserved.

      Much pleasure to keep in touch with poets who are true practitioners of classic beauty.

      Reply
  6. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    It is easy to understand how much glory redounds to St. Joseph when you consider that he was not simply a man performing a set of actions as the fulfillment of a duty, but as an integral part of the divine decree of the Incarnation.

    For, while St. Augustin calls Mary the “work of the Eternal Counsel,” yet, in order to conceal the great mystery of the Incarnation from the world until the appointed hour (the allusion to Egypt in the first quatrain of Sonnet 44), God decreed her espousal to the humblest, purest, and holiest man of the royal house of David.

    St. Joseph’s place, among men, as Mary’s among all creatures, is utterly unique. Until his death, a death which removed the ultimate Patriarch that Christ’s Kingship should be subject to no one other than the First Person of the Trinity, St. Joseph’s proximity to the Son of God becomes the basis of his all his prerogatives, mysteries, and the unceasing veneration he has always enjoyed throughout the Universal Church as its protector and patron.

    Where an ordinary father might fulfill his paternal office as a matter of duty, St. Joseph’s every action arises from his perfect submission and conformity to the movements of the Holy Ghost in union with God through his most chaste spouse. For this reason, the Church gives to St. Joseph the title of Lumen Patriarcharum, Light of Patriarchs.

    Reply

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