Snow’s candid praise bedecks St. Florian’s Gate
As Sobieski passes on his horse.
It is the Eve of Christmas, when men wait
The changing of the world’s malignant course…

Back in the octave of Our Lady’s birth,
Whilst he prayed kneeling at Fray Marco’s Mass,
The Ottomans yet held Vienna’s girth,
Until he rose, and shattered them like glass!

From that triumphant day unto this next,
Te Deums rang through every field and town,
To sing how Mary’s holy name protects
All those who love the Virgin of Renown…

He lays the heathen’s helmet on the grave
Of Stanislaus, who sleeps among the brave.

S. Nominis Beatae Mariae Virginis
Anno MMXVII

Author’s Note:

The sonnet connects two liturgical events of the traditional calendar: the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is celebrated September 8, and Christmas Eve, December 24.

The first quatrain recalls the triumphal entry of Jan III Sobieski, King of Poland, into Krakow through the Gate of St. Florian on Christmas Eve, 1683. St. Florian was a Roman commander martyred in the third century.

The second quatrain is a flashback to September 12 of the same year, the day of the victory of the Holy League, under the command of Jan III Sobieski, King of Poland, against the Ottoman Turks who had held Vienna under siege since July. Just before dawn of that day, within the now lost octave of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sobieski assisted at the Mass of Fray Marco d’Aviano, an Italian Capuchin friar renowned for his preachment, humility, and spirit of penance. Fray Marco was also the “Counselor of Kings,” a friend of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I. Fay Marco’s Mass took place in the ruined church of the Camaldolites.

Having confessed and received the Sacrament, Sobieski gathered his troupes and solemnly placed them under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He thereupon led the forces of the Holy League down the Kahlenberg ridge overlooking the Muslim tents on the plains of Vienna below. After taking one ridge at a time, Sobieski eventually unleashed his famous Winged Hussars. He himself led them in what was perhaps the greatest cavalry charge in military history. With lances in full tilt and crying “Jezus Maria ratuj!” Sobieski and his Hussars smashed what remained of Ottoman resistance and sent the Turks to flight, forever thwarting their plan to place Christian Europe under the banner of Islam.

One year after the Blessed Virgin’s victory at the Battle of Vienna, Pope Innocent XI extended the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary to the universal Church. The sonnet’s third quatrain therefore speaks to the power of Mary’s name and her protection of those who place their confidence in her.

Returning full circle to the beginning of the poem, the final couplet uncovers the actual reason for Sobieski’s Christmas Eve entrance into Krakow in the first place, namely to lay the helmet of the defeated Grand Vizier of the Ottomans on the tomb of St. Stanislaus. For, Stanislaus, like St. Thomas More and St. Thomas Becket before him, was a martyr of the liberty of the Church against the tyranny of false rulers and governments.

 

Joseph Charles MacKenzie is a traditional lyric poet, First Place winner of the Scottish International Poetry Competition (Long Poem Section). 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).

 

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7 Responses

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Dear Mr. Yankevich,

      In fact, there are many ways in which you yourself have inspired this poem: by your great love of Poland and its history, and the zeal with which you defend your nation’s liberty.

      May yours be a truly holy and happy Christmas!

      All good wishes!

      Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Reply
  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    This is a profoundly beautiful sonnet — and that is something difficult to do when writing on a strictly historical subject.

    It is hard to calculate how much the West owes to the long-suffering country of Poland.

    Merry Christmas to all!

    Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Well, it is interesting that history as thematic of poetry runs throughout the poets of the Ars Poetica Nova, and never more powerfully, I believe, than in your own poems and those of Mr. Yankevich—as we have been privileged to see in this venue. But again, it is not the poetry which is its own principle, but the quality of the Ars Poetica Nova poets themselves who possess this spirit of history and scholarship to an eminent degree.

      Reply
  2. Edle Ubaw Serce

    I have wanted for nearly a decade to write something about Sobieski, and Mr. MacKenzie has inspired me to do so.

    Lines on Jan III Sobieski, Christmas Eve 2017
    by Ludiew E. Sarceb

    A day before the Battle of Хотин, King Michael died,
    but Sobieski lived and fought to victory in stride.
    He then was crowned the king of Poland-Lithuania,
    and fought to halt the Ottoman’s bloodthirsty mania.
    He picked up battle axes, the dragoon and the hussar.
    His Polish forces took back Bratslav, Mogalev and Bar.
    He brought in cannon and fresh tactics for th’ artillery,
    and formed a new alliance with the Austrian elite.
    He fortified Lwôw and Krakôw, thinking they were next
    in line to fall before the Turkish, murderous offense.
    But it was at Vienna that the savage Turks attacked,
    unleashing cruel, sadistic slaughter, massacre, in fact.
    Near breaching of the walls, no time for any kind of peace,
    the allies launched on 12 September 1683.
    Some seventy-six-thousand troops attacked the Turkish force,
    about three-hundred-thousand soldiers on their deadly course.
    From Kahlenburg Hill, Sobieski charged into the fray
    and broke the Ottoman line/
    and they fled in disarray.
    The Lion Lechistan became the Knight of Christendom,
    civilization’s savior, champion of officialdom.
    The common people kissed his hands, his fingers, feet, and clothes.
    His military prowess too, in estimation rose.
    Three short months later, Sobieski marched triumphantly
    in through the ancient Gate of Florian on Christmas Eve;
    whereas the Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa made his way
    to strangulation with a silk cord, Christmas in Belgrade.

    Reply
  3. James Sale

    Once again some wonderful poetry, and marvellous lines from Joseph Mackenzie; I especially like the ‘the changing of the world’s malignant course’ and the brooding, subdued concluding couplet, with ‘sleeps among the brave’. The power of the sonnet form is clearly unleashed in this fine work.

    Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      I am most honored by Mr. Sale’s approval of this sonnet. This is the first of five meditations on the Nativity and represents, in many ways, the appearance of a kind of “magus,” or, shall we say, one of history’s “magi.” In traditional iconography, the Three Magi are depicted in the act of deposing their crowns before the Holy Infant.

      Here, the sonnet ends with King Jan Sobieski deposing not his own crown—which is an extension of Christ’s kingship—but, rather, the headgear of the Grand Vizier of the Muslim Turks, Christendom’s enemies.

      The meditation is therefore complete. Through Mary, the Incarnation of the God-Man. And again, through Mary, the continuation of the Incarnation in the social body, which is the very definition of Christendom.

      Reply

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