Note: Joseph Charles MacKenzie would like to offer a 25% discount on the first edition hardcover of Sonnets for Christ the King to his fellow poets and readers of the Society of Classical Poets, in gratitude for their many edifying comments. Just click here or on the book cover image to order the book direct from publisher and apply Coupon Code CLASSICAL POETS at checkout. The coupon is good through July 4, 2018.

 

XXVII: For Elizabeth

As kindly cottonwoods around us rise,
Entwining wistful melodies of green,
We walk beneath our shade-entangled skies
Through gothic vaulting, hand in hand, unseen.

Through autumn’s latticework of wind-chime leaves
A sowing sun casts broad its final rays.
Soft evening bundles all our cares in sheaves
As we set forth upon our path of days.

I am the bosque, thou the breeze,
Along the Rio Grande’s storied stream.
Thou art the light, and I the trees,
And our enchanted path a waking dream.

Time’s river these, our days, shall not erase,
Beneath the God-made bridge of our embrace.

 

 

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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9 Responses

  1. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    The book’s cover image is by Steven Bundy, northern New Mexico’s most important fine art photographer. It shows the “morada” at El Rancho de las Golondrinas from a cross in the campo santo or cemetery. A morada is a kind of oratory where the Penitentes (members of an ancient penitential confraternity) gather to perform their spiritual offices, including the hours of the Franciscan breviary, the Rosary, and the chanting of the “alabados,” or ancient hymns of praise which were imported from Spain in the early 17th century. Moradas contained a small altar used devotionally throughout the year but also for the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass whenever a priest would pass through the pueblo, or village.

    “Bosque” is simply the Spanish word for forest. The video shows the exact location which inspired Sonnet 27. As this is a sonnet about marriage—”the great sacrament,” as St. Paul calls it—the poem attests to the glory of Christ’s kingship in every aspect of life, as does the entire sequence which culminates in the 14 Stations of the Cross.

    Reply
  2. E. V.

    Thank you for your generous offer. Elizabeth is a beautiful sonnet; though, perhaps, I’m partial to the name.

    Reply
  3. James A. Tweedie

    A lyric paean to the eros/philos/agape of God reflected in the sacramental union of a man and woman in marriage, set amidst the stunning beauty of Creation as it declares God’s glory to us all. The effect of the poem is doubled in hearing it read and redoubled in the images and music captured in the video.
    St. Paul once wrote, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8). For me, at least, Sonnet XXVII is such a thing.

    Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Dear Mr. Tweedie,

      Your comment is worth all the others.

      A very fine priest and theologian, who is also my spiritual director, told me once that the Sonnets for Christ the King are unique not only in themselves, but in what they shall reveal about those who read, and those who don’t read them.

      “For some,” he says, “will be rewarded with the grace of understanding, others punishment with blindness, and others gifted with just enough light to make good use of the poems.”

      Your comment is of the first kind, because illumined by grace, as your reference to the Apostle shows. And your words relieve me greatly, because you redirect us toward the divine object of the Sonnets themselves, the source of all that is good in art, rather than sinking us deeper into the pervasive sin of human respect, the empty praise of the empty, and the feigned indifference of the jealous.

      I thank you.

      Please pray for me.

      Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Reply
  4. Al Bucwer Edise

    I am fairly sure Mr. Mackenzie and others are not terribly interested in what I have to say about any single poem of his; but then again I find that is true of many individuals in many contexts. For even myself, I did not even seriously start writing literary criticism until I began my fourth decade of writing, after I had just completed my only novel “Business at the Speed of Greed”, an allegorical mystery, that like all of my poetry up till then, no publisher anywhere was interested in. It could be that all my writing was bad (as Mr. Yankevich suggests, I cannot sing); but when I surveyed the works that were everywhere published, it didn’t seem like my poetry and prose were all that inferior at all. Anyway, I have been a committed writer since my teens, and published or not published, I press on. Even to this day, when thankfully due to the Internet, it is much easier to get published, I still get more rejections than acceptances. But never do I get any serious literary criticism of my work. To tell the truth, we may be entering an era where the best writers are simply not interested in analyzing the poetry and prose of other writers, and the most one can hope for is a mindless array of likes and dislikes.

    One of the nice things about SCP is that we are trying. Many of us are commenting on other writers’ works. So here I go.

    Quatrain 1 places the piece in a grove of trees. The narrator and his wife are walking under cottonwoods. The flickering of light between the trees is almost churchlike in its attitude toward nature, “through gothic vaulting”. The style sets the tone, one of quiet meditation.

    Quatrain 2 continues in a similar manner. The iambic pentametre is carefully followed. The tone continues with phrases that follow, “Fondly” and “wistful melodies of green”, with “A sowing sun” and “Soft evening”. Mr.Mackenzie seems almost Modernist in his slightly jarring “latticework of windchime leaves”, but draws the quiet thoughtfulness back in with the concluding two lines,

    “Soft evening bundles all our cares in sheaves
    As we set forth upon our path of days.”

    which are reminiscent of Thomas Gray in his “Elegy”.

    At quatrain 3 the sestet begins. The metre changes to alternating iambic tetrametres with pentameters, balanced in parallel configurations. Here I am reminded of Mr. Yankevich’s recent suggestion that I should write iambic tetrametres as well. Lines 9 and 11 do have a surprising feel to them in the context of the iambic pentametre, as if the narrator and his wife are somehow pulling away from the iambic pentametre’s sway to declare their individualities.

    But no, the final couplet returns to iambic pentametre and draws the holy hush of love within the “God-made bridge” of their embrace.

    Personally, although it is an interesting sonnet, I do not think it artistically rises to the vision of some of his other sonnets, like “Edward the Confessor” or “On a Bodegón of Zurbarán”. Historically it falls within the purvey of Edmund Spenser’s “Amoretti”; but from an American view.

    In fact, the mention of Rio Grande reminds me of a poem written last year and published elsewhere, but which I don’t think I ever showed you.

    Albuquerque
    by Al Bucwer Edise
    for Joseph Mackenzie

    No white oaks stand amidst the cottonwoods and junipers,
    and cactus, yucca, marigolds, verbena, lavender;
    but one can smell green chili peppers in the urban sprawl
    around the many restaurants and markets overall.
    It sits upon the Rio Grande’s meandering along,
    the cross of car and truck-strewn highways, buildings brown and bronze,
    beneath high rocky mounts there at the base of Sandia,
    the heart of great New Mexico, that city in the sun,
    oasis in high desert, Albuquerque in the air,
    with air force base, hot air balloons, and vusions nuclear.

    Al Bucwer Edise is a poet of New Mexico. Vusions, visionary views, is a fused neologism from my early free verse days, when I was under the spell of Whitman, Williams, Pound, and Cummings, among so many others.

    Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Thank you for this detailed critique. Perhaps you will acquire the book one day and see how the sonnet fits within the context of the whole.

      As for the myriad dictates and decrees of other poets about the art of sonnet composition, I would advise ignoring these altogether.

      The crucifix will give you all you need to know.

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        Joseph, In reply to your reply and reference to the cross, I wish to share with you a poem composed some years ago while on retreat at the Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California. The poem is titled, Crucifix Askew.

        Upon the wall a crucifix askew;
        The suff’ring Christ in agony displayed;
        The crown of thorns around his head arrayed;
        His feet and hands and side were pierced through.
        His blood was painted with a crimson hue;
        His body bruised by hand and whip and rod;
        His eyes, uplifted, searched in vain for God;
        This graphic figurine was hard to view.
        Yet what I found to be most hard to bear
        Was that he hung not vertical nor straight.
        I had to force myself and hesitate
        From reaching out to twist him true and square.
        To understand this I am at a loss;
        Being bothered more by angles than the cross.

  5. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    Dear Mr. Tweedie,

    As to the sonnet of the skewed crucifix, I would say:

    Let us be more prompt next time in taking care of the things of the cult, especially as they pertain to the Holy Cross. Sacristans, please be more careful in making sure things are in good order.

    Reply

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