What is my body that was never mine,
That, fevered, it should waste below the deck?
I rise, instead, to face the ocean’s brine,
The Muslim’s wrath, the ending of my trek.

What is the ball that penetrates my chest,
If not the lead that tipped the Roman’s scourge
And ripped across my Savior’s guiltless breast?
A second—third—my blood—the swelling surge!

But one hand left, the right! O Mother sweet,
Who bids me sheathe the sword to lift the pen,
Though I should be enslaved, protect God’s fleet,
That my poor wounds may heal the hearts of men!

For, thy Son’s stripes shall mend a soldier’s scars,
But raise a poet to the deathless stars.

Sanctissimi Rosarii Beatae Mariae Virginis

Poet’s Note

Today is the feast of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, instituted throughout the Universal Church by Pope St. Pius V to celebrate Christendom’s defeat of Islam on the seas of the Mediterranean.

Pope St. Pius V attributed the Christian victory at the Battle of Lepanto to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was invoked on the day of the battle through a campaign to pray the Rosary throughout Europe. The Holy Father called on all of Europe to recite the Rosary and ordered a 40 hour devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Rome during the time the naval battle took place.

Despite the Holy League’s fleet being vastly outnumbered, all but 13 of the nearly 300 Turkish ships were captured or sunk. The Christian forces won a decisive battle, saving all of Christendom by checking the expansion of Turkish power.

One of the men who fought in the battle was Miguel de Cervantes, the future poet and author of the greatest novel ever written, Don Quixote de la Mancha. Already dying of a fatal fever, the captain of his ship, the Marquesa, insisted that he wait the battle out below deck rather than risk certain death through exposure to the elements, let alone the enemy. Cervantes refused, saying: “. . . up to now I have served as a good soldier. I shall not do less on this occasion, even though I am weak and full of fever. It is better that I should fight in the service of God and the king and die for them, than keep under cover.”

But dying for others would be a much longer process than Cervantes ever imagined. During the battle of Lepanto, he took three balls, two in the chest, and another which left his left hand mutilated. Years later, in 1575, Cervantes was captured by the Turks and forced into slavery in Algiers for four years. During his captivity he was praised for his charity towards the other prisoners; he was known to share his food and bring his fellow captives back to the faith. He was finally ransomed in 1580 by the Trinitarian friars and his family and returned to Spain.

It was only in the last part of his life that Cervantes, the soldier, became Cervantes the poet, the greatest Spanish author who ever lived.

My poem, entitled, “Flagellation I,” is about the transformation from soldier to poet through the imitation of Christ at the pillar, a meditation, in other words, on the Second Sorrowful Mystery of the Most Holy Rosary. Underlying the poem is the hidden theme of scourging of the Mystical Body, which is the Catholic Church, at this time of world-wide persecution.


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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17 Responses

  1. Bruce Edward Wren

    MacKenzie’s talent and cultural acuity blaze out in this wonderful poem. The notes to it are almost as fascinating: I too would call “Don Quixote” the greatest novel ever written (besides being the first novel ever written…), and the quote from Cervantes is, alas, too little known, much less publicized. Bravo!

  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    Let’s hope we will have another Lepanto against the current invasion of Europe by the Islamic enemy.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Unless we turn to Our Lady, as the men of Lepanto did, there can be no victory against the Saracens, only defeat. It was the Most Holy Rosary, and the confidence of Catholics in praying it, that secured the miraculous outcome of the battle.

      So, in this way, Dr. Salemi’s comment is the most important of all, as it reveals the entire motive of my new sequence, entitled, “Sonnets for Heaven’s Queen” consisting of seventy-seven Mariological meditations on each of the fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary of which the Cervantes sonnet is the first of five meditations on the Flagellation.

      For, we cannot love what we do not know. I therefore desire above all things that my poor verses make Mary better known and loved at a time when she is more necessary than ever before.

      And this is why the “volta” of the sonnet has Cervantes himself, his own blood surging from his wounds as the sea surges around him, turning to his heavenly Mother for help.

      “He does not have God as his father who does not have Mary as his mother.”
      —St. Augustine of Hippo

    • Damian Robin

      re Mr Salemi’s comments on IS and the Whig theory of progress, enlightenment, revolution, and liberation. The communists are as needing of attention as Islamic extremes and Whig-liness.

      Communists leapfrog in at the revolution stage with the carrot of liberation that twists into a garrote of inhibition.


      Agenda: Grinding America Down from a right, Christian, free enterprise view of the insidious tadpoles and toads of socialism and communism.

      If you do set down to view (it’s an hour and a half) I think you will find Curtis Bowers’ documentation of books, references, quotes, the relating of relationships of individuals and organisations and groups, and diagrams, concrete and amazing.

      I viewed it in snitches and snatches and it works though there are unsubstantiated jumps of praise he makes about the American way of life and the free market. His statements may be true but he does not go into detail to support yet does with the main side of his argument about communism being alive and well and living around the world and, most troublingly, in the US.

      Also important in the UK with the rise of Corbynistas and the left lurch of the Labour Party. On the surface, it seems ‘real’/downtoearth but as Lenin said (quoting form AGENDA) “The goal of socialism is communism”.

      I only came across it two weeks ago but perhaps you’ve already seen his films as they’re a few years old and have won a big prize in the US.

      ’Tis politics
      not poetry
      but living kicks
      in reality.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        Today is the 100 anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima.

        Socialism and communism are the result of Russia’s errors. What were the errors of Russia? The rejection of Peter, occultism, theosophy, and and satanism.

        The Russians had a sublime and glorious liturgy, but it was chaff because divorced from truth. The Russians had a formidable devotion to Mary, but it was chaff because divorced from the Hypostatis.

        Socialism and communism are not causes of apostasy, but punishments for apostasy. In the East they followed the Eastern Schism. In the West they follow the Protestant Rebellion.

        Curtis Bower, like countless others, excels at exposing communism. But he himself is merely another godless apostate. Communism, not God, is the center of his being, his life, his career.

        And the worst thing about such men is their lack of Christian culture.

  3. Evan

    This episode in Cervantes history was hitherto unknown to me and has given me new respect for the acclaimed author. Thank you for the illumination, Joseph!

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Indeed, Mr. Mantyk, the life of Cervantes is beyond extraordinary, especially the period of his four years of imprisonment in Algiers.

      But on a deeply personal level, Cervantes and the spirit of of his age survive in my own world of northern New Mexico. My mother’s Spanish, like that of all Norteñas from Las Vegas and Santa Fe, was precisely the same dialect spoken by Cervantes himself, a language which New Mexico’s geographical, and therefore economic and cultural, isolation preserved for over 400 years.

      But even more, I believe that the American poet, Mr. Wren, whose gracious comment you may have read (supra), would agree that Cervantes’s finest creation, Don Quixote, is the very incarnation of poetry itself, on many levels.

      I grew up with Cervantes, as my father, a New Mexican of Anglo-Scottish heritage, had fallen in love with Iberian history in general and had translated Cervantes as part of his graduate studies in Spanish. So the story of Cervantes at Lepanto was handed down to me by my father directly. I never made much of it, but, like all passing lessons transmitted by one’s father, the seed was planted to flourish much later.

  4. James Sale

    Richard Rohr – a Catholic – has written many wonderful theological works, and he describes his own theology as ‘mystical incarnation’. I am a Quaker, but that – mystical incarnation – is something I believe in myself, and this poem is an extraordinary example of it. What a wonderful fusing of history with scripture; indeed, this is what the New Testament did for the Old – we saw anew the ancient stories and how certain people prefigured the Incarnation of the Christ. Joshua (Hebrew for ‘God Saves’) leads to the Promised land, and Jesus (the Greek form of Joshua) also leads to the heavenly Promised land; so Joshua was a ‘type’ of Christ. And while Christ lived at the Transfiguration we see Elijah and Moses discussing with him what is about to happen. So now we have ‘types’ post the Resurrection. This is very significant poetry.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      As a matter of fact, there is a certain way in which Mr. Sale is confirmed by St. Ambrose, whose commentaries on the Gospels consistently put forth the idea that the Incarnation is something that we ourselves make visible in our works. I am very grateful for Mr. Sale’s comment which goes straight to the heart of the matter in the sense that the new Mariological sequence I am writing now is all about types but especially models. We ourselves can be types, because we have models. And this is the fruit of contemplation.

      To read Quixote is truly to understand how the poetic act arises from Christ’s salvific act. It is Cervantes transforming his personal reality into fiction, infusing the stroy with reality. There is a great paradox here, and Cervantes was the first to comprehend it. Cervantes, at Lepanto, steps into a kind of popular, prevailing fiction, that of the heroic knight, infusing it with the reality of his own blood, but by a real act of sacrifice.

      What is the true religion, after all, if not man’s becoming, in a way, his divine Model? And this is where the Incarnation becomes the Invitation. “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” More paradoxes.

  5. Reid McGrath

    I had read about Cervantes enslavement in Algiers but had never heard of his involvement at Lepanto either, Evan. No professors in the schools I attended or the writers of the censored Introductions we were assigned to read ever wanted to expound on anything hinting at a writer’s faith, especially his or her Catholic faith. St. Thomas More, the Catholic martyr and writer of UTOPIA, becomes Thomas More, the writer of UTOPIA, in every new college anthology. No doubt I went to some bad schools. But I’m thankful for MacKenzie for correctly rewriting the rewritten or fluffed under the rug history of our poetic and faithful forebears.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Dostoyevsky called Don Quixote de la Mancha “the final and greatest utterance of the human mind.”

      And I can assure you, Reid, that I do not recall ever attending a good school—and I rather suspect that good schools ceased to exist after Vatican II whose dismantling of the Latin Church has had ramifications for all institutions of human letters whatever their stripe.

      My undergraduate misfortune, St. John’s College, with its double campus in Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, is nothing other than a Scientology cult with Emmanuel Kant standing in for L. Ron Hubbard—definitely not a place for the real study of anything, much less the Spanish Siglo de Oro. I remember Cervantes being treated like just another proto-Kantian treatise in novel form.

      Of course, there is such a thing as a bad school, and then there are psych-wards.

      So, we are all of us victims of the decline of the West when it comes to time wasted in educational scams.

      And it is interesting that you bring up Thomas Moore. The scholarship that Joseph Pearce has produced is pretty compelling in proving that Shakespeare’s first play, a collaboration that never saw the light of day, had the martyrdom of Thomas Moore as its subject.

      • Damian Robin

        Many thanks to Mr MK 45 for his rattling articulately at the over-frothy poetry-like tides of centuries.

        And for his erudition and insights into Catholic tradition. Like Evan and Reid McGrath, I was not aware of the Cervantes’ incident at Lepanto and his deep strength and compassion.

        Don Quixote was my ‘favourite’ book — with the Odyssey — both in translation — in my teens. In an uncritical ‘what a good yarn and yarns’ way. It’s great to hear of the depth of the author as a man as that lights the book more. Thanks.

        Re Vatican II — I was brought up Polish-Irish Catholic but on such a narrow tightrope I soon jumped off.

        I’m old enough to have experienced the weekly Mass in Latin (and often through the week as my father was devout in those observances and pulled me along — for which I’m grateful. This helped with disciple but not with insight — as with my schooling in a Roman Catholic Grammar School in the UK.)

        The Latin Mass was often a profound experience. Though a lot of the experience was to do with the gawping ignorance of not knowing the language and with the priest, bedecked in rich robes, not facing the congregation, there was more mystery, less humanness. But in that a link to the past, to a great tradition going back nearly two thousand years in its show and further in its meaning.

        I did take Latin for a year at that school — I think it was compulsory. There was no sense of what we could use it for — to read Catullus better or even to understand the Mass. And elsewhere we were told it was a dead language.

        Looking forward to my pennies rolling together for a pick of Mr MK 45’s sonnets.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      All schools in the Anglophone world are still in thrall to the Whig theory of history, which is taught as a mater of course everywhere, and which has a baleful influence on everything in the humanities curriculum.

      This Whig theory makes a fetish of progress, enlightenment, revolution, and liberation from the shackles of Catholicism in particular, and tradition in general. Every subject and author is studied solely through this prejudicial prism. If a given author cannot be made to fit the prescribed bill, he is simply ignored.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        And we are very privileged to have Dr. Salemi spearheading the Ars Poetica Nova through TRINACRIA if only because, as I have no doubt, he has inherited a tradition known as Philology, a kind of broadly literary but at the same time linguistically precise academic discipline which has utterly disappeared from our institutions. Philology was the most demanding of disciplines because it encompassed the greatest range of ancillary studies, including, in addition to linguistics (in the classic sense), both criticism and history. Dr. Salemi is perhaps one of the few living masters of this discipline in the world today.

        But this is the kind of intellectual background the Ars Poetica Nova absolutely requires for the restoration of “la poésie classique”—and nothing short of this. I get emails from readers telling me they have a hard time believing that anyone could hold themselves to such a standard, but what seems impossible in our Age of Mediocrity was perfectly normal and attainable until relatively recently.

        The “prejudicial prism” Dr. Salemi invokes has come to replace any semblance of discipline in the world’s academies.

  6. Sam Gilliland

    Upon reading Flagellation 1: Cervantes at Lepanto, one no longer captures moments, one captures self! The coveting of inner consciousness in pursuit of poetic creation is as natural in Joseph Charles MacKenzie as breathing is to man. Perceivers prompt good poetry as a matter suggestive of magic nurtured within the Romantic mind. They should learn to flee from self-imprisonment and escape into the external world this poet prescribes for what mystics avow is non-union with anguish. It is time to praise the revolutions of modern concepts and to bask in the power of his purity.


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