in tribute to James Sale and in memory of Joe M. Ruggier (1956-2018), who first published this
poem in The Eclectic Muse (December 2017)

Those Thracian hordes who grabbed your garment’s hem—
Were they mere slaves to Bacchus’s command?
I rather think your song incited them.
Your love was one they could not understand.

They could not bear the way you charmed the creatures,
Made streams dance and gladdened field and wood.
They felt such loathing for your noble features!
Their busy brains disdained your simple good.

The poet in our world cannot be free.
Yet when they ripped you to pieces, limb from limb,
Your voice could not be silenced, and your song

Rang to the heavens as it sailed along;
Your head, now bodiless, intoned a hymn
That cheered the Hebrus as it sought the sea.


William Ruleman is Professor of English at Tennessee Wesleyan University. His most recent books include From Rage to Hope (White Violet Books, 2016), Munich Poems, and Salzkammergut Poems (the latter two from Cedar Springs Books, also 2016).

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3 Responses

  1. James Sale

    Dear William – thank you so much for ‘tributing’ this wonderful poem to me. Aside from, which I shall come to, the tribute, the poem stands brilliantly on its own: the sonnet form is masterfully handled, the syntax is fluent and powerful, the rhymes are perfectly placed and not overpowering, and of course I love the subject matter – Orpheus, the model for all poets since. And it is of course a great poem of hope: Orpheus is in one sense a type of Christ, and so despite the worst, is not overcome by death and mutilation. The song lives on.

    It may be, in true poet fashion, that you do not wish to comment further on the poem or the tribute, since works explain themselves. But I am in slight perplexity as to why I deserve this marvellous tribute, especially as I don’t actually know you? I can only speculate: perhaps you like my poetry and some of its classical themes? Or maybe my critical articles, particularly on the Muses, have caught your attention and you approve? Or perhaps I see in the poem – as through a glass darkly – an allegory: an allegory representative of the recent tumult which frankly has besmirched the pages of the SCP despite the best intentions of the majority of good poets to provide a supportive environment for classical poetry? Who can say what is in your mind, or what closer readings of the poetry may reveal? Suffice to say, I am massively impressed by this poem and very grateful that you should have thought of me in connection with it. Thank you – I hope you go on to a wider appreciation of your work.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Joe’s passing surprised me also. He published a number of my poems roughly a decade ago, and I still have hard copies of the relevant issues of his journal. Anyone interested should try to read accounts of how he went door-to-door trying to sell copies of his book of poetry, and was fairly successful at it. How many of us have that much faith in our own work?


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