Song of the Rose

The rose awakens, ere the sky
Has wakened to the sun;
And we, my one true love and I,
Awaken with a tender sigh,
To love until the day has run
And all our pains are done.

We part the burdens of the breast,
The weight of passing cares,
And gather roses, take our rest,
And count the ways that we are blest,
Each offering the other’s prayers,
In our old hymns and airs.

For, the sky looks down upon the rose,
The stars upon the sky, and God
On all things, and our hearts He knows,
And Fair Love’s face will He disclose
To those, in silk or leather shod,
Who soar, or search, or plod.




I stand before the Adriatic sea,
Unwreathed of confidence in things to be,
Time’s wind-born song of spray and transient foam
With each wave’s death dies one more death in me.

Behind, the glories of eternal Rome;
Above, a blank morn’s achromatic dome;
Below, the ebb and flow of all my days,
A distant sail, a vagrant thought of home.

I stand, a rock beneath the bone-blanched haze;
Lost eons rustle sand beneath my gaze;
The salt-breeze asks where all my Aprils fled,
And where my hopes, and where my fleeting Mays.

I ponder paths abandoned, where they led,
The swell of life, the outflow of the dead
Who wait to waken where their grey stones lie,
And muse on what might stir a dreamless head.

The green sea groans a long and wistful sigh;
The chant of fishermen draws near, and I
Wait on for thee, the sun my sea would wed,
One day, beneath a resurrected sky.

© Joseph Charles MacKenzie. All rights reserved.



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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16 Responses

  1. Leo Zoutewelle

    Ah, what can one say in the presence of such majestic mixture of sound and thought? Thank you, Mr. MacKenzie.

  2. Sally Cook

    Dear Mr. MacKenzie –
    I admire the delicate and subtle way you wind your words around your concepts.

  3. C.B. Anderson

    These were clean and pure without being bland, and with a breathtaking clarity of idea and the expression thereof.

  4. C.B. Anderson

    One question: In “Song of the Rose” is the ABAABB rhyme structure named, or attributed to some past poet? Or is it a nonce form of your own devising? Either way, it creates wonderful stanzas, and is a device I would like to keep close to my fingertips.

  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    “Rimini” is especially beautiful, where four and a half quatrains of regret, loss, and disappointment are suddenly illuminated with expectant hope.

    • James A. Tweedie

      I fully concur with the especial beauty of “Rimini.” Much of its success is its lovely woven form, like a terza rima but with fourth instead of third rhymes. I thought this could be called quarto rima but I can find no reference to the term. What is this form called?

      • C.B. Anderson

        Actually, I asked the same question, James. The stanzaic form is closer to rhyme royale than to terza rima. We don’t see much of the former these days, but if you can find some vintage poems by Clive James, you will find quite a bit of it, and some damn good poems to boot. Unless you archive back issues of THE NEW YORKER, the best bet is to go to the archives of POETRY (the magazine).

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        Dear James,

        What I needed for “Rimini” was very simply the rhythmic appearance and breaking and disappearance of waves. The a wave breaks (sounds as a rhyme) in the couplet, the crest of the b wave appears as one word, then the a wave recedes as one word, then the b wave breaks in its couplet (sounds as a rhyme) the crest of the c wave appears and so forth.

        C.B. Anderson is right, however: all the forms are somewhere out there (he notes Clive James) and nothing is new under the sun. The old accusation that I want to live in the horse and buggy days I fully embrace. It is usually wielded by those who have never visited the Grandes Ecuries at Chantilly on horseback with the sound of hunting horns in the distance. The automobile? Boring!

  6. David Watt

    Both poems transmit thoughts and feelings with the immediacy and clarity of a conversation between old friends. The way in which ‘Rimini’ explores the Adriatic scene from every angle is especially effective.

  7. Joseph S. Salemi

    “The Song of the Rose” is in a form unknown to me — but perhaps it is an older medieval French form that MacKenzie has reused or updated. He is profoundly versed in French literature.

    The poem has a rhyme scheme of ABAABB, and uses the following metrical pattern in the first two stanzas:


    But the third stanza makes a variation, by using five tetrameters followed by a concluding trimeter. MacKenzie is too skilled to have made a mistake here; I’m sure that the variation is deliberate. It may have something to do with the fact that line two in this quatrain ends with the name of God.

  8. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    Thank you, everyone, for your kind comments and insights on my verses. For the record, Dr. Salemi is correct about the variation of line 14 in “Song of the Rose” in that it is, indeed, deliberate.

    In my own mind, however, verse 14 is trimetric, keeping the pattern of the first two stanzas, so as not to dissapoint the ear in its expectations, but with an extra iambic stress attached to the trimeter. Had I not satisfied the ear’s expectation of a trimetric verse—”The stars upon the sky”—the addition of “and God” would not strike the ear, and therefore the heart, as a surprise, but rather as an error in versification, as Dr. Salemi suggests.

    The “turn” created by the variation emphasizes a theological truth, namely that God is not, as liberal pantheists suggest, a mere part of His creation. Rather, and as St. Thomas directly proves, the Creator, in His quality of Creator, is outside of and external to His creation, since the Primum Mobile cannot enter or be a part of the chain of causality of which He is the cause. (We see Dante conceptualizing the Primum Mobile as the outer sphere by which all the other spheres are moved.)

    But God is even more—so much more that He cannot “fit” into the trimeter verse (which the ear expects and which the poet must deliver and does deliver because poetry, for me, is a perfect clockwork in the hand of God).

    How the seemingly distant Mover who looks down on skies and stars and the visible world relates to the moved is all we mean by the Incarnation, which brings us to appearance of the Second Person of the Trinity in line 16 . We must contemplate the Holy Face, the face of Fair Love in Himself, to understand and by understanding partake of the divine fruits of that relation which is grace. For me, the face of Fair Love is crowned with thorns and covered in the Precious Blood. For, His passion and death are the ultimate proof of His knowledge of our hearts. Not all of my readers think as I do, however, so I elected simply to name the Redeemer by one of His titles, the one which I think conveys His truth most poetically, inviting the reader to contemplate the Holy Face rather than forcing him to do so.

    Indeed, it was out of of respect for my readers, that I gave, in the final verse of “Song of the Rose,” a metaphor for three stages of the Interior Life, but in reverse order: the unitive, the illuminative, and the purgative. “Who soar, who search, who plod.” I reverse the order to illustrate another truth that married couples should never forget. For, in a certain but very definite way, the perfection of the Interior Life can be found in all three stages. I will go even further. The perfection underlying the Interior Life in all three stages of its development and ultimate flowering is nothing other than God Himself.

    And yet, the context of the poem’s reflexion is one that was chosen by God and revealed by His Word as His own incarnational context, insofar as He appears to us in time. This brings us back to the poem’s title, “Song of the Rose.” If ever you see a rose in any of my poems, know that I am alluding to the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and I do so in full anticipation of every form of vituperation, spite, and social ostracism, knowing that the society in which I live is little different, with respect to Mary, than Iranian or communist Chinese society.

    Again, I thank you for your very kind and useful thoughts about my verses. I am very grateful even to be considered by such a group of readers.

  9. James Sale

    More great work from JC Mackenzie. His use of rhyme is extraordinarily deft, but what I most like is his choice of adjectives which redefine their nouns: achromatic dome and resurrected sky are two examples. These lines really pack a punch.

  10. Bruce E. Wren

    Both poems are exquisite. I loved the way the “Song of the Rose” ended, amply discussed in the comments above. “Rimini” sounds to me like a classical romantic-nostalgia poem (it reminds me of something of Byron or Shelley), but with that unique McKenzie “Christian twist”, that sets it apart from those classical models, and infuses it with light. Bravo, Joseph.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      I thank you for your kind intervention and appreciation of the Christian underpinnings of my work.

      Do you know that “Rimini” is autobiographical? The experience occured shortly after I had walked from my priory in Rome all the way to Rimini, with a stop at Assisi where a traditional Franciscan abbot gave me a sack of cheese and bread and wine in the place of train fare, saying: “You must complete the journey God has given you.” I was attacked three times along the way at knife-point, slept on the ancient ruins of an aqueduct once under the stars, and was most hospitably treated by the Italians who seemed to have a deep-seated need to take me home to feed me. I expired from dehydration at the bridge of Titus in Rimini and was saved a faithful there whose ten-year old son recited the entire Fracesca da Rimini passage from the Purgatorio by memory after a fine meal in his father’s garage—after his siblings came in from the olive groves. Eventually, I mangaed to place a rose on Dante’s tomb and spent several days seeing Ravenna afterward with a very kind French priest who was an expert on the mosaics.

      The poem describes an actual moment. The fishermen, the “achromatic dome,” the sea suddenly becoming gree, everything is real. Even Dr. Salemi’s comment, “regret, loss, and disappointment suddenly illuminated with expectant hope,” is exactly how I experienced that moment.

      • Josef Wolff

        So this is a poetry website for anti-communist and religious people? Interesting. My literature teacher when I was young, was tortured by Communists for 14 years for refusing to give up his faith and he fought the against them all his life. He wrote quite a few poems and 22 books on other subjects but mainly dealing with fighting the Marxist ideology. He’s most well known for a book titled
        “Tortured for Christ”
        Regarding your poem, the one about the roses, you have some considerable talent and I liked the rhyming and the
        structure. Although as a reader I would have preferred to be able to relate to it at the heart and soul level and not just on an intellectual plain. But I suppose that has to do more with individual preferences than form and content. Overall it was better than most poetry and prose that’s been flooding the world for the last 20 years.

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