The Once-Lost Land

The arm that threw the disc of day
__Across the sky we know must dim,
The hand that strewed the Milky Way
__Where angels swim,
From far beyond the farthest star
Composed the darkness that we are.

His light it is that we call ours:
__The morning glories’ morning fades;
All shadows melt; the old grey hours
__Dissolve like shades,
By faint degrees and unaware,
Mere vapors on the fluttering air.

Like clouds that billow and decrease,
__False fancies fluff, hard cares deflate;
Grief irons out the wanton crease
__For small and great;
Our vaunting thoughts, that vainly climb
Ambition’s tow’r, are clipped by Time.

Yet we are summoned to arise,
__Called forth from clay and parchèd dust
To mount life’s brae and lift our eyes,
__And dare to trust
That all that is or was before
Shall grow our vines from more to more,

Shall grow, from more to more, our vines
__And round to ripeness rapture’s grape
Before the ruddled eve declines…
__God leaves agape
His garden door, that hand in hand
We enter in the once-lost land.



Be they of nature, or of art,
All things recall thee to my heart,
Or be they real or of the mind
Each thing according to its kind:
The desert aster’s vivid hue,
That boldly paints our arid land,
Its fragile strength that breaks through sand,
All things return my thoughts to you.

All things remembered, visions fair,
That on my journeys, here and there,
Recount, as parts present the whole,
Some aspect of thy own sweet soul:
As if to sing thy modesty,
The shyness of the forest hind
That leaps away as fast as wind,
A crown, thy beauty’s majesty.

How is it that the wastral world
Sees not within a leaf unfurled,
Or flowers in the wilderness,
Some semblance of thy tenderness?
That men have not yet justly seen
Such things of nature or of art?
I think I know: It is the heart
That maketh human eyes more keen.

© Joseph Charles MacKenzie



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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42 Responses

  1. James Sale

    Wonderful poetry – so many things that one could comment on. But the beauty that I especially liked was this almost concealed pun: ‘God leaves agape
    His garden door’. The word agape here, with its echo of the Greek and New Testament sense, is so skilfully positioned. Fabulous work.

  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    “I think I know: It is the heart
    That maketh human eyes more keen.”

    That is not just beautiful; it is also profoundly true.

  3. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    This eye-opening, heart-touching, beautifully wrought poetry is filled with so much to engage the reader, it begs to be read again and again.

    Thank you very much, James Sale for your interesting information on the word ‘agape’ – knowing this has made ‘The Once-Lost Land’ even more remarkable.

    This admirable poetry is a wonderful Friday afternoon treat. Thank you, Mr. MacKenzie.

    • James Sale

      Thanks Susan for commenting on my comment. To expand a little, since it is always instructive to study the techniques of great poets, some may be wondering why I say that the pun is ‘almost concealed’ when it is in plain sight – as it were?

      Basically, this is because Mackenzie sets up a strong iambic metric, and an equally strong rhyme scheme, so that we must read read the word ‘agape’ as a-GAPE with the stress falling on the second syllable. Indeed, even ‘God leaves’ is iambic, (though an actor for emphasis could turn it into a spondee). It’s the compelling meter/rhyme’s inevitability that blinds us to the alternative reading.

      But this alternative reading, of the word Agape as AG-ap-e creates a ternary beat, and instead of an iambic foot (- x), we have a dactyl (x – – ). But do we? In fact, we really have an amphimacer: AGaPE (x – x), for the pronunciation of the final e is as if it had an acute accent on it. It is not as equally stressed as the AG, but it is stressed nonetheless. This gives us, if our notation exchanges vertical pillars (|) for x: | _ |. In other words, a metrical version of a door or gate! To read it this way is a massive wrench; we don’t want to do it, but agape is the necessity that God insists on if we are to enter the once-lost land again. This, then, is a brilliant sort of double-take, and mimesis, of the human dilemma.

      A final question might be: did the poet, Mackenzie, intend to do this? Poets, of course, are notoriously misleading and self-deluded on their own poetical practices, whilst often extremely insightful about others! And one must not be dogmatic. My own view would be that Mackenzie did not consciously write this in a technical way: the Muse did. This kind of brilliance only comes when the Muse is in full flow – it is too clever to ‘think’ through, and so only comes through inspiration. Such is its joy!

      One could write an essay on this poem alone, but this is enough for now. I hope this is useful.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        My first intention is to have no intentions. God provides what is fitting to His glory and the comprehension of men.

        This does not in any way contradict. Mr. Sale, what you have said so very well.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      You must not thank me, Mme Jarvis.

      Poetry does not have its beginning in the poet. Poetry does not have its end in the poet. God is the beginning and the end.

      The poet creates nothing. God creates everything. There is nothing the poet possesses which he has not received.

      The first intention of poetry is to shed all intentions. The personality of the poet must be offered in oblation. Only then may God bring the poem, and the thereby the poet, into being.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        I don’t know how I missed this thought-provoking reply. I’m so sorry. I have always felt there was something spiritual and divine about the creative process. Your potent and rather beautiful words have me thinking… a lot.

  4. Margaret Coats

    “The Once-Lost Land” is a doctrinally profound poem, with a faith-teaser line in “Composed the darkness that we are.” This cannot mean that God is responsible for evil or sin. We human beings are darkness, perhaps, in that we are mere creatures. But simply as human beings, we are each created in the image and likeness of God. This indispensable attribute of human nature means that “His light it is that we call ours.” And that would have been true even for our first parents, who possessed the supernatural gifts of sanctifying grace and bodily immortality. Those qualities were and are not our own; they are gifts we are called to reclaim, to “enter in the once-lost land,” and to do so “hand in hand,” as friends of the second Adam in His Church. Blessed Easter, Mr. MacKenzie, with thanks for this forward-looking poem.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Yes, Mme Coats, the expression is metaphysical as you hasten perfectly to suggest. More simply put, we cast a shadow, whereas God is pure spirit.

      To be a true husband is to lead the beloved through the door of highest love, the “agape” the Fathers and Doctors once declared divine in their many commentaries on the Sermon on the Mount.

      “The Once-Lost Land” is, indeed, a love poem, composed in honour of my wife.

      May God bless you and all those around you this Easter.

  5. David Watt

    This is rich and moving poetry of the highest order.
    The following lines struck me as a rather clever stanza linking device within ‘The Once-Lost Land’.

    “Shall grow our vines from more to more,

    Shall grow, from more to more, our vines”

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Yes, Mr. Watt, because the labour of fructification, that is the human side of grace which is grafted on to nature, is ongoing and repetitive, and because the vine, in Christian poetry, is a traditional indirect allusion to the Precious Blood, the guarantor of grace and grace in itself, which is the ultimate Eucharistic presence in the poem preparing Mr. Sale’s “agape door” discuseed above.

  6. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    There is yet another theological pun, not yet noticed, a play on a name, with an attrbiute referencing shame, a pun that confirms everything Susan Jarvis Bryant and James Sale are saying.

    I do wonder if anyone will find it. Like the other, it is “hidden in plain view.”

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        I’m a working-class kid from Noo Yawk, so I have no such scruples.

        “Eve” of Genesis is the clear referent in MacKenzie’s last stanza. The word “ruddled” refers to a reddish mark that is left on a ewe after she has mated with a ram.

        Resonances of our first mother, of sexual activity, pregnancy, and shame are swirling around in that last stanza.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        Oh no, Mr. Zoutewelle, my poems are not like that. No one needs to have some specialized knowledge of the theological puns to enjoy the poem as poem. If one simply takes the “declining eve” eschatologically (as the ending of time), or the declining of one’s years, or the “ruddledness” as the redness of a sunset, or all of the above, the lyricism is the same, mabe even better, who knows?

        My verses are not written for the page, but for the voice. They are meant to be recited. My audience hearing them at one of my recitations does not have time to explicate for themselves each and every word as we do in a literary forum. The “lyrical impact,” if you will, is what matters in the hearing—so I am told.

        In fact, it very often makes for a finer experience, in recital, if the critical faculties of the audience do not replace their enjoyment of the poem.

        It is all in the vocalization, which is the true art of poetry, and in the hearing, which is the true art of readership.

        The voice is the terminus of a poem, not the page.

  7. Mike Bryant

    As one educated in Godliness and humility, or perhaps humiliation is more apt, by the Marist Brothers, I can say that this
    wondrously received poem resonates perfectly in the deepest parts of my soul.
    And yet, if Eve had not been “ruddled” so, I may not here exist
    today to contemplate the meaning of this song.
    One of too many lessons I learned from the sadistic mind of
    Brother Damian Victor.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      So, were you actually educated by the Marists, Mr. Bryant? Is that the order founded by Fr. Colin, the Society of Mary?

      I ask because many years ago friend of mine, a religious from Lyon, took great pride in showing his beautiful city. They have Notre-Dame de Fourvières, where the Marists began.

      It’s not an old order but they rapidly spread all around the world The Marists were revered as great teachers.

  8. Mike Bryant

    Fortunately, after the torture endured at the hands of the anointed, I received the remainder of my education from other sources. I am one of many who have turned away from Catholicism. I have a strong faith in God, but none whatsoever in the modern day Pharisees.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      I wonder if you had the experience during or after Vatican II.

      The 99% consistent pattern (throughout the world, mind you) is always: “We had the best teachers, brilliant, holy men that made us into real people,” if the education was received prior to Vatican II, and then, as you are now reporting, “they were a bunch of sadistic, modern-day Pharisees,” if the education was received during or after the modernist infiltration of Vatican II in 1962.

      I am sorry to know of your torture.

      I did a bit of research and discovered that the Marists, like all the orders, have been almost completely decimated by Vatican II. There are now less than 1000 of them throughout the entire world! Their numbers in England, France, Italy, Spain, and Germany are so few that they got consolidated into a single European province! It won’t be long before Vatican II just shuts them down altogether. The number is a strong indication that they have no more vocations and are ageing out.

      Vatican II vehemently hates religious of any kind. It either shuts them down or transforms them into shills and then shuts them down. In either case, they uniformly discarded their old constitutions and regulae vitae, which means that whether they exist through some formal instrument or not, they were no longer religious in the true sense.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        For Mr. Bryant — I had an older brother who was tortured by Vatican II Jesuits in Japan in the 1970s. After all the time and money he spent going out there, he was exremely dissapointed to learn that they no longer taught metaphysics, which he thought, at the time, he had every reason to expect out of them. He said they weren’t even teaching philosophy anymore and lacked any kind of moral discilpline—just hanging out there like a bunch of old hippy hedonists inmbibing sake all day, doing yoga, walking around barefoot in jeans and t-shirts, and generally pretending to be Buddhists.

        So, he did the only sensible thing and tore out of there and dropped the Vatican II “church” altogether. There was no other way for him to preserve his faith.

        The best of all my brothers, by the way.

        People would be shocked to know that the great exodus away from Vatican II in the 1960s had a lot to do with being a good Christian. A college friend’s dad was a Jesuit priest ordained prior to Vatican II. He told me he left because “We were TAUGHT to turn our backs on modernism. I did exactly what a Jesuit is supposed to do!”

        And that was when Vatican II was still wearing the mask!

  9. Joseph S. Salemi

    To Joseph MacKenzie and Mike Bryant —

    All of this is a very sore point, but I’m grateful that you guys have brought it up.

    I was trained by pre-Vatican II Jesuits at Fordham University, one of the oldest Roman Catholic colleges in the United States. Most of my teachers were born around 1900, and had been ordained as Jesuits in the 1920s. They were highly learned men, steeped in philosophy, logic, metaphysics, and theology, fluent in Latin and Greek and modern languages, and well-versed in the subjects that they taught, including secular subjects. They had gone through the Ignatian discipline of the Spiritual Exercises, and were men of holiness, skilled in the discernment of the movements of the human soul.

    As a direct result of Vatican II, that Jesuit order is now DEAD. Today’s Jesuits are an intellectual joke. They are nothing but politicized social workers pushing a Saul-Alinsky agenda. Just look at the Argentine buffoon who is currently the Antipope, with what is clearly a room-temperature IQ.

    And yes, Vatican II had a barely concealed animus against all the religious orders, but most especially the contemplative ones. It is a direct reflex of the early Protestant hatred of monasticism in all its forms, and its demonic will to destroy or shut down all convents monasteries, priories, abbeys, chantries, shrines, hermitages, or anyplace else where persons could devote themselves to a formal religious discipline.

    The current regime at the Vatican has revved up this self-same early Protestant policy today. Bergoglio’s hatred of the contemplative orders is ferocious, and he is doing everything in his power to crush them or subordinate them to the left-liberal pro-LGBT “bishops” whom he has consistently appointed to dioceses all over the world.

    Your brother, Mr. MacKenzie, is in good company. One of the best Jesuits of my student years, Fr. Vincent Miceli, simply walked away from the Jesuit order when it was transformed into a cesspool of modernist stupidity. I recall his words: “I didn’t desert the Jesuits. The Jesuits deserted Christ.”

    Millions of Roman Catholics left the rotten, quasi-modernist Church after the epic disaster of Vatican II. My wife’s uncle, a working man in his late 60s who had attended 7 A.M. mass DAILY throughout his adult life, simply walked out in 1970, utterly disgusted at what had transpired. He was one of many, who slowly but surely exited as their older priests died or retired, or as their pre-Vatican II bishops were replaced by homosexualist radicals, or as Vatican II stupidity became ever more rampant.

    By the way, Fordham University is no longer a Catholic school, although it pretends to be one for the sake of appearances, and to collect donations from clueless alumni. But the head of its “Religion” Department is a homosexual living a public “marriage” to his male lover. Can anyone imagine an outrage of this nature occurring prior to the disease of Vatican II?

    • C.B. Anderson

      The center cannot hold, and there is nowhere to turn. The Anglican Episcopal community, of which I am a nominal member, has decided that “social justice” is of a higher order than divine justice, and I find there no comfort. Conservation of traditional values has become a meme that exists primarily in the context of its own mockery by powerful relativistic forces. And thus the spirit of ecumenism has become a dry husk devoid of any viable seeds. I wish I were more hopeful, but, as my predecessors were fond of saying: Piss in one hand, hope in the other, and see which hand fills up first.

      • Leo Zoutewelle

        CB, with the exception of the last sentence, your comment is startlingly real and accurate!

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        In “The Second Coming,” Yeats was writting as a pure atheist, or, to use a more polite term, an Anglo-Irish Protestant. This is why the whole poem is so sensationally depressing and fabulously untrue.

        A Christian might have written the oft-quoted third verse to read something like: “Things fall apart, and yet the center holds.” Another possibility might be: “Things fall apart, godless, man-made center cannot hold.”

        But no, like a perfect affirmation of Emile Durkheim’s famous study showing that suicide rates are dramatically higher among Protestants than Catholics, Yeats produced a poem that finally exposes the real hopelessness of his own modernism.

        I think the “hope” you are referring to, Mr. Anderson, is merely natural hope, a movement of the appetite toward some future good who attainability is difficult or in doubt.

        The crouching pagan (back to Yeats) possesses as much.

        True hope is a theological virtue of the supernatural order. Whereas natural hope arises from fear, supernatural hope is a totally confident expectation of obtaining eternal happiness with the help of God and the means of grace He has provided. As theological, it is infused in the soul directly by God. True hope is thus divine.

        If there is any fear which may be said to be a part of the theological virtue of hope, it is merely the fear of offending God. However, such a “fear” arises from the love of God.

        Catholics in their daily Rosary and in various “Acts of Hope” pray for an increase of this virtue.

        The preachment of the theological virtues is notably absent in the sect of Vatican II, as I beleive it to be in Protestantism.

  10. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    I do believe readers might benefit from saying an Act of Hope each day:

    DOMINE Deus, spero per gratiam tuam remissionem omnium peccatorum, et post hanc vitam aeternam felicitatem me esse consecuturum: quia tu promisisti, qui es infinite potens, fidelis, benignus, et misericors. In hac spe vivere et mori statuo. Amen.

    O LORD God, through Thy grace I hope to obtain remission of all my sins and after this life eternal happiness, for Thou hast promised, Who art all powerful, faithful, kind, and merciful. In this hope I stand to live and die. Amen.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      It might be good to note that the end of this prayer (In hac spe vivere et mori statuo) was used by Villon, in French, as the repetend line of his “Ballade Pour Prier Notre Dame,” in the voice of the poet’s mother.

      The older French goes like this “En ceste foy je vueil vivre et mourir.”

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        Amazing, Dr. Salemi!

        And yes, really, the whole ballad is one extraordinarily profound act of faith.

        Le Tout-Puissant, prenant notre faiblesse,
        Laissa les cieux et nous vint secourir…

      • Leo Zoutewelle

        Thank you, Mr. MacKenzie, for your latest comment to me. I appreciate your emphasis on hearing a poem; for whatever that might be worth, I fully agree, but I myself also need to read the poem in order to try to fully understand it. Anyway, whatever faux pas I may have or still will utter and how much fun I may ever make of others’ statements, please accept my firm and permanent opinion that though I am in no way in your league, I find you to be the best English-speaking poet I have ever met or will likely meet in the future: I love your poetry.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Mr. MacKenzie, I thank you for pointing out the difference between natural hope and hope as a cardinal virtue. I should have understood this already. Back when Bill Clinton was first elected President, the inimitable William F. Buckley was on a panel at one of the major networks. When the results had come in he was asked whether he had any hope (of the natural kind) that Bill Clinton might turn out to be a good President. He replied, “Well, as a Roman Catholic I am REQUIRED to have hope (the cardinal virtue), however … (and he then continued, in his high-toned patrician style, with something about how his EXPECTATIONS would certainly lead him to answer the question in the negative. How prophetic! I’m sure he must have known the difference (between the one kind of hope and the other), but he couldn’t pass up a chance for a rhetorical flourish. I missed the distinction at the time, though I thought it was a damn funny thing to say.


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