The King

Lying lips win praise and fame,
And money, pow’r and wealth;
They grant great glory for your name
But cost the price of self.

For once a man betrays his plans
To be upright and true,
That blackening corruption finds
A crack to slither through.

And every further step he takes
Away from good and right
Is one less chance to stop the snake
Before day turns to night.

That pull of cash and fancy clothes
Has pushed him towards a fall,
And though he’s got the world, he knows
That he’s got nothing at all.

And so, alone, upon his throne,
That king without a crown
Becomes a god to minds of men
But to the saints, a clown.



Freedom’s Heavy Yoke

It seems that man is most enslaved by freedom—
As when he’s left unto his own devices,
The passions always over-rule the reason.

A mind weighed down by choices, badly beaten
Into submission by conflicting voices;
It seems that man is most enslaved by freedom.

And man will make his money via treason
When he runs out of patience for fair prizes;
His passions always over-rule his reason.

And faced with branching paths like back in Eden
He tends to pleasure, never sacrifices.
It seems that man is most enslaved by freedom.

Of wand’ring eyes and devil’s impulse seeded,
A dose of dopamine, mind-fire ignited;
The passions always over-rule the reason.

Until help from Eternity is pleaded;
Divine assistance, finally invited;
It seems that man is most enslaved by freedom,
And passions always over-rule his reason.

Michael Witcoff is an Orthodox Christian and Oblate of St. Benedict. He is a best-selling author from Chicago, Illinois.

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8 Responses

  1. James A. Tweedie


    Two fine poems containing much to ponder. My favorite line in The King also (by chance) happens to be the most awkward since the emPHAsis falls on the wrong sylLAble:

    And though he’s got the world, he knows
    That he’s got nothing at all.

    You added the “That” but it doesn’t work for me for several reasons (too many syllables and now the “got” is un-emphasized whereas it is EMphasized in the previous line.) For what it’s worth, I’d like it better without the “That.”

    As for the subject of the poem, it must hard to be an absolute monarch, and, given human nature, perhaps impossible to be a good one. Even so, there are more than a few who have attained the status of “Saint” including Wenceslaus, Justinian, Louis IX, Canute, Constantine, etc. God bless ’em. I couldn’t do it!

    As for the villanelle, well done. What shines brightest is that it makes sense (which is always the hardest part in composing one). One caveat, however. I stumbled over the word “aways,” which means, of course, “without exception.” This is not true, of course, for “reason” trumps “passion” more often than not, even in complete freedom, if for no other purpose than that of self-interest. Personally, I would have hedged the line by writing, “The passions tend to over-rule the reason.” Even so, it’s your poem and your understanding of human behavior. And the poem is well-constructed, regardless.

    I enjoyed the poems including the thought that went into them and the thought they generated in me as I read them.

    • Michael Witcoff

      Thank you for the feedback. I went back and forth on adding the “that,” adding it because I didn’t want the “thing” in “noTHING” to be emphasized, as I imagined might happen if the line were read as the others were meant to be read. It seemed to me that either way that line would have to be a little different compared to the others. Your point on having “got” emphasized the same way both times is well-taken and I appreciate that comment; it’s given me something to think about that didn’t occur to me at the time, and which I can use to improve and revise my other ones 🙂

  2. Joe Tessitore

    I liked the message of “The King”, but structurally it’s all over the place. I believe it’s a given that when you introduce a rhyme and/or a meter pattern, it should be maintained throughout.
    “The King” fails to do so.

    I loved the impact of its final verse, but think it could have been structurally tightened up as follows:

    And so he sits upon his throne,
    A king without a crown.
    A god to minds of men alone,
    But to the saints, a clown.

    • Michael Witcoff

      It’s heptameter, with line breaks between every fourth and fifth feet.

      • Michael Witcoff

        Iambic* heptameter, with a truncated iamb to start the poem.

    • Michael Witcoff

      No worries 🙂 If you read it out loud as iambic pentameter, the structure will probably reveal itself better than with silent reading.


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