a sestina

A rose arises red from its green sheath
Adorned with swords that prick and pierce: the thorn,
Whose vigil kept ensures its life’s not brief.
Unmatched in charm though fresh from garden born
The rose enrobes in em’rald linen leaf
Eclipsed only by ruby jew’lry worn.

The golden crown enclosed atop is worn
Aburst at last outside its mystic sheath.
Such beauty formed is forged in patience born:
The sun spurs growth and crafts a bush of leaf
And arms the fort with longer lance of thorn.
This youthful flush and rush is but too brief.

Like drops of blood, fall faintly petals brief
Who once were fit to sit so nobly worn
Now find themselves beneath the humble leaf
And thrown beside the ever watchful thorn.
Despite one shattered sword cast out its sheath
Behold! Like flame! One thousand more are born!

This royal rose greets bees with pollen born
On backs and legs from busy visits brief.
These flying friends do not enrage the thorn
But bed in sleepy, secret curtained sheath.
The buzzing troop returns to home work-worn
And gifts a fruitful, dusted, golden leaf.

Down come decay and worm that blight the leaf
Along with plague of black from fungus born.
The sun–once sweet–brings heat to scorch the sheath
Bone-dry and bleached, so skeletal and worn.
The flower withers last: ’tis beauty brief.
Foul beasts gnaw at the husk and tempt the thorn.

The winter chill confronts the sentry thorn–
Its post kept past the dying of the leaf
To fend off threats against the rose so worn
Who hides in sunken root for sleeping brief.
Buried alive a little life is born
Awaiting spring to melt earth’s icy sheath.

A gilded sheath anew is proudly worn:
The thorn restored with budding cluster leaf.
The death is brief unto a life reborn.



Deus Auxilians

An unexpected snowfall came like cloud:
A silent show of Heaven painting Earth
With crystal watercolor whites to shroud
The holy myst’ry of the Virgin Birth.

And so the ice and snow have blessed the Lord
As pools of paint atop God’s hyssop brush.
The portrait pure predicts a world restored.
The bones of man shall sing as if not crushed.

And yet behold the poverty here seen:
A cavern crèche just like a hidden tomb,
A manger bed of nails and wooden beam.
White Bethlehem bears Golgotha’s great gloom.

What hope! That God embraced the poorest start!
May He then deign to dwell in my poor heart!



Benjamin Thomas Cepican is a poet from central Indiana. After graduating college, he spent around two years as a Catholic friar in a (now dissolved) religious community. Currently, he works at a coffee shop but has not yet given up hope on living the contemplative life.

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7 Responses

  1. Allegra Silberstein

    Thank you for the lovely sestina and your contemplative nature shows in your other poem as well.

  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    Mr. Cepican, words of this nature are simply not necessary:

    em’rald jew’lry myst’ry

    As C.B. Anderson has pointed out over and over again, if a medial schwa vowel is not normally pronounced in speech, there is absolutely no reason to indicate its absence orthographically with an eighteenth-century apostrophe.

    Educated readers know how to pronounce words. They don’t need obsolete signposts. Such things only make the poem look pretentious and affected.

    Apart from this grumbling, I think both the sestina and the sonnet show a powerful and sophisticated command of language.

  3. C.B. Anderson

    Although sestinas do not usually have end rhyme, I like the practice, and the scant few of them that I have written make use of this device, though I always try for three rhymes. Most interesting is how the rhyme scheme changes in each stanza.

    • Margaret Coats

      I’m not sure (not having investigated foreign language sestinas other than Petrarch’s) but the rhyming sestina may be an English innovation by Spenser and Sidney, who were followed by Barnabe Barnes in their own time, and Swinburne later. All of them, like you, use three rhyme sounds. In fact, I know of only one sestina beside Cepican’s “Rosarium” above to work with two rhyme sounds. Found it right here at SCP: “The Colour of Dying” by Maroula Blades.

  4. Margaret Coats

    The tone of “Rosarium” is brilliantly ceremonial, as if the beautiful bloom passes through the natural year in a grand procession. It falters, though, at lines 5 and 6, because “enrobes” is a transitive verb that demands a direct object, and there is none. As well, the trochaic foot “only” doesn’t seem a worthwhile substitute for an iamb in this position. To solve both problems, I would suggest “The rose appears in emerald linen leaf/Eclipsed but by the ruby jewelry worn.”

    Your words in “Deus Auxilians” are chosen with equal care: “crystal watercolor whites” is as luminous and tenderly damp as snow itself. However, the manner in this poem is that of an intimate devotional meditation in which God seems to be your chosen listener throughout, even though the piece is written in the third person until the final line.

    Interesting contrast of two handsome poems!

  5. Benjamin T. Cepican

    Thank you all for reading; I appreciate the comments, criticism, &c.

    God bless!

  6. David Gosselin


    These are beautiful poems. You definitely have a poet’s sensibility. I also think you gave the sestina form a very effective classical-modern treatment, which is something many writers struggle with when trying to adhere to traditional forms. Your attempt seemed very natural and almost effortless. This is great. I would love to see more of your stuff.

    Also, your second poem is actually quite impressive. It’s difficult to write poetry on religious themes, or at least, many people try and fail. Some confound poetry with prayer, others confound poetry and prose, otherwise many of the poems simply come off as turgid and contrived. In your humility, you succeeded in creating something which is both touching AND original.

    Feel free to submit some poetry to The Chained Muse.

    I am also friends with Adam Sedia, a regular contributor at the SCP and The Chained Muse. He’s also from Indiana, as is the great poet, Jared Carter. Something is happening in Indiana.


    David Gossselin


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