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On the Greek isle of Tilos are the ruins of the sanctuary of Pythian Apollo. Over them has been built the Church of the Archangel Michael.

“Now rot here on the earth that nourishes men. No longer will you live to be an evil mischief to mortals.”

—Homeric Hymn to Apollo

Saint Michael, God’s own musketeer,
Commander of angelic hosts;
Saint Michael of the lucent spear
Too glorious to be dimmed by boasts;

Hold back the hordes of this sick age
That seek our blood on every side—
The Mongols of our lust and rage,
The Persians of our pampered pride.

May your lance pierce the inward parts
Of what drives our diseased decline—
Like Phoebus, fill the beast with darts
And leave it in putrescent slime.

Let your sword swing and dole out death
In one immense and lethal arc
To all whose leprous, tainted breath
Infects the light and plagues the dark.

Like Trojans, may their throats be cut
By Achilleus, lost to hope—
Or let them, like the suitors’ sluts,
Dance strangled on a laundry rope.

Let them lie in mounded pyres
Awaiting the all-cleansing flame—
Let them belch, in those last fires,
The stench of their forgotten name.

And then, Saint Michael, Like-to-God,
Stand watch against vindictive night,
Lest gore from your chastising rod
Bring back, unseen, the venomed blight.

Originally published in TRINACRIA

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Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide.  He is the editor of the literary magazine Trinacria and writes for Expansive Poetry On-line. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.


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14 Responses

  1. Margaret Coats

    A perfect cursing psalm, first asking restraint of evils for which we are responsible, then obliteration of incorrigible enemies, and finally protection from their return. The structure shows without saying that we must be vigilant over ourselves, lest we have any part in the return of the venomed blight. Saint Michael, defend us in this battle!

    Reply
  2. James A. Tweedie

    To all whose leprous, tainted breath
    Infects the light and plagues the dark

    Words do have power, especially when the pen is wielded by one who knows how to use it.

    As for praying for Michael to vent God’s wrath and judgment in the manner of a vengeful Greek mortal/god, well, that is certainly thinking out of the box!

    And . . . I would love to know who is being addressed and cursed in your citation from the Homeric Hymn to Apollo.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      In the Homeric Hymn, Apollo is addressing the carcass of the terrible she-dragon that had surrounded the omphalos (the center of the world). He had killed her with his arrows, and then said “Rot there, and trouble mankind no longer.” The Greek word for “rot” is “pytho,” so Apollo is sometimes called the Pythian god when he acts to destroy or eliminate anything disgusting, vile, or polluting. The “conceit” of this poem is to connect the earlier myth of the Pythian Apollo with the Christian idea of St. Michael the Archangel.

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        Thank you.

        I am especially grateful for your bringing me back to the concept of a poetic “conceit.”

        Also, it seems to me that Apollo is often the one who displays behavior which could be described as “evil mischief to mortals!” As with all of the classical deities, Apollo reflects a personality as complex (and conflicted) as any human. This is, I think, part of what continues to make the Olympian soap opera so interesting and compelling for us today.

      • Margaret Coats

        It’s not just Apollo’s personality as seen in myth. Part of myth’s wealth of meaning lies in symbolism. This is clearest in Apollo’s solar symbolism: the sun is needed for crops to grow, but too much sun scorches crops and causes famine. Also seen in Apollo as causer of plague and healer.

        As for Michael venting God’s wrath on mortals, this is well within the box of several Biblical psalms praying for God to avenge His people on their enemies. In the Vatican II Liturgy of the Hours, the passages have been excised. These divinely inspired texts remain in the prayer of the Church only in a few traditional religious orders that recite the entire Psalter each week.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Apollo, like his sister Artemis, is a cold divinity who can be cruel and destructive. He has no playful, humorous side. But in my view he is the most important of the Graeco-Roman gods because all human achievement, art, and civilization are under his patronage, and he is the absolutely essential destroyer of what is evil, sick, degraded, ugly, inferior, and corrupt. Without Apollo and his far-shooting arrows, all filth and infection grows without check.

        The problem today in the West is that we have no Apollo figure to fulfill this crucial role, except for St. Michael the Archangel. And as Margaret has pointed out, the vile corruption of Vatican 2 has done all in its power to eliminate St. Michael from Catholic liturgy, prayers and consciousness. This was no error. It was deliberate.

  3. Julian D.Woodruff

    Thank you, Joseph. The allusion to Apollo is surely (in part at least) meant to denote how the dark sentimentalism and subjectivism rampant today must be defeated by the the power of objectivism and reason: insistence on the prevalence of absolute truth (light, the “lucent spear”).
    There are so many powerful lines here, my favorites being
    “Like Phoebus, fill the beast with darts
    And leave it in putrescent slime.”
    Did you have something quite specific in mind when writing “laundry rope”?

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      The “laundry rope” refers to the killing, in Homer’s Odyssey, of the serving-girls who had dishonored Odysseus’ house by sleeping with the suitors who were tormenting his wife Penelope. The girls were strangled to death by Odysseus’ son Telemachos on a clothesline (at the direction of Odysseus). It was part of the major cleanup of his house that followed on his return to Ithaka.

      The previous Homeric reference in the same quatrain is to Achilleus’ sacrifice of Trojan captives at the funeral pyre of his friend Patroklos, towards the end of the Iliad.

      Reply
  4. paul buchheit

    A lot of imagery and wrath here. Very lyrical. Great work, Joseph!

    Reply
  5. Sally Cook

    Dark and strange, with iron-clad stanzas, this poem sits like a block of marble on our near horizon.
    Thought that I had seen this before; re-read your note, and realized I must have seen it in that excellent journal TRINACRIA.

    Reply
  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    For me, this poem is a masterclass in spot-on technique. It makes a conceit look easy. The same applies to the excellent employment of alliteration – never gratuitous, never forced, just a pure joy to read aloud and revel in the musicality of the piece. Joe S., thank you for your inspiration.

    Reply
  7. David Watt

    The cut and thrust of consistently powerful imagery flows logically, and
    beautifully within its technically faultless framework.

    Reply
  8. C.B. Anderson

    Like Sally, I barely remember this, though I must have read it. Perhaps this is because Michaelmas coincides with Oktoberfest.

    Reply

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