A hundred tongues of smoke—
Translucent wisps, lithe specters—
__Rise, snaking languidly,
Curling, grasping like tendrils
At the light they invoke;

Then billow into clouds
That hang, a haze, an aura,
__A veil of mystery,
Of light diffuse, pervasive,
That glows and yet enshrouds.

An otherworldly scent—
Sweetness of life eternal
__Tinged with the pungency
Of mortal flesh atoning—
Wafts downward, heaven-sent.

Rise! Fill the cold, still, dank air,
__Fill me with every breath;
Fill what is foul with sweetness,
__Liven what stinks of death!

Rise! Fill the apse, the arches;
__Fill the high vaults and dome;
Shroud all the simulacra
__Masking the world to come!

Rise! With my prayers to Heaven,
__With the choir’s voices, rise!
Past this corrupt world’s reaches,
__To dwell in Paradise!



Adam Sedia (b. 1984) lives in his native Northwest Indiana and practices law as a civil and appellate litigator. In addition to the Society’s publications, his poems and prose works have appeared in The Chained Muse Review, Indiana Voice Journal, and other literary journals. He is also a composer, and his musical works may be heard on his YouTube channel.

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13 Responses

  1. Brian Yapko

    This is very beautiful, Adam, with a strong mystical quality which fills the heart. I especially like the inspiring repetitions of “rise” in the last three quatrains which dramatically expresses the speaker’s deep yearning. I also am impressed by your confident use and non-use of rhymes. Your poem’s liberation from strict rhyme expresses a liberation of spirit within a solid structure which admirably suits the poem.

  2. jd

    Enjoyed this, too. It seems very fitting to its
    subject, not an easy one to write about.

  3. Margaret Coats

    Interesting two-part structure, with change of stanza form. The way incense moves can hardly change, but the observer and his response can and do. He demands action in a paradisal direction. This is a good choice of topic with manifold images suited to a devotional meditation.

    Near the ends of the two sections, you refer first to the “pungency of mortal flesh atoning,” and later to “this corrupt world’s reaches.” This suggests to me an incense story not from your poem. A prelate was asked for a blessing by some individuals whom he could not in conscience bless. But as they did not understand Latin, he gave them the blessing for incense at High Mass, including “May you be blessed by Him in whose honor you will be burnt.” Glad to find the poem more forthright than the subtle prelate!

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      A joke, perhaps a prediction. Perilously close to a curse. And said in effect in secret at the expense of those making the request. And it was easier than denying the request and saying why. Sounds a lot like a failure of courage and true charity.

  4. Paul Freeman

    The sense of smell is probably the most underused in writing, but helped immensely to make ‘Incense’ rise, as did the deft, tighter change in stanza form (reads poem again). Those purveyors of darling killing would have a thing or two to say about ‘Incense’, but in this case the descriptiveness is the point.

    I found the penultimate stanza particularly profound.

    Incense is a funny thing in that I usually associate a smell with a single place or instant. Yet incense always brings to mind Absalom, the Cleric from the Miller’s Tale, my halls of residence at university (often to cover up another pungent odour), the cathedral-like interior of a friend’s apartment block where a single stick of incense stick gives it a homely feel, and a dozen other memories.

    Thanks for the stimulating read, Adam.

  5. Cynthia Erlandson

    I love the glorious description in this poem, Adam, and am intrigued by the original rhyme scheme of the first three verses.

  6. Julian D. Woodruff

    A beautiful poem, Mr. Sedia, constructed (I’m guessing) to invoke sights, sounds, and actions of a high Mass.

    • Adam Sedia

      Of course! I am a weekly High Mass attendee. If you really want a flavor, my church has a nice photo gallery: https://nwilatin.org/hammond (you can even see the back of my head in one of the photos). Thank God Francis’s latest decree has had no effect on us so far.

  7. Joseph S. Salemi

    Incense is employed in the rituals of several religions, though Sedia’s poem uses words that indicate he is thinking of Christian ceremonies (apse, arches, vaults, Heaven, Paradise).

    Margaret’s anecdote about the prelate’s blessing is what we used to call
    “gallows humor” — comic, but with a definite cold edge to it. Can you provide us with a reference for that story, Margaret?

    A Roman Catholic High Mass of the older form is a synaesthetic experience, of which the smell of incense is joined with the sight of the holy objects on the altar and the vivid colors of the celebrant’s vestments, the sound of the Latin chants, the taste of the consecrated Host, and the touch of said Host on one’s tongue. Other examples of touch in Catholic ceremonies are the priest’s thumb marking one’s forehead with ashes on Ash Wednesday, the anointing with chrism and the slap on the cheek received during the sacrament of Confirmation, and even the sign of the cross made by a Catholic who touches his head and torso as a blessing.

    Incense, however, is powerfully associated with the divine, as it pushes aside all mundane smells, at least momentarily. I would also add the unique smell of real beeswax candles — the church of my early childhood was utterly permeated by and infused with it.

    • Margaret Coats

      I have heard the story of the prelate using the incense blessing for persons on several occasions–but referring to different prelates at different times blessing different individuals. This makes me suspect that it is, as Julian suggested above, a joke. Julian was, however, too hard on the prelate, because every time I hear this story, the persons asking for a blessing (criminals or heretics) know very well that their request is presumptuous rather than devout.

  8. Adam Sedia

    Thank you, everyone, for the comments. I am always thrilled to know that my work has brought some enjoyment and even insight to others.

    Regarding the rhyme scheme and shift in stanza structure, I wanted to return to the playfulness of my earlier days when I liked to experiment with structure and rhyme scheme rather than adhering to a prescribed form. Part of it resulted from sheer ignorance before I learned (through my own efforts) the plethora of poetic forms. Still, some of my own creations were successful, and in this poem I sought to keep my older practice alive.


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