The Ninth Day of the Emperor’s Wrath

a rondeau redoublé

The stadium roared at the end of the fight.
In triumph the victor uplifted his sword.
The emperor signaled thumbs down with cold spite.
Death’s blow entertained the degenerate horde.

The Christian who died was placed onto a board
And hauled underground out of spectator sight
As slaves cleared the sand of the blood that had poured.
The stadium roared at the end of the fight.

The dungeon held Innocents quaking with fright
As the emperor’s judgment—so mocking, so bored—
Inflamed the crass rabble to damn and indict.
In triumph the victor uplifted his sword.

A quick win for Nero. Another notch scored.
The swordsman was privy to Rome’s moral blight
And Pity was best left dismissed or ignored.
The emperor signaled thumbs down with cold spite.

He tortured his scapegoats with harsh pagan might
To hide how he terrorized, blasphemed and whored
And lit the fierce flame that caused Rome to burn bright.
Death’s blow entertained the degenerate horde.

The Innocents prayed and their brave spirits soared.
Though this was their last day to see the sun’s light,
These martyrs held true to their trust in the Lord.
While blind to the fire Christ’s love would ignite
The stadium roared.



A Ballade for Holiness

Yes, worldly sorrows do grow less
When thoughts of Heaven come to me—
They lead me from this wilderness
Of bitterness and calumny.
Some doubt my faith. Their mockery
Says prayer is merely pantomime.
But I have seen the sky and sea.
Your holiness will come in time.

I long for peace, for Your caress
To salve each silent injury
That hurts and grieves me nonetheless.
I’ve eaten from the apple tree
And hoped that wit would set me free.
It failed. No, faith’s an uphill climb.
Still, I have read John’s prophecy:
Your holiness will come in time.

Yes, I have sinned. I must confess
That I’m not all I claim to be.
Why You should love me I can’t guess
Yet You forgive abundantly.
Your mercy! That’s my heartfelt plea!
Come cleanse me of each thoughtless crime.
I’ll wait until eternity.
Your holiness will come in time.

O, Prince of Peace have charity—
Redeem me with Your grace sublime!
This I pray I live to see:
Your holiness will come in time.



Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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22 Responses

  1. Allegra Silberstein

    Your poems were magnificent with form and words compelling the heart in appreciation.

  2. Paul Freeman

    What an excellent rondeau redoublé – I felt like I was watching Gladiator or Sparticus again for the first time.

    You’ve embraced and expressed your faith well in A Ballade for Holiness.

    Thanks for the reads.

    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much, Paul. Those are two movies I always enjoy watching. And I appreciate your comments about faith – a most important issue for me.

  3. Cynthia Erlandson

    Very impressive, Brian, especially the rondeau, which is very musically delightful despite the morbid (though inspirational) subject matter.

    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you so much, Cynthia! I think that the courage of the martyrs, though not an easy subject to poeticize, should always be remembered.

  4. Margaret Coats

    These are both very beautiful, Brian; wonderful uses of these fair forms. You have thought out the effects you want to create, and planned the poems to do so with rich subtlety.

    We understand the title of “Ninth Day” when we recall that the devastating fire set by Nero lasted nine days. His hot wrath burns like his cold spite, while the martyrs experience both in their last, painful but most glorious day. You say the word “fire” only to speak of how they know already the fire Christ’s love will ignite in Rome. It is a realistic if horrific touch to give a tiny glimpse into the swordsman’s mind. He was well aware of the social situation, and therefore could not afford the human pity he seems to have felt interiorly. The horde in the stadium is worse; cruel violence is not their profession but their entertainment. Clever and effective choice to rhyme the rentrement at the end.

    The ballade reveals deep feelings of sure hope for grace not yet obtained. It has many fine touches. The first happens as the second stanza follows the refrain, and tells what “Your” means (we know nothing about “you” at this point). Then we can go back to line 7, and know too what seeing the sky and sea mean; the speaker is yearning for the holiness of his Creator. “John’s prophecy” is a bit of a riddle; do you mean “He must increase, and I must decrease”? The end of the third stanza is wonderful: the speaker will wait until eternity, while God’s much quicker mercy will come “in time.” Seems like the prayer in the envoy is already answered; yes, the speaker will live that long! It is meaningful to shorten the next-to-last line to emphasize firm hope for the favor. The ballade form is quite suitable for expressing a repeated hope, and your use of it for that purpose is exceptional. Bravo!

    • Brian Yapko

      Margaret, I’m deeply grateful for your rich and considered comment. You understand precisely what I was aiming for. On the “Emperor’s Wrath” I’m especially glad that you picked up my one fire reference. Fire (along with the subjects of “light” and “blindness”) is ever in the background of this poem — the burning or Rome, the martyrdom of the Christians, the wrath of Nero — but I reserved the word “fire” for Christ because fire — a sign of God’s presence all the way back through Exodus and into Acts — represents the Holy Spirit. And, in the end, that’s the fire that counts.

      On the ballade, I’m thrilled that this poem works for you. In many ways, it is the most personal poem I’ve written as an expression of faith and my first attempt at a ballade. It may not immediately show, but I had to dig deep to write this. On the question of John’s prophecy, I am quite simply referring to Revelation and Christ’s reassurance that His coming is imminent. This not only fit in with my theme of Time but — when combined with the reference to “the apple tree” — allowed me to reference the totality of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation with great economy.

    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks for giving explanatory notes; I’m glad I asked about the prophecy. I thought the refrain would be the prophecy or would allude to it; therefore I looked up “holiness” in a concordance, but found nothing in the Bible that says, “Holiness will come.” The key word, as you’ve explained, is not “holiness,” but “come.” And for future reference of anyone reading this, I’ll supply the last two verses of sacred Scripture:

      He that giveth testimony of these things saith: Surely, I come quickly. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

      From the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in Genesis to here is most certainly an economical allusion to all of God’s written revelation. Now I must say I don’t know of any ballade that covers so much!

      • Brian Yapko

        Thank you for the additional comment, Margaret, and for presenting the verses of sacred scripture. My intent behind the word “holiness” was two-fold. First, it was intended to present an essential attribute of Christ in the sense of blessedness. By the end of the poem this blessedness is expanded by the speaker to also encompass salvation. Second, I intended the phrase as (I hope) a respectful way of addressing Christ since “Your Holiness” has been historically used as a title for great religious figures. I wanted the phrase to be susceptible to more than one meaning — or to at least encourage the reader to ponder what that meaning might be.

  5. Satyananda Sarangi

    Powerful poems.

    As I was going through them, I felt as though it wasn’t I but my Conscience that was reading them. Such poems come once in a while and leave a mark on the mind.

    Fortunate enough to have read these gems!

    New Year wishes.

    • Brian Yapko

      Satyananda, your rare and beautiful comment leaves me speechless! I’m very grateful for your kind words and I thank you as well for the beautiful poetry that you write.

  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Brian, both poems are a triumph! The rondeau redoublé is one of my favorite forms, and you have put it to excellent use in ‘The Ninth Day of the Emperor’s Wrath’. The repeating lines work perfectly to conjure the images of the baying crowd and the cold cruelty and hypocrisy of the era… which serves to highlight our own brand of hypocrisy today and the support of it by many. “The stadium roared” is excellent use of repetition… this is the sort of technique that adds emphasis and brings a poem to life… I could feel the bloodlust and it made me shiver.

    ‘A Ballade for Holiness’ is humble and beautiful, hits just the right note and is just the right antidote to all the worldly wickedness. Your glorious words bathed me in the wonder of hope, love, and faith… divine and shining armor during these days of external and internal battle. The poems work alone but even better as a pair… Brian, you have a way with words that heartens and inspires me. You make good use of all the poetic devices, yet none of them detract from the potency of each poem’s message. It’s a privilege to read your work.

    • Brian Yapko

      Susan, sorry — I responded to your comment below. But while I’m on the subject of gratitude, I feel exactly the same way about your poetry. You hearten and inspire me. When I see your poetry published, that day is almost certainly a better one because I get to enjoy your insight and creativity. The privilege is mine.

  7. Brian Yapko

    Susan, I always so appreciate your comments and am particularly happy to receive this one today. Regarding the rondeau redouble, I’d never even heard of this form until SCP introduced me to your poetry. I was fascinated by your use of the form and the compelling way you made repeating lines (and rhymes) build in power until there was an explosion of meaning. I’ve tried to learn from your example so to hear from you that I’ve done passably well with the form means a great deal to me! As for the content, I’m glad you recognize that this poem includes a veiled critique of modern society. This modern world of people who cancel and condemn those they dislike, who don’t bat an eye while writing the most heinous things on social media, who glee in tearing down statues and burning sacred books… It’s extremely Roman in the worse possible way. I relate to Russell Crowe’s character in “Gladiator” bellowing to the degenerate crowd “Are you not entertained?”

    I am deeply and sincerely glad that you like my Ballade. This was, for me, an example of writing something that moved me and that I hoped — only a hope! — might move others as well. It brought me back to the basics of my faith and allowed me to confess my shortcomings — and aspirations — in a way that I’ve never done before. Who am I that God should love me? And yet He does. That realization never ceases to amaze me.

    I would never have thought to combine these poems as a pair. And yet, given that both deal deeply with the challenges of faith, I’m grateful to Evan that he did so. And, for the record, I love the artwork that he selected for this post.

  8. Yael

    Wow, I really like both of these poems a lot! The picture is great too and sets the stage for the poems really well. Thank you very much everyone who makes this experience possible, I really appreciate you.

    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much, Yael! And, again, thanks to Evan for the perfectly-chosen artwork.

  9. C.B. Anderson

    Since I’ve written a few of them myself, I have opinions about this type of rondeau. I don’t think I ever read one in headless anapestic tetrameter before, but as far as I know there is no prohibition in force.

    The first stanza determines all of the succeeding repetends (and also the final hemistich), and here each line is a discrete end-stopped grammatical entity. The same is true for the subsequent iteration of these lines. I have found that the repetends are much more effective if they are grammatically connected with adjacent lines, especially if this is done in such a way that new nuances of meaning are generated. Just a thought.

    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you for your thoughts on this C.B. I would like to try a rondeau redouble in the manner you describe and, though difficult, I believe I could do it with the right subject matter. On this particular one, the effect I was going for was quite deliberately a series of flash images — almost paparazzi-like. I imagined a camera-shot on the emperor, a camera-shot on the swordsman, a camera-shot on the crowd… This is intended to be a very visual poem in that sense which ties into my theme of light, perception and lack of vision. I felt my “photographic flashes” of pagan Rome were best served by adhering to a narrow field of “conversational vision” as it were. Adding to that was a desire to present brusque, Roman pronouncements which — at least in my mind — served the story. There is contrast at last when we actually let the film roll, so to speak — and focus on the Christians praying. Note the contrast with “Though this was their last day to see the sun’s light/
      These martyrs held true to their trust in the Lord.” At least creating contrast between harsh, brusque Rome and a more lyric Christian point of view was my intent.

      • C.B. Anderson

        As ever, Brian, such things are always the dealer’s choice.

  10. Tamara Beryl Latham

    Brian, your rondeau redoublé, “The Ninth Day of the Emperor’s Wrath,” was incomparable in form, tone, imagery and rhyme.

    You didn’t miss a beat and should receive accolades for the amount of work undertaken in presenting such flawless and effective poetry. I feel as though I were at the Coliseum.

    Your second poem cries out to the Lord for salvation and since He is such a forgiving God, He will, no doubt, absolve you of your sins.

    Love your poetry! 🙂


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