.

Servant of the Servants of God

Servus Servorum Dei

—a title of the Pope

A small informal gathering of clergy
From satin cassocks down to the discalced
Queue in line before the Petrine Seat.
There are some buzzing whispers as all wait
To pay respects, or else present a plea.
The Pope inquires of each man concerning
(Pour faire une politesse) some minor fact
Before he hears the suppliant’s request.

Just in passing, with the greatest tact,
A young Franciscan, as the rest talk, mentions:
“Your Holiness, I manage a bordello—
I know, of course, it cannot be reformed;
I could not beg from you a Papal blessing…”
The pastoral servant of God’s servants nods
And answers with a kind, indulgent smile:
“Yes, my son, I shall say prayers for it.”

.

.

Orchestration of a Marriage

At the ceremony, all was hushed—
The organ’s whine left choir voices crushed.
Dominant basso softened to allow
The murmuring Mass, the whispered nuptial vow.

The newborn child’s cry certified their fates.
The clatter of pans, of dishes, spoons, and plates,
The drone of uncle and the buzz of aunt
Were sounds to be endured. Tune out? You can’t.
Dictating clocks and doorbells kindled strife—
The discords inescapable in life.

Sleep and sex no longer gave repose.
Slowly the tenor of their voices rose.
All they say now is said in screams and barks—
Even the simple questions and remarks.

.

.

Lorenzo Valla on the Donation of Constantine

The Latin is most barbarous, and cannot
Be of the time of Constantine. Although
The prose of Sallust, Tacitus, and Livy
Was long forgotten in Rome’s later days
And Cicero’s practiced periods obsolete,
No imperial letter would contain
Such solecisms and uncertain grammar,
False usages, subjunctives all awry,
And nouns specific to the feudal world.
I knew after one reading that the text
Was from some monkish inkwell in the time
When Italy was a half-Teutonic swirl
Of Lombards, Ostrogoths, and warring dukes,
And no one spoke, much less wrote, goodly Latin.

Others besides myself had noticed this.
Anyone with a grasp of Latin prose
Saw at a glance that this was wretched stuff
Cranked out by someone who had learned the tongue
Not at his mother’s lap, but in a school
Where lazy pedagogues taught Latin verbs
That they themselves could barely understand.
This from the Emperor Constantine? Indeed!
This mishmash of bad syntax and mistakes?
It is the product of a darkish age
Where Latin had decayed to a patois
That soon became our new Italian speech.
Moreover, kings and diplomats knew well
No ruler would have made this vast donation.

Think of the consequences of this lie:
The Papacy exalted far beyond
The limits of endurance, and corrupt
From too much power, sovereignty, and pelf;
The Church a player in the game of war,
Political intrigue, and cutthroat schemes.
Dante himself bewailed this sick “Donation”
And how it made all Italy a stage
Of endless turmoil, simony, and blood.
Were we not told to render unto Caesar
That which is his, reserving for the Church
The holy lights of sacramental grace?
But with this piece of fraudulent foul Latin
We blurred the boundaries that our Savior set.

.

Poet’s Note: The Donation of Constantine is a forged document of the eighth century, which purports to be a record of the Roman emperor Constantine’s gift of vast power, prestige, and territory to the Pope and all his successors. It was for centuries appealed to as the legal basis for papal power in central Italy, Rome’s primacy over the patriarchs of Constantinople and elsewhere, and papal authority to dictate in territorial disputes between Christian rulers. Never completely accepted as genuine, it was decisively proven a fraud by the philological analysis of Lorenzo Valla, a prominent humanist scholar of the fifteenth century. Valla demonstrated that the language of the Donation could not have been a product of the time of Constantine.

.

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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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26 Responses

  1. Brian Yapko

    Three superb poems, Joseph, each of which demonstrates a mastery of subject matter and technique which is utterly unique. They work together — especially “Servant” and “Donation” — to present different aspects of relationships — Pope and clergy, husband and wife, Church and Historical Truth. Each of these poems touches upon some aspect of Roman Catholic life to varying degrees.

    Although this poem starts with a Church wedding mass, “Orchestration of a Marriage” (in rhyming couplets) is the least Church oriented of the three in its focus on the increasingly cacophonous and discordant sounds which follow a marriage from the murmuring Mass and whispered nuptials at its beginning to discordant screams and barks down the line. I’m reminded of Ravel’s Bolero and how it builds and builds until the noise is almost overwhelming. Although one may rue the lack of harmony that has a habit of taking over in life, your exploration of sound and your playfulness with sound-words is quite enjoyable.

    Your blank verse “Servant” poem speaks volumes about a pope who would bless rather than condemn a bordello. I continue to be astonished by Church leaders who have no boundaries and whose commitment to Biblical teaching is negotiable. Those who try to be everything to everybody end up becoming nothing to nobody in the end. And that’s of real concern to those of us who care about the Church.

    My favorite of the three is your blank verse “Lorenzo Valla and the Donation of Constantine” because you treat a historical subject from a first-person perspective (a technique which I deeply enjoy) and you embed a valuable Church history/Medieval history/linguistics lesson into the work. Whether it is you or Lorenzo Valla who is making the point, it is suggested that the fraudulent Donation of Constantine, although intended to convey great power to the Church, actually sabotaged its Christ-derived mission and planted the seeds of criticism which later culminated in the Reformation and other problems. A highly relevant modern lesson which is implicit in your discussion of the consequences of the fraudulent donation: historical revisionism is rarely a good idea. Historical accuracy matters.

    Thank you for these. All three poems are extremely enjoyable.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Dear Brian —

      Many thanks for you appreciative words and insightful commentary. I should confess that the first two smaller poems were written long ago (the early 1970s, I believe). Therefore “Servant…” has no bearing on the Church’s situation today or on the current antipope Bergoglio, but is an attempt to depict the inextricable mixture of good and evil that makes up any sublunary institution, no matter how exalted or holy. I was trying to write a comic piece at the time, but today the whole thing seems ominous.

      “Orchestration…” was just an attempt to describe how any marriage (whether happy or otherwise) can become unpleasant because of all kinds of pressure and stress. I tried to make the entire piece purely auditory in its imagery.

      On the other hand, the Lorenzo Valla poem is brand new, the fruit of my renewed interest in the dramatic monologue.

      Reply
  2. Adam Wasem

    Meaty and witty and technically skillful as always, Dr. Salemi. I was going to ask if “Servant” was some subtle slam on the current anything-goes goof in the office, until you clarified it. But I think that’s how people are likely to read it. I’m no Catholic, but if you wanted to make it comforting and affirming of a generalized inheritor of the Petrine seat, instead of ominous, you could do it in a single foot. Just change the last line from “Yes, my son, I shall say prayers for it” to “Yes, my son, I shall say prayers for you.” Just my $.02.

    As for “Orchestration,” congratulations, few can produce gallows humor effectively. It brings small cheer to the freshly married, I can tell you, but perhaps it can bring some acknowledgement of suffering, if not comfort, to the veterans.

    And I found “Lorenzo Valla” quite absorbing. There’s far too much of “I, The Poet” in contemporary poetry, and character writing necessarily precludes that, so thank you. I was not aware of Valla nor that Constantine’s Donation in particular was one of if not the original document justifying the Catholic church’s accumulation of political power and earthly wealth, so thank you also for filling in one of the gaps in my historical knowledge.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Dear Adam —

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I deliberately used “it” in the last line because the image of a pope praying for a brothel captures the alchemical conjunctio oppositorum (the joining of opposites) that I wanted to suggest. Praying for a person is non-problematical; praying for a whorehouse is striking. As a historical backdrop, I had in mind these lines from W.B. Yeats:

      Fair and foul are near of kin,
      And fair needs foul, I cried.

      Reply
      • Adam Wasem

        Dear Joseph,

        I was working off your previous answer to Brian, wherein you stated your intention with the poem in the 70s was comic, but that now it comes off as ominous, and thought perhaps you didn’t wish it so. I agree with you on both the comedy and the ominousness, and I would go much further than “striking.” More than comic, it’s the blackest of comedy, shading into horror, wherein the conclusion tinges with the sinister all that has come before. I wasn’t sure that your intention was to inspire horror on such a scale, but if that’s the case, you certainly succeeded.

  3. R M Moore

    Thank you, Dr. Salemi. This is my first time reading your poetry. Servus Servorum Dei caught my eye. I agree with the message one may come away with from “Servant of the Servants of God.” But can we not hope instead, that what Adam Wasem observed in his second to last line: “Yes, my son, I shall say prayers for you,” be the case?
    Also, “Orchestration..” has nice imagery, but is dwarfed by the overall tone that it leaves the reader with. Those honest and thoughtful individuals who are within The Church, and who are or will be entering into Holy Matrimony, already know what vows they choose to submit to: and the reason they are doing so is due to their agape love for the beloved–something that Modernists never stress.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Dear R.M. Moore —

      Many thanks for your comments. See my reply to Adam above concerning the use of “it” in the first poem.

      As for “Orchestration…”, the poem is deliberately meant to be upsetting. I assume that everyone entering the married state is both aware of the vows given, and has at least some kind of love or affection for the other party. But no matter how sincerely devoted spouses may be to each other, marriage is a hard row to hoe. The tension, the stress, the difficulties, the complications, the responsibilities — even in the best of marriages these can drive persons to the brink of a breakdown. I wanted the poem to show that.

      As a general point, I don’t believe that poems always have to be uplifting and inspiring and hopeful. What’s wrong with a poem about a marriage that has gone to pieces? George Meredith’s sonnet sequence “Modern Love” is a riveting depiction of a marriage in which love and affection have dried up.

      Reply
      • R M Moore

        Dear Dr. Salemi,
        Thank you for viewing my simple commentary.
        In the poem, ”Servant”, it could be said the Pope will pray for the conversion of those in the bordello.
        In “Orchestration”, the question, ”What’s wrong with a poem about a marriage that has gone to pieces?” may be answered this way. Holy Matrimony was instituted by Jesus for members in The Church. This Sacrament comes with graces for the couple to be able to overcome the temptations that will inevitably come throughout the marriage, and those graces are especially powerful when the two lovingly pray together. There is already too much written about the uninspiring coming from The Church, which you ably show us in ”Servant”. So I challenge you to use your creative poetic skills and invest the time to promote the True, the Good, and the Beautiful that is to be found within the lives of the Saints, the true History of The Church, or in Her holy dogmas, etc. These would be a refreshing and welcome change, even if they were done slowly and incrementally. Nevertheless, please let me join all those commentators who find your poetry excellent and entertaining. And forgive anything written here that may seem unbecoming. Thank you, Dr. Salemi.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Dear R.M. Moore —

        I am very grateful that my poems are pleasing to you, and I deeply appreciate the kind words you have written.

        I must confess, however, that I cannot take up your challenge for the simple reason that I am unwilling to direct my poetic energies into paths that are dictated by any ideology. My feeling that poetry is a “licensed zone of hyper-reality” prevents me from following any kind of Party Line, whether imposed by a government, a philosophy, or a church. Abstractions like “the True, the Good, and the Beautiful” are uncongenial to my artistic skill. If I have a Muse, it is a spirit “that bloweth where it listeth,” as the scripture puts it.

        Besides this, all marriages (whether performed within the Catholic Church or outside of it) are subject to trial and tribulation at some time or another. All the sacraments, including matrimony, are channels of grace, but they are not necessarily channels of earthly happiness.

      • R M Moore

        Dear Dr. Salemi,
        This is in response to your second reply, June 6,2022. I am actually enjoying fencing with our ideas. Thank you for your kindness and patience with this back and forth.
        I considered the term ”hyper-reality”: hyperreality, n, an image or simulation, or an aggregate of images and simulations, that either distorts the reality it purports to depict or does not in fact depict anything with a real existence at all, but which nonetheless comes to constitute reality.
        Furthermore: Proposed by Jean Baudrillard, the concept of hyperreality captures the inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality. This is more prominent in technologically advanced societies. Hyperreality is seen as a condition in which what is real and what is fiction are seamlessly blended together so that there is no clear distinction between where one ends and the other begins.[1] It allows the co-mingling of physical reality with virtual reality (VR) and human intelligence with artificial intelligence (AI).[1]
        Jean Baudrillard is a French cultural theorist, sociologist and philosopher. His most notable work consists of establishing the concept of hyperreality and the simulacra. Some of Baudrillard’s most influential theorists consist of Karl Marx, Freud, Levi Strauss, Nietzsche, etc. Baudrillard’s work stems around his interest in the theories of post-structuralism and post-modernism.
        All of that being presented, am I to understand, in more concise words, you believe poetry is a licensed zone of ‘a real without origin or reality’ as defined above? Then I definitely can understand not following any Party Line. And, nota bene: The Church never imposes Herself on anybody, which would be contrary to Her Founder, Who came not to condemn, but to free us from sin. I will agree with you now when you communicate that Truth, Goodness, and Beauty–all three nouns, of which are ideas and not abstractions– would not be suited to your artistic tastes. Of course, I am open to the remote possibility that I have misinterpreted what I read from you and I am willing to be corrected, and hopefully through the action of your charity.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        The word “hyper-reality” may be new, and invented or popularized by Baudrillard, but I use it to describe something that is as ancient as poetry itself. As I employ the term, it has nothing at all to do with modernism or postmodernism or artificial intelligence or any new ideology.

        For me, hyper-reality is the free play of the imagination, the use of language to create fictional scenarios, and the license of the poet to conjure up anything at all that strikes him as interesting, intriguing, fascinating, or entertaining. It has no necessary connection with the “real” world, though it certainly makes use of ideas or stories or symbols or linguistic traditions that are part of that “real” world.

        All great poetry has been about hyper-reality, or “imaginative constructs,” to put it another way. It makes use of the “real” world just as a stage manager makes use of props in a drama. But its primary purpose is to be aesthetically compelling, surprising, and even a bit shocking. Above all, it must be understood as the use of language in exceptionally effective ways, and with the rhetorical eclat of a flamethrower. It has to blow people away with its surprising subjects, its unsettling suggestions, and its unexpected linguistic force.

        This is why I am impatient with those who urge poets to follow a certain fixed ideology, or religious creed, or moral strictures when writing. The great strength of the SCP it that it is probably the only place on the entire internet where there is absolute freedom to compose any kind of poem we wish, as long as it is done with attention to traditional methods and serves the ideal of excellence in language. And every person who has come here to trouble us with complaints about the SCP’s policy has been someone who is nettled by that freedom, because he feels that it does not comport with some kind of preconceived political or moral or religious commitment that he thinks is important.

        Does that mean that we poets here have no such commitments? Of course not. We are strong partisans for our views and attitudes. But we are not going to let anyone tell us in what ways we are allowed to use hyper-reality, or what we may or may not say, or what is “appropriate” or “acceptable.” We can create poems that say whatever the hell we want, as long as it is said effectively and provocatively.

      • R M Moore

        Dear Dr. Salemi,
        I appreciate your explanation. May I categorize this to mean you are a non-conformist while pushing the poetic pen? And if that potentially shocking, dramatic, provocative action born from your poetry, is the only one you do, then it would be acceptable. It is always of interest to learn what goes on behind the curtain. So thank you for helping me to better understand your approach. It will be interesting for me to see what may flow from your poetic pin in the future. Thank you again.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Well, I am a conformist in regard to metrical composition, the tropes and figures, and all the inherited rhetorical tricks of the poetic trade. But my subject choice and style are my own.

        If you want to read more of my work, just go to the search engine at the right-hand side of the screen here (marked “Q”), and just type in my name.

      • R M Moore

        Thank you, Dr. I will try to do just that. And I hope you won’t be put off when I respond in what may seem to be my usual fashion to your ”subject choice and style”. But, who knows? I might surprise you. Vale.

  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Joe, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this trio of poetic delights. It seems you were blessed by the presence of your
    golden Muse at a tender age. My Muse was a horrible shade of green for many years.

    I like the playfulness of ‘Servant of the Servants of God’. It reminds me of recent articles in the satirical Babylon Bee… they are now so close to the deeds of our debauch society that the shock factor is missing, and we often think it’s a serious observation. It seems when it comes to societal morals, they shift nearer the gates of hell with every decade. In fact, the Babylon Bee’s humorous pokes at politics have come true, much like your poem and the outlook of the current pope.

    ‘Lorenzo Valla on the Donation of Constantine’ puts me in mind of the state of our current education system and the dumbing down of language to the point where truth and beauty are almost obsolete.

    My favorite of the three is ‘Orchestration of a Marriage’, for its tangible realism, but especially for its aural imagery… this is a superb example of a conceit, one I will return to. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Dear Susan —

      Many thanks! Yes, it is hard to write parody and satire today since even the strangest ideas thought up by poets cannot match the actual debauchery going on around us. The Babylon Bee and The Onion now seem to be ordinary newspapers, with common reportage.

      As for Lorenzo Valla, he lived at a time when knowing excellent classical Latin was expected from every educated person, and such perfect Latin was the common language among the educated classes of Europe. I’m reminded that when Erasmus went to England to stay at the home of his friend Sir Thomas More for several months, he did not know any English, and More didn’t know any Dutch. So they spent those happy months together conversing in Latin.

      I wasn’t married when I wrote “Orchestration…” It was based on what I had observed from married people around me.

      Reply
  5. Martin Rizley

    These are skillfuly written and thought-provoking poems that are unique in their subject matter and point of view (You are probably the only poet who has ever written a poem on the Donation of Constantine– and from the perspective of a Renaisance humanist scholar to boot! Definitely not your everyday “poetic” theme. It reminded me a bit of Browning’s dramatic monologues.

    I also enjoyed the tongue in cheek humor of “the Orchestration of a Marriage”– the various images drawing attention to the ironic contrast between the quiet beginnings of married life and the cacophonous aftermath that too often follows!

    Reply
  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    Dear Martin —

    Thanks for your astute comments. Robert Browning’s dramatic monologues were a powerful influence on me in my youth. I probably got the idea for choosing strange historical subjects from reading his work.

    Yes, “Orchestration…” was meant to be both humorous and deflating. As I mentioned above in my reply to R.M. Moore, I don’t think that all poems have to be uplifting and inspiring and hopeful.

    Reply
  7. Shaun C. Duncan

    I love all three of these and I’m always struck by the breadth of style and subject matter you cover in your poetry. At a time where artists of all stripes have retreated into such narrow and hermetic fields of personal inquiry, your work has the freedom and sense of adventure that the antiformalists pretend to own.

    The focus on sound in “Orchestration…” is inspired. Of all the senses, the auditory can cause us the greatest distress and your description of the sounds of the unhappy couple’s marriage (even down to the sonic qualities of the words themselves) is remarkably effective at conveying a sense of their emotional and psychological deterioration. The notion that their inability to endure the noise that accompanies family life will ultimately tear their home apart is quite profound. I see this happening to people around me all the time.

    I very much enjoyed the monologue too. I have been working on one myself and have found it to be more of a challenge than I anticipated. As Martin commented, it’s a very interesting choice of subject matter and a worthy one too. Dante’s thoughts on the donation, expressed in the Comedy, are quite striking – he clearly thinks it’s the worst thing ever to have happened to the Church. To have Valla, on the eve of the Reformation, cite Dante adds an ominious and prophetic tone to the piece.

    Reply
  8. Jopseph S. Salemi

    Dear Shaun —

    I appreciate your kind words and perceptive commentary. Your point about the distressing nature of some sounds really hit me, since as I get older I notice that any kind of disturbing or unexpected sound upsets me no end, and I now remember that this was also the case with my parents and grandparents as they aged.

    Dramatic monologues really demand that you get inside the head of the character you are using — his beliefs, prejudices, habits, rhetorical choices, historical circumstances, and predilections. More important, you can’t let your personal opinions and beliefs get in the way of anything. But once that’s all done, the monologue frequently just writes itself, and you the poet are merely a mouthpiece for that character.

    Valla’s debunking of the Donation was a major signpost in the development of a rigorous historical philology — one that reads a text critically to determine its age and origin. The top-notch quality of Valla’s understanding of classical Latin texts was matched by that of many other Renaissance humanists, and made possible the brilliant philological work that continues right up to today in the study of all ancient languages.

    Reply
  9. Margaret Coats

    It seems to me that there are three “problems” in the Valla poem, rather than one. First, of course, is the problem of language in the text of the Donatian. Straightforwardly, but also in the manner of a condescending scholar who despises what he analyzes, your Valla presents his linguistic argument. In this area he is competent and addresses others on his level. Second, the problem of application. Valla makes his sociological and political and historical and moral evaluation of the Donation’s effects. These are larger questions, and I wonder whether you use material from Valla’s writings, or your own insight and opinions. Whether from him or you, it serves to show the speaker going on beyond his acknowledged field, and apparently claiming value for his linguistic studies in areas where many factors unknown to him, and some even unknown to you, come into play. Speaking strictly of Valla as your speaker, he addresses that Renaissance will o’ the wisp, the “judgment of posterity,” and attempts to apply it to the Donation so as to justify his condemnation of its bad Latin. He is posterity sitting as judge. But now he is judge in broad fields where his sentence is insignificant, where he is powerless to change matters, and where he may judge foolishly by failing to acknowledge other factors. To us, the Donation of Constantine plays a very small part in the full story of ecclesiastical and papal corruption, for as you say in your note, it was never entirely accepted even in the legal milieu. But your speaker’s advance into broader fields brings to mind a characteristic failing of those who overrate the value of their work. Valla apparently believes his discovery will change the world. That belief in the new world being born is crucial to those who are Renaissance men precisely because this is how they see their position in history. And that brings up the third problem of the poem, which is really your overall achievement in it: the character of this speaker in his insufferable pride! I take it this vice is intended to be “upsetting,” as you say to Wasem and Moore above about the shorter and earlier pieces in this group of “problem” poems. Intriguing to examine in this way an overreaching speaker who deserves some credit. But in a certain way he appears to resemble climate change wokesters of our own time, who have similar confidence in themselves and certainly think a new world needs to be born.

    Reply
  10. Joseph S. Salemi

    Margaret, I get the distinct impression that you would like to argue the Donation of Constantine is genuine, but choose instead to make some generally dismissive points about Valla, the Renaissance, new worlds, and scholarly arrogance and condescension.

    I don’t know why Valla’s pride should be seen as “insufferable.” He had a helluva lot to be proud of in terms of his solid classical learning, his rescue of lost texts, his teaching of good Latin to students, his amazing editorial work — all of which is separate from his devastating debunking of the Donation fraud. Moreover, he expresses no personal pride in the first two stanza of my poem — just impatience with bad Latin, and the foolishness of those who depend on it. And he freely admits that he is not the only one to notice the linguistic problem.

    As for the “larger” applications that Valla makes in the third stanza, they are no different whatsoever from those made by that excellent Catholic Dante Alighieri, as the speaker notes. What “sociological, political, historical, and moral evaluations” does he make that you are bothered by? And in what sense does Valla “overrate his own work”? The Donation of Constantine was either genuine or fake — tertium non datur. Valla proved conclusively that it was an eighth-century fake. What possible objection can be raised against exposing fakery?

    There is absolutely nothing in my poem suggesting that Lorenzo Valla believes “a new world is being born,” or that he aims to “change the world,” or that he is seeking “the judgment of posterity.” This is a complete misreading on your part. And he reminds you of a “climate change wokester”? Good grief, Maggie.

    These were three “poems on problems.” The first was about the insinuation of evil into holy matters; the second was on the troubles in some marriages.
    The only problem in my dramatic monologue is the Donation of Constantine, and the useless horrors it inflicted on Italy. Thank God for Lorenzo Valla, who smashed the problem totally.

    Remember what Nietzsche said: “Philology is the sworn enemy of superstition.”

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Dear Joseph, I don’t know where your “distinct impression” about me comes from. I own no stock in the Donation of Constantine, and I don’t dismiss the Lorenzo Valla of history. Requiescat in pace. I was “speaking strictly of Valla as your speaker.”

      In the first two portions of the poem, Valla as speaker gives reasons for de-attributing the Donation. These passages include many expressions in which I find that your Valla despises the language of the world to which he dates the text. This is arrogant condescension. Vulgar Latin was undoubtedly living and powerful to those who spoke and wrote it, even if they had learned it in school. It produced remarkable medieval poetry in the vibrant lyric form of the sequence.
      Presumably Valla himself had learned Latin in school, as he proudly refers to his own language as “our new Italian.” He appears to address persons who don’t need convincing because they already agree with him. This is a good way to imply that most did agree with Valla, but his speech acts depict an angry, arrogant man unwilling to attribute any good to either of his languages–as long as they were in stages of development he disapproves. And that bears on his character, not on his admirable work of scholarship and teaching.

      In the final portion of the poem, your Valla finds vast and lasting corruption in the papacy, the Church, the state, and in religion itself that be can attributed to the Donation. I agree with historians who find more important causes for the intertwining of Church and State interests that began far earlier than the 8th century, that took place in lands other Italy, and that did not cease after Valla’s work. This is why I say that he overrates his work’s importance.

      But I find your speaker a most interesting character who IN ONE WAY BUT NOT ALL WAYS conforms to the slogan I see on contemporary posters, “It’s time to change the world, starting with the past.” I also find your technique of ending with his exegesis of a Gospel verse, a very clever way of asserting that he remains a linguist even as he goes outside his specialty and becomes a preacher about the ills of the world.

      I hope my explanation is clear and shows appreciation for YOUR work.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Maggie, you give away your basic prejudices in the arguments you choose to apply to this poem. First off — in case you hadn’t heard — the entire Renaissance project of resuscitating proper Latin involved the ridicule and rejection of Vulgar Latin, and that project was enthusiastically championed by plenty of Catholic scholars like Erasmus, More, Nicholas of Cusa, Panormitus, Poggio Bracciolini, not to mention Pope Martin V. What the hell do “sequences” or “medieval poetry” have to do with the issue?

        The final section of the poem expresses the view of both Dante and Valla about the corruption of the Church in Italy. Just because you happen to disagree with the causes of that corruption, you are angry at what Valla says in the poem. That’s like being angry at what Satan says in Paradise Lost because you happen to be opposed to him. Poems are not judged on how well they happen to suit your own personal views!

        Of course Valla was sick of bad Latin! He even got in trouble in Ferrara for making fun of the stupid dog-Latin used by lawyers in that city. You want to call it “arrogant condescension”? I call it impatience with lazy mediocrity. But it seems that whenever I write a poem in which a strong male voice expresses a strong opinion (Charles Maurras, the professor, Valla) you have a barely repressed snit of anger at the speaker

        You also seem to be in the habit of constantly nudging me in directions that I don’t necessarily choose to go, if what I say is not “Catholic” enough for your taste. That’s what MacKenzie was constantly attempting here. I’m not a child to be home-schooled in the Baltimore Catechism, and this is not a website for evangelization. Got that?

  11. C.B. Anderson

    I can say little more, Joseph, in terms of approbation other than what has already been said in the comments. But you know, and I know, that the poem must first be deemed acceptable by its author, which is what many wannabees fail to understand. I always trust you to write something worth reading, a habit you have gotten into from the very start of your literary career. As long as you write I will read.

    Reply

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