A depiction of Mademoiselle de Sombreuil in prison.‘A Glass for My Father’ by Joseph S. Salemi The Society June 19, 2022 Blank Verse, Culture, Poetry 20 Comments . A Glass for My Father Marie-Maurille de Virot, Mademoiselle de Sombreuil (February 14, 1768—May 15, 1823) My father was the Marquis de Sombreuil: An old man when it happened, but back then The Revolution took no note of age, Of sex, infirmities, or past distinction. All they saw was that our family was Of gentle blood, and for that fact condemned. When they came to escort him to prison I insisted that I too should go— I shared my father’s blood, why not his pain? A maiden girl of twenty-four can die As easily as men advanced in years. They dragged us off to La Abbaye, and there A mock tribunal of some drunken thugs Read out the fatal judgment: father’s life Was forfeit to the guillotine. I begged With filial tears and pleadings. They just smirked. One of the guards sat on a pile of corpses Freshly slain and still warm to the touch— Great pools of blood and gore were everywhere. He poured red wine out for that fell tribunal Into cups and glasses smeared by fingers Still wet from pikes and bludgeons and curved sabers. He took a filthy, blood-polluted glass, Filled it with wine, and held it out to me: Drain this glass of blood-tinged wine and we’ll Allow you and your father to go home. Drink a toast to our great Revolution! They smiled in mockery, as if to say A frightened and a well-bred noble girl Could never put a gore-smeared glass like that To her shy and hesitating lips. But I reached out and took it, made the toast, And drank it down in one impulsive swallow. They laughed with frank amusement and surprise That I had drunk a chalice of foul death, Looked at me with a grudging new respect, And released us from that hall of murder. We hurried out to freedom and fresh air. Still to this day I cannot hold a glass Without revulsion and a sense of loathing. Red wine? Just a hint of its bouquet Turns my stomach like a foetid corpse. They killed my father and his younger son At a later date. My elder brother Fell in the wars that came in terror’s wake. I am the last of Sombreuil’s ancient line And in my own way, I too died with them. I leave the world this one important truth: You crush no revolutions with a prayer, With votive candles or a pious hope, Or pleas for mercy, or noblesse oblige. The only thing the Revolution fears Is when you drink hot blood before their faces, And swear the next cup will be filled with theirs. . Poet’s Note: About two years after this incident at La Abbaye prison, the old Marquis de Sombreuil and one of his sons were arrested again and executed by the Revolutionists, and Mademoiselle de Sombreuil remained imprisoned until the fall of Robespierre. Her remaining brother died after the battle of Quiberon in 1795, when the murderous Revolutionist general Lazare Hoche massacred several hundred Royalist prisoners who had surrendered. . . 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. NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets. NOTE TO POETS: The Society considers this page, where your poetry resides, to be your residence as well, where you may invite family, friends, and others to visit. Feel free to treat this page as your home and remove anyone here who disrespects you. Simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “Remove Comment” in the subject line and list which comments you would like removed. The Society does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or comments and reserves the right to remove any comments to maintain the decorum of this website and the integrity of the Society. Please see our Comments Policy here. CODEC News:Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window) 20 Responses jd June 19, 2022 Enjoyed reading, Mr. Salemi. Well done, IMHO. Reply Margaret Coats June 19, 2022 Bloody good reminder of how bloodthirsty the Revolution is. But sometimes despised gentle blood like that of Marie-Maurille is equal to its distasteful challenges, even though her ability to prevail over the Revolution itself may be temporary and limited. Reply Yael June 19, 2022 Nice tidbit of history, thank you! Reply Michael Pietrack June 19, 2022 I loved the ending: I leave the world this one important truth: You crush no revolutions with a prayer, With votive candles or a pious hope, Or pleas for mercy, or noblesse oblige. The only thing the Revolution fears Is when you drink hot blood before their faces, And swear the next cup will be filled with theirs. Reply C.B. Anderson June 20, 2022 I loved it. You have reminded me of how, at some point, everyone must become a Sicilian in order to survive. As strange as it seems, even the French can sometimes behave like Sicilians. I would like to think that someday I might. Reply Susan Jarvis Bryant June 20, 2022 Joe, this admirably crafted poem smacks of fearlessness… the writing is full of vivid, stomach-churning imagery culminating in a powerful punch-in-the-gut message against the appeasement of a godless enemy when lives are at stake… the sort of writing I aspire to. Thank you! Reply Brian Yapko June 20, 2022 Joseph, this is bone-chillingly great. Your choice of subject matter is magnificent for a dramatic monologue and your poetic voice for this character is presented with sensitivity, conviction, a sense of authenticity (both psychologically and in terms of period) all topped off with an unblinkingly hard-as-nails assessment of what it takes to win a cultural revolution. I cannot overstate the importance (at least in my view) of what you achieve by speaking in the first-person character of Marie-Maurille de Virot. You recreate a moment in time. You then create a tangible witness to the horrors of the French Revolution (including anarchist revolutionary thinking). The witness you create is someone that the reader can actually identify with and relate to. This, in turn, creates an emotional response to your character’s astonishing bravery when facing a situation of great injustice, pathos and danger. You never actually relate this horrible revolutionary tale to our present culture war — nor do you need to. Your argument is eloquently and pointedly presented, as is its present application. The vehicle through which you have imparted your “hot blood” message is brilliant and memorable. The lesson learned is far deeper (for me) than would be the same lesson presented in a historical essay or an opinion piece. There are many types of wonderful poetry, but for me “A Glass for My Father” is what poetry means and what it can achieve. I wish I had written this. Reply Joseph S. Salemi June 20, 2022 Thank you all for your kind comments. When I submitted this to Evan Mantyk he suggested that it be saved for publication on Fathers’ Day, since it dealt with filial devotion. Brian, I certainly was thinking of our current culture wars, which are about to become as savagely sanguinary as the times in which Mademoiselle de Sombreuil lived. I’m deeply pleased that you have made the connection. Reply Cynthia Erlandson June 20, 2022 You’ve told this story in a very poignant way, which causes readers to be wrapped up in it emotionally. Reply David Watt June 21, 2022 Joseph, I applaud you for this striking narration demonstrating that terror only responds to force of character or brute force. Your poem brings a sense of immediacy to an historical theme. Reply Sally Cook June 21, 2022 Dear Joe- This is a dark, dramatic and difficult to digest work which seems to mirror our own time. It also gives me an additional take on our own revolution. When giving a close reading to this over two dozen of my ancestors who fought there, and consider how many of them later became teetotalers. Reply Joseph S. Salemi June 21, 2022 Sally, the rise of the anti-alcohol mania and teetotalism in the United States began soon after the American Revolution, and reached the apogee of insanity in the 21st amendment and the Volstead Act. This was just the first of several mass bouts of morality-driven Puritanical madness that America suffered from. Our nation has several congenital diseases, and the biggest is called New England. Reply Joseph S. Salemi June 28, 2022 Sorry folks — I meant the 18th Amendment. Sally Cook June 22, 2022 Still, I’m glad they got so hopping mad they revolted. There must have been quite a bunch of conflicted Puritans. Reply Joseph S. Salemi June 22, 2022 Sally, if you want to understand the poison of New England Puritanism just consider the career of the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, a 19th-century Congregationalist crackpot who gassed endlessly about “temperance” and “social reform,” who sent guns and ammunition to abolitionist terrorists in Kansas (they were called “Beecher’s Bibles”), and who publicly preached against free love but wound up banging his best friend’s wife, which resulted in a scandalous public trial. He also urged underpaid workers to “sink gracefully into poverty” if their rich employers refused to raise their wages. That’s the kind of glassy-eyed dreaminess that comes out of New England clergymen. Reply Sally Cook June 22, 2022 Joe, I’ve never pretended to be a Congregationalist, or any other sort of idiot. I do quite well on my own, as I am sure you already know. But did you know I had a grandmother who hired someone to erect a sign facing the end of her street that said “ALCOHOL IS POISON” ? Imagine this free spirit having to ride the school bus home facing that every day! No wonder I denied the solar system and drew risqué pictures. You may also be interested to know that early Protestant hymnals contained alternative rhyming lines. One of my favorites is, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Beecham’s (or Beecher’s) pills are just the thing.” You probably already knew this. Joseph S. Salemi June 22, 2022 The anti-alcohol craziness got absolutely fanatical around 1910, when pressure groups like the WCTU, the Anti-Saloon League, the Baptists and Methodists, and fundamentalist preachers like Billy Sunday wielded immense political power in many localities and states. Much of the impetus was pure anti-Catholicism, since liquor prohibition was largely aimed at Catholic immigrants (the German-Polish beer drinkers, the Irish whiskey drinkers, and the Italian wine drinkers). Nobody worried a bit about moonshine-distilling evangelical Protestants in the boondocks. How very interesting about your grandmother and her street sign. It’s just another symptom of the mass insanity against alcohol that seized a very large part of the American Christian population in the early twentieth century — in spite of the fact that according to scripture Christ made some damned good wine at Cana, used wine at the Last Supper, and employed the metaphor of putting wine into proper wineskins in His talk with disciples. Sally Cook June 22, 2022 Yes, the W.C.T.U. had a neat little song called Apples Are God’s Bottles! I always wondered as a child why Jesus turned water into wine but we weren’t allowed to have any. Reply Shaun C. Duncan June 23, 2022 Another sensational monologue and the closing message couldn’t be more timely as too many conservatives, being mild in nature, are sadly ill-equipped to face down the fanaticism of the revolutionary mob. Mademoiselle de Sombreuil’s story is a powerful reminder of the attitude we must adopt in response. Reply Joseph S. Salemi June 23, 2022 I’m deeply grateful for your comment, Shaun. The disappointment that I feel over the tepidity and laid-back irenicism of so many faux conservatives in America puts me into a depression. And most psalm-singing religionists are no better in their character, since they seem to have decided that Christianity is a slow-motion suicide pact. Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. Δ This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.