On the Fresco “Madonna del Parto” by Piero
della Francesca, Monterchi, Italy, circa 1460

We file into a silent darkened room.
Now, a stagelight floods the wall to show
bright colors of a rediscovered fresco.
Our eyes adapt to preternatural gloom.

Twin angels grasp a fur-lined tent, reveal
a stolid young woman soon to give birth,
left hand against her side to support her girth.
We imagine the Savior’s kicks that she must feel.

She’s not high Heaven’s pampered aristocrat.
Her face is classic Tuscan, seen everywhere.
Pealing bells inspire unceasing prayer,
prompt recitation of her Magnificat.

A distant mirror, yet still reflecting true:
equipoised Madonna, the realm Piero knew.



Cruel Grief

Fetus floating in the womb.
Do you know ‘twill be your tomb?
Feel the cold steel suck and slice.
Where to hide from Hell’s device?
God made you with holy breath.
Silent scream: can this be death?
No harm in it. Life so brief,
Shrug it off. But now, cruel grief
Like slow poison steals and seeps.
See this mother howl and weep.



Mary Jane Myers resides in Springfield, Illinois.  She  is a retired JD/CPA tax specialist.    Her debut short story collection Curious Affairs was published by Paul Dry Books in 2018.

NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets.

The Society of Classical Poets does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or commentary.

CODEC Stories:

16 Responses

  1. Mary Gardner

    Mary Jane, thank you for the good read. Your choice of form for these poems is perfect. It’s a jolt to read “Cruel Grief” after the calm “Quattrocento.” The two stand strongly on their own, but together the dynamic is increased.

    • Mary Jane Myers

      Thank you for your close reading and perceptive comment. Juxtaposing the two poems was the editors’ excellent idea.
      Sincerely Mary Jane

  2. Roy Eugene Peterson

    The magnificence of one depiction of birth juxtaposed with the crushing solemnity of “Hell’s Device” to end the other assails the senses and makes us ponder the results.

    • Mary Jane Myers

      Dear Roy
      Thank you for your comment. “Cruel Grief” came to me all in a rush–I was studying trochaic tetrameter, and the 10 lines appeared as if by an invisible hand. “Quattrocento” was composed carefully and methodically, and required many drafts.

  3. Tom Woodliff

    Life is a divine gift (Psalm 139:13-15). Isn’t it ironic that you can legally (in many places) kill an unborn child without repercussion, but if it’s killed even one minute after birth you are called a murderer and must face public scorn and punishment. Only in Satan’s world… Great imagery Mary

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Don’t worry, the liberals’ beliefs are becoming more consistent: California, Maryland, and New York have already made it legal to kill a baby up to 28 days after birth, or so I’ve heard. You can expect more states to follow suit before too long.

    • Mary Jane Myers

      Thank you for your careful reading of my poems. Abortion indeed is a tool of Satan.
      Sincerely Mary Jane

  4. Monika Cooper

    Strong painting and strong poem to match.
    “. . .equipoised Madonna”: wonderful!

    Also love the introduction of the sense of hearing, from outside of the painting, as if from nowhere: the Angelus call to prayer can be so unexpected but the “prompt” response so gloriously predictable. (The Vespers bell and evening Angelus bell are one.)

    “Cruel Grief” has a nursery rhyme rhythm: sing song. The sad opposite of a lullaby but its own kind of lullaby too, recognizing the God-created life that was crushed and wrapping it in a jagged scrap of a song: a song with two screams in it.

    • Mary Jane Myers

      Thank you for your sensitive reading of my poems. “Quattrocento” took a lot of time and effort to write. That phrase “equipoised Madonna” came to me in about the fifth draft (though I lost count). Here in Springfield IL I hear both church bells and distant train horn sounds, both of which soothe me as I write.
      I keep forgetting how jagged “Cruel Grief” is–those 10 lines were composed in one sitting–a third scream, if you will, that of the poet.

  5. Joshua C. Frank

    I love these both, Mary Jane! The first is good, but it’s the second that has the far greater impact. I’d say more, but everyone who has read my poems or my comments already knows exactly what I would say. Just rest assured that I think quite highly of it and therefore prefer not to steal the spotlight.

    • Mary Jane Myers

      Dear Joshua
      Thank you for your careful reading of my poems. I’ve experimented with trochaic tetrameter–its mesmerizing “beat” is quite haunting, if used in short poems.
      Most sincerely
      Mary Jane

      • Monika Cooper

        Trochaic tetrameter: interesting! I heard the “Twinkle little star” melody while reading it, the alphabet song tune, at least up to the point. Which was chilling with the child murder theme.

  6. Margaret Coats

    Mary Jane, it’s interesting that you entitle the sonnet “Quattrocento” to announce that it deals with the 1400s. The lengthier final line defines “the realm Piero knew” as “equipoised Madonna.” He knew a balanced world where the Madonna and motherhood were central, and attended by angels. What an ideal his painting and your poem describe! Nel ventunesimo secolo, on the other hand, we see a child losing a brief life and a mother poisoned by cruel grief. It is a slow poison that many feel increasing gradually, as it seeps into other lives as well. Couldn’t be more of a contrast, with the “distant mirror still reflecting true” the preferable realm that we need to work back to.

    • Mary Jane Myers

      Dear Margaret
      Thank you for your careful reading of my poems, and your insightful comments. Piero gives us the effect of a balanced world because he applied his mathematical genius to painting. The collapse of moral truth in contemporary “progressive” thought patterns is frightening. The beat of trochaic tetrameter seems nightmarish to me, and conjures up Macbeth’s witches. I’ve noticed that this is often the meter in the chants shouted by Antifa when they are staging protests.

  7. Yael

    Both these poems are great and together they enhance each other in meaning and expression even more. I love the painting too, thank you very much. Seeing the life in this world through art makes it so much more enjoyable and bearable.

    • Mary Jane Myers

      Dear Yael
      Thank you for your kind comments. It’s remarkable that the Piero fresco has never been moved to a major museum. Rather, it’s remained in Monterchi, a beautiful quiet tiny town nestled in the Tiber valley, still rather “off the beaten path.” So the fortunate tourist gets a glimpse of the milieu in which Piero worked some 560 years ago.
      Sincerely Mary Jane


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Captcha loading...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.