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Pharsalia

by Stephanie Kent

Therefore, when men discerned their ruin calling
Out from portents of the hidden gods falling
On Rome, the city froze under a pall;
Their augured doom held every man in thrall;
Patricians ruled from Plebeian façades:
Purple never appeared near lictors’ rods.
Worse, men choked their grief, restricting their cries
To wordless pallor reined behind numb eyes.
(As, upon a death, the house is silent
Before the son is borne with violent
Lament, before the mother rends her chest
With wails to each maiden to beat her breast:
She envelops taut limbs bound up in death
And cleaves her face against lungs without breath,
No more afraid, yet awaiting full grief;
The mother is transfixed without relief:
She sprawls over her son, her face distraught
And marvels at her loss, emptied of thought.)
Tearing off their former garments, mothers
Seized temples, each eclipsing the others’
Misery. Some with their tears anointed
Temple images; some with disjointed
Bodies dashed themselves on the marble floors;
Defiling thresholds of the sacred doors,
With feral hands they ripped out every tress
And raging, rent the holy quietness
With shrieks of dread instead of orisons,
Contaminating holy ears. Each shuns
The worship of the Thunderer alone:
Women dispensed the gods, all to atone
For lifeless sons by damning them with shame.

04/27/2008

Author's Note: This is an excerpt from the 1st century Roman epic by Lucan. I translated this into poetry from a literal English prose version of the Latin text, Book II, lines 16-36.

Posted on 04/28/2008
Copyright © 2022 Stephanie Kent

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Gabriel Ricard on 04/28/08 at 05:09 AM

Pretty damn gorgeous, if you ask me.

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