For mercy with their hearts in love aflame.*
*Revised from America: Between Two Wars
Mary and Martha
In Mary and her sister Martha we
Have ever with us since their Master's birth
Two fine examples of the highest worth
As proving signs in Christianity
For one's faith in good works and piety:
Two attitudes that have helped fix, in dearth
Or plenty, man's determined course on earth,
And doubtless will unto eternity.
The guiding virtues that they represent
Have been divisive forces in the life
Of nations, social and political;
And even great religions implement
Beliefs with works that often lead to strife,
While others stress the passive principle.
Agrippina, first century
If ever emperor was born to crime,
The son of Agrippina, by him slain,
Who for him in her uncle's death a chain
Of murders forged, then Nero of all time
Best used the lethal weapon, that, sublime,
A god like great Augustus, he might reign,
Whose crown, together with his blood, not brain,
Had with time's passing come to him meantime.
The line of great Augustus had declined
Since Virgil wrote that a new world was born,
And a new Dispensation would appear.
For evil in Rome's favored womankind,
Not good that once Cornelia did adorn,
With Agrippina helped its grandeur shear.
Saint Helena, 249-328
Midst strife and battles Christianity
Came into Italy when Constantine
Within the sky beheld the Cross Divine,
Which led his mother Helena to be
Baptized, first of the royal family;
And, seeking, find and build our Saviour's shrine
Where He lay crucified, beneath the Sign
Which shines for Him through all eternity.
And of this Sign, it is believed, she brought
A fragment with her when she westward turned
With strengthened faith and will to keep aflame
Belief in Him whom later her son sought
On his death bed; for which the people yearned
As more and more unto the Cross they came.
Immortal Valkyrie or mortal maid,
Brunhilde, whether fact or phantasy,
Will have in literary history
Enduring place through Wagner as was made
For Helen whose fair features never fade
From Homer's page. But tragic loyalty
Brunhilde shows, revenge and cruelty,
When men with far less subtlety betrayed.
From early folk songs and illumined page
How well that nameless German monk did write
Of her who sings for us on Wagner's stage!
Who gives to music lovers same delight
As readers does the epic of this age
Of Nibelungs, Rhine maids and Gods' twilight.
Hypatia, ca. 400
Were women in Hypatia's day more wise;
Profounder students of philosophy,
Divisive dogmas of theology
That councils vainly sought to harmonize?
As Plato once at Athens taught, likewise
This lovely learned woman publicly
Explained how from the One or Unity
All things in life--mind, matter, soul--arise.
A wise and brilliant Neo-Platonist,
She suffered for a woman's love withal,
When Cyril saint urged on the mob to kill
The prefect's mistress, his antagonist;
Who did so long a world-wide group enthrall
And lovers with her moving wisdom thrill.
Theodora, sixth century
When Theodora ruled Justinian,
Rome's Western Empire had been long a prey
To German armies; and the Eastern lay
Exposed to priestcraft's schisms greater than
Her husband could control with his peace plan,
When this ambitious Empress then one day
At Nika, as the Blues and Greens did slay
Each other, in her way the Empire ran.
A former circus queen and dancer, she
Saw in their challenging as charioteer
The sign of their compelling urge to win;
And keen like them let often piety
Outrun ambition, where she should revere,
Unmindful of the sacred origin.
Fatima, early seventh century
Fatima, daughter of Mohammed, wife
Of Ali, is by virtue of her kin,
To Islam of most sacred origin;
And yet, since Ayesha, target of sharp strife
Conducive to divisive factions rife
With rivalries and discords that have been,
Despite great growth, unfortunate within
The Faith that has for sign a crescent knife.
Her followers see Ali as divine,
And down the centuries think secretly,
'Tis said, the line runs even now today,
Whence will Imam at last come by design
With majesty to govern openly
A Moslem world united to obey.
When Latin letters came to Saxony
At time Hroswitha lived, Matilda, queen
Was founding abbey-schools Benedictine;