The Triumph of Death

To Mary Sidney

In your lace ruff you resemble a giant
              snowflake or a spider web
pearled with dew. What poets you catch
in your symmetries, at your long table at Wilton
              what wits (Spenser, Fulke-
Greville, Drayton) pitch into the roasted
piglet, stewed apples, carp.
              If you rowzed God up, He
knocked you back on your heels, Lady—
“O God, why hast thou thus
              Repulst, and scattred us?”—Through the high
windows at Wilton seethe
rumors of battle, Philip’s pussing thigh,
              death in the Lowlands. Mother Wrong,
Daughter Strife stalk the cities; still
you keep house with grammar, you salt the psalms
              for long preserving. “As smoke in wind,
as wax at fire doth waste”
the unjust dissolve. Your stanzas
              stay, still sting the tongue.
Dawn finds you kneeling on stone, calling
again the bleak God you believe
              will answer you.
You mix medicines, you write
in invisible ink. But Time
              trumps Fame which undoes Death
which masters Chastity and Love—which leaves
Eternity, your Master wrote, master of all.
              And like your lace, your lines
shine, not pale, “but whitely,
and more whitely pure
              than snow on windless hill that flaking falls,
as one whom labour did to rest allure.”
Translate us too, rough line by line,
              into your crystalline
severe design.
Rosanna Warren, “The Triumph of Death” from Shakespeare’s Sisters: Women Writers Bridge Five Centuries, published by the Folger Shakespeare Library. Copyright © 2012 by Rosanna Warren. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Source: Shakespeare’s Sisters: Women Writers Bridge Five Centuries (Folger Shakespeare Library, 2012)
More Poems by Rosanna Warren