Passive Aggression (Agatha)–Trireme Sonnet

Saint Agatha (Orazio Riminaldi) (1625)

Passive Aggression (Agatha)

Some postulate revenge, but martyrdom,
I’ve found, gives precious little payback.
Take Saint Agatha.  After she survived
the lop-off of both breasts, she served ‘em
on a silver salver where, in no way slack,
though on their lonesomes, they shone, while she, revived
seemingly, smiled, a mix of peace and purr-dom.

She managed next a hot coal lay-back,
which somehow birthed an earthquake.  Enemies writhed!
Still, she died.  In prison.  So, in that kingdom,
did those who did the chest thing – that awe-full whack
(though not, perhaps, in jail).  The point derived:
forget all bets on tectonic overdrive–
settle for a smile that lifts up bright breasts lithe.


The above poem is a “trireme” sonnet (a form developed by the great sonneteer Samuel Peralta a/k/a Semaphore), which uses a rhyme scheme based on tercets.  I’ve used a kind of slant rhyme, I guess.  Sam writes about the form for dVerse Poets Pub.

Above and below are paintings of  Saint Agatha.  Yes, the story is absolute horrific.  She had her breasts cut first, I believe, as a punishment for resisting sexual blandishment (i.e. assault) and after surviving that, was  rolled on hot coals.  This  promptly caused an earthquake, killing, as the poem says, some of her enemies.  (Not all apparently since she still died later in prison.)  You know, I realize this story may resonate in a particularly awful way today, given medical treatments – and I’m sorry if it seems terribly insensitive.  I really was thinking about the traditions of (i) martyrdom (on almost a personal level) and (ii) European painting – I’m really sorry if it comes across as upsetting or casual.   When you are doing something like a sonnet, I find that they take directions you didn’t always intend.


Have a great weekend.


Francisco de Zurbaran, 1598 – 1664, Saint Agatha

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14 Comments on “Passive Aggression (Agatha)–Trireme Sonnet”

  1. Awful story but very nicely penned in your poem. Good thing I read it in the morning, it would have given me nightmares.

  2. Jamie Dedes Says:

    The poem is really well done, and I know what you mean about how they move in unplanned directions.

    You’ve reminded me of why I gave up reading the lives of the saints.

    Congrats on Internet service at last. Dance for joy!!! 🙂

  3. Kelvin S.M. Says:

    …a brave woman to choose suffering from gain… to cut off ones breasts was already painful… but to roll naked over live coals was too brutal & inhuman… wondering if we could ever find someone like her these days… great inspired write Karin… smiles…

  4. claudia Says:

    oh heck..what a story..just makes me sick and angry when i think of how much she suffered..such awful things happened (and often in the name of religion) and still do all across the globe.. kudos for tackling such a difficult topic k.

  5. David King Says:

    Well, I didn’t know about St Agatha, so thanks for filling another hole in my knowledge. I agree that the theme is gruesome, but no less worthy for that. I find the poem delightfully crafted (despite the above) and if not pleasant to read, it offered much to learn from by way of word-smithing. Thanks for an interesting read.

  6. Your trireme sonnet was amazing. First of all, you put in your own twist by merging the tercet-couplet rhyming structure with a septet-septet verse structure. I think that was a subtly intuitive way to force a turn in the second verse, a fissure as wide as created by that legendary earthquake.

    Then, the subject matter and ekphrasis – such courage to choose this St. Agatha, with her difficult and provocative story. I’d only peripherally heard of Agatha of Sicily, but your poem made me look up more of her story (I was partially relieved to find that after her torture with the breasts, she was healed by an apparition of St. Peter) and it was illuminating.

    For a poem to be able to make me do that – move me enough to make me want to know more about its subject – it has to be really good. And this one was.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks, Sam. You know I always have a very jaded view of the saints because my introduction has been through art history and in Renaissance painting, they are portrayed in such bizarre, and honestly almost laughable ways — there are many many portraits of St. Lucy, for example, carrying her plucked-out eyes like car dice on a string–and St. Agatha, with the breasts on a plate. I won’t even start on Saint Sebastian! But often they are an excuse to add either a certain bathos or sexuality to a painting. As a result, I’ve grown a bit hardened to the tragedy behind the paintings, and that’s why the sonnet has a bit of a joking quality. I realize people, if they haven’t gone through the same experiences – I just happened to really like art history when I was young–will have a very different take, and may be largely horrified. I’m so glad that you enjoyed it, and saw that I wasn’t being totally callous. Kudos on coming up with a new form! Thanks much. k.

  7. brian miller Says:

    what an incredible and horrific story…really told rather wonderfully in your verse…nicely done to form…i am rather hung up on all that happened to her…and for what…dang….

  8. Your final couplet is a point well taken, but so difficult to achieve. No doubt why she, not I, (will) achieve(d) sainthood status in our times. Settling is so hard!

  9. hedgewitch Says:

    A fascinating sonnet, k–and yes they do(maybe all poems do) have a way of going places on their own. I love ‘purr-dom,’ with its play on ‘purdah,’ as well as purring.

    My atheist’s perspective on these often somewhat outré saint’s stories has always been the same as on Zen Buddhist koans, pagan mythical tradition and Jesus’ frequent use of symbolic story-telling (almost koans, some of them, too) –as you hint, they are allegories, parables, little instructional programmings to somehow get people’s brains to engage with the philosophy on a more visceral level–obviously some may see them as literal truths, but to me that deprives them of some of the depth they really have.

    btw–I once got that *exact same* fortune cookie message you mentioned at my place–eating with someone for whom it was devastatingly appropriate. I kept it and pasted it one of my journals. And YAY!! on the internet access!

  10. completely wonderful sonnet in form and rhyme – I did not find it callous but did like the sometimes light hearted take – beautifully done! K

  11. Sheila Says:

    interesting bit of history there, and thanks for the intro to the form. glad you’re back online….you survived! 😀

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks, Shelia. You know, I am so blasé because of the art history element, that I meaant it more as a personal reflection on martyrdom. Unfortunately, the events around Agatha are so dramatic, that I now realize people take it in quite a different (and more appropriate way.) This is so interesting to me, and unexpected. Thanks, though. k.

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