Sonnets of Deracination


Devon, PA.  Measure: A Review of Formal Poetry has been one of the few consistently good poetry journals since it began publication in 2006, and is one of the great cultural institutions of southern Indiana.  The latest issue is out, featuring poems by and an interview with Powow River poet Rhina P. Espaillat, and an essay on the late John Ciardi (one of the most interesting American poets of the mid-twentieth century, whose reputation is slowly recovering from a precipitous posthumous decline).  The essay is by Maryann Corbett, whose great sonnet translation FPR published in its newsletter last year, and who is an accomplished poet in her own right.

The new issue also features a sonnet of my own, which they have put online here.  I encourage readers interested in poetry faithful to the verse tradition to explore the journal and support it.

I print below my sonnet, along with a recording of the poem.  It recalls my summers spent in Dublin during the tale end of the Celtic Tiger, when most of the maids were Polish, the coffee Italian, and the drunk bachelorettes English.  All is changed now, changed utterly.  The self-destruction of Irish culture and the Irish Church through the evils of avarice, arrogance, and perversion already lurks in the background here, but in the context of a country still too infatuated with new found prosperity to reflect on the fragility of it all.

Immigrant Serving Maid in Dublin

 This morning in the tiled scullery,

   The sunk-eyed Romanian girl whose job it is

To serve the jetlagged tourists toast and tea,

   Stared out beyond the sugar cubes, cream tins,


And lumpy raisin scones, her arms set cross

   Her belly in an absent stewardship,

A chessboard apron falling at her waist,

   And no translatable word upon her lip.


Within her vagrant loneliness, the rushed

   Complaints at how the hotel breakfast tastes,

The momentary tourist’s sneer, can’t touch

   The boredom or the longing in her face;


    She’s been borne here not on wings of desire

   But just to work and send home cash by wire.


Copies of my chapbook of poems, Four Verse Letters (2010), are still available by writing to

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James Matthew Wilson is Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions at Villanova University. An award-winning scholar of philosophical-theology and literature, he has authored dozens of essays, articles, and reviews on subjects ranging from art, ethics, and politics, to meter and poetic form, from the importance of local culture to the nature of truth, goodness, and beauty. Wilson is also a poet and critic of contemporary poetry, whose work appears regularly in such magazines and journals as First Things, Modern Age, The New Criterion, Dappled Things, Measure, The Weekly Standard, Front Porch Republic, The Raintown Review, and The American Conservative. He has published five books, including most recently, a collection of poems, Some Permanent Things and a monograph, The Catholic Imagination in Modern American Poetry (both Wiseblood Books, 2014). Raised in the Great Lakes State, baptised in the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas, seasoned by summers on Lake Wawasee (Indiana), and educated under the Golden Dome, Wilson is scion of a family of Hoosiers dating back to the early nineteenth century, and an offspring of Southside Chicago Poles whose tavern kept the city wet through the Depression (and prohibition) years.  He now lives under the same sentence of reluctant exile as many another native son of the Midwest, but has dug himself in for good on the margins of the Main Line in Pennsylvania with his beautiful wife, dangerous daughter, and saintly sons. For information on Wilson's scholarship and a selection of his published work, click here. See books written and recommended by James Matthew Wilson.


  1. We have seen similar boredom on the faces of children staring at the cursive writing strip above the chalkboard.

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