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1st Place Winner in the Lupercal High School Poetry Contest: "Hersilia" by Allen Gift

We congratulate Allen Gift of Westtown School in West Chester, PA for a fantastic poem and essay! The prompt was to write a versus rapportati style poem based on an example by Martha Marchina (1600-1646) on the theme: "a woman who inspires you."


Hersilia, honos, Hora, substitit, salvabat, stetit,

proelium, Penates, pacem, feminis, fabula, factis.

This poem encompasses the actions of Hersilia, the wife of Romulus and leader of the Sabine women. Her use of the power she holds in her position on each side of the conflict between the Sabine Women and the Romans following the abduction of the Sabine Women is inspirational as a stance for justice and peace. This poem can also be read as an ekphrasis of The Intervention of the Sabine Women painted by Jacques-Louis David in 1799.

Specifically in this painting, it is powerful to see Hersilia standing in a place of power between not only the other women, but the Roman men as well. Overall, her power in a traditionally male-dominated position, especially as the focal point of this painting, and her clear advocacy for both peace and justice is inspiring.

The word choices in this poem are very specific, not only to match the structure, but to provide multiple nuanced meanings of the poem. For example, the use of Hora, the name of Hersilia’s deified being after her death, can also be taken as hora, representative of time, and how her honor is timeless in addition to how, throughout history, time has supported peace just like her. Stetit can also be taken figuratively or literally. Literally, in this painting, Hersilia stands between the two groups, forcibly creating peace by her stance. Figuratively, she “stands” for peace in a representative fashion as well as “standing” in her position of power over both groups. Finally, Penates is used as the household gods of family and lineage, because of the way that the generations after her view her actions and honor, and how the conflict, which originated over the unjust abduction of the women for the sake of lineage and having children, has also allowed for greater family ties. Additionally, the ending of the poem with the word factis emphasizes her action and that the deed has been completed, something that is long in the past and can not be undone. The progression of the verbs from present to imperfect to perfect also highlight this sense of an action being actively completed, just like in the painting.

The structure and meter of the poem are deliberate as well. The alliteration of each of the four sections of the poem provides a structure within a poem that can be interpreted in a multitude of orders, in addition to the strict, 16-syllable lines and alternating endings. This somewhat strict form helps to keep the poem moving with a fast-paced meter. The poem’s main intended meaning is found through using the first, second, and third words in each section of the poem to form three sentences. However, nearly every word can be used in each of the three sentences to convey other aspects of the story, giving the poem a multitude of possible orders.

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