Poem of the Day: ‘Psalm to Our Lady Queen of the Angels’

A key figure in the New Formalism movement of the 1990s, Mr. Gioia is as responsible as anyone for the return of verse in traditional meter and rhyme.

Via Wikimedia Commons
Baltasar del Águila: 'Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles,' detail, 1570. Via Wikimedia Commons

To conclude its week of work from living poets, the “Poem of the Day” feature of The New York Sun turns to Dana Gioia — as distinguished a poet as America can boast. The former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, he is the author of five books of poetry, several books of literary criticism, and many opera libretti, song cycles, and translations. A key figure in the New Formalism movement of the 1990s, Mr. Gioia is as responsible as anyone for the return of verse in traditional meter and rhyme, reestablishing formal poetry as a respectable way of doing contemporary poetry, mostly (but not entirely) freed from the strange political anger that had once labeled formalism as fascist, racist, and imperialist. In his new “Psalm to Our Lady Queen of the Angels” Mr. Gioia looks again to his native California in quatrains of irregular meter to bemoan the condition of Los Angeles. The city would better understand its poor and its history if it remembered that the original name and dedication of Los Angeles were not for the angels, but for their queen, the Blessed Virgin Mary: “Pray for the angels kept from their queen.”

Psalm to Our Lady Queen of the Angels
by Dana Gioia

Let us sing to our city a new song,
A song that remembers its name and its founders—
Los Pobladores, the forgotten forty-four,
Who built their pueblo beside a small river.

They named the river for the Queen of the Angels, 
Nuestra Senora Reina de los Angeles.
Poor, they were forced to the margins of empire,
Dark, dispossessed, not one couple pure.

Let us praise the marriages and matings that created us.
Desire, swifter than democracy merging the races—
Spanish, Aztec, African, and Anglo—
Forbidden matches made holy by children.

I praise myself, a mutt of mestizo and mezzogiorno,
The seed of exiles and violent men,
Disfigured by the burdens they shouldered to survive.
Broken or bent, their boast was their suffering.

I praise my ancestors, the unkillable poor,
The few who escaped disease or despair—
The restless, the hungry, the stubborn, the scarred.
Let us praise the dignity of their destitution.

Let us praise their mother, Nuestra Senora,
The lost guardian, who watches them still 
From murals and medals, statues, tattoos.
She has not abandoned her divided pueblo.

She has been homeless with a hungry child,
A refugee fleeing a brutal warlord.
A mother, she held her murdered son.
Her crown is jeweled with seven sorrows.

Pray for the city that lost its name.
Pray for the people too humble for progress.
Pray for the flesh that pays for profit.
Pray for the angels kept from their queen.

Pray in the hour of our death each day
In the southern sun of our desecrated city.
Pray for us, mother of the mixed and misbegotten,
Beside our dry river and tents of the outcast poor.


With “Poem of the Day,” The New York Sun offers a daily portion of verse selected by Joseph Bottum with the help of the North Carolina poet Sally Thomas, the Sun’s associate poetry editor. Tied to the day, or the season, or just individual taste, the poems will be typically drawn from the lesser-known portion of the history of English verse. In the coming months we will be reaching out to contemporary poets for examples of current, primarily formalist work, to show that poetry can still serve as a delight to the ear, an instruction to the mind, and a tonic for the soul.

The New York Sun

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