Poetry Corner

Lucretia

Felice Ficherelli
1603–1660

I have been mulling over the topical issue of violence inflicted on women and girls for some time now, and ever since reading Euripides’ Trojan Women many years ago, I have been interested in the fate, often suffered by women, in conflict. Sadly, things don’t seem to change much down the millennia. So many examples of inhumanity and wanton violence for no just cause.

Although this poem focuses on women, because of its current topicality, and a recent personal experience, I do not for one moment wish to suggest that men do not suffer unwanted physical trauma. Of course, they do. Furthermore, women are sometimes the perpetrators of violence themselves. I have many very supportive, male friends, who would not dream of hurting women. However, I believe it is still the case, that women are statistically more likely to be victims of sexual violence, and, that it is ‘sanctioned’ and, or, dismissed in many cultures, including mine, by some.

Convictions for rape remain incredibly low. This is for various reasons. The major one is because it is up to the Crown to prove guilt, rather than the suspect to prove their innocence. Of course, I stand by the important assumption that all are innocent until proven guilty, but when, as a matter of course, suspects of sexual violence are advised to aver consent was given then it is very difficult to prove otherwise and gain a conviction. Police do their best and are often frustrated by the process too.

It is a little like BLM. Of course, all lives matter, but sadly in our society, generally speaking, black lives matter less, which is why people have tried to redress this inequality.

Lucretia

Such violence done to you
in Roman times when Tarquin ruled,
or, rather, tyrant-led.
Renowned beauty, virtuous demesne,
modest wife, chaste as the moon.
Minerva’s handmaiden.
You worked wool. Wove
cloth with quiet diligence
especially when your 
husband was away from home,
as he was that fateful night.

Just as Penelope worked 
Laertes’ shroud for 
three long years until discovery
of her undoing, undid her.  
Her suitors ran amok.
Made free with wine and house.
Still, she kept faith for twenty years until
Odysseus returned from Troy.

But you, Lucretia,
were less fortunate.
You could not foresee,
that while you slept,
Sextus, Tarquin’s eldest son,
would seek your chamber,
and, at knife point,
rape you there.

You were unmoved
by his great promise,
should you submit,
to be his bride 
and rule all Rome.
You weren’t seduced by power.
You would rather die.
But, compassion,
for the slave who 
watched your door,
and mindful of the sin 
of infidelity perceived,
you submitted to his threat:
post coitus to kill 
you, your guard,
and leave you naked
side by side,
silent witness to your adultery …
Murdered by a righteous hand.
You let him have his way …

Consensual sex.
Now there’s a thought.
Even though you broke 
no moral code,
as you next morning
told your father 
and the world
of Sextus’ crime,
you could not live 
with what had been done to you.
You drew a dagger,
concealed beneath
your raven cloak,
and took your life.

Your blood freed Rome.
The people rose.
Exacted vengeance
for the heinous crime
and years of misery.
The tyrants overthrown.
The year was 509 - BCE.

Why, still, have things not changed?
Still the fight goes on. 
Men have not learned.
Across the globe,
daily violations,
too brutal-bloody,
to dwell upon
infect our screens.
Acts of war
wreaked on girls
and women.
Cries of mercy
unheeded fall
on ears devoid of empathy.
Minds trained
to feel no pity,
high on headiness of battle;
entitled to just rewards
for frenzied killing.

And, at home, 
in times of peace,
we are not safe
in streets, in beds, in homes.
Many go unbelieved,
cannot face the trauma
of what is undergone.
Cannot prove 
their innocence.
Aggressors advised,
by clever lawyers,
to say it was consensual.
Have they not
mothers, daughters, 
sisters, wives and friends?
Have they no imagination?
Do they sleep at night,
as feckless felons
walk free?

Unlike Lucrece,
we do not all have armies
to mete out justice.
Justice, now there’s
a word. Like a child,
I thought I knew its
meaning. Impartial
Themis, Iustitia, 
holds the scales,
balanced to weigh 
the truth. 
But Truth runs naked
through the world,
hidden from our eyes,
whilst Lie, in borrowed
clothes, makes hay
and smiles


Nicola Tipton