“What St. Basil Knew” by Basil of Caesarea

Basil of Caesarea


from In Famen 69 C.

Hunger is worst of all. Hunger is pain—
the worst of miseries, the worst of deaths.
A knife kills quickly; famine kills you slow—
a long & endless martyrdom that drains
a body’s heat & shrivels up its breath,
till muscle, flesh & even color go.
Your bones stick to your body. Tawdry skin
begins to chafe like leather. Black & dry,
like chestnuts in their sockets, eyes lie still
& useless in their caverns. As it spins,
your stomach hollows, cramps against your spine.
Your knees won’t hold you up. Your words go shrill.
What kind of Hell awaits the well-heeled man
who walks in silence past an upraised hand?
Translated from the Greek by James Sutton

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022
Tribute to Translation


Basil of Caesarea (330–379) was a bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, Asia Minor. He was an influential theologian who supported the Nicene Creed and opposed the heresies of the early Christian church, fighting against both Arianism and the followers of Apollinaris of Laodicea. | James Sutton: “St. Basil was an Early Church Father and a poet. This translation is from one of his epistles. I translated it because I thought it applied to Ronald Reagan and his comment about the homeless preferring to sleep on grates. By some miracle, the epistle translated perfectly into the sonnet form.”

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