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Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), author of "The Prince"

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), author of “The Prince”


It seldom happens
although it does
that men rise from low
..outside of our making
conditions to high rank
..where fate becomes mastery
without employing either
of salt-encrusted habits,
force or fraud, unless
self-pity we abjure
that rank should be
a natural extension
attained either by
appreciation and grace
gift or inheritance.


Some might wonder how
Alexander the Great became
master of Asia in a few years

I fear the numbers are too few
among us who would wonder how,
so keen we are on tearing power down

though he died whilst it was scarcely
settled, nonetheless his successors

learning from his mastery, from
memory and hard lessons drawn

maintained themselves, meeting no
impediments but those that rose
from their own ambitions.

Perhaps they could advise us now
on how to weave ambition into tensile
strength with cord of noble hearts.

Two Variations

There’s too much talk of arms, dear Prince,
defending states that are but of the mind
disquiets our good neighbourhood.

Learn well the mercenary soul who blames
his rank on agencies external. He’ll take
your pay, then charge you for his bleeding.

While rising then, of whom may I be
well assured, or must I, like so many, spy
a foe ‘neath every bush and knoll?

As prince en route, you have no foe; make
peace with reputation; those who squandered
their own gifts you need not recompense.


Fortune being changeful
they say she is a woman
if one seeks the higher realms
who demands that we let go
of all that one has learned
no more, the rigid course
only the impetuous can guide
growing younger every day
the foot that knows not where
trusting through resourcefulness
its step will land, four-square
forevermore, and thus,
my Prince, we use no force
but strength of pas de deux
to reach the highest ranks
by means of our inheritance.

Pas de deux is a ballet dance for two, with a classic sequence of entrée, adagio, two variations and a coda. In this poetic version, the female role is italicized, while the prose of Niccoló Machiavelli takes the male lead.

© Elaine Stirling, 2013