Wednesday, December 20, 2006


From the sixteenth century to you, courtesy of a Catholic priest martyred by Protestants [always a good thing for Protestants to remember...]


Behold the father is his daughter's son,
The bird that built the nest is hatch'd therein,
The old of years an hour hath not outrun,
Eternal life to live doth now begin,
The word is dumb, the mirth of heaven doth weep,
Might feeble is, and force doth faintly creep.

O dying souls! behold your living spring!
O dazzled eyes! behold your sun of grace!
Dull ears attend what word this word doth bring!
Up, heavy hearts, with joy your joy embrace!
From death, from dark, from deafness, from despairs,
This life, this light, this word, this joy repairs.

Gift better than Himself God doth not know,
Gift better than his God no man can see;
This gift doth here the giver given bestow,
Gift to this gift let each receiver be:
God is my gift, Himself He freely gave me,
God's gift am I, and none but God shall have me.

Man alter'd was by sin from man to beast;
Beast's food is hay, hay is all mortal flesh;
Now God is flesh, and lies in manger press'd,
As hay the brutest sinner to refresh:
Oh happy field wherein this fodder grew,
Whose taste doth us from beasts to men renew!


As I in hoary winter's night stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow ;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear ;

Who, scorchëd with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
Alas, quoth he, but newly born in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!

My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns ;
The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men's defilëd souls,

For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.
With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I callëd unto mind that it was Christmas day.

ROBERT SOUTHWELL, English Jesuit and poet, was born in 1560/61. He was sent very young to the Roman Catholic college at Douai, and thence to Paris, where he was placed under a Jesuit father, Thomas Darbyshire. In 1580 he joined the Society of Jesus.

In spite of his youth he was made prefect of studies in the English Jesuit college at Rome, and was ordained in 1584. That year an act was passed forbidding any English-born subject who had entered into priest's orders to remain in England longer than forty days on pain of death. But
in 1586 Southwell asked to be sent to England as a Jesuit missionary.

After six years of successful labour he was arrested. The daughter of one of his hosts revealed Southwell's movements to Richard Topcliffe, who immediately arrested and imprisoned him. He was repeatedly tortured to extract evidence about other priests. He was so abominably treated that his father petitioned the queen to either bring him to trial and put him to death, if found guilty, or remove him in any case from "that filthy hole." Southwell was then lodged in the Tower, but was not brought to trial until February 1595. He was hanged at Tyburn on February 11th, 1595.

There is little doubt that much of his poetry, none of which was published during his lifetime, was written in prison.
Ben Jonson told Drummond of Hawthornden that he would willingly have destroyed many of his own poems to be able to claim as his own Southwell's "Burning Babe."

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