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Thursday, 21 February 2013

Robert Southwell, pray for England, pray for us

Besides the Great Peter Damian, whose writings are highlighted on this blog this week, today is the feast of St. Robert Southwell.

From here, and below, one of his mighty poems....I read his book to his cousin on the death of his young wife, when I was in Cobh last year..very moving and elegant.

 St Robert Southwell (1561-1595)

Robert Southwell was born in 1561. He was born in Norfolk and in due course went to the Catholic college at Douai, in 1580 joining the Society of Jesus. He was a poet and a scholar. His poetry had a profound influence on the moral climate of the age. He soon came to England as a Jesuit missionary, moving from one Catholic family to another, working as a priest. After six years of successful priestly work Southwell was arrested and imprisoned in the gatehouse of Holborn. Transferred to the gatehouse at Westminster, he was so abominably treated that his father petitioned Elizabeth that he might be brought to trial. He was then lodged in the Tower, but he was not brought to trial until February 1595. Much of his poetry was written while in prison. He wrote there: “Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live; Not where I love, but where I am, I die.” On the 10th of February 1595 he was tried before the King’s Bench on the charge of treason. On the following day he was dragged on a hurdle through the streets to Tyburn. There he was allowed briefly to address the people. “I am come hither to play out the last act of this poor life.” He protested his innocence of any treason, and prayed for the salvation of the Queen and country. In the barbaric manner of the time he was due to be hanged, drawn and quartered, but the crowd made such a commotion that he was allowed to die before his body was butchered.

Upon The Image Of Death

Before my face the picture hangs
That daily should put me in mind
Of those cold names and bitter pangs
That shortly I am like to find;
But yet, alas, full little I
Do think hereon that I must die.

I often look upon a face
Most ugly, grisly, bare, and thin;
I often view the hollow place
Where eyes and nose had sometimes been;
I see the bones across that lie,
Yet little think that I must die.

I read the label underneath,
That telleth me whereto I must;
I see the sentence eke that saith
Remember, man, that thou art dust!
But yet, alas, but seldom I
Do think indeed that I must die.

Continually at my bed's head
A hearse doth hang, which doth me tell
That I ere morning may be dead,
Though now I feel myself full well ;
But yet, alas, for all this, I
Have little mind that I must die.

The gown which I do use to wear,
The knife wherewith I cut my meat,
And eke that old and ancient chair
Which is my only usual seat,-
All these do tell me I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

My ancestors are turned to clay,
And many of my mates are gone;
My youngers daily drop away,
And can I think to 'scape alone?
No, no, I know that I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

Not Solomon for all his wit,
Nor Samson, though he were so strong,
No king nor person ever yet
Could 'scape but death laid him along;
Wherefore I know that I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

Though all the East did quake to hear
Of Alexander's dreadful name,
And all the West did likewise fear
To hear of Julius Caesar's fame,
Yet both by death in dust now lie;
Who then can 'scape but he must die?

If none can 'scape death's dreadful dart,
If rich and poor his beck obey,
If strong, if wise, if all do smart,
Then I to 'scape shall have no way.
Oh, grant me grace, O God, that I
My life may mend, sith I must die.