Tag Archives: Saint Robert Southwell

14 March, Mother’s Day: The Virgin Mary to Christ on the Cross

Winchester Cathedral.

Robert Southwell was a Jesuit missioner to England in the time of Elizabeth I; he was imprisoned, tortured, condemned and hung drawn and quartered. Paul VI canonised him as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

Despite his religion, his poetry was respected in his lifetime. Much of it was overtly religious like this exploration of Mary’s feelings at Calvary. My apologies for presenting a less than sunny post today, England’s Mother’s Day, but there are mothers who will be forgotten this year, mothers who have lost children: let’s spare a thought and prayer for them. And give our own mothers a good day.

A sword will pierce your heart.

What mist hath dimm’d that glorious face?
What seas of grief my sun doth toss?
The golden rays of heavenly grace
Lies now eclipsèd on the cross.

Jesus, my love, my Son, my God,
Behold Thy mother wash’d in tears:
Thy bloody wounds be made a rod
To chasten these my later years.

You cruel Jews, come work your ire
Upon this worthless flesh of mine,
And kindle not eternal fire
By wounding Him who is divine.

Thou messenger that didst impart
His first descent into my womb,
Come help me now to cleave my heart,
That there I may my Son entomb.

You angels, all that present were
To show His birth with harmony,
Why are you not now ready here,
To make a mourning symphony?

The cause I know you wail alone,
And shed your tears in secrecy,
Lest I should movèd be to moan,
By force of heavy company.

But wail, my soul, thy comfort dies,
My woful womb, lament thy fruit;
My heart give tears unto mine eyes,
Let sorrow string my heavy lute.

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Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Lent, poetry

13 September. Before the Cross XXIV: The Image Of Death

 

rosary.rjb

Reading this poem by Saint Robert Southwell, I at once remembered my father’s rosary, with the skull below Christ’s feet. So although Southwell does not directly refer to the crucifixion, this is the image that comes to my mind. How Dad’s fingers have eroded the figure of Christ and the skull! May he pray for us still, as he prayed for his children every day. Reginald Billingsley would have been 100 years old last New Year’s Eve. A ‘hearse’ at Southwell’s time was a frame that held candles over a coffin. Robert Southwell was a Jesuit  missionary to his native England, and a martyr at Tyburn, London in 1595.

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.

Saint Robert Southwell

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Filed under Daily Reflections, Easter, Lent, poetry

24/12 The Burning Babe

The Burning Babe

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By Saint Robert Southwell S.J.

mercylogoAs I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,

Surpris’d 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, scorched 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 defiled 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 vanish’d out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,

And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas day.

 

This poem is an appropriate companion to tomorrow’s post about William Blake’s Nativity. Saint Robert Southwell was one of the Elizabethan scholar Jesuits martyred for returning to England to minister to Catholic congregations. It is not known whether Blake had read St Robert’s poem, but look at his painting when you have a quiet moment tomorrow! 

WT.

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