And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

onsdag 25. desember 2013

The Burning Babe - a poem for Christmas Day

Since it's Christmas Day, I find it proper to post one of the perhaps most cherished religious poems from Elizabethan England, namely Robert Southwell's The Burning Babe, published in 1595 in his collection St. Peter's Complaint. Allegedly, Ben Jonson once stated that he would rather have been the author of this particular poem than the entirety of his own bibliography. I, for my part, have a great fondness for the poem, especially because of the religious intensity conveyed in the metrics and the rhyme-scheme. The text is taken from

Nativity with a particularly effulgent Christchild
MS. Egerton 2045, c.1460-c.1470, Central France, book of hours, Use of Rome
Courtesy of British Library

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.

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