England's Antiphon

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Except it be Milton's, there is not any prose fuller of grand poetic embodiments than Lord Bacon's. Yet he always writes contemptuously of poetry, having in his eye no doubt the commonplace kinds of it, which will always occupy more bulk, and hence be more obtrusive, than that which is true in its nature and rare in its workmanship. Towards the latter end of his life, however, being in ill health at the time, he translated seven of the Psalms of David into verse, dedicating them to George Herbert. The best of them is Psalm civ.--just the one upon which we might suppose, from his love to the laws of Nature, he would dwell with the greatest sympathy. Partly from the wish to hear his voice amongst the rest of our singers, partly for the merits of the version itself, which has some remarkable lines, I have resolved to include it here. It is the first specimen I have given in the heroic couplet.

Father and King of Powers both high and low, Whose sounding fame all creatures serve to blow; My soul shall with the rest strike up thy praise, And carol of thy works, and wondrous ways. But who can blaze thy beauties, Lord, aright? They turn the brittle beams of mortal sight. Upon thy head thou wear'st a glorious crown, All set with virtues, polished with renown: Thence round about a silver veil doth fall Of crystal light, mother of colours all. The compass, heaven, smooth without grain or fold, All set with spangs of glittering stars untold, And striped with golden beams of power unpent, Is raiséd up for a removing tent Vaulted and archéd are his chamber beams Upon the seas, the waters, and the streams; The clouds as chariots swift do scour the sky; The stormy winds upon their wings do fly His angels spirits are, that wait his will; As flames of fire his anger they fulfil. In the beginning, with a mighty hand, He made the earth by counterpoise to stand, Never to move, but to be fixed still; Yet hath no pillars but his sacred will. This earth, as with a veil, once covered was; The waters overflowéd all the mass; But upon his rebuke away they fled, And then the hills began to show their head; The vales their hollow bosoms opened plain, The streams ran trembling down the vales again; And that the earth no more might drowned be, He set the sea his bounds of liberty; And though his waves resound and beat the shore, Yet it is bridled by his holy lore. Then did the rivers seek their proper places, And found their heads, their issues, and their races; The springs do feed the rivers all the way, And so the tribute to the sea repay: Running along through many a pleasant field, Much fruitfulness unto the earth they yield; That know the beasts and cattle feeding by, Which for to slake their thirst do thither hie. Nay, desert grounds the streams do not forsake, But through the unknown ways their journey take; The asses wild that hide in wilderness, Do thither come, their thirst for to refresh. The shady trees along their banks do spring, In which the birds do build, and sit, and sing, Stroking the gentle air with pleasant notes, Plaining or chirping through their warbling throats. The higher grounds, where waters cannot rise, By rain and dews are watered from the skies, Causing the earth put forth the grass for beasts, And garden-herbs, served at the greatest feasts, And bread that is all viands' firmament, And gives a firm and solid nourishment; And wine man's spirits for to recreate, And oil his face for to exhilarate. The sappy cedars, tall like stately towers, High flying birds do harbour in their bowers; The holy storks that are the travellers, Choose for to dwell and build within the firs; The climbing goats hang on steep mountains' side; The digging conies in the rocks do bide. The moon, so constant in inconstancy, Doth rule the monthly seasons orderly; The sun, eye of the world, doth know his race, And when to show, and when to hide his face. Thou makest darkness, that it may be night, Whenas the savage beasts that fly the light, As conscious of man's hatred, leave their den, And range abroad, secured from sight of men. Then do the forests ring of lions roaring, That ask their meat of God, their strength restoring; But when the day appears, they back do fly, And in their dens again do lurking lie; Then man goes forth to labour in the field, Whereby his grounds more rich increase may yield. O Lord, thy providence sufficeth all; Thy goodness not restrained but general Over thy creatures, the whole earth doth flow With thy great largeness poured forth here below. Nor is it earth alone exalts thy name, But seas and streams likewise do spread the same. The rolling seas unto the lot do fall Of beasts innumerable, great and small; There do the stately ships plough up the floods; The greater navies look like walking woods; The fishes there far voyages do make, To divers shores their journey they do take; There hast thou set the great leviathan, That makes the seas to seethe like boiling pan: All these do ask of thee their meat to live, Which in due season thou to them dost give: Ope thou thy hand, and then they have good fare; Shut thou thy hand, and then they troubled are. All life and spirit from thy breath proceed, Thy word doth all things generate and feed: If thou withdraw'st it, then they cease to be, And straight return to dust and vanity; But when thy breath thou dost send forth again, Then all things do renew, and spring amain, So that the earth but lately desolate Doth now return unto the former state. The glorious majesty of God above
Shall ever reign, in mercy and in love; God shall rejoice all his fair works to see, For, as they come from him, all perfect be. The earth shall quake, if aught his wrath provoke; Let him but touch the mountains, they shall smoke. As long as life doth last, I hymns will sing, With cheerful voice, to the Eternal King; As long as I have being, I will praise The works of God, and all his wondrous ways. I know that he my words will not despise: Thanksgiving is to him a sacrifice. But as for sinners, they shall be destroyed From off the earth--their places shall be void. Let all his works praise him with one accord! Oh praise the Lord, my soul! Praise ye the Lord!

His Hundred and Forty-ninth Psalm is likewise good; but I have given enough of Lord Bacon's verse, and proceed to call up one who was a poet indeed, although little known as such, being a Roman Catholic, a Jesuit even, and therefore, in Elizabeth's reign, a traitor, and subject to the penalties according. Robert Southwell, "thirteen times most cruelly tortured," could "not be induced to confess anything, not even the colour of the horse whereon on a certain day he rode, lest from such indication his adversaries might conjecture in what house, or in company of what Catholics, he that day was." I quote these words of Lord Burleigh, lest any of my readers, discovering weakness in his verse, should attribute weakness to the man himself.

It was no doubt on political grounds that these tortures, and the death that followed them, were inflicted. But it was for the truth as he saw it, that is, for the sake of duty, that Southwell thus endured. We must not impute all the evils of a system to every individual who holds by it. It may be found that a man has, for the sole sake of self-abnegation, yielded homage, where, if his object had been personal aggrandizement, he might have wielded authority. Southwell, if that which comes from within a man may be taken as the test of his character, was a devout and humble Christian. In the choir of our singers we only ask: "Dost thou lift up thine heart?" Southwell's song answers for him: "I lift it up unto the Lord."

His chief poem is called St. Peter's Complaint. It is of considerable length--a hundred and thirty-two stanzas. It reminds us of the Countess of Pembroke's poem, but is far more articulate and far superior in versification. Perhaps its chief fault is that the pauses are so measured with the lines as to make every line almost a sentence, the effect of which is a considerable degree of monotony. Like all writers of the time, he is, of course, fond of antithesis, and abounds in conceits and fancies; whence he attributes a multitude of expressions to St. Peter of which never possibly could the substantial ideas have entered the Apostle's mind, or probably any other than Southwell's own. There is also a good deal of sentimentalism in the poem, a fault from which I fear modern Catholic verse is rarely free. Probably the Italian poetry with which he must have been familiar in his youth, during his residence in Rome, accustomed him to such irreverences of expression as this sentimentalism gives occasion to, and which are very far from indicating a correspondent state of feeling. Sentiment is a poor ape of love; but the love is true notwithstanding. Here are a few stanzas from St. Peter's Complaint:

Titles I make untruths: am I a rock,

That with so soft a gale was overthrown?

Am I fit pastor for the faithful flock

To guide their souls that murdered thus mine own?

A rock of ruin, not a rest to stay; A pastor,--not to feed, but to betray.

Parting from Christ my fainting force declined;

With lingering foot I followed him aloof;

Base fear out of my heart his love unshrined,

Huge in high words, but impotent in proof.

My vaunts did seem hatched under Samson's locks, Yet woman's words did give me murdering knocks

* * * * *

At Sorrow's door I knocked: they craved my name

I answered, "One unworthy to be known."

"What one?" say they. "One worthiest of blame."

"But who?" "A wretch not God's, nor yet his own."

"A man?" "Oh, no!" "A beast?" "Much worse." "What creature?"

"A rock." "How called?" "The rock of scandal, Peter."

* * * * *

Christ! health of fevered soul, heaven of the mind,

Force of the feeble, nurse of infant loves,

Guide to the wandering foot, light to the blind,

Whom weeping wins, repentant sorrow moves!

Father in care, mother in tender heart, Revive and save me, slain with sinful dart!

If King Manasseh, sunk in depth of sin,

With plaints and tears recovered grace and crown,

worthless worm some mild regard may win, And lowly creep where flying threw it down.

A poor desire I have to mend my ill; I should, I would, I dare not say I will.

dare not say I will, but wish I may; My pride is checked: high words the speaker spilt.

My good, O Lord, thy gift--thy strength, my stay--

Give what thou bidst, and then bid what thou wilt.

Work with me what of me thou dost request; Then will I dare the worst and love the best.

Here, from another poem, are two little stanzas worth preserving:

Yet God's must I remain,

By death, by wrong, by shame;

cannot blot out of my heart
That grace wrought in his name.
cannot set at nought,
Whom I have held so dear;
cannot make Him seem afar
That is indeed so near.

The following poem, in style almost as simple as a ballad, is at once of the quaintest and truest. Common minds, which must always associate a certain conventional respectability with the forms of religion, will think it irreverent. I judge its reverence profound, and such none the less that it is pervaded by a sweet and delicate tone of holy humour. The very title has a glimmer of the glowing heart of Christianity:

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