One of the advantages of being a student enrolled in a “great books” curriculum is the fact that I am constantly exposed to excellent Classical literature. In my studies this Autumn, I came across a wonderful poem, “The Burning Babe,” composed by the Jesuit saint and martyr, Robert Southwell. He penned this poem in the Tower of London, where he was held prisoner by the priest-hunters of Queen Elizabeth I.
This beautiful piece of literature portrays the Christmas story in such a profound and unique light. I find it appropriate to share it, this Christmas season, partly to gives us something to contemplate and partly to preserve it from “literary oblivion.”
“The Burning Babe”
“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, scorched with excessive heat,
Such floods of tears did shed,
As though His floods should quench His flames,
Which with His tears were bred.
‘Alas!’ quoth He, ‘but newly born,
In fiery heats, I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts
Or feel my heart, 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 vanished out of sight,
And swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto my mind
That it was Christmas Day.”
– St. Robert Southwell (1561 – 1595)
(Poem taken from Prose and Poetry of England, Reprinted by Seton Press, 2001, P. 101 & 102)
Merry Christmas and God Bless You!