The fiery Babe

Burning_babe_2 One of my favorite Christmas poems is "The Burning Babe" by Robert Southwell (1561-1595).  Southwell was a Jesuit priest during the time of intense religious-political conflict in England.  He was martyred in 1595.  Most of his poems were written from prison.  This poem is an strange, extended metaphor in which the baby Jesus is likened to a smelting furnace.  To me, it’s very powerful.  Try it…

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 fire, but I;

My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns:

Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes, shames 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 mind, that it was Christmas day.

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