Tuesday, November 19, 2013

NEW PRINCE NEW POMP by Robert Southwell

New Prince, New Pompe

Behold a sely, tender Babe,
     In freezing winter nighte,
In homely manger trembling lies;
     Alas! a piteous sighte!

The inns are full, no man will yelde
     This little pilgrime bedd;
But forced He is with sely beastes
     In cribb to shroude His headd.

Despise not Him for lyinge there,
     First what He is enquire;
An orient perle is often founde
     In depth of dirty mire.

Waye not His cribbe, His wodden dishe,
     Nor beastes that by Him feede;
Waye not His mother’s poore attire
     Nor Josephe’s simple weede.

His stable is a Prince’s courte,
     The cribbe His chaire of State;
The beastes are parcell of His pompe,
     The wodden dishe, His plate.

The parsons in that poore attire
     His royal ivery weare;
The Prince Himself is come from Heaven,
     This pompe is priséd there.

With joy approach, O Christian wighte!
     Do homage to thy Kinge;
And highly prise His humble pompe
     Which He from Heaven doth bringe.

                   Robert Southwell, 1561-1595

Sely: simple, happy. German, selig.  
Wighte: man, or person.

Here it is in more modern English:

New Prince, New Pomp

Behold a simple, tender Babe,
     In freezing winter night,
In homely manger trembling lies;
     Alas! a piteous sight!

The inns are full, no man will yield
     This little pilgrim bed;
But forced He is with simple beasts
     In crib to shroud His head.

Despise not Him for lying there,
     First what He is inquire;
An orient pearl is often found
     In depth of dirty mire.

Weigh not His crib, His wooden dish,
     Nor beasts that by Him feed;
Weigh not His mother’s poor attire
     Nor Joseph’s simple weed.

His stable is a Prince’s court,
     The crib His chair of State;
The beasts are parcel of His pomp,
     The wooden dish, His plate.

The persons in that poor attire
     His royal livery wear;
The Prince Himself is come from Heaven,
     This pomp is prizéd there.

With joy approach, O Christian man!
     Do homage to thy King;
And highly prize His humble pomp
     Which He from Heaven doth bring.


Robert Southwell, 1561-1595

Robert Southwell was born at Horsham St. Faith's, Norfolk, England, in 1561; hanged at Tyburn, 21 February, 1595. His grandfather, Sir Richard Southwell, had been a wealthy man and a prominent courtier during the reign of Henry VIII. He was so beautiful as a young boy that a gypsy stole him. He was soon recovered by his family and became a short, handsome man, with gray eyes and red hair. 
Even as a child, Southwell was distinguished by his attraction to the old religion. Protestantism had come to England, and it was a crime for any Englishman who had been ordained as a Catholic priest to remain in England more than forty days at a time. In order to keep the faith alive, William Allen had opened a school at Douai, where he made a Catholic translation of the Bible, the well-known Douai version. Southwell attended this school and asked to be admitted into the Jesuits. At first the Jesuits refused his application, but eventually his earnest appeals moved them to accept him. He was ordained a priest in 1584. Two years later, at his own request, he was sent as a missionary to England, well knowing the dangers he faced. 
Southwell's arrival in England was reported to the authorities. For six years they kept him under surveillance. He assumed the last alias "Cotton" and found employment as a chaplain to Lady Arundel. He wrote a prose elegy, Triumphs over Death, to the earl to console him for a sister's premature death. Although he lived mostly in London, he traveled in disguise and preached secretly throughout England. His downfall and capture came about when he became friendly with a Catholic family named Bellamy. They were arrested on charges of treason and Southwell was tricked into the clutches of Richard Topcliffe, a notorious agent of the anti-Catholic persecution.

Southwell was in prison for three years. Tortured thirteen times, he nonetheless refused to reveal the names of fellow Catholics. During his incarceration, he was allowed to write. His works had already circulated widely and seen print, although their authorship was well known and one might have expected the government to suppress them. Now he added to them poems intended to sustain himself and comfort his fellow prisoners. 
On February 21, 1595 Southwell was brought to Tyburn, where he was hanged and then quartered for treason, although no treasonous word or act had been shown against him. It was enough that he held a variation of the Christian faith that frightened many Englishmen because of the many rumors of Catholic plots against the crown.

Southwell's writings, both in prose and verse, were extremely popular with his contemporaries, and his religious pieces were sold openly by the booksellers though their authorship was known. Imitations abounded, and Ben Jonson declared of one of Southwell's pieces, The Burning Babe, that to have written it he would readily forfeit many of his own poems.

(Adapted from

Painting: The Nativity by Jacob Jordaens

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