England's Antiphon
by George MacDonald
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ENGLAND'S ANTIPHON was originally published in 1868


In this book I have sought to trace the course of our religious poetry from an early period of our literary history.

This could hardly be done without reference to some of the principal phases of the religious history of the nation. To give anything like a full history of the religious feeling of a single county, would require a large book, and—not to mention sermons—would involve a thorough acquaintance with the hymns of the country,—a very wide subject, which I have not considered of sufficient importance from a literary point of view to come within the scope of the volume.

But if its poetry be the cream of a people's thought, some true indications of the history of its religious feeling must be found in its religious verse, and I hope I have not altogether failed in setting forth these indications.

My chief aim, however, will show itself to have been the mediating towards an intelligent and cordial sympathy betwixt my readers and the writers from whom I have quoted. In this I have some confidence of success.

Heartily do I throw this my small pebble at the head of the great Sabbath-breaker Schism.




























If the act of worship be the highest human condition, it follows that the highest human art must find material in the modes of worship. The first poetry of a nation will not be religious poetry: the nation must have a history at least before it can possess any material capable of being cast into the mould of religious utterance; but, the nation once possessed of this material, poetry is the first form religious utterance will assume.

The earliest form of literature is the ballad, which is the germ of all subsequent forms of poetry, for it has in itself all their elements: the lyric, for it was first chanted to some stringed instrument; the epic, for it tells a tale, often of solemn and ancient report; the dramatic, for its actors are ever ready to start forward into life, snatch the word from the mouth of the narrator, and speak in their own persons. All these forms have been used for the utterance of religious thought and feeling. Of the lyrical poems of England, religion possesses the most; of the epic, the best; of the dramatic, the oldest.

Of each of these I shall have occasion to speak; but, as the title of the book implies,—for Antiphon means the responsive song of the parted choir,—I shall have chiefly to do with the lyric or song form.

For song is the speech of feeling. Even the prose of emotion always wanders into the rhythmical. Hence, as well as for other reasons belonging to its nature, it is one chief mode in which men unite to praise God; for in thus praising they hold communion with each other, and the praise expands and grows.

The individual heart, however, must first have been uplifted into praiseful song, before the common ground and form of feeling, in virtue of which men might thus meet, could be supplied. But the vocal utterance or the bodily presence is not at all necessary for this communion. When we read rejoicingly the true song-speech of one of our singing brethren, we hold song-worship with him and with all who have thus at any time shared in his feelings, even if he have passed centuries ago into the "high countries" of song.

My object is to erect, as it were, in this book, a little auricle, or spot of concentrated hearing, where the hearts of my readers may listen, and join in the song of their country's singing men and singing women.

I will build it, if I may, like a chapel in the great church of England's worship, gathering the sounds of its never-ceasing choir, heart after heart lifting up itself in the music of speech, heart after heart responding across the ages. Hearing, we worship with them.

For we must not forget that, although the individual song springs from the heart of the individual, the song of a country is not merely cumulative: it is vital in its growth, and therefore composed of historically dependent members. No man could sing as he has sung, had not others sung before him. Deep answereth unto deep, face to face, praise to praise. To the sound of the trumpet the harp returns its own vibrating response—alike, but how different! The religious song of the country, I say again, is a growth, rooted deep in all its story.

Besides the fact that the lyric chiefly will rouse the devotional feeling, there is another reason why I should principally use it: I wish to make my book valuable in its parts as in itself. The value of a thing depends in large measure upon its unity, its wholeness. In a work of these limits, that form of verse alone can be available for its unity which is like the song of the bird—a warble and then a stillness. However valuable an extract may be—and I shall not quite eschew such—an entire lyric, I had almost said however inferior, if worthy of a place at all, is of greater value, especially if regarded in relation to the form of setting with which I hope to surround it.

There is a sense in which I may, without presumption, adopt the name of Choragus, or leader of the chorus, in relation to these singers: I must take upon me to order who shall sing, when he shall sing, and which of his songs he shall sing. But I would rather assume the office of master of the hearing, for my aim shall be to cause the song to be truly heard; to set forth worthy points in form, in matter, and in relation; to say with regard to the singer himself, his time, its modes, its beliefs, such things as may help to set the song in its true light—its relation, namely, to the source whence it sprung, which alone can secure its right reception by the heart of the hearer. For my chief aim will be the heart; seeing that, although there is no dividing of the one from the other, the heart can do far more for the intellect than the intellect can do for the heart.

We must not now attempt to hear the singers of times so old that their language is unintelligible without labour. For this there is not room, even if otherwise it were desirable that such should divide the volume. We must leave Anglo-Saxon behind us. In Early English, I shall give a few valuable lyrics, but they shall not be so far removed from our present speech but that, with a reasonable amount of assistance, the nature and degree of which I shall set forth, they shall not only present themselves to the reader's understanding, but commend themselves to his imagination and judgment.



In the midst of wars and rumours of wars, the strife of king and barons, and persistent efforts to subdue neighbouring countries, the mere effervescence of the life of the nation, let us think for a moment of that to which the poems I am about to present bear good witness—the true life of the people, growing quietly, slowly, unperceived—the leaven hid in the meal. For what is the true life of a nation? That, I answer, in its modes of thought, its manners and habits, which favours the growth within the individual of that kingdom of heaven for the sake only of which the kingdoms of earth exist. The true life of the people, as distinguished from the nation, is simply the growth in its individuals of those eternal principles of truth, in proportion to whose power in them they take rank in the kingdom of heaven, the only kingdom that can endure, all others being but as the mimicries of children playing at government.

Little as they then knew of the relations of the wonderful story on which their faith was built, to everything human, the same truth was at work then which is now—poor as the recognition of these relations yet is—slowly setting men free. In the hardest winter the roots are still alive in the frozen ground.

In the silence of the monastery, unnatural as that life was, germinated much of this deeper life. As we must not judge of the life of the nation by its kings and mighty men, so we must not judge of the life in the Church by those who are called Rabbi. The very notion of the kingdom of heaven implies a secret growth, secret from no affectation of mystery, but because its goings-on are in the depths of the human nature where it holds communion with the Divine. In the Church, as in society, we often find that that which shows itself uppermost is but the froth, a sign, it may be, of life beneath, but in itself worthless. When the man arises with a servant's heart and a ruler's brain, then is the summer of the Church's content. But whether the men who wrote the following songs moved in some shining orbit of rank, or only knelt in some dim chapel, and walked in some pale cloister, we cannot tell, for they have left no name behind them.

My reader will observe that there is little of theory and much of love in these lyrics. The recognition of a living Master is far more than any notions about him. In the worship of him a thousand truths are working, unknown and yet active, which, embodied in theory, and dissociated from the living mind that was in Christ, will as certainly breed worms as any omer of hoarded manna. Holding the skirt of his garment in one hand, we shall in the other hold the key to all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

I think almost all the earliest religious poetry is about him and his mother. Their longing after his humanity made them idolize his mother. If we forget that only through his humanity can we approach his divinity, we shall soon forget likewise that his mother is blessed among women.

I take the poems from one of the Percy Society publications, edited by Mr. Wright from a manuscript in the British Museum. He adjudges them to the reign of Edward I. Perhaps we may find in them a sign or two that in cultivating our intellect we have in some measure neglected our heart.

But first as to the mode in which I present them to my readers: I have followed these rules:—

1. Wherever a word differs from the modern word only in spelling, I have, for the sake of readier comprehension, substituted the modern form, with the following exception:—Where the spelling indicates a different pronunciation, necessary for the rhyme or the measure, I retain such part of the older form, marking with an acute accent any vowel now silent which must be sounded.

2. Where the word used is antique in root, I give the modern synonym in the margin. Antique phrases I explain in foot-notes.

It must be borne in mind that our modern pronunciation can hardly fail in other cases as well to injure the melody of the verses.

The modern reader will often find it difficult to get a rhythm out of some of them. This may arise from any of several causes. In the first place many final e's were then sounded which are now silent; and it is not easy to tell which of them to sound. Again, some words were pronounced as dissyllables which we treat as monosyllables, and others as monosyllables which we treat as dissyllables. I suspect besides, that some of the old writers were content to allow a prolonged syllable to stand for two short ones, a mode not without great beauty when sparingly and judiciously employed. Short supernumerary syllables were likewise allowed considerable freedom to come and go. A good deal must, however, be put down to the carelessness and presumption of the transcribers, who may very well have been incapable of detecting their own blunders. One of these ancient mechanics of literature caused Chaucer endless annoyance with his corruptions, as a humorous little poem, the last in his works, sufficiently indicates. From the same sources no doubt spring as well most of the variations of text in the manuscripts.

The first of the poems is chiefly a conversation between the Lord on the cross and his mother standing at its foot. A few prefatory remarks in explanation of some of its allusions will help my readers to enjoy it.

It was at one time a common belief, and the notion has not yet, I think, altogether vanished, that the dying are held back from repose by the love that is unwilling to yield them up. Hence, in the third stanza, the Lord prays his mother to let him die. In the fifth, he reasons against her overwhelming sorrows on the ground of the deliverance his sufferings will bring to the human race. But she can only feel her own misery.

To understand the seventh and eighth, it is necessary to know that, among other strange things accepted by the early Church, it was believed that the mother of Jesus had no suffering at his birth. This of course rendered her incapable of perfect sympathy with other mothers. It is a lovely invention, then, that he should thus commend mothers to his mother, telling her to judge of the pains of motherhood by those which she now endured. Still he fails to turn aside her thoughts. She is thinking still only of her own and her son's suffering, while he continues bent on making her think of others, until, at last, forth comes her prayer for all women. This seems to me a tenderness grand as exquisite.

The outburst of the chorus of the Faithful in the last stanza but one,—

When he rose, then fell her sorrow,

is as fine as anything I know in the region of the lyric.

"Stand well, mother, under rood;[1] the cross. Behold thy son with glade mood; cheerful. Blithe mother mayst thou be." "Son, how should I blithe stand? I see thy feet, I see thy hand Nailed to the hard tree."

"Mother, do way thy wepynde: give over thy weeping. I thole death for mankind— suffer. For my guilt thole I none." "Son, I feel the dede stounde; death-pang. The sword is at my heart's ground bottom. That me byhet Simeon." foreshowed.

"Mother, mercy! let me die, For Adam out of hell buy, for to buy Adam. And his kin that is forlore." lost. "Son, what shall me to rede?[2] My pain paineth me to dede: death. Let me die thee before!"

"Mother, thou rue all of thy bairn; rue thou; all is only expletive Thou wash away the bloody tern; wash thou; tears. It doth me worse than my ded." hurts me more; death. "Son, how may I teres werne? turn aside tears. I see the bloody streames erne flow. From thy heart to my fet." feet.

"Mother, now I may thee seye, say to thee. Better is that I one deye die. Than all mankind to helle go." "Son, I see thy body byswongen, lashed. Feet and hands throughout stongen: pierced through and through. No wonder though me be woe." woe be to me.

"Mother, now I shall thee tell, If I not die, thou goest to hell: I thole death for thy sake." endure. "Son, thou art so meek and mynde, thoughtful. Ne wyt me not, it is my kind[3] That I for thee this sorrow make."

"Mother, now thou mayst well leren learn. What sorrow have that children beren, they have; bear. What sorrow it is with childe gon." to go. "Sorrow, I wis! I can thee tell! But it be the pain of hell except. More sorrow wot I none."

"Mother, rue of mother-care, take pity upon. For now thou wost of mother-fare, knowest. Though thou be clean maiden mon."[4] "Sone, help at alle need Alle those that to me grede, cry. Maiden, wife, and full wymmon." woman with child.

"Mother, may I no longer dwell; The time is come I shall to hell; The third day I rise upon." "Son, I will with thee founden; set out, go. I die, I wis, for thy wounden: So sorrowful death nes never none." was not never none.

When he rose, then fell her sorrow; Her bliss sprung the third morrow: Blithe mother wert thou tho! then. Lady, for that ilke bliss, same. Beseech thy son of sunnes lisse: for sin's release. Thou be our shield against our foe. Be thou.

Blessed be thou, full of bliss! Let us never heaven miss, Through thy sweete Sones might! Loverd, for that ilke blood, Lord, That thou sheddest on the rood, Thou bring us into heaven's light. AMEN.

I think my readers will not be sorry to have another of a similar character.

I sigh when I sing For sorrow that I see, When I with weeping Behold upon the tree,

And see Jesus the sweet His heart's blood for-lete yield quite. For the love of me. His woundes waxen wete, wet. They weepen still and mete:[5] Mary rueth thee. pitieth.

High upon a down, hill. Where all folk it see may, A mile from each town, About the mid-day, The rood is up areared; His friendes are afeared, And clingeth so the clay;[6] The rood stands in stone, Mary stands her on, And saith Welaway!

When I thee behold With eyen brighte bo, eyes bright both. And thy body cold— Thy ble waxeth blo, colour: livid. Thou hangest all of blood bloody. So high upon the rood Between thieves tuo— two. Who may sigh more? Mary weepeth sore, And sees all this woe.

The nails be too strong, The smiths are too sly; skilful. Thou bleedest all too long; The tree is all too high; The stones be all wete! wet. Alas, Jesu, the sweet! For now friend hast thou none,

But Saint John to-mournynde, mourning greatly. And Mary wepynde, weeping. For pain that thee is on.

Oft when I sike sigh. And makie my moan, Well ill though me like, Wonder is it none.[7] When I see hang high And bitter pains dreye, dree, endure. Jesu, my lemmon! love. His woundes sore smart, The spear all to his heart And through his side is gone.

Oft when I syke, sigh. With care I am through-sought; searched through. When I wake I wyke; languish. Of sorrow is all my thought. Alas! men be wood mad. That swear by the rood swear by the cross. And sell him for nought That bought us out of sin. He bring us to wynne, may he: bliss. That hath us dear bought!

I add two stanzas of another of like sort.

Man that is in glory and bliss, And lieth in shame and sin, He is more than unwis unwise. That thereof will not blynne. cease. All this world it goeth away, Me thinketh it nigheth Doomsday; Now man goes to ground: perishes. Jesus Christ that tholed ded endured death. He may our souls to heaven led lead. Within a little stound. moment.

Jesus, that was mild and free, Was with spear y-stongen; stung or pierced. He was nailed to the tree, With scourges y-swongen. lashed. All for man he tholed shame, endured. Withouten guilt, withouten blame, Bothe day and other[8]. Man, full muchel he loved thee, much. When he wolde make thee free, And become thy brother.

The simplicity, the tenderness, the devotion of these lyrics is to me wonderful. Observe their realism, as, for instance, in the words: "The stones beoth al wete;" a realism as far removed from the coarseness of a Rubens as from the irreverence of too many religious teachers, who will repeat and repeat again the most sacred words for the merest logical ends until the tympanum of the moral ear hears without hearing the sounds that ought to be felt as well as held holiest. They bear strongly, too, upon the outcome of feeling in action, although doubtless there was the same tendency then as there is now to regard the observance of church-ordinances as the service of Christ, instead of as a means of gathering strength wherewith to serve him by being in the world as he was in the world.

From a poem of forty-eight stanzas I choose five, partly in order to manifest that, although there is in it an occasional appearance of what we should consider sentimentality, allied in nature to that worship of the Virgin which is more a sort of French gallantry than a feeling of reverence, the sense of duty to the Master keeps pace with the profession of devotedness to him. There is so little continuity of thought in it, that the stanzas might almost be arranged anyhow.

Jesu, thy love be all my thought; Of other thing ne reck I nought; reckon. I yearn to have thy will y-wrought, For thou me hast well dear y-bought.

Jesu, well may mine hearte see That mild and meek he must be, All unthews and lustes flee, bad habits. That feelen will the bliss of thee. feel.

For sinful folk, sweet Jesus, Thou lightest from the high house; Poor and low thou wert for us. Thine heart's love thou sendest us.

Jesu, therefore beseech I thee Thy sweet love thou grant me; That I thereto worthy be, Make me worthy that art so free. thou that art.

Jesu, thine help at my ending! And in that dreadful out-wending, going forth of the spirit. Send my soul good weryyng, guard. That I ne dread none evil thing.

I shall next present a short lyric, displaying more of art than this last, giving it now in the old form, and afterwards in a new one, that my reader may see both how it looks in its original dress, and what it means.

Wynter wakeneth al my care, Nou this leves waxeth bare, Ofte y sike ant mourne sare, sigh; sore. When hit cometh in my thoht Of this worldes joie, how hit goth al to noht.

Now hit is, ant now hit nys, it is not. Also hit ner nere y-wys,[9] That moni mon seith soth hit ys,[10] Al goth bote Godes wille, Alle we shule deye, thah us like ylle. though it pleases us ill.

Al that gren me graueth grene,[11] Nou hit faleweth al by-dene; grows yellow: speedily. Jhesu, help that hit be sene, seen. Ant shild us from helle; For y not whider y shal, ne hou longe her duelle.[12]

I will now give a modern version of it, in which I have spoiled the original of course, but I hope as little as well may be.

Winter wakeneth all my care; Now the trees are waxing bare; Oft my sighs my grief declare[13] When it comes into my thought Of this world's joy, how it goes all to nought.

Now it is, and now 'tis not— As it ne'er had been, I wot. Hence many say—it is man's lot: All goeth but God's will; We all die, though we like it ill.

Green about me grows the grain; Now it yelloweth all again: Jesus, give us help amain, And shield us from hell; For when or whither I go I cannot tell

There were no doubt many religious poems in a certain amount of circulation of a different cast from these; some a metrical recounting of portions of the Bible history—a kind unsuited to our ends; others a setting forth of the doctrines and duties then believed and taught. Of the former class is one of the oldest Anglo-Saxon poems we have, that of Caedmon, and there are many specimens to be found in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. They could, however, have been of little service to the people, so few of whom could read, or could have procured manuscripts if they had been able to use them. A long and elaborate composition of the latter class was written in the reign of Edward II. by William de Shoreham, vicar of Chart-Sutton in Kent. He probably taught his own verses to the people at his catechisings. The intention was, no doubt, by the aid of measure and rhyme to facilitate the remembrance of the facts and doctrines. It consists of a long poem on the Seven Sacraments; of a shorter, associating the Canonical Hours with the principal events of the close of our Lord's life; of an exposition of the Ten Commandments, followed by a kind of treatise on the Seven Cardinal Sins: the fifth part describes the different joys of the Virgin; the sixth, in praise of the Virgin, is perhaps the most poetic; the last is less easy to characterize. The poem is written in the Kentish dialect, and is difficult.

I shall now turn into modern verse a part of "The Canonical Hours," giving its represented foundation of the various acts of worship in the Romish Church throughout the day, from early in the morning to the last service at night. After every fact concerning our Lord, follows an apostrophe to his mother, which I omit, being compelled to choose.

Father's wisdom lifted high, Lord of us aright— God and man taken was, At matin-time by night. The disciples that were his, Anon they him forsook; Sold to Jews and betrayed, To torture him took.

At the prime Jesus was led In presence of Pilate, Where witnesses, false and fell, Laughed at him for hate. In the neck they him smote, Bound his hands of might; Spit upon that sweet face That heaven and earth did light.

"Crucify him! crucify!" They cried at nine o'clock; A purple cloth they put on him— To stare at him and mock. They upon his sweet head Stuck a thorny crown; To Calvary his cross he bears. Pitiful, from the town

Jesus was nailed on the cross At the noon-tide; Strong thieves they hanged up, One on either side. In his pain, his strong thirst Quenched they with gall; So that God's holy Lamb From sin washed us all.

At the nones Jesus Christ Felt the hard death; He to his father "Eloi!" cried, Gan up yield his breath. A soldier with a sharp spear Pierced his right side; The earth shook, the sun grew dim, The moment that he died.

He was taken off the cross At even-song's hour; The strength left and hid in God Of our Saviour. Such death he underwent, Of life the medicine! Alas! he was laid adown— The crown of bliss in pine!

At complines, it was borne away To the burying, That noble corpse of Jesus Christ, Hope of life's coming. Anointed richly it was, Fulfilled his holy book: I pray, Lord, thy passion In my mind lock.

Childlike simplicity, realism, and tenderness will be evident in this, as in preceding poems, especially in the choice of adjectives. But indeed the combination of certain words had become conventional; as "The hard tree," "The nails great and strong," and such like.

I know I have spoiled the poem in half-translating it thus; but I have rendered it intelligible to all my readers, have not wandered from the original, and have retained a degree of antiqueness both in the tone and the expression.



The oldest form of regular dramatic representation in England was the Miracle Plays, improperly called Mysteries, after the French. To these plays the people of England, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, owed a very large portion of what religious knowledge they possessed, for the prayers were in an unknown tongue, the sermons were very few, and printing was uninvented. The plays themselves, introduced into the country by the Normans, were, in the foolish endeavour to make Normans of Anglo-Saxons, represented in Norman French[14] until the year 1338, when permission was obtained from the Pope to represent them in English.

The word Miracle, in their case, means anything recorded in Scripture. The Miracle Plays had for their subjects the chief incidents of Old and New Testament history; not merely, however, of this history as accepted by the Reformed Church, but of that contained in the Apocryphal Gospels as well. An entire series of these Miracles consisted of short dramatic representations of many single passages of the sacred story. The whole would occupy about three days. It began with the Creation, and ended with the Judgment. That for which the city of Coventry was famous consists of forty-two subjects, with a long prologue. Composed by ecclesiastics, the plays would seem to have been first represented by them only, although afterwards it was not always considered right for the clergy to be concerned with them. The hypocritical Franciscan friar, in "Piers Ploughman's Creed," a poem of the close of the same century, claims as a virtue for his order—

At markets and miracles we meddleth us never.

They would seem likewise to have been first represented in churches and chapels, sometimes in churchyards. Later, when the actors chiefly belonged to city-guilds, they were generally represented in the streets and squares.

It must be borne in mind by any who would understand the influence of these plays upon the people, that much in them appearing to us grotesque, childish, absurd, and even irreverent, had no such appearance in the eyes of the spectators. A certain amount of the impression of absurdity is simply the consequence of antiquity; and even that which is rightly regarded as absurd in the present age, will not at least have produced the discomposing effects of absurdity upon the less developed beholders of that age; just as the quaint pictures with which their churches were decorated may make us smile, but were by them regarded with awe and reverence from their infancy.

It must be confessed that there is in them even occasional coarseness; but that the devil for instance should always be represented as a baffled fool, and made to play the buffoon sometimes after a disgusting fashion, was to them only the treatment he deserved: it was their notion of "poetic justice;" while most of them were too childish to be shocked at the discord thus introduced, and many, we may well hope, too childlike to lose their reverence for the holy because of the proximity of the ridiculous.

There seems to me considerably more of poetic worth scattered through these plays than is generally recognized; and I am glad to be able to do a little to set forth the fact. I cannot doubt that my readers will be interested in such fragments as the scope and design of my book will allow me to offer. Had there been no such passages, I might have regarded the plays as but remotely connected with my purpose, and mentioned them merely as a dramatic form of religious versification. I quote from the Coventry Miracles, better known than either of the other two sets in existence, the Chester Plays and those of Widkirk Abbey. The manuscript from which they have been edited by Mr. Halliwell, one of those students of our early literature to whom we are endlessly indebted for putting valuable things within our reach, is by no means so old as the plays themselves; it bears date 1468, a hundred and thirty years after they appeared in their English dress. Their language is considerably modernized, a process constantly going on where transcription is the means of transmission—not to mention that the actors would of course make many changes to the speech of their own time. I shall modernize it a little further, but only as far as change of spelling will go.

The first of the course is The Creation. God, and angels, and Lucifer appear. That God should here utter, I cannot say announce, the doctrine of the Trinity, may be defended on the ground that he does so in a soliloquy; but when we find afterwards that the same doctrine is one of the subjects upon which the boy Jesus converses with the doctors in the Temple, we cannot help remarking the strange anachronism. Two remarkable lines in the said soliloquy are these:

And all that ever shall have being It is closed in my mind.

The next scene is the Fall of Man, which is full of poetic feeling and expression both. I must content myself with a few passages.

Here is part of Eve's lamentation, when she is conscious of the death that has laid hold upon her.

Alas that ever that speech was spoken That the false angel said unto me! Alas! our Maker's bidding is broken, For I have touched his own dear tree. Our fleshly eyes are all unlokyn, unlocked. Naked for sin ourself we see; That sorry apple that we have sokyn sucked. To death hath brought my spouse and me.

When the voice of God is heard, saying,

Adam, that with my hands I made, Where art thou now? what hast thou wrought?

Adam replies, in two lines, containing the whole truth of man's spiritual condition ever since:

Ah, Lord! for sin our flowers do fade: I hear thy voice, but I see thee nought.

The vision had vanished, but the voice remained; for they that hear shall live, and to the pure in heart one day the vision shall be restored, for "they shall see God." There is something wonderfully touching in the quaint simplicity of the following words of God to the woman:

Unwise woman, say me why That thou hast done this foul folly, And I made thee a great lady, In Paradise for to play?

As they leave the gates, the angel with the flaming sword ends his speech thus:

This bliss I spere from you right fast; bar. Herein come ye no more, Till a child of a maid be born, And upon the rood rent and torn, To save all that ye have forlorn, lost. Your wealth for to restore.

Eve laments bitterly, and at length offers her throat to her husband, praying him to strangle her:

Now stumble we on stalk and stone; My wit away from me is gone; Writhe on to my neck-bone With hardness of thine hand.

Adam replies—not over politely—

Wife, thy wit is not worth a rush;

and goes on to make what excuse for themselves he can in a very simple and touching manner:

Our hap was hard, our wit was nesche, soft, weak, still in use in To Paradise when we were brought: [some provinces. My weeping shall be long fresh; Short liking shall be long bought. pleasure.

The scene ends with these words from Eve:

Alas, that ever we wrought this sin! Our bodily sustenance for to win, Ye must delve and I shall spin, In care to lead our life.

Cain and Abel follows; then Noah's Flood, in which God says,

They shall not dread the flood's flow;

then Abraham's Sacrifice; then Moses and the Two Tables; then The Prophets, each of whom prophesies of the coming Saviour; after which we find ourselves in the Apocryphal Gospels, in the midst of much nonsense about Anna and Joachim, the parents of Mary, about Joseph and Mary and the birth of Jesus, till we arrive at The Shepherds and The Magi, The Purification, The Slaughter of the Innocents, The Disputing in the Temple, The Baptism, The Temptation, and The Woman taken in Adultery, at which point I pause for the sake of the remarkable tradition embodied in the scene—that each of the woman's accusers thought Jesus was writing his individual sins on the ground. While he is writing the second time, the Pharisee, the Accuser, and the Scribe, who have chiefly sustained the dialogue hitherto, separate, each going into a different part of the Temple, and soliloquize thus:

Pharisee. Alas! alas! I am ashamed! I am afeared that I shall die; All my sins even properly named Yon prophet did write before mine eye. If that my fellows that did espy, They will tell it both far and wide; My sinful living if they outcry, I wot not where my head to hide.

Accuser. Alas! for sorrow mine heart doth bleed, All my sins yon man did write; If that my fellows to them took heed, I cannot me from death acquite. I would I were hid somewhere out of sight, That men should me nowhere see nor know; If I be taken I am aflyght afraid. In mekyl shame I shall be throwe. much.

Scribe. Alas the time that this betyd! happened. Right bitter care doth me embrace. All my sins be now unhid, Yon man before me them all doth trace. If I were once out of this place, To suffer death great and vengeance able,[15] I will never come before his face, Though I should die in a stable.

Upon this follows The Raising of Lazarus; next The Council of the Jews, to which the devil appears as a Prologue, dressed in the extreme of the fashion of the day, which he sets forth minutely enough in his speech also. The Entry into Jerusalem; The Last Supper; The Betrayal; King Herod; The Trial of Christ; Pilate's Wife's Dream come next; to the subject of the last of which the curious but generally accepted origin is given, that it was inspired by Satan, anxious that Jesus should not be slain, because he dreaded the mischief he would work when he entered Hades or Hell, for there is no distinction between them either here or in the Apocryphal Gospel whence the Descent into Hell is taken. Then follow The Crucifixion and The Descent into Hell—often called the Harrowing of Hell—that is, the making war upon or despoiling of hell,[16] for which the authority is a passage in the Gospel of Nicodemus, full of a certain florid Eastern grandeur. I need hardly remind my readers that the Apostles' Creed, as it now stands, contains the same legend in the form of an article of faith. The allusions to it are frequent in the early literature of Christendom.

The soul of Christ comes to the gates of hell, and says:

Undo your gates of sorwatorie; place of sorrow. On man's soul I have memorie; There cometh now the king of glory, These gates for to breke! Ye devils that are here within, Hell gates ye shall unpin; I shall deliver man's kin— From woe I will them wreke. avenge.

* * * * *

Against me it were but waste To holdyn or to standyn fast; Hell-lodge may not last Against the king of glory. Thy dark door down I throw; My fair friends now well I know; I shall them bring, reckoned by row, Out of their purgatory!

The Burial; The Resurrection; The Three Maries; Christ appearing to Mary; The Pilgrim of Emmaus; The Ascension; The Descent of the Holy Ghost; The Assumption of the Virgin; and Doomsday, close the series. I have quoted enough to show that these plays must, in the condition of the people to whom they were presented, have had much to do with their religious education.

This fourteenth century was a wonderful time of outbursting life. Although we cannot claim the Miracles as entirely English products, being in all probability translations from the Norman-French, yet the fact that they were thus translated is one remarkable amongst many in this dawn of the victory of England over her conquerors. From this time, English prospered and French decayed. Their own language was now, so far, authorized as the medium of religious instruction to the people, while a similar change had passed upon processes at law; and, most significant of all, the greatest poet of the time, and one of the three greatest poets as yet of all English time, wrote, although a courtier, in the language of the people. Before selecting some of Chaucer's religious verses, however, I must speak of two or three poems by other writers.

The first of these is The Vision of William concerning Piers Plowman,—a poem of great influence in the same direction as the writings of Wycliffe. It is a vision and an allegory, wherein the vices of the time, especially those of the clergy, are unsparingly dealt with. Towards the close it loses itself in a metaphysical allegory concerning Dowel, Dobet, and Dobest.[17] I do not find much poetry in it. There is more, to my mind, in another poem, written some thirty or forty years later, the author of which is unknown, perhaps because he was an imitator of William Langland, the author of the Vision. It is called Pierce the Plough-man's Crede. Both are written after the fashion of the Anglo-Saxon poetry, and not after the fashion of the Anglo-Norman, of which distinction a little more presently. Its object is to contrast the life and character of the four orders of friars with those of a simple Christian. There is considerable humour in the working plan of the poem.

A certain poor man says he has succeeded in learning his A B C, his Paternoster, and his Ave Mary, but he cannot, do what he will, learn his Creed. He sets out, therefore, to find some one whose life, according with his profession, may give him a hope that he will teach him his creed aright. He applies to the friars. One after another, every order abuses the other; nor this only, but for money offers either to teach him his creed, or to absolve him for ignorance of the same. He finds no helper until he falls in with Pierce the Ploughman, of whose poverty he gives a most touching description. I shall, however, only quote some lines of The Believe as taught by the Ploughman, and this principally to show the nature of the versification:

Leve thou on our Lord God, that all the world wroughte; believe. Holy heaven upon high wholly he formed; And is almighty himself over all his workes; And wrought as his will was, the world and the heaven; And on gentle Jesus Christ, engendered of himselven, His own only Son, Lord over all y-knowen.

* * * * *

With thorn y-crowned, crucified, and on the cross died; And sythen his blessed body was in a stone buried; after that. And descended adown to the dark helle, And fetched out our forefathers; and they full fain weren. glad. The third day readily, himself rose from death, And on a stone there he stood, he stey up to heaven. where: ascended.

Here there is no rhyme. There is measure—a dance-movement in the verse; and likewise, in most of the lines, what was essential to Anglo-Saxon verse—three or more words beginning with the same sound. This is somewhat of the nature of rhyme, and was all our Anglo-Saxon forefathers had of the kind. Their Norman conquerors brought in rhyme, regularity of measure, and division into stanzas, with many refinements of versification now regarded, with some justice and a little more injustice, as peurilities. Strange as it may seem, the peculiar rhythmic movement of the Anglo-Saxon verse is even yet the most popular of all measures. Its representative is now that kind of verse which is measured not by the number of syllables, but by the number of accented syllables. The bulk of the nation is yet Anglo-Saxon in its blind poetic tastes.

Before taking my leave of this mode, I would give one fine specimen from another poem, lately printed, for the first time in full, from Bishop Percy's manuscript. It may chronologically belong to the beginning of the next century: its proper place in my volume is here. It is called Death and Liffe. Like Langland's poem, it is a vision; but, short as it is in comparison, there is far more poetry in it than in Piers Plowman. Life is thus described:

She was brighter of her blee[18] than was the bright sun; Her rudd[19] redder than the rose that on the rise[20] hangeth; Meekly smiling with her mouth, and merry in her looks; Ever laughing for love, as she like would.

Everything bursts into life and blossom at her presence,

And the grass that was grey greened belive. forthwith.

But the finest passage is part of Life's answer to Death, who has been triumphing over her:

How didst thou joust at Jerusalem, with Jesu, my Lord, Where thou deemedst his death in one day's time! judgedst. There wast thou shamed and shent and stripped for aye! rebuked. When thou saw the king come with the cross on his shoulder, On the top of Calvary thou camest him against; Like a traitor untrue, treason thou thought; Thou laid upon my liege lord loathful hands, Sithen beat him on his body, and buffeted him rightly, then. Till the railing red blood ran from his sides; pouring down.

Sith rent him on the rood with full red wounds: then. To all the woes that him wasted, I wot not few, Then deemedst (him) to have been dead, and dressed for ever. But, Death, how didst thou then, with all thy derffe words, fierce. When thou pricked at his pap with the point of a spear, And touched the tabernacle of his true heart, Where my bower was bigged to abide for ever? built. When the glory of his Godhead glinted in thy face, Then wast thou feared of this fare in thy false heart; affair. Then thou hied into hell-hole to hide thee belive; at once. Thy falchion flew out of thy fist, so fast thou thee hied; Thou durst not blush once back, for better or worse, look. But drew thee down full in that deep hell, And bade them bar bigly Belzebub his gates. greatly, strongly. Then thou told them tidings, that teened them sore; grieved. How that king came to kithen his strength, show. And how she[21] had beaten thee on thy bent,[22] and thy brand taken, With everlasting life that longed him till. belonged to him.

When Life has ended her speech to Death, she turns to her own followers and says:—

Therefore be not abashed, my barnes so dear, children. Of her falchion so fierce, nor of her fell words. She hath no might, nay, no means, no more you to grieve, Nor on your comely corses to clap once her hands. I shall look you full lively, and latch full well, search for: And keere ye further of this kithe,[23] above [lay hold of. the clear skies.

I now turn from those poems of national scope and wide social interest, bearing their share, doubtless, in the growth of the great changes that showed themselves at length more than a century after, and from the poem I have just quoted of a yet wider human interest, to one of another tone, springing from the grief that attends love, and the aspiration born of the grief. It is, nevertheless, wide in its scope as the conflict between Death and Life, although dealing with the individual and not with the race. The former poems named of Pierce Ploughman are the cry of John the Baptist in the English wilderness; this is the longing of Hannah at home, having left her little son in the temple. The latter seems a poorer matter; but it is an easier thing to utter grand words of just condemnation, than, in the silence of the chamber, or with the well-known household-life around, forcing upon the consciousness only the law of things seen, to regard with steadfastness the blank left by a beloved form, and believe in the unseen, the marvellous, the eternal. In the midst of "the light of common day," with all the persistently common things pressing upon the despairing heart, to hold fast, after what fashion may be possible, the vanishing song that has changed its key, is indeed a victory over the flesh, however childish the forms in which the faith may embody itself, however weak the logic with which it may defend its intrenchments.

The poem which has led me to make these remarks is in many respects noteworthy. It is very different in style and language from any I have yet given. There was little communication to blend the different modes of speech prevailing in different parts of the country. It belongs,[24] according to students of English, to the Midland dialect of the fourteenth century. The author is beyond conjecture.

It is not merely the antiquity of the language that causes its difficulty, but the accumulated weight of artistically fantastic and puzzling requirements which the writer had laid upon himself in its composition. The nature of these I shall be enabled to show by printing the first twelve lines almost as they stand in the manuscript.

Perle plesaunte to prynces paye, To clanly clos in golde so clere! Oute of oryent I hardyly saye, Ne proued I neuer her precios pere; So rounde, so reken in vche araye, So smal, so smothe her sydes were! Quere-so-euer I iugged gemmes gaye, I sette hyr sengeley in synglure: Allas! I leste hyr in on erbere, Thurh gresse to grounde hit fro me yot; I dewyne for-dolked of luf daungere, Of that pryuy perle with-outen spot.

Here it will be observed that the Norman mode—that of rhymes—is employed, and that there is a far more careful measure in the line that is found in the poem last quoted. But the rhyming is carried to such an excess as to involve the necessity of constant invention of phrase to meet its requirements—a fertile source of obscurity. The most difficult form of stanza in respect of rhyme now in use is the Spenserian, in which, consisting of nine lines, four words rhyme together, three words, and two words. But the stanza in the poem before us consists of twelve lines, six of which, two of which, four of which, rhyme together. This we should count hard enough; but it does not nearly exhaust the tyranny of the problem the author has undertaken. I have already said that one of the essentials of the poetic form in Anglo-Saxon was the commencement of three or more words in the line with the same sound: this peculiarity he has exaggerated: every line has as many words as possible commencing with the same sound. In the first line, for instance,—and it must be remembered that the author's line is much shorter than the Anglo-Saxon line,—there are four words beginning with p; in the second, three beginning with cl, and so on. This, of course, necessitates much not merely of circumlocution, but of contrivance, involving endless obscurity.

He has gone on to exaggerate the peculiarities of Norman verse as well; but I think it better not to run the risk of wearying my reader by pointing out more of his oddities. I will now betake myself to what is far more interesting as well as valuable.

The poem sets forth the grief and consolation of a father who has lost his daughter. It is called The Pearl. Here is a literal rendering, line for line, into modern English words, not modern English speech, of the stanza which I have already given in its original form:

Pearl pleasant to prince's pleasure, Most cleanly closed in gold so clear! Out of the Orient, I boldly say, I never proved her precious equal; So round, so beautiful in every point! So small, so smooth, her sides were!

Wheresoever I judged gemmes gay I set her singly in singleness. Alas! I lost her in an arbour; Through the grass to the ground it from me went. I pine, sorely wounded by dangerous love Of that especial pearl without spot.

The father calls himself a jeweller; the pearl is his daughter. He has lost the pearl in the grass; it has gone to the ground, and he cannot find it; that is, his daughter is dead and buried. Perhaps the most touching line is one in which he says to the grave:

O moul, thou marrez a myry mele. (O mould, thou marrest a merry talk.)

The poet, who is surely the father himself, cannot always keep up the allegory; his heart burns holes in it constantly; at one time he says she, at another it, and, between the girl and the pearl, the poem is bewildered. But the allegory helps him out with what he means notwithstanding; for although the highest aim of poetry is to say the deepest things in the simplest manner, humanity must turn from mode to mode, and try a thousand, ere it finds the best. The individual, in his new endeavour to make "the word cousin to the deed," must take up the forms his fathers have left him, and add to them, if he may, new forms of his own. In both the great revivals of literature, the very material of poetry was allegory.

The father falls asleep on his child's grave, and has a dream, or rather a vision, of a country where everything—after the childish imagination which invents differences instead of discovering harmonies—is super-naturally beautiful: rich rocks with a gleaming glory, crystal cliffs, woods with blue trunks and leaves of burnished silver, gravel of precious Orient pearls, form the landscape, in which are delicious fruits, and birds of flaming colours and sweet songs: its loveliness no man with a tongue is worthy to describe. He comes to the bank of a river:

Swinging sweet the water did sweep With a whispering speech flowing adown; (Wyth a rownande rourde raykande aryght)

and the stones at the bottom were shining like stars. It is a noteworthy specimen of the mode in which the imagination works when invention is dissociated from observation and faith. But the sort of way in which some would improve the world now, if they might, is not so very far in advance of this would-be glorification of Nature. The barest heath and sky have lovelinesses infinitely beyond the most gorgeous of such phantasmagoric idealization of her beauties; and the most wretched condition of humanity struggling for existence contains elements of worth and future development inappreciable by the philanthropy that would elevate them by cultivating their self-love.

At the foot of a crystal cliff, on the opposite side of the river, which he cannot cross, he sees a maiden sitting, clothed and crowned with pearls, and wearing one pearl of surpassing wonder and spotlessness upon her breast. I now make the spelling and forms of the words as modern as I may, altering the text no further.

"O pearl," quoth I, "in perles pight, pitched, dressed. Art thou my pearl that I have plained? mourned. Regretted by myn one, on night? by myself. Much longing have I for thee layned hidden. Since into grass thou me a-glyghte; didst glide from me. Pensive, payred, I am for-pained,[25] pined away. And thou in a life of liking light bright pleasure. In Paradise-earth, of strife unstrained! untortured with strife. What wyrde hath hither my jewel vayned, destiny: carried off. And done me in this del and great danger? sorrow. Fro we in twain were towen and twayned, since: pulled: divided. I have been a joyless jeweller."

That jewel then in gemmes gente, gracious. Vered up her vyse with even gray, turned: face. Set on her crown of pearl orient, And soberly after then gan she say:

"Sir, ye have your tale myse-tente, mistaken. To say your pearl is all away, That is in coffer so comely clente clenched. As in this garden gracious gay, Herein to lenge for ever and play, abide. There mys nor mourning come never—here, where: wrong. Here was a forser for thee in faye, strong-box: faith. If thou wert a gentle jeweller.

"But jeweller gente, if thou shalt lose Thy joy for a gem that thee was lef, had left thee. Me thinks thee put in a mad purpose, And busiest thee about a reason bref. poor object. For that thou lostest was but a rose, That flowered and failed as kynd hit gef. nature gave it. Now through kind of the chest that it gan close, nature. To a pearl of price it is put in pref;[26] And thou hast called thy wyrde a thef, doom, fate: theft. That ought of nought has made thee, clear! something of nothing. Thou blamest the bote of thy mischef: remedy: hurt. Thou art no kynde jeweller." natural, reasonable.

When the father pours out his gladness at the sight of her, she rejoins in these words:

"I hold that jeweller little to praise That loves well that he sees with eye; And much to blame, and uncortoyse, uncourteous. That leves our Lord would make a lie, believes. That lelly hyghte your life to raise who truly promised. Though fortune did your flesh to die; caused. To set his words full westernays[27] That love no thing but ye it syghe! see. And that is a point of surquedrie, presumption. That each good man may evil beseem, ill become. To leve no tale be true to tryghe, trust in. But that his one skill may deme."[28]

Much conversation follows, the glorified daughter rebuking and instructing her father. He prays for a sight of the heavenly city of which she has been speaking, and she tells him to walk along the bank until he comes to a hill. In recording what he saw from the hill, he follows the description of the New Jerusalem given in the Book of the Revelation. He sees the Lamb and all his company, and with them again his lost Pearl. But it was not his prince's pleasure that he should cross the stream; for when his eyes and ears were so filled with delight that he could no longer restrain the attempt, he awoke out of his dream.

My head upon that hill was laid There where my pearl to grounde strayed. I wrestled and fell in great affray, fear. And sighing to myself I said, "Now all be to that prince's paye." pleasure.

After this, he holds him to that prince's will, and yearns after no more than he grants him.

"As in water face is to face, so the heart of man." Out of the far past comes the cry of bereavement mingled with the prayer for hope: we hear, and lo! it is the cry and the prayer of a man like ourselves.

From the words of the greatest man of his age, let me now gather two rich blossoms of utterance, presenting an embodiment of religious duty and aspiration, after a very practical fashion. I refer to two short lyrics, little noted, although full of wisdom and truth. They must be accepted as the conclusions of as large a knowledge of life in diversified mode as ever fell to the lot of man.


Fly from the press, and dwell with soothfastness; truthfulness. Suffice[29] unto thy good, though it be small; For hoard hath hate, and climbing tickleness;[30] Praise hath envy, and weal is blent over all.[31] Savour[32] no more than thee behove shall. Rede well thyself that other folk shall rede; counsel. And truth thee shall deliver—it is no drede. there is no doubt.

Paine thee not each crooked to redress, every crooked thing. In trust of her that turneth as a ball: Fortune. Great rest standeth in little busi-ness. Beware also to spurn against a nail; nail—to kick against Strive not as doth a crocke with a wall. [the pricks. Deme thyself that demest others' deed; judge. And truth thee shall deliver—it is no drede.

That thee is sent receive in buxomness: submission The wrestling of this world asketh a fall. tempts destruction Here is no home, here is but wilderness: Forth, pilgrim, forth!—beast, out of thy stall! Look up on high, and thanke God of[33] all. Waive thy lusts, and let thy ghost[34] thee lead, And truth thee shall deliver—it is no drede.

This needs no comment. Even the remark that every line is worth meditation may well appear superfluous. One little fact only with regard to the rhymes, common to this and the next poem, and usual enough in Norman verse, may be pointed out, namely, that every line in the stanza ends with the same rhyme-sound as the corresponding line in each of the other stanzas. A reference to either of the poems will at once show what I mean.

The second is superior, inasmuch as it carries one thought through the three stanzas. It is entitled A Balade made by Chaucer, teaching what is gentilnesse, or whom is worthy to be called gentill.

The first stock-father of gentleness— ancestor of the race What man desireth gentle for to be [of the gentle. Must follow his trace, and all his wittes dress track, footsteps: Virtue to love and vices for to flee; [apply. For unto virtue longeth dignity, belongeth. And not the reverse falsely dare I deem,[35] All wear he mitre, crown, or diadem. although he wear.

The first stock was full of righteousness; the progenitor. True of his word, sober, piteous, and free; Clean of his ghost, and loved busi-ness, pure in his spirit. Against the vice of sloth in honesty;

And but his heir love virtue as did he, except. He is not gentle, though he rich seem, All wear he mitre, crown, or diadem.

Vicesse may well be heir to old Richesse, Vice: Riches. But there may no man, as men may well see, Bequeath his heir his virtue's nobleness; That is appropried unto no degree, rank. But to the first father in majesty, That maketh his heires them that him queme, please him. All wear he mitre, crown, or diadem.

I can come to no other conclusion than that by the first stock-father Chaucer means our Lord Jesus.



After the birth of a Chaucer, a Shakspere, or a Milton, it is long before the genial force of a nation can again culminate in such a triumph: time is required for the growth of the conditions. Between the birth of Chaucer and the birth of Shakspere, his sole equal, a period of more than two centuries had to elapse. It is but small compensation for this, that the more original, that is simple, natural, and true to his own nature a man is, the more certain is he to have a crowd of imitators. I do not say that such are of no use in the world. They do not indeed advance art, but they widen the sphere of its operation; for many will talk with the man who know nothing of the master. Too often intending but their own glory, they point the way to the source of it, and are straightway themselves forgotten.

Very little of the poetry of the fifteenth century is worthy of a different fate from that which has befallen it. Possibly the Wars of the Roses may in some measure account for the barrenness of the time; but I do not think they will explain it. In the midst of the commotions of the seventeenth century we find Milton, the only English poet of whom we are yet sure as worthy of being named with Chaucer and Shakspere.

It is in quality, however, and not in quantity that the period is deficient. It had a good many writers of poetry, some of them prolific. John Lydgate, the monk of Bury, a great imitator of Chaucer, was the principal of these, and wrote an enormous quantity of verse. We shall find for our use enough as it were to keep us alive in passing through this desert to the Paradise of the sixteenth century—a land indeed flowing with milk and honey. For even in the desert of the fifteenth are spots luxuriant with the rich grass of language, although they greet the eye with few flowers of individual thought or graphic speech.

Rather than give portions of several of Lydgate's poems, I will give one entire—the best I know. It is entitled, Thonke God of alle.[36]


By a way wandering as I went, Well sore I sorrowed, for sighing sad; Of hard haps that I had hent Mourning me made almost mad;[37]

Till a letter all one me lad[38], That well was written on a wall, A blissful word that on I rad[39], That alway said, 'Thank God for[40] all.'

And yet I read furthermore[41]— Full good intent I took there till[42]: Christ may well your state restore; Nought is to strive against his will; it is useless. He may us spare and also spill: Think right well we be his thrall. slaves. What sorrow we suffer, loud or still, Alway thank God for all.

Though thou be both blind and lame, Or any sickness be on thee set, Thou think right well it is no shame— think thou. The grace of God it hath thee gret[43]. In sorrow or care though ye be knit, snared. And worldes weal be from thee fall, fallen. I cannot say thou mayst do bet, better. But alway thank God for all.

Though thou wield this world's good, And royally lead thy life in rest, Well shaped of bone and blood, None the like by east nor west; Think God thee sent as him lest; as it pleased him. Riches turneth as a ball; In all manner it is the best in every condition. Alway to thank God for all.

If thy good beginneth to pass, And thou wax a poor man, Take good comfort and bear good face, And think on him that all good wan; did win.

Christ himself forsooth began— He may renew both bower and hall: No better counsel I ne kan am capable of. But alway thank God for all.

Think on Job that was so rich; He waxed poor from day to day; His beastes died in each ditch; His cattle vanished all away; He was put in poor array, Neither in purple nor in pall, But in simple weed, as clerkes say, clothes: learned men. And alway he thanked God for all.

For Christes love so do we;[44] He may both give and take; In what mischief that we in be, whatever trouble we He is mighty enough our sorrow to slake. [be in. Full good amends he will us make, And we to him cry or call: if. What grief or woe that do thee thrall,[45] Yet alway thank God for all.

Though thou be in prison cast, Or any distress men do thee bede, offer. For Christes love yet be steadfast, And ever have mind on thy creed; Think he faileth us never at need, The dearworth duke that deem us shall;[46] When thou art sorry, thereof take heed,[47] And alway thank God for all.

Though thy friendes from thee fail, And death by rene hend[48] their life, Why shouldest thou then weep or wail? It is nought against God to strive: it is useless.

Himself maked both man and wife— To his bliss he bring us all: may he bring. However thou thole or thrive, suffer. Alway thank God for all.

What diverse sonde[49] that God thee send, Here or in any other place, Take it with good intent; The sooner God will send his grace. Though thy body be brought full base, low. Let not thy heart adown fall, But think that God is where he was, And alway thank God for all.

Though thy neighbour have world at will, And thou far'st not so well as he, Be not so mad to think him ill, wish. (?) For his wealth envious to be: The king of heaven himself can see Who takes his sonde,[50] great or small; Thus each man in his degree, I rede thanke God for all. counsel.

For Cristes love, be not so wild, But rule thee by reason within and without; And take in good heart and mind The sonde that God sent all about; the gospel. (?) Then dare I say withouten doubt, That in heaven is made thy stall. place, seat, room. Rich and poor that low will lowte, bow. Alway thank God for all.

I cannot say there is much poetry in this, but there is much truth and wisdom. There is the finest poetry, however, too, in the line—I give it now letter for letter:—

But think that God ys ther he was.

There is poetry too in the line, if I interpret it rightly as intending the gospel—

The sonde that God sent al abowte.

I shall now make a few extracts from poems of the same century whose authors are unknown.[51] A good many such are extant. With regard to the similarity of those I choose, I would remark, that not only will the poems of the same period necessarily resemble each other, but, where the preservation of any has depended upon the choice and transcription of one person, these will in all probability resemble each other yet more. Here are a few verses from a hymn headed The Sweetness of Jesus:—

If I for kindness should love my kin, for natural reasons. Then me thinketh in my thought [Kind is nature, By kindly skill I should begin by natural judgment. At him that hath me made of nought; His likeness he set my soul within, And all this world for me hath wrought; As father he fondid my love to win, set about. For to heaven he hath me brought.

Our brother and sister he is by skill, reason. For he so said, and lerid us that lore, taught. That whoso wrought his Father's will, Brethren and sisters to him they wore. were. My kind also he took ther-tille; my nature also he took Full truly trust I him therefore [for that purpose. That he will never let me spill, perish. But with his mercy salve my sore.

With lovely lore his works to fill, fulfil. Well ought I, wretch, if I were kind— natural. Night and day to work his will, And ever have that Lord in mind. But ghostly foes grieve me ill, spiritual. And my frail flesh maketh me blind; Therefore his mercy I take me till, betake me to. For better bote can I none find. aid.

In my choice of stanzas I have to keep in view some measure of completeness in the result. These poems, however, are mostly very loose in structure. This, while it renders choice easy, renders closeness of unity impossible.

From a poem headed—again from the last line of each stanza—Be my comfort, Christ Jesus, I choose the following four, each possessing some remarkable flavour, tone, or single touch. Note the alliteration in the lovely line, beginning "Bairn y-born." The whole of the stanza in which we find it, sounds so strangely fresh in the midst of its antiquated tones, that we can hardly help asking whether it can be only the quaintness of the expression that makes the feeling appear more real, or whether in very truth men were not in those days nearer in heart, as well as in time, to the marvel of the Nativity.

In the next stanza, how oddly the writer forgets that Jesus himself was a Jew, when, embodying the detestation of Christian centuries in one line, he says,

And tormented with many a Jew!

In the third stanza, I consider the middle quatrain, that is, the four lines beginning "Out of this world," perfectly grand.

The oddness of the last line but one of the fourth stanza is redeemed by the wonderful reality it gives to the faith of the speaker: "See my sorrow, and say Ho!" stopping it as one would call after a man and stop him.

Jesus, thou art wisdom of wit, understanding. Of thy Father full of might! Man's soul—to save it, In poor apparel thou wert pight. pitched, placed, Jesus, thou wert in cradle knit, [dressed. In weed wrapped both day and night; originally, dress of In Bethlehem born, as the gospel writ, [any kind. With angels' song, and heaven-light. Bairn y-born of a beerde bright,[52] Full courteous was thy comely cus: kiss. Through virtue of that sweet light, So be my comfort, Christ Jesus.

Jesus, that wert of yearis young, Fair and fresh of hide and hue, When thou wert in thraldom throng, driven. And tormented with many a Jew, When blood and water were out-wrung, For beating was thy body blue; As a clot of clay thou wert for-clong, shrunk. So dead in trough then men thee threw. coffin. But grace from thy grave grew: Thou rose up quick comfort to us. living. For her love that this counsel knew, So be my comfort, Christ Jesus.

Jesus, soothfast God and man, Two kinds knit in one person, The wonder-work that thou began Thou hast fulfilled in flesh and bone.

Out of this world wightly thou wan, thou didst win, or make Lifting up thyself alone; [thy way, powerfully. For mightily thou rose and ran Straight unto thy Father on throne. Now dare man make no more moan— For man it is thou wroughtest thus, And God with man is made at one; So be my comfort, Christ Jesus.

Jesu, my sovereign Saviour, Almighty God, there ben no mo: there are no more—thou Christ, thou be my governor; [art all in all.(?) Thy faith let me not fallen fro. from Jesu, my joy and my succour, In my body and soul also, God, thou be my strongest food, the rhyme fails here. And wisse thou me when me is woe. think on me. Lord, thou makest friend of foe, Let me not live in languor thus, But see my sorrow, and say now "Ho," And be my comfort, Christ Jesus.

Of fourteen stanzas called Richard de Castre's Prayer to Jesus, I choose five from the latter half, where the prayer passes from his own spiritual necessities, very tenderly embodied, to those of others. It does our hearts good to see the clouded sun of prayer for oneself break forth in the gladness of blessed entreaty for all men, for them that make Him angry, for saints in trouble, for the country torn by war, for the whole body of Christ and its unity. After the stanza—

Jesus, for the deadly tears That thou sheddest for my guilt, Hear and speed my prayers And spare me that I be not spilt;

the best that is in the suppliant shines out thus

Jesu, for them I thee beseech That wrathen thee in any wise; Withhold from them thy hand of wreche, vengeance. And let them live in thy service.

Jesu, most comfort for to see Of thy saintis every one, Comfort them that careful be, And help them that be woe-begone.

Jesu, keep them that be good, And amend them that have grieved thee; And send them fruits of earthly food, As each man needeth in his degree.

Jesu, that art, withouten lees, lies. Almighty God in trinity, Cease these wars, and send us peace, With lasting love and charity.

Jesu, that art the ghostly stone spiritual. Of all holy church in middle-erde, the world. Bring thy folds and flocks in one, And rule them rightly with one herd.

We now approach the second revival of literature, preceded in England by the arrival of the art of printing; after which we find ourselves walking in a morning twilight, knowing something of the authors as well as of their work.

I have little more to offer from this century. There are a few religious poems by John Skelton, who was tutor to Henry VIII. But such poetry, though he was a clergyman, was not much in Skelton's manner of mind. We have far better of a similar sort already.

A new sort of dramatic representation had by this time greatly encroached upon the old Miracle Plays. The fresh growth was called Morals or Moral Plays. In them we see the losing victory of invention over the imagination that works with given facts. No doubt in the Moral Plays there is more exercise of intellect as well as of ingenuity; for they consist of metaphysical facts turned into individual existences by personification, and their relations then dramatized by allegory. But their poetry is greatly inferior both in character and execution to that of the Miracles. They have a religious tendency, as everything moral must have, and sometimes they go even farther, as in one, for instance, called The Castle of Perseverance, in which we have all the cardinal virtues and all the cardinal sins contending for the possession of Humanum Genus, the Human Race being presented as a new-born child, who grows old and dies in the course of the play; but it was a great stride in art when human nature and human history began again to be exemplified after a simple human fashion, in the story, that is, of real men and women, instead of by allegorical personifications of the analysed and abstracted constituents of them. Allegory has her place, and a lofty one, in literature; but when her plants cover the garden and run to seed, Allegory herself is ashamed of her children: the loveliest among them are despised for the general obtrusiveness of the family. Imitation not only brings the thing imitated into disrepute, but tends to destroy what original faculty the imitator may have possessed.



Poets now began to write more smoothly—not a great virtue, but indicative of a growing desire for finish, which, in any art, is a great virtue. No doubt smoothness is often confounded with, and mistaken for finish; but you might have a mirror-like polish on the surface of a statue, for instance, and yet the marble be full of inanity, or vagueness, or even vulgarity of result—irrespective altogether of its idea. The influence of Italian poetry reviving once more in the country, roused such men as Wyat and Surrey to polish the sound of their verses; but smoothness, I repeat, is not melody, and where the attention paid to the outside of the form results in flatness, and, still worse, in obscurity, as is the case with both of these poets, little is gained and much is lost.

Each has paraphrased portions of Scripture, but with results of little value; and there is nothing of a religious nature I care to quote from either, except these five lines from an epistle of Sir Thomas Wyat's:

Thyself content with that is thee assigned, And use it well that is to thee allotted;

Then seek no more out of thyself to find The thing that thou hast sought so long before, For thou shalt feel it sticking in thy mind.

Students of versification will allow me to remark that Sir Thomas was the first English poet, so far as I know, who used the terza rima, Dante's chief mode of rhyming: the above is too small a fragment to show that it belongs to a poem in that manner. It has never been popular in England, although to my mind it is the finest form of continuous rhyme in any language. Again, we owe his friend Surrey far more for being the first to write English blank verse, whether invented by himself or not, than for any matter he has left us in poetic shape.

This period is somewhat barren of such poetry as we want. Here is a portion of the Fifty-first Psalm, translated amongst others into English verse by John Croke, Master in Chancery, in the reign of Henry VIII.

Open my lips first to confess My sin conceived inwardly; And my mouth after shall express Thy laud and praises outwardly.

If I should offer for my sin, Or sacrifice do unto thee Of beast or fowl, I should begin To stir thy wrath more towards me.

Offer we must for sacrifice A troubled mind with sorrow's smart: Canst thou refuse? Nay, nor despise The humble and the contrite heart.

To us of Sion that be born, If thou thy favour wilt renew, The broken sowle, the temple torn, threshold. The walls and all shall be made new.

The sacrifice then shall we make Of justice and of pure intent; And all things else thou wilt well take That we shall offer or present.

In the works of George Gascoigne I find one poem fit for quoting here. He is not an interesting writer, and, although his verse is very good, there is little likelihood of its ever being read more than it is now. The date of his birth is unknown, but probably he was in his teens when Surrey was beheaded in the year 1547. He is the only poet whose style reminds me of his, although the wherefore will hardly be evident from my quotation. It is equally flat, but more articulate. I need not detain my reader with remarks upon him. The fact is, I am glad to have something, if not "a cart-load of wholesome instructions," to cast into this Slough of Despond, should it be only to see it vanish. The poem is called


You that have spent the silent night In sleep and quiet rest, And joy to see the cheerful light That riseth in the east; Now clear your voice, now cheer your heart; Come help me now to sing; Each willing wight come bear a part, To praise the heavenly King.

And you whom care in prison keeps, Or sickness doth suppress, Or secret sorrow breaks your sleeps, Or dolours do distress; Yet bear a part in doleful wise; Yea, think it good accord, And acceptable sacrifice, Each sprite to praise the Lord.

The dreadful night with darksomeness Had overspread the light, And sluggish sleep with drowsiness Had overpressed our might: A glass wherein you may behold Each storm that stops our breath, Our bed the grave, our clothes like mould, And sleep like dreadful death.

Yet as this deadly night did last But for a little space, And heavenly day, now night is past, Doth shew his pleasant face; So must we hope to see God's face At last in heaven on high, When we have changed this mortal place For immortality.

This is not so bad, but it is enough. There are six stanzas more of it. I transcribe yet another, that my reader may enjoy a smile in passing. He is "moralizing" the aspects of morning:

The carrion crow, that loathsome beast, Which cries against the rain, Both for his hue and for the rest, The Devil resembleth plain; And as with guns we kill the crow, For spoiling our relief, The Devil so must we overthrow, With gunshot of belief.

So fares the wit, when it walks abroad to do its business without the heart that should inspire it.

Here is one good stanza from his De Profundis:

But thou art good, and hast of mercy store; Thou not delight'st to see a sinner fall; Thou hearkenest first, before we come to call; Thine ears are set wide open evermore; Before we knock thou comest to the door. Thou art more prest to hear a sinner cry, ready. Than he is quick to climb to thee on high. Thy mighty name be praised then alway: Let faith and fear True witness bear How fast they stand which on thy mercy stay.

Here follow two of unknown authorship, belonging apparently to the same period.


Why fearest thou the outward foe, When thou thyself thy harm dost feed? Of grief or hurt, of pain or woe, Within each thing is sown the seed. So fine was never yet the cloth, No smith so hard his iron did beat, But th' one consumed was with moth, Th' other with canker all to-freate. fretted away.

The knotty oak and wainscot old Within doth eat the silly worm;[53] Even so a mind in envy rolled Always within it self doth burn. Thus every thing that nature wrought, Within itself his hurt doth bear! No outward harm need to be sought, Where enemies be within so near.

Lest this poem should appear to any one hardly religious enough for the purpose of this book, I would remark that it reminds me of what our Lord says about the true source of defilement: it is what is bred in the man that denies him. Our Lord himself taught a divine morality, which is as it were the body of love, and is as different from mere morality as"the living body is from the dead.

TOTUS MUNDUS IN MALIGNO POSITUS. The whole world lieth in the Evil One.

Complain we may; much is amiss; Hope is nigh gone to have redress; These days are ill, nothing sure is; Kind heart is wrapt in heaviness.

The stern is broke, the sail is rent, helm or rudder—the The ship is given to wind and wave; [thing to steer with. All help is gone, the rock present, That will be lost, what man can save? that which will be lost.

When power lacks care and forceth not, careth. When care is feeble and may not, is not able. When might is slothful and will not, Weeds may grow where good herbs cannot.

Wily is witty, brainsick is wise; wiliness is counted Truth is folly, and might is right; [prudence. Words are reason, and reason is lies; The bad is good, darkness is light.

Order is broke in things of weight: Measure and mean who doth nor flee? who does not avoid Two things prevail, money and sleight; [moderation? To seem is better than to be.

Folly and falsehood prate apace; Truth under bushel is fain to creep; Flattery is treble, pride sings the bass, The mean, the best part, scant doth peep.

With floods and storms thus be we tost: Awake, good Lord, to thee we cry; Our ship is almost sunk and lost; Thy mercy help our misery.

Man's strength is weak; man's wit is dull; Man's reason is blind these things t'amend: Thy hand, O Lord, of might is full— Awake betimes, and help us send.

In thee we trust, and in no wight; Save us, as chickens under the hen; Our crookedness thou canst make right— Glory to thee for aye. Amen.

The apprehensions of the wiser part of the nation have generally been ahead of its hopes. Every age is born with an ideal; but instead of beholding that ideal in the future where it lies, it throws it into the past. Hence the lapse of the nation must appear tremendous, even when she is making her best progress.



We have now arrived at the period of English history in every way fullest of marvel—the period of Elizabeth. As in a northern summer the whole region bursts into blossom at once, so with the thought and feeling of England in this glorious era.

The special development of the national mind with which we are now concerned, however, did not by any means arrive at its largest and clearest result until the following century. Still its progress is sufficiently remarkable. For, while everything that bore upon the mental development of the nation must bear upon its poetry, the fresh vigour given by the doctrines of the Reformation to the sense of personal responsibility, and of immediate relation to God, with the grand influences, both literary and spiritual, of the translated, printed, and studied Bible, operated more immediately upon its devotional utterance.

Towards the close of the sixteenth century, we begin to find such verse as I shall now present to my readers. Only I must first make a few remarks upon the great poem of the period: I mean, of course, The Faerie Queen.

I dare not begin to set forth after any fashion the profound religious truth contained in this poem; for it would require a volume larger than this to set forth even that of the first book adequately. In this case it is well to remember that the beginning of comment, as well as of strife, is like the letting out of water.

The direction in which the wonderful allegory of the latter moves may be gathered from the following stanza, the first of the eighth canto:

Ay me! how many perils do enfold The righteous man to make him daily fail; Were not that heavenly grace doth him uphold, it understood. And steadfast Truth acquit him out of all! Her love is firm, her care continual, So oft as he, through his own foolish pride Or weakness, is to sinful bands made thrall: Else should this Redcross Knight in bands have died, For whose deliverance she this Prince doth thither guide.

Nor do I judge it good to spend much of my space upon remarks personal to those who have not been especially writers of sacred verse. When we come to the masters of such song, we cannot speak of their words without speaking of themselves; but when in the midst of many words those of the kind we seek are few, the life of the writer does not justify more than a passing notice here.

We know but little of Spenser's history: if we might know all, I do not fear that we should find anything to destroy the impression made by his verse—that he was a Christian gentleman, a noble and pure-minded man, of highest purposes and aims.

His style is injured by the artistic falsehood of producing antique effects in the midst of modern feeling.[54] It was scarcely more justifiable, for instance, in Spenser's time than it would be in ours to use glitterand for glittering; or to return to a large use of alliteration, three, four, sometimes even five words in the same line beginning with the same consonant sound. Everything should look like what it is: prose or verse should be written in the language of its own era. No doubt the wide-spreading roots of poetry gather to it more variety of expression than prose can employ; and the very nature of verse will make it free of times and seasons, harmonizing many opposites. Hence, through its mediation, without discord, many fine old words, by the loss of which the language has grown poorer and feebler, might be honourably enticed to return even into our prose. But nothing ought to be brought back because it is old. That it is out of use is a presumptive argument that it ought to remain out of use: good reasons must be at hand to support its reappearance. I must not, however, enlarge upon this wide-reaching question; for of the two portions of Spenser's verse which I shall quote, one of them is not at all, the other not so much as his great poem, affected with this whim.

The first I give is a sonnet, one of eighty-eight which he wrote to his wife before their marriage. Apparently disappointed in early youth, he did not fall in love again,—at least there is no sign of it that I know,—till he was middle-aged. But then—woman was never more grandly wooed than was his Elizabeth. I know of no marriage-present worthy to be compared with the Epithalamion which he gave her "in lieu of many ornaments,"—one of the most stately, melodious, and tender poems in the world, I fully believe.

But now for the sonnet—the sixty-eighth of the Amoretti:

Most glorious Lord of Life! that, on this day, Didst make thy triumph over death and sin, And having harrowed hell, didst bring away Captivity thence captive, us to win: This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin; And grant that we, for whom thou diddest die, Being with thy dear blood clean washed from sin, May live for ever in felicity! And that thy love we weighing worthily, May likewise love thee for the same again; And for thy sake, that all like dear didst buy, With love may one another entertain. So let us love, dear love, like as we ought: Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.

Those who have never felt the need of the divine, entering by the channel of will and choice and prayer, for the upholding, purifying, and glorifying of that which itself first created human, will consider this poem untrue, having its origin in religious affectation. Others will think otherwise.

The greater part of what I shall next quote is tolerably known even to those who have made little study of our earlier literature, yet it may not be omitted here. It is from An Hymne of Heavenly Love, consisting of forty-one stanzas, written in what was called Rime Royal—a favourite with Milton, and, next to the Spenserian, in my opinion the finest of stanzas. Its construction will reveal itself. I take two stanzas from the beginning of the hymn, then one from the heart of it, and the rest from the close. It gives no feeling of an outburst of song, but rather of a brooding chant, most quiet in virtue of the depth of its thoughtfulness. Indeed, all his rhythm is like the melodies of water, and I could quote at least three passages in which he speaks of rhythmic movements and watery progressions together. His thoughts, and hence his words, flow like a full, peaceful stream, diffuse, with plenteousness unrestrained.


Before this world's great frame, in which all things Are now contained, found any being place, Ere flitting Time could wag his eyas[55] wings About that mighty bound which doth embrace The rolling spheres, and parts their hours by space, That high eternal power, which now doth move In all these things, moved in itself by love.

It loved itself, because itself was fair, For fair is loved; and of itself begot Like to itself his eldest son and heir, Eternal, pure, and void of sinful blot,

The firstling of his joy, in whom no jot Of love's dislike or pride was to be found, Whom he therefore with equal honour crowned.

* * * * *

Out of the bosom of eternal bliss, In which he reigned with his glorious Sire, He down descended, like a most demisse humble. And abject thrall, in flesh's frail attire, That he for him might pay sin's deadly hire, And him restore unto that happy state In which he stood before his hapless fate.

* * * * *

O blessed well of love! O flower of grace! O glorious Morning-Star! O Lamp of Light! Most lively image of thy Father's face! Eternal King of Glory, Lord of might! Meek Lamb of God, before all worlds behight! promised. How can we thee requite for all this good? Or what can prize that thy most precious blood? equal in value.

Yet nought thou ask'st in lieu of all this love But love of us for guerdon of thy pain: Ay me! what can us less than that behove?[56] Had he required life of[57] us again, Had it been wrong to ask his own with gain? He gave us life, he it restored lost; Then life were least, that us so little cost.

But he our life hath left unto us free— Free that was thrall, and blessed that was banned; enslaved; cursed. Nor aught demands but that we loving be, As he himself hath loved us aforehand, And bound thereto with an eternal band— Him first to love that us[58] so dearly bought, And next our brethren, to his image wrought.

Him first to love great right and reason is, Who first to us our life and being gave, And after, when we fared had amiss, Us wretches from the second death did save; And last, the food of life, which now we have, Even he himself, in his dear sacrament, To feed our hungry souls, unto us lent.

Then next, to love our brethren that were made Of that self mould, and that self Maker's hand, That[59] we, and to the same again shall fade, Where they shall have like heritage of land, the same grave-room. However here on higher steps we stand; Which also were with selfsame price redeemed, That we, however, of us light esteemed. as.

And were they not, yet since that loving Lord Commanded us to love them for his sake, Even for his sake, and for his sacred word, Which in his last bequest he to us spake, We should them love, and with their needs partake; share their Knowing that, whatsoe'er to them we give, [needs. We give to him by whom we all do live.

Such mercy he by his most holy rede instruction. Unto us taught, and to approve it true, Ensampled it by his most righteous deed, Shewing us mercy, miserable crew! That we the like should to the wretches[60] shew, And love our brethren; thereby to approve How much himself that loved us we love.

Then rouse thyself, O earth! out of thy soil, In which thou wallowest like to filthy swine, And dost thy mind in dirty pleasures moyle, defile. Unmindful of that dearest Lord of thine; Lift up to him thy heavy clouded eyne, That thou this sovereign bounty mayst behold, And read through love his mercies manifold.

Begin from first, where he encradled was In simple cratch, wrapt in a wad of hay, a rack or crib. Between the toilful ox and humble ass; And in what rags, and in what base array The glory of our heavenly riches lay, When him the silly[61] shepherds came to see, Whom greatest princes sought on lowest knee.

From thence read on the story of his life, His humble carriage, his unfaulty ways, His cankered foes, his fights, his toil, his strife, His pains, his poverty, his sharp assays, temptations or trials. Through which he passed his miserable days, Offending none, and doing good to all, Yet being maliced both by great and small.

And look at last, how of most wretched wights He taken was, betrayed, and false accused; How with most scornful taunts and fell despites He was reviled, disgraced, and foul abused; How scourged, how crowned, how buffeted, how bruised; And, lastly, how 'twixt robbers crucified, With bitter wounds through hands, through feet, and side!

* * * * *

With sense whereof whilst so thy softened spirit Is inly touched, and humbled with meek zeal Through meditation of his endless merit, Lift up thy mind to th' author of thy weal, And to his sovereign mercy do appeal; Learn him to love that loved thee so dear, And in thy breast his blessed image bear.

With all thy heart, with all thy soul and mind, Thou must him love, and his behests embrace; commands. All other loves with which the world doth blind Weak fancies, and stir up affections base, Thou must renounce and utterly displace, And give thyself unto him full and free, That full and freely gave himself to thee.

* * * * *

Thenceforth all world's desire will in thee die, And all earth's glory, on which men do gaze, Seem dust and dross in thy pure-sighted eye, Compared to that celestial beauty's blaze, Whose glorious beams all fleshly sense do daze With admiration of their passing light, Blinding the eyes and lumining the sprite.

Then shalt thy ravished soul inspired be With heavenly thoughts far above human skill, reason. And thy bright radiant eyes shall plainly see The Idea of his pure glory present still Before thy face, that all thy spirits shall fill With sweet enragement of celestial love, Kindled through sight of those fair things above.

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