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Poem: “The Burning Babe”

The Burning Babe

As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
Who, though scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed,
As though his floods should quench his flames, which with his tears were fed.
“Alas,” quoth he, “but newly born, in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts, or feel my fire but I!
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.”
With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas Day.

St. Robert Southwell


Robert Southwell was born in Norfolk, England in 1561. He studied and was ordained a Jesuit priest in Rome. At his own request he was sent as a missionary to England, well knowing the dangers he faced. 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. Although he lived mostly in London, he traveled in disguise and preached secretly throughout England. He was eventually caught and imprisoned. There he wrote poems to comfort himself and his fellow prisoners. On February 21, 1595 Southwell was brought to Tyburn, where he was hanged and then quartered for treason. Southwell's writings, both in prose and verse, were extremely popular with his contemporaries. He was declared a Saint by the Catholic Church in the year 1970.