was an English Jesuit and poet, son of Richard Southwell of Horsham St Faith's, Norfolk, he was born in 1560/61, died in 1595 at the ripe old age of thirty-three. He was canonized – took a long time, in 1970. His family on his mother's side was related to the Shelleys', the other English poet. By this time the Catholic faith was proscribed in England – English Catholics, had to go into hiding. If they wanted a catechetic education they had to leave the country. He was sent very young to the Roman Catholic college at Douai, and thence to Paris, where he was placed under a Jesuit father, Thomas Darbyshire. In 1580 he joined the Society of Jesus, after a two years' novitiate, passed mostly at Tournay.
It was while studying at Douay that he first met some Jesuits, including the famous Leonard Lesius (spelling), a great Jesuit theologian, who's best known work is on the 'Attributes of God'. Then he went on to Paris and by this time, he was just seventeen.
After six years of successful labor, Southwell was arrested. He was in the habit of visiting the house of Richard Bellamy, who lived near Harrow and was under suspicion on account of his connection with Jerome Bellamy, who had been executed for sharing in Anthony Babington's plot. One of the daughters, Anne Bellamy, was arrested and imprisoned in the gatehouse of Holborn. She revealed Southwell's movements to Richard Topcliffe, who immediately arrested him. He was imprisoned at first in Topcliffe's house, where he was repeatedly put to the torture in the vain hope of extracting evidence about other priests.
Transferred to the gatehouse at Westminster, he was so abominably treated that his father petitioned Elizabeth that he might either be brought to tria1 and put to death, if found guilty, or removed in any case from "that filthy hole." Southwell was then lodged in the Tower, but he was not brought to tria1 until February 1595. There is little doubt that much of his poetry, none of which was published during his lifetime, was written in prison. On the 10th of February 1595 he was tried before the King's Bench on the charge of treason, and was hanged at Tyburn on the following day. On the scaffold he denied any evil intentions towards the Queen or her government.
Southwell's poetry is euphuistic (an elegant Elizabethan literary style marked by excessive use of balance, antithesis, and alliteration and by frequent use of similes drawn from mythology and nature) in manner. But his frequent use of antithesis and paradox, the varied and fanciful imagery by which he realizes religious emotion, though they are indeed in accordance with the poetical conventions of his time, are also the unconstrained expression of an ardent and concentrated imagination. His poetry is not, however, all characterized by this elaboration. Immediately preceding this very piece in his collected works is a carol written in terms of the utmost simplicity.
There are two books, prose writings, that Robert Southwell wrote that are worth reading. They were written in 16th century English but, powerful, written to encourage his fellow Catholics to remain firm in their faith. The one is called 'Mary Magdalene's Funeral Tears', 'Mary Magdalene's Funeral Tears.' And the other one is called 'Epistle of Comfort. His two outstanding poems are 'The Burning Babe and 'The Virgin Mary to Christ On The Cross.And now, I give you "The Burning Babe"
THE BURNING BABE.
From St. Peter's Complaint.
As I in hoary winter's night stood shivering in the snow, Surpris'd I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow; And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near, A pretty Babe all burning bright did in the air appear; Who, scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were 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 vanish'd out of sight and swiftly shrunk away, And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas day.
(Posted by Diogo Oliveira)