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Christoph Wetzel, Untitled, charcoal, 2008

New Heaven, New War

Robert Southwell

  • Janice Steinhagen

    I can still sing Benjamin Britten's setting of this wonderful piece from memory, thanks to having performed it twice with my college women's choir years ago. Thank you for sharing the backstory, of which I was not then aware. The rousing music adds a whole new layer of meaning to the words, as does the story of the poem's author.

  • Lawrence

    Thank you! St. Robert was priest, poet, and martyr, and a reminder (not a Ms. Grundy nagger) to us all.

  • Andy Wilson

    This poem changed my prejudices about the Jesuits,( who haven't had a good press in English history ). Robert Southwell explains in one short poem something that would take me - at least - (p)ages . . . Anyway thank-you folks. It is one to copy, remember and share. I do wonder tho', what, in detail, R.S's mission was among us. Restore the Borgias ? In England this was the age of John Bunnion . But whether or not he knew it, maybe he fulfills it with just this poem. Let's hope the message spreads ! Gan canny

This little babe, so few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake.
Though he himself for cold do shake,
For in this weak unarmèd wise
The gates of hell he will surprise.

With tears he fights and wins the field;
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns cold and need,
And feeble flesh his warrior’s steed.

His camp is pitchèd in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall,
The crib his trench, hay stalks his stakes,
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound,
The angels’ trumps alarum sound.

My soul, with Christ join thou in fight;
Stick to the tents that he hath pight;
Within his crib is surest ward,
This little babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly boy.

Christoph Wetzel, Untitled, charcoal, 2008

Christoph Wetzel, Untitled, charcoal, 2008 Image courtesy of Christoph Wetzel
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Contributed By Robert Southwell

A Jesuit priest, Southwell (ca. 1561–1595) was a poet and underground Catholic missionary to his native England. Arrested as a traitor, he endured three years of imprisonment, including torture, before his execution. He was canonized as a martyr in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.