Thursday, May 04, 2017

Many Sparks of Bliss

Today is the feast of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, who were executed for treason between 1535 and 1679 because they refused to repudiate the Catholic faith. The Forty Martyrs were not the only ones to have been executed in the English Reformation, but they are a diverse group who are often taken to represent the whole -- about 280 or so total beatified and canonized names so far, and many more in the pipeline. It's an interesting phenomenon, this notion of saints canonized en masse standing in as representatives for even larger groups. It isn't entirely unheard of in earlier days, but the modern era has delivered martyrdoms on such a scale that it has become increasingly more common. In any case, my favorite poem from St. Robert Southwell, one of the Forty Martyrs and also one of the greatest English poets of the sixteenth century:

Look Home
by Robert Southwell

Retirëd thoughts enjoy their own delights,
As beauty doth in self-beholding eye;
Man's mind a mirror is of heavenly sights,
A brief wherein all marvels summëd lie,
Of fairest forms and sweetest shapes the store,
Most graceful all, yet thought may grace them more.

The mind a creature is, yet can create,
To nature's patterns adding higher skill;
Of finest works with better could the state
If force of wit had equal power of will.
Device of man in working hath no end,
What thought can think, another thought can mend.

Man's soul of endless beauty image is,
Drawn by the work of endless skill and might;
This skillful might gave many sparks of bliss
And, to discern this bliss, a native light;
To frame God's image as his worth required
His might, his skill, his word and will conspired.

All that he had his image should present,
All that it should present it could afford,
To that he could afford his will was bent,
His will was followed with performing word.
Let this suffice, by this conceive the rest,—
He should, he could, he would, he did, the best.

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