Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. I. Chaucer to Donne
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
 
Extract from St. Peter’s Complaint
By Robert Southwell (c. 1561–1595)
 
LIKE solest swan, that swims in silent deep,
  And never sings but obsequies of death,
Sigh out thy plaints, and sole in secret weep,
  In suing pardon spend thy perjur’d breath;
Attire thy soul in sorrow’s mourning weed,        5
And at thine eyes let guilty conscience bleed.
 
Still in the ’lembic of thy doleful breast
  Those bitter fruits that from thy sins do grow;
For fuel, self-accusing thoughts be best;
  Use fear as fire, the coals let penance blow;        10
And seek none other quintessence but tears,
That eyes may shed what enter’d at thine ears.
 
Come sorrowing tears, the offspring of my grief,
  Scant not your parent of a needful aid;
In you I rest the hope of wish’d relief,        15
  By you my sinful debts must be defray’d:
Your power prevails, your sacrifice is grateful,
By love obtaining life to men most hateful.
 
Come good effect of ill-deserving cause,
  Ill gotten imps, yet virtuously brought forth;        20
Self-blaming probates of infringed laws,
  Yet blamèd faults redeeming with your worth;
The signs of shame in you each eye may read,
Yet, while you guilty prove, you pity plead.
 
O beams of mercy! beat on sorrow’s cloud,        25
  Pour suppling showers upon my parched ground;
Bring forth the fruit to your due service vow’d,
  Let good desires with like deserts be crown’d:
Water young blooming virtue’s tender flow’r,
Sin did all grace of riper growth devour.        30
 
Weep balm and myrrh, you sweet Arabian trees,
  With purest gums perfume and pearl your rine;
Shed on your honey-drops, you busy bees,
  I, barren plant, must weep unpleasant brine:
Hornets I hive, salt drops their labour plies,        35
Suck’d out of sin, and shed by showering eyes.
 
If David, night by night, did bathe his bed,
  Esteeming longest days too short to moan;
Tears inconsolable if Anna shed,
  Who in her son her solace had foregone;        40
Then I to days and weeks, to months and years,
Do owe the hourly rent of stintless tears.
 
If love, if loss, if fault, if spotted fame,
  If danger, death, if wrath, or wreck of weal,
Entitle eyes true heirs to earned blame,        45
  That due remorse in such events conceal:
That want of tears might well enrol my name,
As chiefest saint in kalendar of shame.
 
 
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