The Burning Babe

By Robert Southwell, SJ 1561–1595 Robert Southwell, SJ
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.

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Poet Robert Southwell, SJ 1561–1595


SCHOOL / PERIOD Renaissance

Subjects Nature, Religion, Winter, Christianity

Holidays Christmas

Poetic Terms Metaphor, Couplet


Robert Southwell, a poet and prose writer of William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson's generation, spent his adolescence and early manhood in Italy. His brief literary career flourished during the years when he was an underground Jesuit priest in Protestant England. It is agreed that Southwell brought with him from Italy the themes and the aesthetics of militant Counter-Reformation piety, although there is disagreement over the terms . . .

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Poems by Robert Southwell, SJ

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Religion, Winter, Christianity


SCHOOL / PERIOD Renaissance

Poetic Terms Metaphor, Couplet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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