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Lyr Req: The Burning Babe (Robert Southwell, S.J.)

28 Jul 99 - 06:01 PM (#100284)
Subject: Burning Babe
From: Ian HP

I recently heard an extraordinary song called The Burning Babe. Spooky and wonderful. Does anyone know anything about it, can give words, reference to a performance of it on an album, please?

28 Jul 99 - 09:41 PM (#100324)
Subject: RE: Burning Babe
From: katlaughing

Ian HP: do you know any of the words? Can you give us anymore clues? Who did you hear singing it or where? Any words at all will help.


29 Jul 99 - 03:01 AM (#100388)
Subject: RE: Burning Babe
From: Murray on Saltspring

This sounds like a mystical/religious poem by one of those types--Crashaw, maybe, or someone like that. Try the Oxford Book of Mystical Verse or such.

29 Jul 99 - 01:03 PM (#100497)
Subject: RE: Burning Babe
From: Art Thieme



29 Jul 99 - 01:19 PM (#100503)
Subject: Lyr Add: THE BURNING BABE (Robert Southwell, S.J.)
From: Wolfgang

is it this gem? I copied it from



This poem was written by Father Robert Southwell, S.J., in 1594
while awaiting execution in the Tower of London.

As I in hoary Winter's night
Stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised 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 heart,
Such floods of tears did shed,
As though his floods should quench his flames,
With which 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 scorn;

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 vanished out of sight,
And swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind,
That it was Christmas Day.

29 Jul 99 - 02:30 PM (#100512)
Subject: RE: Burning Babe
From: Bert

Mmmm, I was thinking that this was going to be about The Ludlow Massacre

29 Jul 99 - 02:38 PM (#100514)
Subject: RE: Burning Babe
From: bseed(charleskratz)

Wolfgang, great. You beat Joe again (did you leave day off the last line? It fits the rhyme scheme). (I just followed your link, and see that you didn't, but the site may have). It's interesting that the good father's executioners should have let the poem survive--or maybe he managed to pass it to one of his fellow prisoners, or a sympathetic guard. He would, judging from the time, be one of the priests killed by the protestants who came to power with Elizabeth I. Before her ascension, it was the other way around--all in the name of God, of course. --seed

29 Jul 99 - 02:51 PM (#100517)
Subject: RE: Burning Babe
From: Wolfgang

Hawkeye BSeed, yes, the "day" has been left off in the last line, I just checked on the online Oxford Book of English verse.
Since Southwell has spent three years in prison before being hanged and quartered he had ample time to pass the poem. First publication was in 1602, seven years after his death.


29 Jul 99 - 07:40 PM (#100618)
Subject: RE: Burning Babe
From: Ian HP

Wolfgang, you are WONDERFUL - it IS those words. At least, it is certainly largely those - it may be exactly those words - since those stunning memorable phrases leap out at me again. Since this was a poem then the tune I heard must have been fitted after the event. It was credited to me as trad.. It is great to know something of the background - it makes the whole thing make much more sense. Thanks again.

29 Jul 99 - 08:02 PM (#100627)
Subject: RE: Burning Babe
From: catspaw49

Are you sure the last line might not possibly be:

"DAMN! That Peyote was A-OK!!!"


30 Jul 99 - 02:44 AM (#100738)
Subject: RE: Burning Babe
From: Murray on Saltspring

Hang it--I was all set to pass on this wonderful poem, but you beat me to it. Anyway, I got it in the first ed. of the Norton Anthology of English Literature. I've found that the poor Jesuit missionary was betrayed to the authorities in 1592, tortured and thrown into the Tower of London, and finally hanged and quartered at Tyburn for high treason. He was beatified in 1929. Ben Jonson remarked to the Scots poet William Drummond of Hawthornden that if he had written "The Burning Babe" he would have been willing to destroy many of his own poems. And it is a great piece, full of resonances, whatever the sect. BTW, "scorched", "defiled", and "called" pronounce all their syllables (as the rhythm will tell you). "Fry" in line 14 is a bit strange, I suppose, but it really just means "burn". ,