Usually sometime around Christmas, often on the day of, I read Southwell’s poem, “The Burning Babe.”
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.
For some reason this poem makes me think of T. S. Eliot’s image of Christ the Tiger.
Signs are taken for wonders. ‘We would see a sign!’
The word within a word, unable to speak a word,
Swaddled with darkness. In the juvescence of the year
Came Christ the tiger
from “Geronition” by T. S. Eliot
And then of course William Blake’s poetry.
We are not in the “juvescence of the year.” And although I still admire Eliot’s poetry, sometimes he strikes me now as a bit dry and dusty. There is a balance then in thinking of the passionate insane Blake.
Then usually I realize that it’s Christmas Day and I’m exhausted physically and more so mentally. Time to recuperate.