Redeeming complaint in Tudor and Stuart devotional lyric

This dissertation explores an emerging fascination with devotional complaints in Tudor and Stuart poetry, written in the

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Redeeming complaint in Tudor and Stuart devotional lyric

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A Dissertation

Submitted to the Graduate School of the University of Notre Dame in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

by Emily Ann Ransom

_____________________________________ Susannah Brietz Monta, Director

Graduate Program in English Notre Dame, Indiana July, 2016


ProQuest Number: 10308182


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© Copyright 2016 Emily Ann Ransom


Abstract by Emily A. Ransom

This dissertation explores an emerging fascination with devotional complaints in Tudor and Stuart poetry, written in the voice of the Preacher from Ecclesiastes, Peter, Christ, the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene. This popular devotional mode was exercised by poets as diverse as Edmund Spenser, Robert Southwell, George Herbert, William Crashaw, Richard Verstegan, Elizabeth Grymeston, Nicholas Breton, Aemilia Lanyer, William Alabaster, Gervese Markham, John Davies, Henry Constable, and Henry Vaughan, to name a few. In order to understand this literary movement, this study recognizes two significant but easily overlooked facts. First of all, the complaint was one of the most important poetic modes in the sixteenth century. Rather than being a marginal space for second-string poets and disempowered malcontents to vent their social frustration, it was a dynamic voice for advocating real political and social change, employed by nearly all poets of the English Renaissance. Secondly, the dynamism of the complaint is not reducible to a secular-religious binary, and the widespread use of

Emily A. Ransom devotional complaint across confessions and continents indicates that it was a surprisingly cosmopolitan poetic voice. Ultimately, in addition to providing a much-needed theoretical model for the early modern complaint, I use this dominant poetic mode of the English Renaissance to bring together several scholarly conversations that do not often merge. First of all, I bring the plentiful inquiries about the history of the emotions in the early modern period into the realms of lyric poetry and Reformation theology. Secondly, I place debates about confessional poetics in the broader context of secular lyric by expanding the scope of sacred parody and prayer into complaint. Finally, I allow historical research on gender and social reform to enrich our understanding of early modern prayer and devotion, applying recent work on female and political complaint to devotional poetry. In the cosmopolitan space of complaint, Catholic and Protestant poets shape an inconclusive discourse about the theology of passions and feminine spirituality that uses human anguish and feminine excess as points of access to Christ, flying in the face of some contemporary neo-Stoic consolation literature. Complaint poetry with its characteristic pathos and suspension of resolution was an ideal medium for this cross-confessional discourse about theologically ambiguous topics in which doctrine and imagination are often in tension. This study thus “redeems” complaint from reductive binaries even as it demonstrates a discourse that sought to redeem both the mode and the act of complaint.

To my grandmothers whose name I bear: Helen Ann Hayek (1919–2014) and Ann Mae Ransom (1923–2012), the short, sturdy, one-armed Polish woman who never said a word of complaint and the tall, elegant Southern belle who made complaint an art. I wish y’all could have seen me finish.









I stand on the shoulders of innumerable giants. I am deeply grateful for the tireless mentorship, inspiration, and encouragement of Susannah Monta under all her many hats: teacher, editor, boss, collaborator, director, and model. She, Stephen Fallon, Brad Gregory, Jesse Lander, Sr. Ann Astell, Robert Young, Reid Barbour, and Jessica Wolfe have all expanded the limits of my imagination for rigorous scholarship in the humanities and wholehearted engagement in humanity while living fully human lives. Thank you to all who guided my formation at Notre Dame, NC State, UNC Chapel Hill, University College Cork, and the International Association for Thomas More Studies. I am indebted to the Woodrow Wilson Foundation for the Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship that allowed me to finish with fervor. I am also profoundly grateful for the support of all who have heard my complaints, particularly to Sr. Diana Marie who first introduced me to Southwell, to Jacob Riyeff who shared the pilgrimage, to the community of Communion and Liberation who taught me Italian language and Italian love, to the Jesuits of Henri de Lubac House who taught me Ignatian spirituality both academically and pastorally, and to the parishioners at St. Augustine’s who put devotion into action. Were I to thank my family adequately, I would need another dissertation. Mom, Dad, Giff, Ashley, Byron, Sonali, Esther, Sam, Gideon, Samwise, Peter, and Joseph, thank you for the gift of loving and being loved. If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, but have not love, I am nothing. iv


Ah my deare angrie Lord! Since thou dost love, yet strike; Cast down, yet help afford; Sure I will do the like. I will complain, yet praise; I will bewail, approve: And all my sowre-sweet dayes I will lament, and love. “Bitter-sweet” When George Herbert asserted to his “deare angrie Lord” that he would respond to divine paradoxes with one of his own—“I will complain, yet praise”—he combined not only contrasting postures to his lord but also contrasting poetic modes. It was a statement of generic expansion, combining poetic complaint with hymnody. Herbert was not unique among his contemporaries for stretching the boundaries of poetic prayer to include the mode of complaint; a generation before the great flowering of devotional lyric in the Jacobean period, poets across confessional and national boundaries invited the voices of dejected shepherds and abandoned women into their prayers and biblical versifications. In this artistic exchange they shaped an emerging mode of poetry I call devotional complaint, a particular English expression of a devotional aesthetic at least as old as the Hebrew psalms and prophets. The poetic voice of this mode is characteristically English—employed throughout the later Middle Ages by Chaucer, Lydgate, and Hoccleve, and refashioned into the most popular lyric form in the Renaissance by poets 1

like Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare—while the devotional emphasis behind it can be traced to the roots of Christianity, the sometimes overlooked precedent of the people of God to follow him with the full fury of their grief, anger, and fear. In the midst of the upheavals of the English reformations, as political and social anxieties gave new expressions to medieval literary complaint, devotional poetry explored a combative piety that combined discontent and devotion into a redemptive expression of human passions. In order to understand the literary movement of devotional complaint, this study recognizes two significant but easily overlooked facts. First of all, the complaint was one of the most important poetic modes in the sixteenth century. Rather than being a marginal space for second-string poets and disempowered malcontents to vent their social frustration, it was a dynamic voice for advocating real political and social change, employed by nearly all poets of the English Renaissance. Secondly, the dynamism of the complaint is not reducible to a secular-religious binary, and the widespread use of devotional complaint across confessions and continents indicates that it was a surprisingly cosmopolitan poetic voice. Ultimately, in addition to providing a much-needed theoretical model for the early modern complaint, I use this dominant poetic mode of the English Renaissance in order to bring together several scholarly conversations that do not often merge. First of all, I bring the plentiful inquiries about the history of the emotions in the early modern period into the realms of lyric poetry and Reformation theology. Secondly, I place debates about confessional poetics in the broader context of secular lyric by expanding the scope of sacred parody and prayer into complaint. Finally, I allow historical research on gender and social reform to enrich our understanding of early modern prayer and devotion, applying recent work on female and political complaint to devotional poetry. In the cosmopolitan space of complaint, Catholic and Protestant poets 2

do not merely hope for eschatological consolation in the afterlife; they demand redemption of suffering in the present world. One of the primary difficulties for studying devotional complaint is that it takes the broader importance of literary complaint in the early modern period as one of its premises. The print record easily substantiates this premise, but scholarly work on the complaint is scarce, often dismissive, and always narrow. Nevertheless, the complaint mode was as respectable as it was popular in early modern poetry, an essential voice for an English poet to master and an appealing aesthetic for English readers. Part of the reason it has been neglected, in fact, is precisely its predominance. As a genre it could be understood as a subset of lyric, linking more specific genres (or modes) like the elegy, pastoral, and Petrarchan sonnet. However, the complaint lacks the fixed forms and conventions associated with genre, and it tends to function more like a familiar poetic mode or voice—a voice with the passion of lament and the demands of a legal suit. Before I can explain the importance of devotional complaint for our understanding of confessional poetics, gender theory, the history of the emotions, and early modern theology, I must provide some general definition to a poetic mode whose dexterity confuses interpretive binaries like secular and religious literature, male and female piety, and Catholic and Protestant devotion. This introduction thus will start with some preliminary genre (or rather modal) theory to situate the complaint itself, before moving into the scope of this specific investigation of its devotional voice in Renaissance poetry.

The Promiscuity of Early Modern Complaint The complaint has had the unusual fortune of being far more deployed among poets than commented upon by scholars. Medieval and early modern rhetoricians 3

themselves were hit-or-miss in considering the complaint among poetic genres. William Webbe’s Discourse of English Poetrie (1586) includes it within the category of tragical poetry, George Puttenham’s Arte of English Poesie (1588) and Francis Meres’s Palladis tamia (1598) describe it as a category of elegy, E.K.’s commentary on Spenser’s Shepheardes calender (1579) treats it as a category of pastoral, and Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesy (c. 1582) does not mention it at all.1 Modern scholarship has followed suit by all but neglecting the complaint mode in the genre theory of the past two centuries. I have found only two book-length studies of the complaint: John Peter’s 1956 Complaint and Satire in Early English Literature and Wendy Scase’s 2007 Literature and Complaint in England, 1272–1553, and both are interested in a particular subset of complaint rather than with the mode as a whole. Peter treats complaint as the runt child of the satire family, a medieval Christianization of the classical genre that differs from its illustrious progenitor in being “tied to a system rather than a personality,” trading cynicism for sobriety, scorn for correction, concreteness for abstraction, and sophistication for moralism, and ultimately “shad[ing] off into Homily.”2 Scase on the other hand traces complaint by its etymological roots in legal allegations, the pleinte that expresses grievance and demands litigation, and with this genealogy of complaint she identifies a “literature of clamour” historically emerging out

1 While E.K. does not explain the classification of complaint for some of the ecologues of Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender, Hallett Smith attempts to describe the classifications in Elizabethan Poetry: A Study in Conventions, Meaning, and Expression (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1952). 2 John Peter, Complaint and Satire in Early English Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press,1956), 10–11. Peter is attempting to distinguish between the two genres that had been lumped together in John Wells’s 1916 Manual of the Writings in Middle English and Gerald Owst’s 1933 Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England. Because he defines complaint by crudeness, he easily absolves the best poets of it; Chaucer’s poetry is representative of satire rather than complaint because of its subtlety and irony, and Wyatt’s “more sophisticated idiom” and “more self-conscious habit of mind” ultimately “set[s] him apart from the [complaint] tradition” that had not yet been fully purged among his contemporaries (107).


of the Lollard petitions associated with the rising of 1381.3 In both cases, complaint is much easier to describe and identify than to define, and it is most clearly described in a narrative of descent from another form, be it satire or litigation. Various shorter studies of complaint have likewise avoided definition in favor of narrative. Most observe it through the lens of a particular author or figure: Chaucer, Hoccleve, Langland, Spenser, or one specific persona (women, shepherds, lovers, princes).4 Like Peter, many define complaint in contrast to something else, distinguishing features such as attack and reform, literal and ironic, social evils and personal sins, condemning and reforming, scorn and correction, abstraction and concreteness, remedy and deferral.5 While these studies differ in the defining characteristics and the historical narrative of complaint, they agree about its amorphousness. Complaint is certainly not a genre in the sense of being “defined by structural, thematic, and/or functional criteria”; whether or not it has a thematic or a functional unity, it has no unifying structure.6


Wendy Scase, Literature and Complaint in England, 1272–1553 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007),

4. See for example Jennifer E. Bryan, “Hoccleve, the Virgin, and the Politics of Complaint,” PMLA 117 (2002), 1172–87; John Kerrigan, Motives of Woe: Shakespeare and “Female Complaint,” a Critical Anthology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991); Richard Danson Brown, “A ‘goodlie bridge’ Between the Old and the New: The Transformation of Complaint in Spenser’s The Ruines of Time,” Renaissance Forum: An Electronic Journal of Early Modern Literary and Historical Studies 2.1 (1997), and “‘A Talkatiue Wench (Whose Words a World Hath Delighted in)’: Mistress Shore and Elizabethan Complaint,” Review of English Studies 49 (1998), 395–415; Lauren Berlant, “The Female Complaint,” Social Text 19/20 (1988), 237–59; William Anthony Davenport, Chaucer: Complaint and Narrative, (Woodbridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1988); Hugh Maclean, “‘Restless anguish and unquiet paine’: Spenser and the Complaint, 1579–1590,” in The Practical Vision: Essays in English Literature in Honour of Flora Roy, ed. Jane Campbell and James Doyle (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1978), 29–47; and Robert P. Miller, “The Miller’s Tale as Complaint,” The Chaucer Review 5 (1970), 147–60. 4

5 See for example Dan Embree, “Middle English Complaint and Satire: An Essay in Reclassification,” Poetica 28 (1987), 32–47; Thomas J. Elliott, “Middle English Complaints Against the Times: To Contemn the World or to Reform It?” Annuale Mediaevale 14 (1973), 22–34; Nancy Dean, “Chaucer’s Complaint, a Genre Descended From the Heroides,” Comparative Literature 19 (1967), 1–27. 6

David Duff, Modern Genre Theory, (Harlow, UK: Longman, 2000), xiii.


According to Peter, complaint is less a genre than a “climate: the whole atmosphere of moral earnestness that this huge tract of medieval literature exhales,” which in his view fades in the Renaissance with the recovery of its classical ancestor.7 Despite Scase’s dramatically different narrative, she likewise associates complaint primarily with a manner of expression rather than with a generic convention such as the compleinte of the French lyric formes fixes poems.8 In terms of modern genre theory, the complaint is much more productively understood as a literary mode, a category “thematically specific but non-specific as to literary form or mode of representation.”9 For this reason I will refer to it as a literary mode throughout this study, though as I will explain, classifying genre by form is problematic in the Renaissance. For all the reasons that complaint is difficult to classify generically, it is a valuable case study for genre theory, especially for Renaissance authors with their mixed relationship with formalism. The complaint is certainly not a genre in a prescriptive sense, a traditional form passed down for imitation from the ancients. One of its most characteristic features in fact is its hybridity, linking other genres such as satire, elegy,


Peter, Complaint and Satire, 10.

Scase, Literature and Complaint, 1. For more on the complaint’s association with the ballade and virelay, first identified by Guillaume de Machaut, see James Wimsatt, Chaucer and his French Contemporaries: Natural Music in the Fourteenth Century (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 29. Chaucer seems aware of that association when The Franklin’s Tale describes Aurelius complaining in “manye layes, / Songes, compleintes, roundels, virelayes” (947–48). 8

9 Duff, Modern Genre Theory, xv. Literary mode can be defined in an opposite sense as the form of presentation (i.e. poetry, prose, drama), but John Frow argues for the usefulness of this thematic definition “as the extensions of certain genres beyond specific and time-bound formal structures to a broader specification of ‘tone,’” analogous to Northrop Frye’s “thematic modes” derived from Aristotle’s dianoia or thought. John N. King classifies both complaint and satire as modes. Frow, Genre (London: Routledge, 2006), 65; Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957), 52; King, “Traditions of Complaint and Saitire,” in A Companion to English Renaissance Literature and Culture, ed. Michael Hattaway (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 367.


pastoral, and tragedy. In this way it breaks a fundamental principle of genre in neoclassical terms that interpreted Aristotle prescriptively and aspired to the ideal forms of literature. By this interpretation, Plato had asserted that literary kinds should remain unmixed (ἀκρᾶτος), and Cicero, Horace, and Quintilian likewise upheld a purity of literary forms.10 Nevertheless, despite their deep reverence for the ancients and their concern for the decorum of genre, English Renaissance rhetoricians were not particularly strict about generic rules, to the point that John Roe argues that a successful formulation of Renaissance genre “depends more on observing what is practiced than on insisting what it must be.”11 Indeed, the best authors were amalgamators of genres, creating literary hybrids such as those Shakespeare famously satirizes in the words of Polonius— “tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited”—which critics from Samuel Johnson to Stephen Orgel have used to describe Shakespeare’s own capacity for generic creation and amalgamation.12 Even Ben Jonson allowed flexibility in literary forms, insisting in his

“It will be the unmixed imitator of the decent [that we shall admit into the city],” Plato, Republic, 3.397d; “Either follow tradition or invent what is self-consistent,” Horace, Ars poetica, 119; “every composition in verse, tragedy, comedy, epic…has its own individuality, distinct from the others,” Cicero, De optimo genere oratorum, 1; “Each branch of literature has its own laws and its own appropriate character,” Quintilian, Institutio oratoria, 10.2.22. I am indebted to Sean A. Adams for these references. The Genre of Acts and Collected Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 54. 10

11 John Roe, “Theories of Literary Kinds,” in A Companion to English Renaissance Literature and Culture, ed. Michael Hattaway (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), 295. 12 Hamlet, 2.2.334–36. The folio edition ads further categories, including “Tragicall-ComicallHistoricall-Pastorall.” Johnson writes, “Shakespeare’s plays are not, in the rigorous or critical sense, either tragedies or comedies, but compositions of a distinct king,” and Orgel furthermore argues that this “distinct kind” “is not a new genre but a mixture of the two old ones,” somewhat of a Renaissance version of the “generic hybridity” Laura L. Behling describes in later multicultural literature. Johnson, Preface to Shakespeare, in Selected Writings, ed. Peter Martin (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2009), 358; Orgel, “Shakespeare and the Kinds of Drama,” Critical Inquiry 6 (1979), 107–23; Behling, “‘Generic’ Multiculturalism: Hybrid Texts, Cultural Contexts,” College English 65 (2003), 411–26. See also Gary A. Schmidt, Renaissance Hybrids: Culture and Genre in Early Modern England (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2013).


Discoveries that “Nothing is more ridiculous than to make an author a dictator, as the schools have done with Aristotle.”13 As recent scholarship has revived interest in a historical approach to formalism, we have been reminded that literary form responded to the social, cultural, and historical concerns of the early modern period, and the appropriation of a genre was loaded with meaning.14 Genres served Renaissance authors less as rules than as tools, and an adept author who learned at the feet of the masters of literary genre would be well equipped to deploy them according to the scope of his own genius. While the elusiveness of the complaint is a warning against prescriptive definitions, its somewhat promiscuous boundaries can be instructive for understanding the early modern view of genre or kind, to borrow Rosalie Colie’s preferred term. The complaint defies formal categories in a way particularly appealing to a Renaissance spirit of imitative innovation, a discriminating appropriation of forms and styles that created something new with the material of the old. Alastair Fowler describes the approach to form in the Renaissance as neither formation nor formalism of genres, but rather one of “adapting old forms or imparting to them a new spirit,” combining both formal and substantive features: topics, moods, diction, figures, meters, subjects, themes.15 Genre does indeed have rules, rules that function, as Heather Dubrow describes, as a “code of


Ben Jonson, Discoveries, 2095–103; Dubrow, Genre, 58–59.

14 For recent helpful discussions of this new or historical formalism, see Verena Theile and Linda Tredennick, eds., New Formalisms and Literary Theory (New York: Malgrave Macmillan: 2013); Stephen Cohen ed., Shakespeare and Historical Formalism (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007); Marjorie Levinson, “What Is New Formalism?” PMLA 122 (2007), 558–69; Susan J. Wolfson and Marshall Brown, eds., Reading for Form (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006); Mark David Rasmussen, ed., Renaissance Literature and Its Formal Engagements (New York: Palgrave, 2002).

Alastair Fowler, “The Formation of Genres in the Renaissance and After,” New Literary History 34 (2003), 185, 190. 15


behavior established between the author and his reader,” but this makes it a code that is intended to be acted upon by personalities who bring their characteristics into the relationship. The code of a genre is not a mandate but a “subtle amalgamation of qualities,” like a human personality, and even to parody a genre demonstrates an investment in its values and achievements. Dubrow’s prevailing “psychological metaphor” for genre is particularly apt for the complaint, which is best understood as a personality or a “tone of voice.”16 As a code of behavior or a personality that allows an author to impart his or her spirit into a system of thematic and tonal moods, the complaint was appealing to an early modern paradoxical spirit of imitative innovation. Understanding genre in terms of a code of behavior provides a broader platform to discuss complaint than the lines of descent that only account for particular kinds of complaint. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics provides a useful working definition of the complaint as “a varied mode that crosses numerous generic boundaries,” usually consisting in “a dramatic, highly emotional lament that reveals the complainant’s specific grievances against a public or private injustice.”17 Despite the lack of formal definition, medieval and early modern authors liberally use “complaint” with at least as much frequency as “ode” or “ballad,” presumably as an indicator that triggered certain expectations for readers. Even though the term is difficult to define, poets used it to define their poems, from complaints of mythical figures or shepherds to The backes


Heather Dubrow, Genre (London: Methuen, 1982), 2, 6, 24, 106.

17 W. H. Race and Joanne Diaz, “Complaint,” in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics, eds. Roland Greene, Stephen Cushman, Clare Cavanagh, Jahan Ramazani, and Paul Rouzer, eds., (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 287. Race and Diaz divide complaint into three categories: satiric complaints in the contemptus mundi vein, didactic complaints of the de casibus tradition, and lover’s complaints (both Petrarchan and the female complaint).


complaint, for bellies wrong. If we list only the poems that advertise themselves as complaints on their title pages during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, the variety is staggering [see table]. Beyond these self-advertised complaints, we can include among the motley crew a host of other best-sellers such as the many renditions of A Mirror for Magistrates, Tottel’s Miscellany, England’s Helicon, or the plethora of Petrarchan sonnet sequences. While grouping these poems as complaints says very little about their formal characteristics, it reveals many recurring tropes, themes, and moods. Complaints tend to feature a forlorn figure, from a historical or mythical personage to an abstract figure such as old age, who bewails the cause of his or her downfall. There is often an appeal for justice, but not necessarily—complaints of a figure receiving his or her just consequence for greed or folly are common enough, especially in the de casibus complaints of fallen princes. If not justice, however, these first-person soliloquies involve an almost universal appeal: nearly all complaints appeal to sympathy, normally leaving the speaker in suspense as the reader (or narrator) is given the choice to respond. Whether directly to the reader or to a narrator in a frame-story who encounters the forlorn speaker, the complaint is almost universally a pathetic demand from an unfortunate wretch. In this way, the common features of complaint are not formal but affective. In its Latinate sense, affectus is the poem’s capacity to exert force upon its reader—it is no coincidence that after praising poetry primarily for its capacity to move, Philip Sidney’s major contribution to English literary history was a set of Petrarchan complaints. This affective appeal is the “inner form” of the complaint, to use René Wellek and Austin Warren’s term, the state of mind induced upon the reader that Tzvetan Todorov emphasizes above subject matter. Complaint involves a common affective setting, figure of misfortune, demand for pity, and suspension of resolution. Its most consistent 10


characteristics may not warrant a neo-classical genre, but they are features of interest to ancient rhetoricians when discussing the genre of tragedy. Aristotle highlights the affective qualities of tragedy in his Poetics, explaining that “the plot should be so structured that, even without seeing it performed, the person who hears the events that occur experiences horror and pity at what comes about,” creating “effect through spectacle.”18 This is always the complainant’s goal, whatever the goals of the poet may be. While a common setting and affective demand is hardly enough to qualify it as a genre from a neo-classical perception, it may be usefully understood like the “host genres” Dubrow describes, “those forms one of whose roles is to provide a hospitable environment for the other form or forms that are regularly incorporated within them.”19 Like a host genre, John Kerrigan describes complaint as a composite space that “absorbs styles and subjects not synthesized by other kinds,” combining “lyric with narrative, the dramatic with the epistolary,” producing “poems of spiritual intensity but also social anger.”20 Complaint acts as a hospitable host that invites pastoral, tragedy, history, satire, and lyric into its amorphous territory. While complaint almost universally demands an affective reaction from its reader, poet and speaker may have different affective goals. Because of the characteristic suspension of resolution, in fact, the reader’s response is both crucial and ambiguous. In Peter’s study of medieval contemptus mundi complaint, the intended effect of these poems is

18 Aristotle, Poetics, 14, 1453b. For a recent overview of the historical relationship between literary criticism and affect, see R. S. White, “Recaliming Heartlands: Shakespeare and the History of Emotions in Literature,” in Shakespeare and Emotions: Inheritances, Enactments, Legacies, ed. R. S. White, Mark Houlahan, and Katrina O’Loughlin (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 1–14. 19

Dubrow, Genre, 116.


Kerrigan, Motives of Woe, 2.


homiletic, conversion from worldly ties into a vision of spiritual and heavenly virtue—the reader is meant to be affectively moved by way of warning. With Scase’s “literature of clamour,” the complaint is a protest and the reader is meant to be moved to action. Sometimes the desired affective response to complaint may be less direct. The divergent approaches to the Mirror tradition illustrate contrasting possibilities for affect in the poems, different ways the reader might be “move[d],” in William Baldwin’s words, “to the soner amendment,” whether an embrace of a broader teleology of human history or a practical application in contemporary politics.21 Some Petrarchan complainants might plead for grace while the poet himself is more cynical about his protagonist; in this case the reader might be moved to scorn the satirized complainant. Female complaint presents a particularly knotty set of interpretive conundrums. Generally ventriloquized from male poets, female complainants are often depicted as stereotypically excessive, and scholars differ on whether or not the male poets intended readers to be sympathetic to the protagonists, and thus on whether the reader was meant to be moved to pity or criticism.22 In every case the reader is meant to be moved by the highly affective

21 A Mirror for Magistrates, ed. Lily B. Campbell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938), 65. According to Paul Budra, the authors are using the falls of princes to negotiate a teleology of human history somewhere between that of Boethius and Chaucer, ultimately forcing the reader “into political and moral introspection.” Scott Lucas on the other hand argues for a more immediate application of the Mirror’s view of history, one in which evangelical authors during the Marian regime were creating “allusive tragedies” that mirrored their own political turmoil, moving readers to empathize more directly with the fallen princes. Paul Budra, A Mirror for Magistrates and the de casibus Tradition (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000), 31; Scott Lucas, A Mirror for Magistrates and the Politics of the English Reformation (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2009), 50. 22 For Jennifer Bryan, female complaint depicts a “personal history that must be written over by masculine narratives of history,” and Lauren Berlant similarly sees the complaint “as a paradigm of public female discourse” that “is shot through with anxieties about audience that in part derive from the absence of a theatrical space in which women might see, experience, live, and rebel against their oppression en masse, freed from the oppressors’ forbidding or disapproving gaze.” Ronald Primeau reads Samuel Daniel’s The Complaint of Rosamond through this satirical lens. Kerrigan argues, in contrast, that female complainants are depicted as victims more often than as sinners, and that even in the latter case they often


language, but in in drastically different ways: to pity, to fear, to action, to revulsion. In the intersection of the various generic boundaries of complaint, authors and readers may be pulled in divergent and paradoxical directions by the highly affective language, but in any case a reader of complaint expects movement.

The Christian Complainant When complaint is understood broadly as an affective mode in which the destitute demand pity rather than as a specific strain of satire or protest, its appropriation into devotional poetry opens the potential for a broad embrace of human passion. After all, as Debora Shuger points out, Catholic and Protestant theologians alike highlighted the fundamental power of the Christian rhetor to move his or her listeners affectively, ultimately to stir their hearts to love. A Christian poet, like a Christian rhetor, had at least a nominally Christian audience in need of being moved “to embrace what it already believes true,” to be affectively moved to feel desire and joy for the good and to feel sadness and fear—even anger and hatred—for the bad.23 The affective power of complaint was important because, in Augustinian terms, all affections are movements of

end up being surprisingly virtuous or at least excusable.22 Jennifer E. Bryan, “Hoccleve, the Virgin, and the Politics of Complaint,” PMLA 117 (2002), 1175; Lauren Berlant, “The Female Complaint,” Social Text 19/20 (1988), 238; Ronald Primeau, “Daniel and the Mirror Tradition: Dramatic Irony in The Complaint of Rosamond,” Studies in English Literature 15 (1975), 21–36; Kerrigan, Motives of Woe, 27. 23 Debora K. Shuger, “The Philosophical Foundations of Sacred Rhetoric,” in Religion and Emotion: Approaches and Interpretations, ed. John Corrigan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 120. To make her cross-confessional claim in this article, Shuger points to Catholic theologians such as Desiderius Erasmus, Juan Luis Vives, Ludovico Carbo, and Luis de Granada; Lutheran theologians such as Philipp Melanchthon, Matthias Flacius, and Salomo Glassius; Calvinist theologians like Johann-Heinrich Alsted and Bartholomäus Keckermann; and Augustine of Hippo whom Catholics and Protestants both claimed as their own.See also her broader study of the Christian grand style, which she describes primarily in affective terms, Sacred Rhetoric: The Christian Grand Stile in the English Renaissance (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987).


the will and can be praiseworthy or blameworthy depending on how they are directed.24 Early modern theologians from Ignatius of Loyola to Philipp Melanchthon likewise portray a close relationship between feeling, willing, and loving. The Lutheran JohannHeinrich Alsted, for example, redeems all three parts of Plato’s tripartite soul (intellective, irascible, concupiscible) such that faith is a function of the irascible soul and love of the concupiscible.25 With this close connection among affect, will, and Christian virtue, the highly affective and amorphous complaint mode is a shrewd choice for a religious poet with a vocational ambition to move the souls of readers. And choose it they did. Beginning in the late sixteenth century, religious poets increasingly channeled the voice of complaint into their poetic prayers. As Edmund Spenser self-consciously aspired to be the quintessential English poet, he practiced his faculties by writing a mishmash of biblically-infused contemptus mundi complaints that combined pastoral, beast fable, translation, and elegy, eventually published together under the title of Complaints. Containing sundrie small Poemes of the Worlds Vanitie (London, 1591). As Spenser was infusing Scripture into popular forms of complaint, Robert Southwell was attempting to make complaint devotional by casting biblical figures as complainants. The Jesuit’s Saint Peters Complaint (London, 1595) was posthumouslyprinted in thirteen mainstream London editions with three supplementary editions and two


Augustine, City of God, 14.6.

25 See Shuger, “Philosophical Foundations,” 121–22, citing Alsted’s Orator, sex libris informatus (Herborn, 1616) and Plato’s Phaedrus. As Shuger points out, Melanchthon similarly explains that “Human emotions— love, hate, joy, sadness, envy, ambition, and the like—pertain to the will.…For what is the will if not the fount of the affections? And why do we not use the word ‘heart’ instead of ‘will.’…For since God judges hearts, the heart must be the highest and most powerful part of man.” Philipp Melanchthon, Loci communes theologici, ed. Wilhelm Pauk, trans. Lowell Satre, in Melanchthon and Bucer (London: SCM, 1969), 27–29.


renegade Catholic editions—a publication record on par with Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare’s most printed work in the early modern period (fittingly, another complaint).26 Including the title piece, Southwell’s collection incorporated complaints of Peter, the Virgin Mary, Joseph, Mary Magdalene, Christ, and various unnamed sinners, and it inspired a flood of imitations and appropriations over the next two generations. John Donne notably exercised his craft as a devotional poet by writing a verse translation of Lamentations, popularly understood as the biblical model of the complaint mode, and George Herbert began The Temple with an extended appropriation of the complaint of Christ popular in medieval lyric and liturgy, a tantalizing prelude to his collection of passionately affective devotional lyrics. A wide array of poets, Protestant and Catholic, followed this trend of devotional complaint: John Davies, Thomas Nashe, Richard Verstegan, William Alabaster, Thomas Lodge, Samuel Rowlands, Nicholas Breton, William Broxup, Henry Constable, Robert Herrick, Henry Vaughan. Although Richard Crashaw’s highly affective lyrics, chock-full of blood and tears, are often interpreted in terms of the continental aesthetic he was pursuing in his conversion to Catholicism, they are also the culmination of this passionate exploration of passionate piety that English poets of all confessional stripes had been exploring for fifty years. In devotional lyric, Herbert’s paradox in “Bitter-sweet” was repeatedly realized: poets complained and praised.

26 For Shakespeare’s relationship to the complaint tradition, see Shirley Sharon-Zisser, ed., Critical Essays on Shakespeare’s A Lover’s Complaint: Suffering Ecstasy (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006); and Heather Dubrow, “A Mirror for Complaints: Shakespeare’s Lucrece and Generic Tradition,” in Renaissance Genres: Essays on Theory, History, and Interpretation, ed. Barbara Kiefer Lewalski (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), 399–417.


This popular interest in devotional complaint is illuminating for several reasons, extending from from studies in devotional poetry and early modern theology in particular to broader scholarship on poetics, the history of the emotions, and gender studies. In the context of devotional poetics, many of the poems in this movement have been interpreted in terms of what Gary Kuchar calls the poetry of religious sorrow, a grammar of tears and godly grief.27 This theologically charged discourse crosses confessional lines, and in recent decades scholarship has been correcting the long-maintained interpretive separation between Catholic and Protestant poets, between post-Tridentine tears poetry and soteriologically infused penitential poetry. This project builds gratefully on the foundations laid by Kuchar, Eamon Duffy, Alison Shell, Brian Cummings, Gary Bouchard, Gerard Kilroy, Scott Pilarz, Gary Waller, Christopher Highley, Helen Hackett, Alexandra Walsham, Anthony Raspa, Robert Miola, R. V. Young, Brad Gregory, and Susannah Monta, among many others who have demonstrated the complicated lines of literary and theological discourse across confessions in the early modern period. By extending this conversation into devotional complaint, I highlight a specific poetic movement that Catholic and Protestant poets shaped together. Understanding devotional complaint as a literary movement that explored the religious implications for the popular complaint mode is illuminating because it takes the conversation away from specifically soteriological and penitential concerns. Devotional poets were interested not only in the questions about salvation, forgiveness, sacraments, and ecclesiology that filled theological polemics; the affective exploration of complaint

Gary Kuchar, The Poetry of Religious Sorrow in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). 27


demonstrates broader concerns about human passion that did not necessarily divide them. Devotional complaint may have been interested in the godly sorrow that brings repentance, but it was also concerned with the redemptive capacity of anger, outrage, protest, bereavement, and fear. It was not only a poetry of religious sorrow, in Kuchar’s terms; it was more broadly a poetry of religious passion. An investigation of religious passion in complaint poetry is an important contribution to broader conversations about the history of the emotions in the Renaissance.28 Studies of early modern consolation literature generally argue for some form of neo-Stoic moderation in their approach to the passions, or alternatively for an “emotional intelligence” to cure “diseased passions” like anger, melancholy, and fear. In Wendy Olmsted’s assessment of Protestant approaches to emotion, the extreme passions are “dark shadows against the bright foil of unfallen noble human nature.”29 Restraint was not only a matter of Aristotelian moderation; it was also a sign of physical health, and numerous studies have tracked medical treatments of extreme passions associated with

28 Though I refer to the field of the “history of the emotions,” I follow Thomas Dixon’s advice in referring to passions and affections rather than emotions, as the term emotion did not become prevalent until the nineteenth century. For his useful overview of the terms in the Middle Ages, see From Passions to Emotions: The Creation of a Secular Psychological Category (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 26–61; for a briefer overview of the classical and early modern approach to passion, see Jan Plamper, The History of Emotions: An Introduction, translated by Keith Tribe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 12–23. Other recent notable historical studies of medieval and early modern emotions include Barbara H. Rosenwein, Generations of Feeling: A History of Emotions, 600–1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016); and Simo Knuuttila, Emotions in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004). 29 Wendy Olmsted, The Imperfect Friend: Emotion and Rhetoric in Sidney, Milton, and Their Contexts (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008), 4, 148. For more examples of criticism arguing for the prevalence of stoic moderation, see Reid Barbour, English Epicures and Stoics: Ancient Legacies in Early Stuart Culture (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998); Andrew Shifflett, Stoicism, Politics, and Literature in the Age of Milton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); George W. McClure, Sorrow and Consolation in Italian Humanism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991); G. W. Pigman III, Grief and English Renaissance Elegy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).


humoral imbalance.30 In studies of secular complaint, the rise of the literary mode is often explained as a remedy for unhealthy passion, frequently associated with the psychological need for consolation emerging from the loss of the sacrament of confession.31 Kerrigan’s study of secular complaint describes it as a “confessional way of telling history” that “was peculiarly well adapted to presenting a Protestant view” of public confession.32 Joanne Diaz likewise highlights the consolatory function of complaint, which she describes as a “poetics of dissatisfaction” arising among Protestant poets after the desacralization of articular confession, merging grief with its own consolation in keeping with the adage that “grief is the medicine for grief” (dolor est medicina e dolori).33 Puttenham, after all, had described the poet as a “Phisitian” who

For recent scholarship of humoral approaches to emotional health, see for example Elena Carrera, ed., Emotions and Health, 1200–1700 (Leiden: Brill, 2013); Gail Kern Paster, Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004); and Marjory E. Lange, “Humourous Grief: Donne and Burton Read Melancholy,” in Speaking Grief in English Literary Culture: Shakespeare to Milton, ed. Margo Swiss and David A. Kent (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2002), 69–97. Notably, however, the view of Aristotelian moderation has itself been usefully moderated. Lange’s study on tears in the Renaissance combines the growing rationalization of tears within medical writing and sermons with lyric poetry’s more passionate approaches to grief, Joshua Scodel traces a shifting relationship between excess and the mean especially in erotic and political writing, and Richard Strier argues against the universality of the principle of moderation in his Unrepentant Renaissance. 30

For a study of the traditional historical relationship between sorrow and the sacrament of penance, see Thomas N. Tentler, Sin and Confession on the Eve of the Reformation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), 233–45. 31


Kerrigan, Motives of Woe, 25.

33 Joanne Diaz, “Grief as Medicine for Grief: Complaint Poetry in Early Modern England, 1559– 1609” (PhD diss., Northwestern University, 2008), 8–9. Diaz finds the Latin proverb in a late sixteenthcentury portrait of an unnamed woman by Marcus Gheeraert the Younger, along with another inscription iniusti lusta querela (a just complaint of injustice). She links it to other related proverbs in Morris Palmer Tilley’s Dictionary of the Proverbs in England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1950), including “There is no curing of a grief concealed” (C923), “Grief pent up will break the heart” (G449), and “That grief is light which is capable of counsel” (G450).


makes “the very greef it selfe (in part) cure of the disease.”34 Importantly, however, devotional complaints often eschew consolation and leave the speaker in suspense—if it is sacramental assurance the readers seek, they repeatedly “ain’t got no satisfaction.”35 Furthermore, while some complaints are connected to sin and repentance, many use familiar tropes to justify the complaint itself, presenting complainants that are neither humble nor contrite. In this way, far from relieving the passions of grief and anger, they seek to redeem it. The appropriation of complaint into devotional lyric thus effects a redemption of the act of complaint, most strikingly when it enters the realm of female complaint. Scholars such as Kerrigan, Lauren Berlant, and Jennifer Bryan have pointed out the emotional excess of female complaint ventriloquized from male poets, depicting women who are pitiful, helpless, isolated, dependent, and hysterical. The tragedies women bemoan in these poems tend to be domestic rather than political, with an appeal to love rather than justice and a demand for restoration rather than retribution. In the broader context of the complaint tradition, however, female complaint may demonstrate more agency than this interpretation implies; a complaint, after all, is a demand rather than merely a lament, and female complaint is at least a refusal to go gently into the good night of betrayal and misfortune. When female complaint becomes devotional, furthermore, the excess of feminine passions becomes a model for devotion, a powerful avenue to

34 Puttenham, 1.47. See also P. G. Stanwood, “Consolatory Grief in the Funeral Sermons of Donne and Taylor,” in Speaking Grief in English Literary Culture: Shakespeare to Milton, edited by Margo Swiss and David A. Kent (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2002), 197–216. 35 Heather Hirschfeld has recently argued for something similar in the realm of early modern drama after the doctrinal disruption of the reformations. Her study is more specifically Protestant, however, involving the way Protestant poets navogated an open space of dialogue after sacramental assurance had been eliminated. The End of Satisfaction: Drama and Repentance in the Age of Shakespeare (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014).


intimacy with Christ of which women are particularly capable. In these poems, it is the marginalized who have the greatest spiritual power for the highest theological virtue of love, the excessive who prove the most faithful lovers of Christ. When male poets imagine prayer from the cries of hysterical women, they set up feminine devotion as a model for the passionate pursuit of Christ that the poets themselves often explicitly strive to imitate. If this redemption of passion and admiration of feminine excess seems to contradict some prevailing interpretations of emotions and gender in the Renaissance, the paradox is more instructive than problematic. The passions of grief, fear, and anger were indeed treated as ailments in need of cure even as they were redeemed in devotional complaint, and women were indeed dismissed as figures of excess and helplessness even as they were models for devotion. One of the most fascinating dividends of this study is the disclosure of an incongruity between early modern tenets and imagination, between the ideologies laid out in theological and philosophical texts and the creative explorations that complaint poetry opens for a poet’s fancy. This tension between doctrine and imagination is instructive. While medieval theology tended to exhibit a comfortable relationship with imagination, the reformations cast suspicion on imaginative theology. “Imagination” can be associated with the capacity to create mental images and memories, a valuable asset to meditation, but in Reformation polemics it can also be used pejoratively in association with blind fancy and error. Reformers contrast saving faith to the erroneous imagination of the Church of Rome and as the latter accuse the former of willfully individualistic imagination. Thus doctrine and devotion often follow different trajectories for the same author, and these tensions in the theological imagination emerge throughout the broad trend of devotional complaint. A poet may uphold certain views 21

about passions and women while imagining something different in his verse, and this paradox would not necessarily strike him as a problem. Theology and imagination, after all, had begun to take different paths.

Chapter Breakdown Because this project attempts a cultural study that cuts across confessional lines, I divide chapters thematically, centering on specific biblical figures of complaint. Chapter one is devoted to the complaint of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes typified in Spenser’s Complaints. This chapter on the one hand serves as background for the development of devotional complaint. While Spenser’s poetry is deeply religious he was not attempting to write lyrical meditations for prayerful imitation as the other poets in this study, and while his complaints were published in 1591 at the cusp of this emerging literary movement they were written at many points over the decades before. In this way Spenser’s shorter poems serve as a case study for the broader fascination with literary complaint during his poetic formation as he strategically aspired to be England’s arch-poet. On the other hand, although he was not writing devotional poetry in particular, the chronological movement between these poems takes him into a deeper engagement with the book of Ecclesiastes and the Catholic poet Joachim du Bellay. Far from the homiletic moralization he encountered in his early partnership with Jan van der Noot’s 1569 Theatre for Worldlings, Spenser resisted the temptation to make the complainant a figure of warning to support a Protestant apocalyptic vision that left behind the vanities of Rome. Instead, by bringing the complaints of the Preacher and of du Bellay into England, he eschewed consolation for his reader, ultimately supporting a vision of all worldly existence as deferral and suspension. Complaint is fundamentally a mode of suspension that 22

proclaims the disparity between what is and what should be, and thus on this side of the eschaton, the Christian poet’s vocation is to complain. Against that background, the other three chapters center on specific New Testament figures whom poets use to make complaint itself devotional. As Spenser shaped his vision of the Christian poet as complainant, a contemporary application of the Old Testament poet’s visions of vanity, Southwell wrote poetic complaints centered around the passion of Christ. Through these affective treatments of the sufferings of Peter, Christ, the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene, the Jesuit wrote poetic meditations on passions that were themselves encounters with love. In addition to an Ignatian vocation to direct his readers’ prayers and meditations, Southwell’s self-proclaimed ambition was to inspire and subvert the finest wits among his contemporary English poets, “to weave a new webbe in their owne loome.”36 Chapter two places Saint Peters Complaint and its immediate imitators—William Broxup, Samuel Rowlands, Richard Verstegan, Elizabeth Grymeston, Nicholas Breton, Aemilia Lanyer—in the context of that literary vocation, weaving devotional poetry in the loom of complaint. The poems in this chapter are often read as penitential tears poems, both Catholic and Protestant versions that are interpreted in varying degrees of antagonism or congruence. Nevertheless, I argue that Southwell significantly diverges from the penitential tradition that inspired his poem, notably changing it from a focus on Saint Peter’s tears to his complaint, from his repentance to his self-accusation in the line of the best de casibus laments. In the context of the nationalism that associated Englishness with Protestantism,

36 “The Author to his loving Cosen,” in The Poems of Robert Southwell, S. J., edited by James H. McDonald and Nancy Pollard Brown (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), 1.


this choice of genre was, in Dubrow’s words, “a highly polemical gesture,” associating Ignatian spirituality with the most quintessentially English poetic mode.37 The passions of his complaint, furthermore, do not bring the immediate relief of forgiveness but rather an encounter with love that Peter eulogizes with the erotic longing of Petrarchan complaint. Especially in contrast to his imitators, Southwell deliberately suspends consolation, directing his readers not to the restoration of absolution but to the dependence of love. Passions ultimately direct the complainant to the greatest passion. While few early modern writers would argue against the value of grief and sorrow in the context of sin, chapter three takes the exploration of literary complaint into entirely sinless passion: that of Christ. Beginning with Southwell and continuing through William Alabaster, Samuel Rowlands, Nicholas Breton, Sir John Davies, and George Herbert, this chapter plunges into the theological heart of devotional complaint. Complaints of Christ were hardly unique to early modern poetry; the planctus Christi was one of the most common tropes in medieval lyric, a mode that integrated lovers’ complaints with messianic echoes in the psalms and Old Testament prophecies. As popular as they were in the Middle Ages, they became almost extinct by the early sixteenth century, partially because of the uncomfortable tension between theology and imagination introduced by the reformations, and partially because of their uncomfortable depiction of Christ’s susceptibility to human passion. Depictions of a strong and impassive Christ that we see in authors from Thomas Nashe to John Milton were more compatible with the stoic approach to suffering popular in consolation literature. Against this trend, Southwell reintroduces a figure of Christ as complainant in “The burning Babe,” a Christ who


Dubrow, Genre, 30.


imitates the language of popular complaint as he experiences the extremities of his human anguish and burning love, opening the possibility for his beloved to imitate him in their own experiences of passion. The tensions that emerge in the devotional complaints of Christ hang on the point of imitatio Christi, whether Christ’s passions are like ours or altogether unique, whether they invite our passions or silence them. Herbert designs his entire collection around that interpretive crux, placing a lengthy early modern rendition of the medieval planctus Christi toward the beginning of his collection. “The Sacrifice” repeats the refrain “Was ever grief like mine?” and the answer seems to be both yes and no; Herbert ends “The Sacrifice” by altering the refrain to “Never was grief like mine” and then paradoxically presenting a collection full of the poet’s own grief that follows that of his passionate savior. Herbert’s corpus centers around this tension within devotional complaint, and allows Christ’s followers the possibility of imitating their savior’s passion with their own. Ultimately it is participation in Christ’s passion that devotional complaint allows, and the final chapter explores that compassion where it appears most starkly: in the feminine devotion of Marian complaint. Medieval complaints of the Virgin, the planctus Mariae, are almost as numerous as those of Christ, and her unique physical bond to her son allows a literalization of Paul’s image of being crucified with Christ—it is after all the flesh he took from her that is being crucified. But while the excess of her feminine grief is a popular exploration for medieval poets who allow her complaint to flirt with wrath and despair, it becomes an uncomfortable topic for early modern theologians and poets, Protestant and Catholic alike. Chapter four traces a transferral of extreme feminine passion onto the gospel’s second most popular Mary: Mary Magdalene, whom John describes as weeping inconsolably at the sepulcher on Easter morning until the 25

resurrected Christ reveals himself to her in the flesh. Though the medieval Magdalene had been primarily a figure of penitence, English poets from Southwell to Crashaw explore her as Christ’s most passionate lover. Even when she is still associated with the sinful woman in Luke 7, poets increasingly emphasize her love rather than compunction, and often they turn instead to her scene by the sepulcher, depicting her excessive passion in the mode of the abandoned women who fill complaint poetry. The Magdalene’s tears in the poetry of Southwell, Herbert, Breton, Verstegan, Gervase Markham, Henry Constable, Thomas Jordan, Henry Vaughan, and Richard Crashaw reveal tensions that male poets face as they enter creatively into the feminine passion of this quintessential lover of Christ. Some resist depicting her passions as particularly feminine; some resist depicting them as exemplary; and some resist applying that example to male readers. But as they negotiate these tensions, the Magdalene’s complaint create an imaginative space for poets to do what Reformation controversy often prevent in theological prose: to admire feminine excess and allow complaint to be more than redeemable, to be redemptive. This chapter therefore completes the study by showing that complaint—the literary mode and the extremities of passion involved therein—was a vocal part of early modern literary devotion even in its most excessive, vulnerable form. Sometimes the most faithful response to suffering was to seek not consolation but reparation, even at the risk of shaking one’s fist at God. If Christ imitated the psalmist who cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” poets were free to do the same.




Vanitie of vanities, saith the Preacher: vanitie of vanities, all is vanitie. What remaineth vnto man in all his travell, which he suffreth vnder the sunne? One generation passeth, and another generation succeedeth: but the earth remaineth for euer. Ecclesiastes 1:2–41 “There is none ende in making many bookes, and much reading is a wearinesse of the flesh,” the Preacher ironically concludes his biblical poem that inspired a barrage of literary imitation in the Middle Ages. The contemptus mundi complaint, so popular that John Peter’s book-length study on medieval complaint considers it synonymous with the complaint mode itself, fills many books with its denunciations of the vanities of earthly existence. While the fleeting nature of worldly life may be a “vexation of spirit” or “like chasing the wind” according to the later Wycliffe version, it was for many centuries a copious stimulus for English poetry. In 1591, Edmund Spenser made the connection among Ecclesiastes, complaint, and English poetry explicit. One year after the smashing success of the first installment of

Biblical quotations in this chapter come from the 1560 Geneva translation. Line numbers for Spenser’s complaints are cited parenthetically. 1


the Faerie Queene, Spenser’s printer published a collection of fan literature for eager readers awaiting the next installment of the epic that would not come for another five years. According to the printer’s introductory letter, the poems of this quarto volume had been “disperst abroad in sundrie hands, and not easie to bee come by, by [Spenser] himselfe; some of them hauing bene diuerslie imbeziled and purloyned from him, since his departure ouer Sea” (A2r). Among these “smale Poemes” were beast fables, verse translations of continental works, and a eulogy for England’s great poet Philip Sidney who had died five years earlier. All these poems, associated only loosely or not at all, were published together in a single volume, for which the printer crafted a grabbing title to unite the otherwise miscellaneous collection: Complaints. Containing sundrie small Poemes of the Worlds Vanitie. This otherwise miscellaneous volume was unified by the common mode of complaint. From this alone we can make three important inferences. First of all, since early modern title pages served as book ads, we can infer that Spenser’s printer judged that a volume of complaints would be a hot item in the London book market. From the publication record, as we already saw in the introduction, we have every reason to assume he was right. Since the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign in 1558, the complaint mode had been experiencing a literary revival in England with poetic complaints of abandoned women, forlorn shepherds, fallen princes, repentant sinners, and abstract figures such as verity, London, Holy Church, poetry, and old age.2 Complaint poetry

Not including the numerous sequences of Petrarchan complaints, the many editions of the Mirror for Magistrates, complaints within various poetic miscellanies such as the Paradise of Dainty Devices, or complaints not advertised in the title such as Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, there were at least ten Elizabethan volumes of self-advertised complaints published before Spenser’s Complaints. Another nine self-advertised complaints follow in the five years after Spenser’s volume, eight in the first decade of the seventeenth century, and eleven in the 1610s. 2


enjoyed a long sustained popularity in English popular tastes during the reign of Elizabeth that lingered through the reigns of James I and Charles I after her. Not only can we infer a popular interest; we can also infer Spenser’s own personal fascination with complaint poetry, which is important when we consider who Spenser believed himself to be. The poems that the printer had gathered, “disperst abroad in sundrie hands,” had been written at many stages of Spenser’s strategically crafted career, most of them apparently never intended for publication. As England’s aspiring arch-poet self-consciously followed Virgil’s path from pastoral to epic, he was all the while practicing complaint poetry on the side, becoming adept in a poetic mode that he infused into his longer works. Beyond the poems in his Complaints volume, most of Spenser’s poetry at least involves complaint within it: his translations for Jan van der Noot’s Theatre for Worldlings (1569), Shepheardes Calender (1579), and Amoretti (1595), to say nothing of the many times he incorporates the mode into the Faerie Queene. These works represent somewhat of a tour de force of the complaint mode—pastoral complaints, Petrarchan complaints, female complaints, De casibus complaints, and contemptus mundi complaints— lamenting misfortunes in the realms of love, betrayal, death, patronage, ecclesial corruption, national decay, and bad poetry. To be the greatest English poet that ever lived, Spenser seems to have deduced, he would need to master the poetic mode of Chaucer, Gower, and Lydgate; he would need to master complaint. Finally, and of particular importance for this project, we can infer that the connection between poetic complaint and Scripture, Ecclesiastes in this particular example, was obvious to sixteenth-century readers. If the biblical precedent for complaint is often missed by scholars, perhaps it is because it was so self-apparent to early modern readers. The biblical references in Spenser’s complaints can seem to be 29

subordinated to the more political aims of their theological concerns, and are often understood more in terms of a “broadly nationalist project” to “recover some certainty in [Britain’s] affairs” in which religion is subordinated to national identity.3 Nevertheless, as Spenser develops as a poet, his poetic interest in ruins and the fading nature of earthly splendor adapts itself increasingly to the biblical laments of “the Preacher” in the book of Ecclesiastes. According to the printer of his Complaints, the poet “besides wrote sundrie others, namelie Ecclesiastes, & Canticum canticorum translated.”4 His personal interest in Ecclesiastes is apparent in the development of his treatment of the poetry of Joachim du Bellay, which he initially translated for van der Noot’s Theatre for Worldlings and expanded in the coming decades in his Visions of Bellay and Ruines of Rome, published in the Complaints. By the time he wrote The Ruines of Time to commemorate the 1586 death of Sir Philip Sidney, his engagement in Ecclesiastes had transformed from the inclusion of faint echoes into a full-scale appropriation. Just as the Preacher begins Ecclesiastes by declaring “vanitie of vanities, all is vanitie” (1:2), a state which he frequently describes as a “vexacion of spirit” (1:14), The Ruines of Time declares “That all is vainitie and griefe of mind” (583), nearly a direct quotation. In this way the poet not only shows his dexterity in the most popular poetic mode of his day, but he also seeks to shape it by using a biblical voice in his expression of worldly complaint. Ecclesiastes gives Spenser biblical

3 Huw Griffiths, “Translated Geographies: Edmund Spenser's ‘the Ruines of Time,” Early Modern Literary Studies 4.2 (September, 1998). Anne Janowitz likewise sees Spenser’s project as teaching “that the image of the nation is made in poetry, and that poetry can ensure national immortality, repairing the ruins of previous empires and shifting the locus of the translatio imperii into the domain of poetic structure.” England’s Ruins: Poetic Purpose and the National Landscape (Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 21. 4

Edmund Spenser, Complaints. Contianing Sundrie Small Poems of the Worlds Vanitie (London: 1591), A2.


precedent for embracing suspension, to dismiss simplistic solutions, and to allow his poet freedom to weep unconsoled. In fact, through his embrace of this biblical model, Spenser could issue a challenge to English poets to invite ambiguity and suspension even in their religious poetry. The Protestant interpretive traditions of Ecclesiastes, a popular book for sermons as Spenser was writing his minor poems, vacillated between Luther’s exegesis that offered dignified satisfaction in vocation and the dualistic approach especially popular among radical Protestants that pronounced the futility of all earthly achievement and hoped instead for heavenly glory. Spenser deliberately moves away from the dualistic approach and its spiritual triumphalism that dismissed earthly life. At the same time, however, he also uses Ecclesiastes to undermine the popular poetic trope of finding immortality through poetry, which could be seen as a poet’s application of Luther’s vocational interpretation. Instead, he uses the suspension of complaint to hold together both sides of a dualism between earthly fulfillment and heavenly glory, depicting the vocation of the complainant as one suspended between earthly mutability and heavenly immortality. Spenser’s Complaints thereby dignify the deferral of longing, offering complaint itself as the Christian response to the problem of mutability. This chapter will show Spenser’s rejection of triumphalist approaches to transience through his increasing gravitation to du Bellay and Ecclesiastes in his Visions of Bellay. While du Bellay’s project puts the Protestant at risk of Catholic nostalgia in his Visions of Rome, Spenser embraces the eschatology of resurrection in order to avoid dismissing the present world. By the time he writes the Ruines of Time, he links affective capacities of complaint, especially its suspension of consolation, to the vocation not only of the complainant but also of the Christian poet.


Early Modern Readings of the Preacher’s Complaint The message of the vanity of earthly glory may have the effect of a worn-out trope to modern readers, and it is no doubt part of the reason that Peter’s portrayal of the complaint mode is mostly dismissive in his Complaint and Satire in Early English Literature.5 As we saw in the introduction, Peter links contemptus mundi complaint to a moralizing tendency of satire that “shades off into homily.” Graham Hammill takes a similar line when he asserts that “the complaint is a fairly conservative genre, identifying social, political, and economic changes only to cast them in a moral apparatus that prevents the complainer from fully engaging” in them, and thus the poem in some ways demonstrates the political helplessness of complaint.6 Indeed, the more overtly biblical the features of Spenser’s complaints become, the more they fit with Peter’s portrayal of the mode as a medieval Christianization of the classical satire, a sober and reasonable mode that “is tied to a system rather than a personality,” concerned more with abuse than abuser.7 When Spenser speaks in the voice of the Preacher rather than the abandoned lover or desolate shepherd, his lament seems to emphasize the abstract over the concrete and serves as a moral warning to his readers. But the form of homily that the lament shades into, a homily about the vanities of earthly splendor rooted in the book of Ecclesiastes, seems particularly to have resonated

5 Tellingly, Peter’s one-sided approach to complaint makes him almost entirely negligent of Renaissance complaint as he follows his study into the early modern period, and the only poem from Spenser’s Complaints that is even mentioned is Mother Hubberds Tale, whose “affinities” he sees as being “with political songs rather than complaints proper.” John Peter, Complaint and Satire in Early English Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956), 133. 6 Graham L. Hammill, “The thing / Which never was”: Republicanism and The Ruines of Time,” Spenser Studies 18 (2003), 175. 7

Peter, Complaint and Satire, 10.


with its early modern readers. In his 1589 Eight Sermons, Vpon the First Foure Chapters, and Part of the Fift, of Ecclesiastes Preached at Mauldon, two years before the publication of Spenser’s Complaints, George Gifford explained the urgency of the work by declaring that “mens harts were neuer more generally, and of all sortes, set vpon riches and pleasures, then now towarde the comming of Christ to make the dissolution.”8 Gifford himself may have had personal reason to see the time as a spiritually dark age. A clergyman with a controversial history and a radical bent, he had been summoned before the archdeacon of Essex in 1575 for refusing to receive communion at his parish church for the past year, and was deprived of his orders in 1584 for refusing to sign John Whitgift’s articles that declared that the prayer book had nothing contrary to the word of God. Gifford had only been reinstated to the priesthood that year, three years after being summoned to the 1586 deathbed of Philip Sidney. In this age of religious and political tension, the publication of these sermons on Ecclesiastes was especially timely because, by Gifford’s interpretation, the book is “wholly framed for the purpose, to drawe men from the vanities of this world.”9 For Gifford, Ecclesiastes was a poem in the contemptus mundi tradition that decried the concrete goods of the world in hope of the spiritual joys of Christian virtue. Gifford was not alone in this estimation of the book’s timely message; the late sixteenth century saw a surge of scholarship on the book of Ecclesiastes, especially among more radical Protestants. Even among mainstream Protestants, the book seemed apropos for the time. The preface to the English translation of Martin Luther’s An exposition of

George Gifford, Eight Sermons, Vpon the First Foure Chapters, and Part of the Fift, of Ecclesiastes (London: 1589) A2. 8


Ibid., A3.


Salomons booke called Ecclesiastes or the preacher (1573) similarly asserts that “almighty God was neuer more dishonored then he is at this day, by many that professe at theyr knowledge to be leaders of the blinde, instructours of the ignoraunt, hauing the forme of the right vnderstandyng by the law of God,” as if the vanities about which the book warns were particularly relevant to Elizabethan England.10 Also in this time, Jean de Serres’s A godlie and learned commentarie vpon the excellent book of Solomon, commonly called Ecclesiastes (1585) and Theodore Beza’s Job Expounded (1589), which included explications of Ecclesiastes, had already appeared in English, in addition to a Latin sermon by Thomas Cartwright (1604). Thomas Pye published a lengthy prose paraphrase of Ecclesiastes in English (1589), and verse paraphrases appeared by Henry Lok (1597) and Helius Hessus (1575, 1581— reprinting the Nuremberg, 1533 edition) in English and Latin, respectively. There had been no publications of sermons on Ecclesiastes in England before these, and there would be no others for nearly twenty years. Even those who might not have been up to speed on the latest publications would have been reminded of Ecclesiastes if they followed the Book of Common Prayer’s outlines for biblical readings; of the twenty-seven propers for recognized feasts it lists in the 1559 edition, as many as seven of them involve readings from Ecclesiastes, cited more than Solomon’s longer and clearer book of Proverbs.11 If this publication trend is any indication, the biblical message of the vanity of earthly


Martin Luther, An Exposition of Salomons Booke, Called Ecclesiastes or the Preacher (London, 1573) A2.

It is difficult to be certain in the 1559 edition, because there seems to be no distinction in the abbreviations for Ecclesiastes and Ecclesiasticus. Readings for Ecclesiastes may be included for the feast of Sts. Steven (4), John (5, 6), Matthias (1), the Annunciation (2, 3), St. Mark (4, 5), Philip and James (7, 9), and Barnabas (10, 12), but the readings labeled “Eccle.” for Peter (15, 19), James (21, 23), Bartholomew (25, 29), Matthew (35, 38), Michael (39, 44), and Luke (51) undoubtedly refer to the much longer book of Ecclesiasticus. 11


pleasures was a topic of keen interest to late sixteenth-century theologians, and, we may assume, their readers. The message of vanity is certainly the most striking for a reader of Ecclesiastes, whatever subsequent interpretations might emerge upon further study. In the first twelve words of the Preacher’s message in the Geneva translation, the word “vanitie” is repeated five times, defined by images of the unchanging repetitions of earth’s cycles that make it impossible for anyone to be remembered beyond death. “There is no memorie of ye former, nether shal there be a remembrance of the later that shalbe, with them that shal come after” (1:11), the Preacher laments, and proceeds to relate his journeys through the pursuits of pleasure, wisdom, toil, wealth, and honor that led him to this conclusion (problematically, his pursuit of wisdom does not seem any more fruitful than that of pleasure). Yet the book as a whole is by no means a coherent chronicle, and often reads like a scrapbook of proverbs relating to time, death, toil, and wisdom that did not quite make the cut for Solomon’s larger book. Often the central message of vanity undercuts the message of some of these smaller tangents, such as when the book’s most hopeful lesson that God “hathe made everie thing beautiful in his time” and “hathe set the worlde in their heart” (3:11) trails off into the repeated message of the futile repetitions of human history (3:15). Other tangential lessons involve contentment, friendship, behavior around kings, foresight, generosity, and happiness, and the book becomes less cohesive and the proverbs more pithy as it progresses. Finally, these proverbs come to an abrupt halt in the last chapter that begins with a seven-verse-long sentence (though the Geneva Bible starts inserting periods at the ends of verses halfway through, evidently preferring fragments to a long ramble) that exhorts the reader to “Remember now thy Creator in the dais of thy youth” (12:1), before the 35

days of a long list of poetic descriptions of old age. This stream of images is brought to an abrupt halt when Solomon interjects one last “Vanitie of vanities…all is vanitie” (12:8) for good measure, and the book ends with a few apparently unrelated thoughts about “pleasant wordes, & vpright writing” (12:10) and the weariness of “making manie bokes and muche reading” (12:12) before the final punch: Let vs heare the end of all: feare God & kepe his commandements: for this is the whole duetie of man. For God wil bring euerie worke vnto iudgement, with euerie secret thing, whether it be good or euil. (12:13–14) While the book’s conclusion seems Christian enough, the process of getting there (if we can indeed read the book as a unified whole) is immensely problematic; and if its sixteenth-century English commentators extrapolate a message of hope, they must exercise some exegetical gymnastics to find it. As Ecclesiastes is a troubling book for interpretation, it should come as no surprise that commentators disagreed about its central message. The standard interpretation in sermons and commentaries seems to align with Gifford’s rather obvious assessment “that in all things under heaven, there is nothing to be found but extreme vanitie, and miserie, and therefore such as seeke the world are in a wrong way.”12 This interpretation borders on a dualistic denunciation of the material world in favor of the spiritual benefits Solomon seems to favor in the end. Even Serres who is in some ways more positive than Gifford, finding the “principall and cheefe end of this sermon” to be the discovery of the “cheefe and soueraigne good,” sets up a similarly dualistic contrast between the Preacher’s contrary pursuits. The early sections about vanity aim at showing that


Ibid., 7.


happiness “is not in worldly things,” while later sections show that it is in the call “to feare God, that is to say, to worship God with a true and vnfayned mind.”13 The Geneva Bible commentators seem to extract a similar message from the book even when it is out of place, oddly deriving from the verse that begins “Reioyce, o yong man, in thy youth” the message that “He derideth them that set their desire in worldelie pleasures, as thogh God wolde not call them to an accounte” (11:9). A denunciation of material goods, even if it borders on dualism, is the easiest extrapolate from the text, and thus it seems to be the most popular in England. The book of Ecclesiastes, understood this way, sets up two contrary pursuits, one worldly and one spiritual, and demonstrates the vanity of one and the value of the other. Yet unlike the English audience who appropriates his sermon, Luther does not denounce earthly pleasures outright in his summary of the book’s message. Instead, he simply interprets the argument of the book to be “of the greatest vanitie that is, how men are most vaine in all their deuises, because they be not satisfied with thinges present, which they use not, nor can not enioy thynges absent.”14 By this account then, it is not the delight in existing worldly goods but rather the pursuit of more that Solomon finds troubling, because, as Robert Rosin surmises, it distracts the Christian from the realization of true vocation through active “involvement in the world while remembering one’s limits as creature.”15 The complaint of the Preacher, then, is a device to show the

13 Jean Serres, A Godlie and Learned Commentarie Vpon the Excellent Book of Solomon, Commonly Called Ecclesiastes, or the Preacher, trans. John Stockwood (London: 1585), ¶¶iii. 14

Luther, 11.

Robert Rosin, Reformers, the Preacher, and Skepticism: Luther, Brenz, Melanchthon, and Ecclesiastes (Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1997), 145. 15


perspective of fallen, natural man when he forgets God’s sovereignty, and the solution to the Preacher’s dilemma is an adapted perspective that finds meaning in the goods and the vocation that God has given the Christian. The distinction between defining vanity in terms of earthly goods or merely the pursuit thereof is important: one account calls the Christian away from transitory earthly pleasures in pursuit of spiritual meaning, and the other finds that spiritual meaning within the material goods God has given.16 Rather than staking a side in this interpretive tension between Luther and more controversial Protestants like Gifford, Spenser eventually brings both sides into his poems by situating the vocation of the complainant in suspension between material and spiritual realties, between the world as it is and as it should be.

Spenser’s Complaints In light of this early modern preoccupation with the book of Ecclesiastes and the literary climate of complaint that we saw in the introduction, Spenser’s Complaints reveal him not only as the poet of a recovered English past but also the poet of his age, capable of adapting his archaisms to the popular trends of early modern England. From his first published work to the unfinished “Mutability Cantos,” questions about the vanity of the world expressed in poetic lament dominate his literary career. While Hugh MacLean argues that the poet’s mastery of complaint reaches its apex in Book III of the Faerie

16 For more on the connection between Luther’s reading of Ecclesiastes and the Protestant work ethic, see Tyler Atkinson, Singing at the Winepress: Ecclesiastes and the Ethics of Work (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 121–85; for a comparison of Luther’s treatment of Ecclesiastes to Calvin’s theology, see William P. Brown, “Calvin and Qoheleth Meet after a Hard Day’s Night; or, Does Ecclesiastes Have a ‘Protestant’ Work Ethic?” in Reformed Theology: Identity and Ecumenicity II: Biblical Interpretation in the Reformed Tradition, ed. Wallace M. Alston Jr. and Michael Welker (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 74–90.


Queene, complaint performs a controlling function in his earlier works.17 Even before we turn to the Complaints, it is worth mentioning that in the Shepheardes Calender the dogged determination to find meaning in the cyclical passing of time so characteristic of complaint is a structural feature of the poem. Spenser’s overture to English print was a calculated attempt to portray himself as, among other things, a master of English complaint, and the Argument of the book identifies the “Plaintiue” poems as first, sixth, eleventh, roughly beginning, middle, and end. Complaint is tied to the natural order, to the passing of seasons, to the woods that Colin teaches to mourn his grief in June, to the changing of the season in November, to the cycles of human life and death in December. As he weeps for Dido, Colin makes commonplace complaints—that “nought remaynes but the memoree” (121), that death reveals the “trustlesse state of earthly things, and slipper hope / Of mortal men, that swincke and sweate for nought” (153–54). To be a pastoral poet for Colin, one tied to the natural cycles of the earth and the plant and animal life therein, is to complain. Thus while scholarly interest in Spenser’s Complaints is somewhat limited, those who study the volume agree on the importance of complaint for understanding the author’s poetic project.18 Hassan Melehy has argued quite convincingly that the Complaints volume as a whole represents a linking of du Bellay and Sidney, becoming a “Defense and Illustration” of English verse, and it is telling that Spenser would choose the

Hugh MacLean, “‘Restlesse anguish and unquiet paine’: Spenser and the Complaint, 1579–1590,” in The Practical Vision: Essays in English Literature in Honour of Flora Roy, ed. Jane Campbell and James Doyle (Waterloo, ON: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1978), 29–47. 17

In fact, based on the understanding of complaint as political and social activism, arguments about the Calender’s vitality as Protestant satire affirm Spenser’s adeptness with the mode. See for example John N. King, Spenser’s Poetry and the Reformation Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 14–46. 18


complaint mode to do so.19 Though scholars have not always seen a cohesiveness in the collection of poems, Richard Danson Brown argues that the volume’s hodge-podge of different forms of the complaint mode “progress[es] from traditional (or medieval) complaint to a more transitional (or unstable) form of complaint,” and indeed he demonstrates both familiarity with a popular form and dexterity to make it his own.20 Spenser was the poet of his age because his poetry merged the predominant poetic mode of sixteenth-century England with an emerging religious and intellectual interest in uncovering or redeeming the vanity of worldly pursuits. While he initially introduced himself to the world of print as a poet of pastoral complaint in the Shepheardes Calender of 1579 right as the English press was capitalizing on the popular interest of the Preacher’s complaint, he had already invested his talents ten years earlier in Van der Noot’s project that used the complaint of worldly vanity as a springboard to expose the vanities of the Catholic Church in which complaint becomes prophecy. Van der Noot’s collection achieves a triumphalist conclusion by denouncing the worldliness of Rome and finding instead the spiritual glory of heavenly glory, a vision typical of Protestant sermons on Ecclesiastes. Crucially, while Spenser elsewhere demonstrates no hesitation for using poetry as a vehicle for religious polemic, over time he steers his translations away from prophecy and deeper into the realm of biblical complaint. When his Complaints were eventually published in 1591, they reveal over twenty years of a literary journey into the vulnerable, sorrowful, suspended vocation of a complainant.

“Antiquities of Britain: Spenser’s Ruines of Times,” Studies in Philology 102 (2005): 159–83; “Spenser and Du Bellay: Translation, Imitation, Ruin,” Comparative Literature Studies 40 (2003): 415–38; The Poetics of Literary Transfer in Early Modern France and England (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010). 19

Richard Danson Brown, “The New Poet”: Novelty and Tradition in Spenser’s Complaints (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999), 8. 20


But while Spenser’s collection is clearly situated within an active sixteenth-century dialogue about vanity as it relates to the book of Ecclesiastes, that dialogue itself is anything but clear. Furthermore, Spenser’s contribution is itself messy, made up of nine poems apparently unrelated but for a loose thematic tie, doubtlessly written at different times and not necessarily originally intended for publication. Among these “fewe parcels” the printer managed to recover that had been “disperst abroad in sundrie hands” (A2) are three fables, three translations of sonnet collections by continental poets, and three original compositions that seem to be in dialogue with the other six. Of these, the opening poem The Ruines of Time seems to borrow the most widely from Ecclesiastes, though The Teares of the Muses and Visions of the Worlds Vanitie have some notable connections, and even in Spenser’s translations of du Bellay his preoccupation with the book emerges.21 Spenser adapts the apparently incohesive and ambiguous biblical poem into an incohesive montage of his own. In some ways, the patchwork nature of the Complaints is an appropriate form of engagement with the loose hints of cohesiveness of Ecclesiastes and the apparently ambiguous message therein. This disunity is a useful structural feature for poems that elicit both the pursuit and suspension of hope. From the first poem of the collection, ironically one of the last composed, Spenser combines Scripture and the complaint tradition to create a tension that he does not ultimately resolve.22 The question at stake is one that vexes the

21 Anne Lake Prescott points out that Spenser shared du Bellay’s “sense of flux, his sharp anguish at the forward tread and cut of time and his ambiguous hope in the repeated circles of its larger movements.” Notably, this description applies just as aptly to the Preacher of Ecclesiastes. French Poets and the English Renaissance: Studies in Fame and Transformation (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1978), 43. 22 While the dedication to The Ruines of Time makes it clear that significant portions of it were written during Spenser’s visit to England, Harold Stein speculated that some portions at the beginning and end might have been written earlier. Studies in Spenser’s Complaints (New York: Oxford University Press, 1934), 34–41.


complaint mode broadly speaking: that of agency and powerlessness. In the context of The Ruines of Time and its dialogue with the book of Ecclesiastes, the tension arises in the mutability of the concrete world, whether or not all is truly vanity as the Preacher says. The poet seems to conclude in the end that poetry at least manages to transcend the vanity of the material world and provide hope for permanence, though this conclusion disagrees with the very biblical poet the poem evokes. In this way Spenser’s dialogue with Ecclesiastes sides with Luther over Gifford, albeit uncomfortably, as he creates a vision of ruins that complements his fraught view of poetry itself. But for the complainant, it is not a choice between Gifford and Luther, between a dualistic dismissal of earthly of earthly vanity or a vision of dignified earthly labor. Rather, the complainant dignifies earthly labor precisely in his suspension between earth and heaven, between decay and immortality, refusing to let go of the one in his longing for the other. Just as Spenser demonstrates, in Maryclaire Moroney’s words, a “double vision of change as potentially beneficent and transience as tragic,”23 he holds a double vision for poetry as leading to immortal glory while the ambition for that glory is doomed. The poet cannot take the moral high ground of Van der Noot or the dualistic contempt for the world of the Protestant homilies. He is invested with a vocation that gives him meaning in his suspended hope, but it is a vocation to complain.

Maryclaire Moroney, “Spenser's Dissolution: Monasticism and Ruins in the Faerie Queene and the View of the Present State of Ireland,” Spenser Studies XII (1998), 115. 23


Translating Complaint in The Theatre for Worldings and Visions of Bellay Spenser first began exploring the connection between complaint and Ecclesiastes when he participated in van der Noot’s appropriations of du Bellay in his 1569 Theatre for Worldlings, before the English popular interest in the book of Ecclesiastes had emerged into the world of print. While this initial engagement in contemptus mundi complaint—what Brown calls an “innovative complaint” in the form of a Renaissance sonnet sequence—is infused with du Bellay’s own interest in Ecclesiastes, van der Noot steers it into a triumphalist Protestant vision.24 Van der Noot’s additions to du Bellay’s Songe ou Vision are driven by an apocalyptic interpretation of the book of Revelation that uses the Catholic source to undercut the poet theologically, transforming du Bellay’s mournful lament about the crumbling decay of the imperial city into an eschatological vision of the triumph of the city of God over the wickedness of Babylon. Spenser, in contrast, discards van der Noot’s victorious finish in favor of the source-poem’s suspended ending indebted to Ecclesiastes and also translates du Bellay’s longer and more mournful Antiquitez de Rome. 25

Thus while English printers became increasingly interested in Ecclesiastes, Spenser’s

engagement in du Bellay became more sensitive to his imagery from biblical complaint rather than apocalyptic prophecy, and it was from the French poet that Spenser would

Richard Danson Brown, “Forming the ‘First Garland of Free Poësie’: Spenser’s Dialogue with Du Bellay in Ruines of Rome,” Translation and Literature 7 (1998), 19. M. L. Stapleton argues for the importance of Spenser’s transformation of the form of the sonnet into what would become established as the English sonnet form. “Spenser, the Antiquitez de Rome, and the Development of the English Sonnet Form,” Comparative Literature Studies 27 (1990), 259–74. 24

Du Bellay’s interest in Ecclesiastes was characteristic of French devotional poetry. See, for example, Gabriel Chappuys’s translation of Diego Estella’s Livre de la vanité du monde (Paris, 1587); the epistle to Antoine Abelly’s Sermons sur les Lamentations du sainct prophete Hieremie (Paris, 1582); Rémy Belleau’s Discours de la vanité, pris de l'Ecclesiaste (Paris, 1576); Jacques Lect’s Ecclesiastes Solomonis (Geneva, 1588) and Poemata Varia nempe, Sylvae. Elegiae. Epigrammata. Epicedia. Ecclesiastes. Ionah (Geneva, 1609). Terence C. Cave, Devotional Poetry in France c. 1570–1613 (Cambrdige: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 44, 64, 98. 25


learn the ambiguous approach to worldly vanity that he demonstrates in his Ruines of Time. This posture decries earthly splendor as vanity yet mourns its passing with nostalgia, insisting that all human glory is as mortal as humanity itself yet striving for the tenuous immortality of verse. As Spenser would demonstrate in his poetry, it is a posture that is conscious of its tension with its biblical analogue, and complaint itself becomes capacious enough to hold together both sides of that tension. The opening sonnet of du Bellay’s Songe introduces the biblical theme of worldly vanity that the rest of the sonnets serve to illustrate.26 We find a speaker who receives visions from a ghost who disturbs “the forgetfulnesse of slepe” (“l’oubly du somme”) that should give him rest from “The carefull trauailes of the painefull day” (“Tout le soucy du jour laborieux”) (3–4), reminding us that the Preacher had likewise bemoaned that all of a man’s “dayes are sorrowes, and his trauail grief” to the point that “his heart also taketh not rest in the night” (2:23).27 At its core the message of the Songe is that of the Preacher himself, ending the first sentence with the declaration that “all is nought but flying vanitie” (“tout n’est rien que vanité”) (11), an adaptation of the Preacher’s declaration that “all is vanitie.” While Prescott points to Spenser’s many significant re-readings of du Bellay between the 1569 blank verse translations and the rhymed sonnets published in 1591, this line is left entirely unaltered, perhaps to keep the close parallel with Scripture,

English translations of du Bellay’s Songe early in this section are from Spenser’s Theatre, until I emphasize his shift of emphasis in the Complaints, at which point I will use his Ruines of Rome. 26

For the French of du Bellay’s Antiquitez de Rome and Songe ou Vision, which are the sources for Spenser’s Ruines of Rome and the Visions of Bellay, respectively, I use the parallel edition by Malcom C. Smith, Antiquitez de Rome (Binghamton, NY: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1994). English translations of the Songe are from Spenser’s Theatre for Worldlings and Visions of Bellay, and translations of the Antiquitez are from his Ruines of Rome. 27


albeit with the insertion of a slightly awkward adjective.28 In this way Spenser keeps his translation of du Bellay situated not only in the verse of the French poet but also in the quintessential biblical poet of earthly vanity. After this initial set-up that prepares the reader for an engagement in Ecclesiastes, du Bellay’s Songe continues to echo the biblical complaint, albeit faintly. He does indeed mourn the “worldes vanenesse” (“vanité du monde”) (2.12), but the poems as a whole keep the tone of a prophetic vision that is quite naturally adaptable to the apocalyptic Protestant historiography of van der Noot’s project. It is, after all, God who “surmountes the force of tyme” (“au temps fait resistance”) (1.13), the poem reminds us, in contrast to the Preacher’s Old Testament lament that did not have the advantage of the full picture of Christian eschatology and thus could only take the first step of grieving “the worldes vnstedfastnesse” (“la mondaine inconstance”) (1.12).29 The poet mourns that “nought in this worlde but griefe endures” (“rien ne dure au monde que torment”) (3.12) as he sees monuments “broken all to dust” (“reduict en poudre”) (4.14) or the proud eagle who fell from the heavens until “hir bodie turned all to dust” (“estre reduict en poudre”) (6.12), reminding the reader of the Preacher’s declaration that “All go to one place, and all was

Prescott, “Spenser (Re)Reading Du Bellay,” 132. Notably, the term “flying vanity” was not used in English print before this point; John Lyly uses it in Euphues in 1578, and then it does not appear in print again until Roger Ley’s sermons on Job in 1619. 28

V. L. Saulnier interprets the Songe with an Old Testament fatality that is awaiting its New Testament fulfillment: “Et quand le Songe formule d’avance sa conclusion, tout n’est que vanité, nous ne sommes pas sortis de l’Ecclésiaste. Reste ce pont cruel, d’un Testament à l’autre: accomplir faut les Ecritures; à plus d’un sonnet des Antiquités, des mots de fatalité comme ceux-là pourraient bien servir d’exergue.” Du Bellay: L’Homme et l’Œuvre (Paris: Boivin, 1951), 79–80. 29


of the dust, and all shal returne to the dust” (3:20).30 Du Bellay’s poem is in some ways an Old Testament complaint with a Renaissance form and a Christian hope. Yet unlike the Preacher’s broad lens that observes humanity’s relationship to the natural order, du Bellay’s poet focuses on a specific set of decaying ruins. Furthermore, instead of the repeating cycles of the natural world that emphasize the unchanging weariness of the earth, the French poet observes the crumbling structures of human achievement that illustrate the constant decay of human achievement. For the Preacher, the heavens are constant to a fault, such that human actions are caught in the same weary cycles of the natural world and “there is no new thing vnder the sunne” (1:9); for du Bellay, human achievement is vain because of “th’inconstance of the heauens” (“l’inconstance des cieux”) (11/15.3) that brings them all to ruin. The one poet longs for change in the cyclical changelessness of the world; the other sees change as the very evil at fault in the linear history of decline. Because of his attention to a linear view of history rather than the cyclical one found in Ecclesiastes, du Bellay expands his biblical imagery into the realm of prophecies that foretell destruction. As the series of visions depict the fall of columned buildings, monuments, arches, oaks, birds, laurels, nymphs, and gods, the biblical imagery shifts increasingly to the prophets. This inclusion of prophetic imagery works to van der Noot’s advantage when he adds four concluding sonnets from Revelation that foretell the fall of the seven-headed dragon and the whore of Babylon. The columned building in the second sonnet has a floor of jasper and emerald, an imitation of the New Jerusalem in

30 The return to dust first appears in the curse given to Adam after the Fall (Gen. 3:19). This reference in Ecclesiastes is the most direct echo of the Genesis curse later in scripture, though the notion of a return to dust also occurs twoice in Job (10:9; 34:15), twice in Psalms (90:3; 104:29), and once more in Ecclesiastes (12:7).


Revelation 21:18–19, and the sixth sonnet clearly echoes the prophecy against the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14, which the Geneva Bible interprets as representing not only tyrants in general but Lucifer himself, Satan in his angelic form. Just as the tyrant had declared in his vanity, “I will ascend into heauen, and exalt my throne aboue beside the starres of God…I wil ascẽd aboue ye height of the cloudes, & I wil be like the moste high” (14:13– 14), the imperial eagle likewise tries to “venture to mount to heauen” (“au ciel s’avanturer”) and “Surmount the toppes euen of the hiest hilles, / And pierce the cloudes, and with hir wings to reache / The place where is the temple of the Gods” (“Des plus hauts monts la hauteur mesurer, / Percer la nuë, et ses ailes tirer / Jusques au lieu où des Dieux est le temple”) (6/7.2, 6–8). In this way, the fall of the imperial eagle represents not only the political corruption of Rome and its eventual collapse from foreign invasion, but also a spiritual decline, using imagery from Isaiah’s description of the fall of the founder of sin himself. Thus the Catholic du Bellay provides a springboard of prophetic imagery critical of his own Church upon which the Protestant van der Noot’s polemical project can expand.31 The Theatre leaves out the Songe’s sixth, eighth, thirteenth, and fourteenth sonnets, three of which contain images of the worldliness that corrupt the Church eventually being swept away by winds that could represent a criticism of the Lutheran revolt.32 We see a seven-headed beast rising out of a river before it is blown away by a

31 For more on van der Noot and his connection both to Calvinist theology and the sect of the Family of Love, in addition to his reconversion to Catholicism, see Andrew Hadfield, “Edmund Spenser’s Translations of du Bellay in Jan van der Noot’s A Theatre for Voluptuous Worldlings,” in Tudor Translation, ed. Fred Schurink (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 146–48.

The sixth sonnet, on the other hand, illustrates the death of the wolf that nursed Romulus and Remus, presumably a poem that is not as applicable to van der Noot’s ecclesial polemic. 32


Scythian wind, a ship over-laden with wealth that sinks in a gale but reemerges emptied of its extra weight, and a city built on sand in imitation of the New Jerusalem whose shaky foundations reveal its fraudulence when it is beset by a northern storm. While these are certainly images of corruption in the Church of Rome, they can also be seen as images of purification. For the Catholic poet, the Lutheran revolt might be a tempest from the north that attacks the extravagance of the papacy, but it is the corruptions that are blown away rather than the Church itself. The beast is gone but the river remains; the extravagance of the ship and its sailors are drowned but the boat reemerges; the weak foundations of the imitation city are gone but the city itself foretells the New Jerusalem. Furthermore, the wind that sweeps them away may be cleansing, but it is also as ephemeral as the vanities it dispersed. They are sonnets that see the storms of the Reformation as a period of refinement which the church must endure until the vanity has been removed. Van der Noot removes the ambiguous posture of these poems by omitting them altogether, providing instead his twelfth through fifteenth sonnets that unambiguously present the Protestant apocalyptic interpretation of Revelation 13, 17, 19, and 21. Dennis Moore identifies this move as a “complete abandonment of the commonplaces of contemptus mundi in favor of the ideological diatribe of Calvinist exegesis.”33 Instead of the seven-headed beast of du Bellay’s eighth sonnet that can be swept away by mere wind, the beast of the Theatre’s twelfth sonnet follows the narrative of the vision in Revelation 13, a prophecy that Protestant commentators interpret specifically as foretelling both the

Dennis Moore, The Politics of Spenser’s Complaints and Sidney’s Philisides Poems (Salzburg: Universität Salzburg, 1982), 39. 33


persecutions of the early church under imperial Rome and the persecution of the true church under the tyranny of the papacy. Rather than the previous sonnets of power and decline, this sonnet ends in the appearance of the dragon who forces all to worship this beast, which the Geneva Bible interprets as a message that “the Pope in ambitiõ, crueltie, idolatrie, & blasphemie did folow & imitate the anciẽt Romaines” (13:12). As the final three sonnets depict the whore of Babylon (Rev. 17), the triumphant hero on the white horse (Rev. 19), and the vision of the city of God (Rev. 21), the series of visions takes a dramatic turn from lament to exaltation. Now the passing of Rome is not a thing to be mourned but fulfills van der Noot’s stated goal “to shewe how vaine, transitorie, deceitfull, vnprofitable, and vncertain worldly things be” (E1r). All ambiguity is removed; in the Theatre for Worldlings, the vanity of Rome represents the monster of the Roman Catholic Church, and the message of worldly decline is no longer the mournful one of Ecclesiastes but a triumphant one that ends with tears wiped away in the new heaven and new earth. Yet critical of the Roman Church though Spenser may be, his reworking of du Bellay’s sonnets into the Visions of Bellay returns to the mournful posture of the French poem, joining his continental predecessor in his nostalgic grief for the passing of earthly splendor.34 As Rebeca Helfer argues, this change reflects not only a tacit rebuttal of Van der Noot’s apocalyptic vision but also a reordering of poetry: “whereas Van der Noot represents poetry as prophecy and theology,” Spenser returns to du Bellay’s vision in

This is not to ignore Spenser’s obviously critical posture toward Rome. For a useful discussion of the difficulties surrounding an attempt to interpret Spenser’s interpretation of du Bellay, see Prescott, “Spenser (Re)Reading du Bellay,” 132–33. See also Alfred W. Satterthwaite, Spenser, Ronsard, and DuBellay: A Renaissance Comparison (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960), esp. 93–132. 34


which “immortality lies in the endlessly renewed labours of recollection.”35 The poetic view of history is no longer an eschatological vision that points to God’s ultimate victory over the vanity of luxury and blasphemy that has afflicted the earth; it has been returned to an elegiac vision of grief for what has passed. The seven-headed beast of sonnet eight disappears in a wind again, and thus when sonnet ten depicts a woman “Hard by a rivers side” (“Sur la rive d’un fleuve”) who is “Folding her armes to heaven with thousand throbs” (“Croisant les bras au ciel avec mille sanglotz”) (10.1–2) and mourning the devastation of the city from the seven-headed Hydra, we are given key interpretive details to understand what beast has assailed the city and the church alike.36 At least according to her, it is certainly not the splendor of the city itself that has corrupted Rome; in four lines of ubi sunt elegy, the nymph mourns the loss of that very splendor. Where is (quoth she) this whilom honoured face? Where the great glorie and the auncient praise, In which all worlds felicitie had place, When Gods and men my honour up did raise? (Las, où est maintenant ceste face honoree, Où est ceste grandeur et cest antique los, Où tout l’heur et l’honneur du monde fut enclos, Quand des hommes j’estois et des Dieux adoree?) (10.5–8) Honor, glory, praise, and happiness have been lost, and the villain is not luxury itself, according to the nymph. Now the beast is being spawned (French engendrer) specifically by the Neros and Caligulas, and he is seen “With seven heads, budding monstrous crimes

35 Rebeca Helfer, Spenser’s Ruins and the Art of Recollection (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), 138–39.

Because of the removal of two prior sonnets, this appears as sonnet eight in the Theatre, and thus the center of the sequence. Lawrence Manley points out that in positioning it here, “Van der Noot highlights a pointed conflict between the Earthly City and the New Jerusalem. The nymph’s lament divides a diptych on either half of which lie three emblems of Roman glory fallen (5–7 and 9–11) and four symmetrically opposed visions, Du Bellay’s of Rome (1–4) and Van der Noot’s from Revelation (12–15).” Spenser moves the sonnet back to its original place. “Spenser and the City: The Minor Poems,” Modern Language Quarterly 43 (1982): 209–10. 36


anew” (“Foisonnant en sept chefz de vices monstrueux”) (10.12). If these heads still represent the seven hills of Rome, they more strongly reflect the seven deadly sins that have assailed the city. Furthermore, the nymph who weeps by a river in this sonnet also connects to the nymphs who dance by a clear spring in sonnet twelve until a hideous troupe of satyrs rout them and muddy the stream with their villainy, a possible commentary on the devastating effect of the Reformation on the living stream of the word of God. There is still an attack on the corruption in Rome, but one that sees a beauty that can and should be restored. The poet responds to earthly vanity not by fleeing it, but by mourning it and longing for its permanence. There is no room for triumph, only for complaint.

Translating Complaint in The Ruines of Rome Spenser capitalizes on this longing, this demand for redemption that leaves the poet in suspension, when he moves from du Bellay’s Songe to his Antiquitez de Rome, writing what C. S. Lewis calls “one of the weightiest, the most chastened, and the most sonorous of Spenser’s minor poems.” One of the reasons The Ruines of Rome has been chastened or at least deemed problematic is its ambiguous posture to the poet’s poetic and religious vision, moving further away from the simple dualism of Protestant forms of contemptus mundi apocalypticism.37 In this poem Rome appears as a monument to a splendor that has passed rather than as evidence of God’s wrath upon the vanities of the proud. Scholars often point to two seemingly contradictory postures toward the relics of splendor


C. S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954),



the poet observes in the ruins of Rome—Andrew Fichter calls them “contempt for earthly beauty” and “sorrow at its demise”; Huw Griffiths calls them “regret for the passing of worldly spendour” and “the denigration of worldliness”—which Spenser’s Ruines of Rome never ultimately chooses between.38 The dual posture of regret and scorn correspond to the duality with which du Bellay himself views the city in his poem, whose title page describes it as a “generale description de [la] grandeur” (“a general description of the greatness”) of Rome, containing “un deploration de sa Ruine” (“a lamentation of her ruin”).39 Brown argues that du Bellay’s “shifting exploration of parallel ideas…articulate[s] his central perception of Rome as inherently paradoxical.”40 In the context of the complaint, these postures correspond to different eschatologies, one in which earthly glory will die and another in which it will be reborn. As the echoes of Ecclesiastes are more pronounced in the Antiquitez, this possible optimism becomes problematic. According to the Preacher, the wise man is forgotten just as much as the fool (2:16); the holy man is forgotten just as much as the wicked (8:10), and after death a man’s possessions are left to arbitrary successors (2:18–19). But du Bellay’s entire sequence longs to disprove that message, and in many places the poet seems optimistic that he has succeeded in that quest. This particular hope, as Fichter points out, is not necessarily any more Christian than his despair had been; it is still an attempt to find

Andrew Fichter, “‘And Nought of Rome in Rome Perceiu’st at All’: Spenser’s Ruines of Rome,” Spenser Studies 2 (1981), 184; Griffiths, “Translated Geographies.” Fichter usefully explains this paradoxical posture by arguing that Spenser demonstrates the intentional limitations of the poet; by vacillating between a medieval contemptus mundi complaint and a Renaissance expression of awe as he views the ruins of Rome, the poem ultimately suggests that “We are not finally restricted to the choice” between the two extremes but rather invited to look beyond the destruction to a view of Protestant historiography. 38

Qtd. in Hassan Melehy, The Poetics of Literary Transfer in Early Modern France and England (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010), 32. 39


Brown, “Forming the ‘First Garland of Free Poësie,’” 6.


glory on earth, even using religious language for its secular aim. Thus even as Spenser draws from du Bellay an eschatology that points neither to destruction and triumph nor to cyclical repetitions but rather to resurrection, his poet maintains the ambiguity of his tenuous position in a rebirth that is always not yet. While the Songe ou Vision had evoked the complaint of the Preacher in its first sonnet, the Antiquitez begins undercutting the biblical complaint in its very first sentence. The opening invocation to the “heavenly spirites” (“Divinis Esprits”) of Rome boldly asserts that while their “ashie cinders” (“la poudreuse cendre”) lie under ruins, their praise lives on “Through your faire verses” (“par voz beaux vers”) (1.1–4) and will never die. While such an assertion seems predictable enough for elegiac verse, it poses certain problems in the context of the Preacher’s complaint that bemoaned the distressing impossibility of securing human remembrance through wealth, wisdom, or even holiness. Though the Geneva Bible handles the troubling assertion that the wise man is forgotten as much as the fool by adding the qualifier “meaning, in this worlde” (2:16), du Bellay begins his poem by openly countering it, insisting that through poetry there is the possibility of a lasting remembrance on earth. Poetry as a source of hope sounds dangerously similar to the Preacher’s “making manie bokes and muche reading” which he decries as “a wearines of the flesh” (12:12). If we take the speaker’s hope at face value, poetry can become a dangerous counterpoint to the Preacher’s warnings against vanity, one that ultimately achieves earthly immortality. In a sense, poetry becomes idolatrous. These undertones of idolatry become more pronounced as the sequence progresses. The second sonnet asserts that even the crumbling material of the ruins themselves can serve as a “temple de Memoire” (2.10); whether this refers to memory in general or the memory of the pagan glory of Rome in particular, memory has its own 53

place of worship. By the fifth sonnet, in fact, the idolatry is explicit. The poet asserts that the spirit of Rome is saved from ashes by poetry when “her braue writings, which her famous merite / In spite of time, out of the dust doth reare, / Doo make her Idole through the world appeare” (“ses escripts, qui son loz le plus beau / Malgré le temps arrachent du tumbeau, / Font son idole errer parmy le monde”) (5.12–14). Spenser’s translation “In spite of time” adds an extra layer of meaning that highlights not only poetry’s ability to provide human remembrance despite time, but also in opposition to time. His translation also capitalizes du Bellay’s term “idole,” as if to emphasize and personify the sacrilege. Religious language continues to creep in throughout the sequence, as the poet invokes the “sacred ruines” (“Sacrez costaux”) (7.1) in the seventh sonnet; the French adds other religious epithets—“sainctes ruines” (7.1) and “ames divines” (7.4)—while the English adds a reference to “your last reliques” (7.11). Relics appear several other times in the sequence, such as when the fifteenth sonnet observes the “dusty reliques” (“les reliques cendreuses”) (15.4) of Rome’s “ashie ghoasts” (“Umbres poudreuses”) (15.1), or when the passersby glean the scattered relics left by Barbarian hoards (30.13–14). There may be hope for earthly remembrance, but it is in a potentially profane source, in the idolatrous hope for human glory found in poetry, in relics gathered into pagan temples to memory. Even without the potentially sacrilegious language, the very quest to create lasting human remembrance demonstrates the pride of human ambition. For there can be no mistake that the poet presents Rome’s chief sin as pride. In a sonnet about Rome’s aspiration for world domination, the poet eulogizes “her greatnes, which did threate the skies” (“la grandeur qui le ciel menassoit”) (4.8). We are back to the language of Isaiah, to Babylon/Lucifer who had aspired to “ascend into heauen,” and “exalt my throne beside 54

the starres of God” (14:13), the language from Genesis of the Tower of Babel “whose toppe may reach vnto the heauen” as its builders were, according to the Geneva commentators, “moued wt pride and ambition, thinking to prefarre their own glorie to Gods honour” (11:4). Repeatedly throughout the sequence, the poet delivers hints of the capital sin: the city’s “presumptuous boasts” (“orgueilleux sejour”) (15.3) and “ruin’d pride” (15.12); the “presumptuous might” (“l’effroyable audace)” (17.4) of the imperial eagle; the city’s “great sinnes, the causers of their paine” (“les pechez, / jusqu’icy se sont tenus”) that still remain under the “antique ruines” (“vieilles ruines”) (19.13–14); the identification of the specific sins of idleness, ease, and ambition that caused the city to become “swolne with plenties pride” (“l'envieux orgueil”) (23.12/13); the “old sinne, whose vnappeased guilt / Powr’d vengeance forth on you eternallie” (“vieil peché qui d’un discord mutin / Exerçoit contre vous sa vengeance eternelle”) (24.10–11); “The antique pride” (“L’antique orgueil”) and “haughtie heapes” (“monts audacieux”) that once “menaced the skie” (“menassoit les cieux”) (27.2–3).41 Rome’s sin of pride casts suspicion on the poet’s own hubristic goal of gaining immortal glory for the city through the sequence. Furthermore, the poem’s place within the discourse about loss and remembrance highlight different, apparently conflicting understandings of time: the linear progression that we saw in the Songe ou Vision, and the cyclical progression that we saw in Ecclesiastes. The concrete images of ruins still imply a linear view of history as the poet sees the

In some of these places the French and the English have different emphases. In sonnet fifteen, for example, du Bellay’s “orgueilleux sejour” would be better translated “proud abode,” and Spenser’s “ruin’d pride” is an elaboration of du Bellay’s “costaux Romains.” In sonnet nineteen, du Bellay’s “jusqu’icy se sont tenus cachez” implies that the hidden vices are becoming more overt, while Spenser’s use of the verb “remain” hearkens to the struggle in Ecclesiastes to find a lasting remembrance; while glory fades, sin remains. In sonnet twenty three, “envieux orgueil” would better be translated “envious pride.” 41


magnificent products of human achievement reduced to mere rubble, indicating to the poet not only that “all things which beneath the Moone have being / Are temporal, and subject to decay” (“toute chose au dessous de la Lune / Est corrompable et sugette à mourir”) (9.10–11), but also that “all this whole shall one day come to nought” (“ce grand Tout doit quelquefois perir”) (9.14), a point worth repeating several times as the relics of Rome reveal “that all in th’end to nought shall fade” (“que tout en rien doit un jour devenir”) (20.14).42 In this scheme of history, time is a destructive force: Rome falls as “The pray of time, which all things doth devowre” (“devint proye au temps, qui tout consomme”) (3.8); and the ruins “do for a time make warre / Gainst time” (“au temps pour un temps facent guerre / Les bastimens”), but are doomed to fail when “time in time shall ruinate / Your workes and names” (“est-ce le temps / Œuvres et noms finablement atterre”) (7.9–11). In the temporal, material world, time and matter are at war, a war that time seems to win. Yet this linear progression, or perhaps digression, of time that makes war against the material order is not the only possibility in the Antiquitez. Early in the sequence we are presented with other kinds of material substances less tenuous than the marble Rome, producing an alternative model that develops alongside the linear one. The third sonnet ends by bemoaning the “worlds inconstancie” (“mondaine inconstance”) because “That which is firme doth flit and fall away, / And that is flitting, doth abide and stay” (“Ce qui

Surprisingly, this is almost the opposite conclusion to the one Spenser’s poet draws in his own Visions of the Worlds Vanitie. While the other visions in the poem showed great creatures being destroyed by the small, sonnet eleven shows the Roman empire being saved by the warnings of a goose, and thus those who try to deface “mean things” are the “vaine men,” and we learn that “nought on earth can chalenge long endurance” (11.14). 42


est ferme, est par le temps destruit, / Et ce qui fuit, au temps fait resistance”)43 (3.12–14). Now there are two kinds of material, the firm and the flitting, and it is the flitting that remains. In the sixteenth century “flitting” can imply movement, the state of being shifting and inconstant, or evanescence, the state of being insubstantial. Thus in either case there is a paradox; that which is transitory remains, and that which is insubstantial is left behind. Later in the sequence, the poet develops the idea of two alternative kinds of matter when he complains to heaven because its “hands long sithence traueiled / To frame this world, that doth endure so long” (“jadis ont travaillé voz mains / A façonner ce monde qui tant dure”) (9.5–6) and had not bothered to make Rome out of the same enduring material. Now we are returning to the unchanging order of the universe from the book of Ecclesiastes, the world in which the sun rises and sets and rises again, the wind travels north and south, the rivers pour into the sea but return to the place whence they came, and “there is no new thing vnder the sunne” (1:4–9), the world characterized by a tiresome changelessness which human ambition cannot break enough that someone could potentially say “Beholde this, it is newe” (1:10). By this account, the reason that Rome’s crumbling ruins are so grievous to behold is that they are set up against other substances that do remain in the wearisome constancy of the natural order. Thus there is a kind of organic cyclicality to the matter of the city. When the Barbarian hoards destroy Rome, they are depicted as “beating downe these walls with furious mood / Into her mothers bosome” (“Ces braves murs accabla sous sa main, / Puis se perdit dans le sein de sa mere”) (11.11–12), and thus their ruin is not decay but a

43 Spenser slightly alters this line from du Bellay who personifies time as the destroyer of what is firm who is resisted by inconstancy, though the French does not have a parallel name for “that [which] is flitting.” Ibid., 24.


return. The Preacher described this cyclical view in which “all was of the dust, and all shal returne to the dust” (3:20), or again, that dust will “returne to the earth as it was” (12:7). Now the decay of the city is not merely part of a linear digression but an organic process. Sonnet eighteen expands on this idea, demonstrating that just as the city walls had once been shepherds’ enclosures and the palaces had once been shepherds’ cottages, the glorious structures are now returning to their humble origins, and thus heaven “Doth show, that all things turne to their first being” (“Monstre que tout retourne à son commencement”) (18.14). Furthermore, as the sequence progresses, this organic process of birth, growth, and death also allows for the rebirth necessary to make it truly cyclical. Sometimes the earth seems to be merely returning to its primordial chaos, but even then as “The bands of th’elements shall backe reverse / To their first discord, and be quite undonne (Rompra des elemens le naturel accord… Retourneront encor' à leur premier discord),” we see hints of the possibility for rebirth as “The seedes, of which all things at first were bred, / Shall in great Chaos wombe againe be hid” (“Les semences qui sont meres de toutes choses…Au ventre du Chaos eternellement closes”) (22.11–14). After all, while the womb implies a return to origins, it also implies the beginning of a new life; if they are seeds, they could always sprout again, even from chaos. By the end of the sequence, the poet makes this process of rebirth or resurrection explicit. In the modern view of the city, astonished visitors can watch how “these olde fragments are for paternes borne” (“Ces vieux fragmens encor servent d’exemples”) by contemporary workmen. In this way we can observe how Rome “from day to day, / Repayring her decayed fashion, / Renewes herselfe with buildings rich and gay” (“de jour en jour / Rome fouillant son antique sejour / Se rebatist de tant d’œvres divines”) (27.9–11). Spenser turns du Bellay’s “œvres divines” to “buildings rich and gay,” giving a 58

more human face, albeit a potentially gaudy one, to the resurrected city. The French makes the implications of rebirth explicit in a way the English does not when the Roman dæmon is striving “Againe on foote to reare her pouldred corse” (“Ressusciter ces poudreuses ruines”) (27.14); the ruins are resurrected.44 Resurrection is different from unchanging cyclicality; the creature who dies and leaves behind its progeny has taken its part in the ever-repeating patterns of cyclical history, while the creature who has emerged from death into a new existence from the material of the old has created a new kind of history. By suggesting resurrection, du Bellay is not merely continuing a pattern of passing down traits to one’s genetic successors, but creating a new resurrected order from the very matter of the old, like Christ emerging on the first day of the week as the first fruits of the new creation with the same body that had once died. But undertones of resurrection do not guarantee that the hope for earthly remembrance is necessarily Christian; the possibility for idolatry still remains in the worship of material objects as if they were the divinity they were meant to reflect. In sonnet twenty-nine, the poet spends eleven lines eulogizing Rome as the apex of culture and wealth, saying that all that art could achieve anywhere in the world was there to see. Then halfway through line twelve there is a “marvelous great change” (“merveille profonde”), and the concluding couplet reveals that Rome has gone from being “the worlds sole ornament” (“l’ornement du monde”) to “the worlds sole moniment” (“du monde le tumbeau”) (29.12–14). As the tomb of the world, du Bellay’s Rome represents the death into which all human achievement and earthly glory decays; as the monument

44 Without citing this passage in particular, Richard Cooper identifies du Bellay’s emphasis on the rebuilding of Rome’s splendor as a Petrarchan view, at odds with a concurrent Hesdin view of Rome as irreparably dead. “Poetry in Ruins: The Literary Context of du Bellay’s Cycles on Rome,” Renaissance Studies 3 (1989): 156–66.


of the world, Spenser’s Rome represents the lasting remembrance of human achievement, the earthly glory that remains after the human lives have passed. In crossing from “tumbeau” into “moniment,” Spenser takes the ruins from vestige into shrine; they are not crumbling into forgetfulness but rather securing remembrance. As the decay of du Bellay’s tomb is transformed into a commemorative monument, the poem is transformed from elegy to eulogy, and the very images that represent the death of earthly glory for the French poet now guarantee its continuance, in spite of Scripture as much as in spite of time. Yet just because the poet seems to go against Ecclesiastes does not mean that he is unchristian; after all, the Christian has been given the next chapter of the story of human history, one that involves a resurrection that has already begun within the matter of creation. In the next sonnet, the cycle becomes even more redemptive as the ruins of Rome are compared not to rebirth but to harvest, not to the cycle of history but to its telos. The city begins “Like as the seeded field greene grasse first showes” (“Comme le champ semé en verdure foisonne”) (30.1), then proceeds from grass into stalk, from stalk into ear, from ear into grain, and from grain into sheaves of harvest, a metaphor that illustrates the Roman Empire growing by degrees until the Barbarians harvest it. But by that analogy, the Barbarians are not merely a destructive force; they are not the fires that burn the wheat fields, but the “husband [who] mowes” (“le rustique moissonne”) (30.5). Furthermore, the harvesters did not exhaust the fields but rather left of it but these olde markes to see, Of which all passers by doo somewhat pill— As they which gleane, the reliques use to gather, Which th’husbandman behind him chanst to scater. (ne laissa de luy que ces marques antiques, Que chacun va pillant—comme on void le gleneur Cheminant pas à pas recueillir les reliques 60

De ce qui va tumbant apres le moissonneur.) (30.11–14) Certainly these lines carry with them a sense of loss, a sense of longing for the full harvest that the Barbarian hoards wrongfully stole. Yet at the same time they compare the remaining vestiges of Rome to a harvest, the final destined—and even desired—end of the prior growth and development. In this way, we have moved beyond both the grievous decay of the linear view of history and the weary stagnancy of the cyclical view of history; we have moved into a Christian eschatology of the resurrection through the cross. This sonnet hearkens to Christ’s words in John 12 when he foretells his death, saying that “Verely, verely I say vnto you, Except the wheate corne fall into the grounde & dye, it bideth alone: but if it dye, it bringeth forthe muche fruite” (John 12:24). For a sonnet that describes passersby gathering the vestiges of the former glory of Rome, the analogy is surprisingly redemptive, and the reader comes to the last couple of sonnets given hope for a redemptive conclusion that the poet has still not delivered. And “hope” is indeed the first word of the final sonnet, but it is in an interrogative form, the poet turning the question directly on the poem itself: Hope ye my verses that posteritie Of age ensuing shall you euer read? Hope ye that euer immortalitie So meane Harpes work may chalenge for her meed? (Esperez vous que la posterité Doive, mes vers, pour tout jamais vous lire? Esperez vous que l’œuvre d’une lyre Puisse acquerir telle immortalité?) (32.1–4) After a build-up that prepared the reader for a climax of hope for a resurrection eschatology, the sequence has returned to its first premise to question it, creating an


ambivalence for the entire poetic project.45 The poet began the sequence with an invocation that declares that the praise for the spirits of Rome will never die because of their fair verses; he proceeded to highlight problems in both the linear digression of time and the cyclical model; he identified hints of an alternative model of resurrection that has neither the termination of linearity nor the stasis of cyclicality; then in the final sonnet, as the poet should be ready to secure his victory, he questions whether the verses he wrote have been enough to secure the immortality he seemed to find so certain in the first sonnet. As the poet continues, he explains the reason for the sudden shift in confidence. If under heaven anie endurance were, These moniments, which not in paper writ, But in Porphyre and Marble doo appeare, Might well have hop’d to have obtained it. (Si sous le ciel fust quelque eternité, Les monumens que je vous ai fait dire, Non en papier, mais en marbre et porphyre, Eussent gardé leur vive antiquité.) (32.5–8) The poet, after all, has just spent 434 lines observing that nothing on earth endures; the crumbling ruins of Rome are a case in point. Poetry seems at this point to be firmly situated in the realm of the material, and the decay of the city is still sitting before the mournful eyes of the poet. While the poet longs for some kind of rebirth, his poetry is still caught in the pattern of linear history in which time ruins everything, in which that which was firm flits and flies away. No longer do we have Rome’s “brave writings” rising “In

For discussions of du Bellay’s ambivalence, see A. E. B. Coldiron, “How Spenser Excavates Du Bellay’s ‘Antiquitez’; or, The Role of the Poet, Lyric, Historiography, and the English Sonnet,” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 101 (2002): 41–67; G. W. Pigman, “Du Bellay’s Ambivalence Towards Rome in the Antiquitez,” in Rome in the Renaissance, ed P. A. Ramsay (Binghamton, NY: MRTS, 1982); and Margaret Ferguson, “‘The Afflatus of Ruin’: Meditations on Rome by Du Bellay, Spenser, and Stevens,” in Roman Images, ed. Annabel M. Patterson (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), 23–50. 45


spite of time” as an “Idole through the world”; now the poet has opened the possibility that paper will prove to be even more fleeting than marble, and, as Brown argues, “the complaint mode’s traditional perception of the instability of the world” has been applied “to the status of poetry itself.”46 If these “faire verses” are doomed to die more quickly than the firmer monuments, the entire project has proved to be a failure. Or has it? The octave of du Bellay’s final sonnet remains in the subjunctive, and the sestet, after an initial two lines in the imperative, returns to the subjunctive for the final punch. Despite the bleak prospects of the project, the poet commands his lute, play on, “For if that time doo let thy glorie live” (“Car si le temps ta gloire ne desrobbe”) (32.11), it can boast that it is the first to have sung “Th’olde honour of the people gowned long” (“L’antique honneur du peuple à longue robbe”) (32.14) in the French tongue. As Thomas M. Greene makes clear, this imperative in the context of the ambiguities of the poem is crucial: “The poet will not silence his lute despite the loss that makes up history.”47 The poet seems to be holding up the possibility that his verses may yet achieve immortality, as tenuous as the project may have seemed in the octave. There are two possible explanations for this hope. It could be a false hope, as the Preacher could have told him to begin with, for we have already seen the fate of poetry and the earthly remembrance it represents being interwoven with the material world that fades over time. In that case, du Bellay has depicted an unreliable speaker in order to encourage the reader to question the false ambition for worldly vanity. Or it could be the early seeds of


Brown, “The New Poet,” 23.

47 Thomas M. Greene, The Light in Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982), 228. Greene’s discussion of du Bellay on pp. 220–41 expands on the ironies of exile and rediscovery, decay and resurrection, and translation and creation at work in the Antiquitez.


a profoundly Christian hope based on an eschatology of resurrection, of a new order of creation emerging from the matter of the old, if time indeed lets the verses live. In any case, the fate of poetry is bound up in the fate of the material world, just as the honor of the French poet is bound up with the antique honor of the people “gowned long.” The reader has been given ample reason to take the closing subjunctive either way, and the echoes of Ecclesiastes can either dismiss the final hope of the poet or be reborn into a Christian eschatology of the resurrection. Spenser adds a closing envoy to the sequence that embraces du Bellay’s project, as tenuous as the hope was, and seems to put his own poetic ambition in the same terms. Indeed, even writing it at all makes a certain statement about resurrection. Melehy points out that since Spenser had not translated du Bellay’s dedicatory sonnet, the inclusion of the envoy restores the number of sonnets to the original thirty-three, a number that Christian tradition associates with the death and resurrection of Christ, and thereby with eternal life.48 With overt praise characteristic of humanistic poets he eulogizes: Bellay, first garland of free Poësie That France brought forth, though fruitfull of braue wits, Well worthie thou of immortalitie, That long hast traueld by thy learned writes, Olde Rome out of her ashes to reuiue, And giue a second life to dead decayes: Needs must he all eternitie suruiue, That can to other giue eternal dayes. (1–8) In this octave, the poet identifies the project of his French predecessor as one of reviving the ashes of Rome, of giving second life to dead decays. It is the project of resurrection, of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37 that are given new flesh on the very vestiges of the

Hassan Melehy, “Spenser and Du Bellay: Translation, Imitation, Ruin,” Comparative Literature Studies 40 (2003): 431. 48


old matter. The poet seems to declare that du Bellay has achieved the goal he set out to achieve: to win immortality to Rome through the honor of his verse, and to win immortality for himself as long as the glory of Rome lasts.49 The poet and the city have been bound up together in the verse, and through their mutual glory they both receive immortal glory. If du Bellay can give Rome rebirth in his poetry, the poet also will live on, and thus implicitly as Spenser gives du Bellay rebirth in his poetry he seeks immortality as well. It is a tenuous project, and it has come through complaint, through poetry that highlights the great disparity between what is and what should be.

Transforming Complaint in The Ruines of Time Eventually Spenser would bring this tenuous hope bound up in the suspension of complaint into an English context. Placed at the front of the 1591 Complaints and wellreceived among Spenser’s contemporaries, The Ruines of Time holds primacy in the volume and prepares the reader to receive the poet’s own vision for complaint.50 Not only does it transpose the lament for Rome into a lament for London and transpose eulogy for the French du Bellay into one for the English Sidney, but it also transposes du Bellay’s quest to elegize or achieve worldly glory into his own. Thus it is the place in which we see most clearly that “Spenser was a conscious artist, well aware of the conventions and interested in using them in English to demonstrate the marvelous possibilities of that language, but

49 Tom Muir, however, provides a Freudian argument that this commonplace desire for perpetuity, of the endless repetition is paradoxically a desire for death. “Specters of Spenser: Translating the Antiquitez,” Spenser Studies 25 (2010): 327–61. 50 For the enthusiastic reception and eventual repression of The Ruines of Time, see Bruce Danner, Edmund Spenser’s War on Lord Burghley (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 88–102.


fundamentally independent and experimental.”51 As scholars have long noted, it is the poem in which Spenser takes the lessons he learns from du Bellay and from poetic complaint broadly and creates a poem that is his own contribution to the same conversation, his own voice in the same poetic mode. The importance of the poem for understanding Spenser’s own poetic vocation is indubitable, and Leigh DeNeef proposes that it can be read as his own Apology for Poetry, a literary tribute to Sidney that enacts his own theorems. Melehy furthermore calls it “no less than a manifesto for a renewed English poetry, founded on the ruins of the past, a new life springing forth on the funeral monuments of the dead.”52 Importantly, however, the renewed English poetry built on the ruins of complaint and vision sonnets undermines its own hope. The first half of the poem features the complaint of a unreliable speaker who evokes Ecclesiastes somewhat dubiously and seems to counter its message before disappearing into thin air, and the second half features dream visions that seem to promote a dualistic portrayal of reality while the dreamer refuses to find the triumph of heaven they proclaim consoling. Ultimately, the poem presents two forms of remembrance after death, poetic immortality and heavenly immortality, and refuses to take consolation in either. Spenser evokes but dismisses a triumphalist dualism, and combines contemptus mundi complaint with vocation. For the complainant, however, vocation does not give hope but suspends it. The basic format for this supposed apology of poesy, or at least of complaint, combines techniques Spenser learned in his translations of Petrarch and du Bellay with

Hallett Smith, “The Use of Conventions in Spenser’s Minor Poems,” in Form and Convention in the Poetry of Edmund Spenser, ed. William Nelson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), 125.f 51

52 Leigh DeNeef, “‘The Ruins of Time’: Spenser’s Apology for Poetry,” Studies in Philology 3 (Summer, 1979), and Spenser and the Motives of Metaphor (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1982), 28–40; Hassan Melehy, “Antiquities of Britain: Spenser’s Ruines of Times,” Studies in Philology 102 (2005): 159.


traditional English pastoral complaint. The poet begins the poem standing on the “shore / Of siluer streaming Thamesis” (1–2) just as du Bellay had been standing beside the Tiber, encountering a weeping woman who identifies herself by the name of Verlame, the spirit of the Roman British city Verulamium, reminiscent of figures in the Visions of du Bellay and Petrarch.53 Yet until the last two hundred lines, Spenser’s poem is not a series of emblematic sonnets that could be illustrated with woodcuts as van der Noot attempted with du Bellay; the first 490 lines are in the mode of a traditional medieval English complaint, and thus we have the genius of a British city speaking in an English mode.54 The woman is, in Bart van Es’s terms, a “monument-less monument” to the city of which no trace remains, and her “piteous plaint” (29) for her forlorn state as “The worlds sad spectacle, and fortunes scorne” (28) dominates the poem, running from line 22 to 469.55 Bewailing the vanishing glories of Rome, of London, of herself, of various contemporary figures, and of human achievement broadly speaking, she defines the vocation of a poet as one that keeps past glory alive in the present through grief. But even her own versified sorrow is proved ephemeral when she herself vanishes, and the poet’s thought returns home in a daze. Initially he renews her complaint in “frosen horror” until, “inlie greeuing in my groning brest, / And deepelie muzing at her doubtfull speach, / Whose meaning much I labored foorth to wreste” (483–86), he receives his own set of visions as

For a discussion of the opening as typical of de casibus complaint, see Moore, Politics of Spenser’s Complaints, 12–16. 53

54 By focusing on her Englishness and the later reference to Camden, Thomas A. Prendergast compellingly argues that Spenser uses her voice to create “an occulted form of historicism,” “a melancholic history, born of the loss of material medieval monuments and based on the phantasmatic recreation of that which was lost.” “Spenser’s Phantastic History, The Ruines of Time, and the Invention of Medievalism.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 38 (2008): 176. 55

Bart van Es, Spenser’s Forms of History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 34.


an interpretive aid. There are twelve visions, as Spenser had written in his Visions of the Worlds Vanitie, broken into two sets of six: six to show the transience of even the purest form of earthly glory and six to show the transfer of earthly glory into heaven. Problematically, the transfer of glory from earth to heaven does not seem to be an encouragement for the earthly poet; each time he responds not with hope but with grief. The very set-up of the poem suggests a dualistic and thus unsatisfactory answer to the problem of Ecclesiastes that dismisses the material world entirely, for the only hope to the Preacher’s despair is in a disembodied heaven. The poem’s primary tension between earthly remembrance and heavenly glory begins in the first stanza when we are introduced to our first complainant, whom we have reason not to trust from the beginning. The speaker’s portrayal of the woman sorrowfully wailing by the Thames is initially uncertain: he doubts “Whether she were one of that Riuers Nymphes” who might be lamenting “the losse of some dere loue,” or whether she is “one of those three fatall Impes,” or even whether she is “th’auncient Genius of that Citie brent” (15–19). In this initial interpretive dilemma, the speaker indicates that an abandoned woman, one of the Fates, and the spirit of a desolate city may look the same, a merging of love, religion, and politics. Though she does identify herself as the latter in line 41, the personal and religious connotations remain. Scholars such as Deborah Cartmell and Hannibal Hamlin have pointed out that the motif of the woman by the river was a familiar image drawn from Psalm 137 when the Hebrew exiles weep by the rivers of Babylon, which the Geneva Bible interprets as representing the people of God weeping “in their banishment seeing Gods true religion decaie” in the Roman church. Furthermore, in a poem full of biblical resonances, an abandoned woman may not be an innocent victim; the prophets are chocked full of references to the people of Israel as a 68

faithless wife whom God will abandon to the shame of her sin.56 From the beginning, the speaker introduces an interpretive dilemma regarding the identification of the main complainant with serious moral and theological implications. When the wailing woman eventually identifies herself as the spirit of the Roman city Verulamium, the interpretive dilemma becomes more complex. From the time of Millar MacLure and Carl Rasmussen, scholars have been identifying Verlame with Roman Catholic pride, interpreting her lament and eventual exhortation to Colin Clout to memorialize her fallen prince Sidney as an attempt to build poetry into a new House of Pride now that Rome has fallen.57 For Cartmell, her lament does not represent the weeping of the captive daughter of Zion in Psalm 137 but rather the taunts of her foreign oppressors who tell the exiled people to sing their songs in a land of their captivity.58 Hamlin still allows for Verlame to reflect the captive Israel of the psalm, but only insofar as she “is a demonic parody of her biblical original,” representing the long-anticipated vengeance God will exact on Babylon, Rome, and the Catholic Church.59 Barbara Lewalski likewise interprets her lament for the passing of Rome’s “pride in pompous shew” (82) suspiciously, identifying her with “the transience of (Roman) worldly wealth


E.g. Jer. 3; Ezek. 16; Hos. 1–3.

57 Millar MacLure, “Spenser and the ruins of time,” in A Theatre for Spenserians, ed. J. M. Kennedy and James A Reither (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973), 6; Carl Rasmussen, “‘How Weak Be the Passions of Woefulness’: Spenser’s Ruines of Time,” Spenser Studies 2 (1981), 170. 58 Deborah Cartmell, “‘Beside the shore of siluer streaming Thamesis’: Spenser’s Ruines of Time,” Spenser Studies 6 (1985): 77–82. 59 Hannibal Hamlin, Psalm Culture and Early Modern English Literature (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 225.


and pomp.”60 From the beginning, Verlame gives readers plenty of reason to doubt the reliability of her lament; if she is the faithless woman abandoned by God for adultery, the spirit of Roman pomp and pride, then she has received exactly what she deserves. But in light of the echoes of Ecclesiastes, there is reason for a more nuanced interpretation of her lament. After all, as Carol Kaske points out, both Babylon and the New Jerusalem are depicted metaphorically in scripture as a woman, and in the Faerie Queene Spenser makes use of the motif for both; there is reason to interpret Verlame both in bono and in malo.61 Even without identifying the ambiguity of Spenser’s biblical poetics, the tendency Kaske identifies for Spenser freely to allow scripture “to appear at odds with itself” within his poetry, Richard Danson Brown sees the poem as Spenser’s attempt to reconcile an “exploration of the literary immortality offered by humanist poetry” with “apocalyptic world contempt.”62 Furthermore, for Helfer’s study of Spenser’s use of the Ciceronian art of memory, this apparent ambiguity does not indicate a tension in the author nor in the character of Verlame but rather is a symptom of Spenser’s own poetic vision, preserved “not through permanence but perpetuation, not through stasis but change, not as univocal but dialogic.”63 Especially in light of the scriptural echoes of the poem, there are grounds to interpret Verlame’s lament sympathetically without negating the suspicion of MacLure, Rasmussen, Cartmell, Hamlin, and Lewalski. From the beginning, after all, her lament reflects that of the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, and her first

Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979), 184. 60


Carol Kaske, Spenser and Biblical Poetics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 91.


Ibid., 106; Brown, “The New Poet,” 100.


Rebeca Helfer, Spenser’s Ruins, 137.


words are a question he might have asked: “what delight (quoth she) in earthlie thing, / Or comfort can I wretched creature haue?” (22–23). Furthermore, the speaker’s initial reaction is not one of resistance as Cartmell’s interpretation would anticipate, but empathy, a key feature of complaint; he finds himself “mooued at her piteous plaint” and feels his “heart nigh riuen in my brest / With tender ruth to see her sore constraint” until he himself is shedding tears (29–32). While she is connected to Rome and thus exhibits grounds for suspicion to the Protestant reader, she is also connected to Ecclesiastes and thus exhibits grounds for sympathy to the Christian reader. Especially at the beginning of the poem when she concentrates on her own transience, her plaint aligns closely to Solomon’s familiar lament. This does not necessarily make her Christian per se—Solomon did not have the full vision of Christian eschatology, after all—but the biblical precedent allows her to be more than an embodiment of “a state of mind common to most fallen human beings, for whom the world’s happiness is everything and its loss is unrelieved catastrophe.”64 She describes herself as “ly[ing] in mine owne ashes” and being “but weeds and wastfull gras” (40–42), just as he had complained that the fate of men did not differ from that of beasts since “As the one dieth, so dieth the other: for they haue all one breath, and there is no excellencie of man aboue the beast: for all is vanitie. All goe to one place, and all was of the dust, and all shall returne to the dust” (3:19–20). She grieves the “vaine worlds glorie, and vnstedfast state / Of all that liues, on face of sinfull earth” (43–44) whose residents “crying creep out of their mothers womb / So wailing back go to their wofull toomb” (48–49), just as he had observed that as each man “came foorth of his mothers belly, he shall


William Allan Oram, Edmund Spenser (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1997), 133.


returne naked to goe as he came, and shall beare away nothing of his labour, which he hath caused to passe by his hand” (5:14). She describes flesh as “a bubble glas of breath” (50) and all humanity’s achievements as “a trophee for deuouring death” (52), just as he had “looked on all my workes that mine hands had wrought, and on the trauell that I had laboured to doe: and behold, all is vanitie and vexation of the spirite” (2:11), in his case because “I shall leaue [it] to the man that shall bee after me. And who knoweth whether hee shall bee wise or foolish?” (2:18–19). She portrays the monuments of human achievement turning to dust and being “ouergrowen with blacke obliuions rust” (98), just as he had asked “What remaineth vnto man in all his trauell, which he suffreth vnder the sunne?” (1:3). She bewails that her monument has become “Wasted…as if it neuer were” and “Is turnd to smoake, that doth to nothing fade” (120–24), just as he had asked “What remaineth vnto man in all his trauell, which he suffreth vnder the sunne?” (1:3). She is particularly grieved that she is not “remembred of posteritie” but instead “no man bewaileth… / Ne sheddeth teares from lamentable eie” (162–65), just as he had bemoaned that “There is no memorie of the former, neither shall there bee a remembrance of the latter that shal be, with them that shall come after” (1:11). She sees all her monuments “Forgotten quite as they were neuer borne” (182) and the worthy prince Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, dying just as obscurely “as one / Of the meane people” (190–91), just as he had realized that “It befalleth vnto me, as it befalleth to the foole: why therefore doe I then labour to be more wise? And I sayd in mine heart, that this also is vanitie” (2:15). By hearkening to Ecclesiastes, she aligns her complaint with Scripture’s, soliciting a sympathetic interpretation from biblically-minded readers. While this implicit connection to Ecclesiastes, which the Geneva translation attributes to Solomon, suggests a sympathetic reading of her complaint, the analogue 72

becomes problematic when she makes it explicit toward the end of her lament. The phenomena that “learning lies vnregarded / And men of armes doo wander vnrewarded” are noted as the “two great calamites, / That long agoe did grieue the noble spright / Of Salomon with great indiginities” (440–44). Awkwardly, when she evokes the author traditionally cited for Ecclesiastes, she misidentifies him for the author of “The Wisedome of Iesus the sonne of Sirach, called Ecclesiasticus.” It is in Ecclesiasticus, definitively not written by Solomon, that the author complains, “There be two things that grieue mine heart, and the thirde maketh me angrie: a man of warre that suffreth pouertie: and men of vnderstanding that are not set by” (26:29). Either Spenser himself has made a memory slip and confused the two similarly named books, or Verlame is not to be trusted with her biblical references. In fact, some of her other echoes of Ecclesiastes imply that she is no Solomon, nor a particularly faithful disciple of his. At times her cries illustrate the Preacher’s lessons by negative example, the same speaker portrayed in malo, or in Hamlin’s words her “demonic parody.” When she urges, “Looke Backe, who list, vnto the former ages, / And call to count, what is of them become” (57–58), her exhortation contains more nostalgia than the warning that Protestant exegetes tend to attribute to Ecclesiastes. If she is indeed homesick for her former days of glory, interestingly, she is recommending exactly what the Preacher forbids, warning “Say not thou, Why is it that the former daies were better then these?” (7:12). Nevertheless she continues to ask in three stanzas of ubi sunt poetry, “Where be those learned wits and antique Sages, / Which of all wisedome knew the perfect somme” (59–60); yet if she had read her Ecclesiastes she might have known that “there shalbe no remembrance of the wise, nor of the fool for euer” (2:16). In fact, among her images for potential nostalgia, she asks “where is that same great seuen 73

headded beast, / That made all nations vassals of her pride” (71–72) which she herself identifies as Rome whose “ruine I lament and rue” (78), thus making it clear to her Protestant readers that she is grieving what should not be grieved, the fall of Roman pomp and pride identified as the seven-headed beast from Revelation 13. Her biblical echoes arouse suspicion that she is an inaccurate exegete, a rebellious pupil, and a papist sympathizer. In this way, Spenser creates space for an ambiguous interpretation of her apology for poetry that dominates the second half of her complaint. When she shifts from herself to a lament for Leicester (184) and his brother Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick (239), their sister Mary Dudley and relative Francis Russell, Earl of Bedford (260), and most importantly Sir Philip Sidney, Mary Dudley’s son (279), she combines the wisdom of the Preacher with the follies against which he warns. On the one hand, she sounds like the Geneva Bible commentators when she decries the “trustlesse state of miserable men, / That builde your blis on hope of earthly thing, / And vainly thinke your selues halfe happie then” (197–99). She goes on to recommend, “what euer man bearst worldlie sway / Liuing, on God, and on thy selfe relie / For when thou diest, all shall with thee die” (208–09), a problematic exhortation because it lumps together trust in God with trust in self. But as she goes on it is clear that trust in self means trust in the storehouse of heaven a person deposits, the treasures laid “where neither the moth nor canker corrupteth, and where theeues neither dig through, nor steele” (Mt. 6:20). As she can look only to heaven to surmount the despair of earthly existence, she seems in line with the Geneva Bible’s argument for the book of Ecclesiastes, “that men should not be addicted to any thing vnder the Sunne, but rather inflamed with the desire of the heauenly life,” and so should “attaine to this heauenly treasure, which is sure and permanent, and cannot be found in 74

any other saue in God alone.” It may be a somewhat dualistic interpretation, one that does not allow for the redemption of material world, but it is at least orthodox by Geneva standards. After she scorns Colin Clout for his idleness, his neglect to memorialize the dead, she herself becomes the poet, and her lament takes a detour out of orthodoxy. First of all, she begins to take a stance on the immortality of poetry, a humanistic commonplace that is at odds with the biblical book she has been echoing. She tells Anne Russell, the wife of the dead Leicester and one of the poem’s dedicatees, that “Thy Lord shall neuer die, the whiles this verse / Shall liue, and surely it shall liue for euer” (253–54). Like the ruins of du Bellay, her poetry of complaint becomes another “temple de Memoire,” the continuance of earthly glory after death. As she shifts to Sidney, who had enlivened the world with his poetry, who had “madest the forrests ring, / And fields resownd, and flockes to leap and daunce” (325–26), she combines the immortality of his verse with that of her lament for him, for “there thou liuest, singing euermore, / And here thou liuest, being euer song / Of vs” (337–39), making him “both here and there immortall” (342). As Sidney himself had argued in his Defense of Poesy, those who “neither of themselues can sing, / Nor yet are sung of others for reward” are the ones who are doomed to “Die in obscure obliuion, as the thing / Which neuer was,” whose names will never “of the later age be heard, / But shall in rustie darknes euer lie” (344–49); suddenly the universal state of humanity from Ecclesiastes is applied only to those without commemorative verses. The Muses, she asserts, are able to break “The seuen fold yron gates of grislie Hell / …and thence the soules to bring awaie / Out of dread darkenesse, to eternall day / And them immortall make, which els would die / In foule forgetfulnesse, and nameles lie” (372–78), a preposterous claim that puts the pagan muses in the place of Christ harrowing 75

hell. While the notion of immortality through poetry may be a commonplace, and while it is entirely appropriate for a poem that commemorates the author of the Defense, in the context of the poem’s echoes of Ecclesiastes it is suspicious; as in the Antiquitez, poetry once again serves to rear an “Idole through the world.” Ultimately then, the conclusion of her complaint is ambiguous to the biblically minded reader. It is true enough that “deeds doe die, how euer noblie donne, / And thoughts of men do as themselues decay,” but the biblical poem has given us no grounds to assert like she does that “wise wordes taught in numbers for to runne, / Recorded by the Muses, liue for ay” (400–04). Again, while the Preacher would agree with her that “In vaine doo earthly Princes then, in vaine / Seeke with Pyramides, to heauen aspired” in an effort “To make their memories for euer liue” (407–12), he does not give any indication that poetry can serve as an alternative monument. There is a certain irony in the fact that Petrarch’s more optimistically titled Triumph of Time takes the opposite position on the poet’s ability to achieve eternal remembrance, stating that “Time dissolves not only visible things, / But eloquence, and what the mind hath wrought.”65 Her question of “how can mortall immortalitie giue?” (413) could be applied to the poet as much as to the builder, and thus by identifying herself with the Preacher who declares the impossibility of being remembered after death, Verlame undercuts her own concluding message of hope; she can only find hope for enduring in memory at the expense of the very scripture she invokes. But on the other hand, this very irony is one that her vexing biblical source also contains. Just as she places her hope in “wise wordes,” the Preacher concludes his poem


Qtd. in MacLure, “Spenser and the Ruins of Time,” 4.


with an unsolved riddle, searching similarly for “pleasant wordes, & vpright writing, euen the wordes of trueth” and “wordes of the wise,” right before he finishes with a final denunciation of the “making manie bokes and much reading” as “a wearines of the flesh” (12:10–12). After all, he had always been unclear about his search for wisdom: he denounced wisdom as being vain as folly (1:17) and yet says that wisdom is better than folly (2:13) despite the fact that the wise man’s possessions will be given to a fool (2:21). Similarly, Verlame encourages the poet to pursue eternal glory through wise and witty words, but makes him aware that as he does so he stands on tenuous ground, almost literally: on the ground where not even the ruins of Verulamium have endured. After proposing this problematic solution to the difficulty of human remembrance, asserting that the figures of the past live in the versified sorrow of those who grieve them, she makes her solution even more problematic by her last act: disappearing. Verlame herself had comforted Anne Russell with the assertion that Leicester “being dead is happie now much more / …because him dead thou dost adore / As liuing,” and thus, at least as long as she would live, “by thee thy Lord shall neuer die” (246–52); she had extended that hope beyond Russell’s life by insisting that Leicester would never die while Verlame’s own verse lived which would be forever; and then “hauing ended all her piteous plaint, / With dolefull shrikes shee vanished away” (470–71). This vanishing of the speaker is typical of medieval complaint and vision poetry, a common trope that leaves the narrator in suspense. To whatever extent she had embodied the poetic sorrow that keeps the past alive in the present, her disappearance seems to thwart the very hope she had given. Despite her assertion that “it is comfort in great languishment / To be bemoned with compassion kinde, / And mitigates the anguish of the mind” (159–61), even the comforting compassion she had offered to Russell disappears; she will not be the 77

one to memorialize his name “To be remembred of posteritie” (165). The awkward humanistic attempt to find immortality through poetry, tenuous as it always was, has failed as the memorializer disappeared. Instead, we are left with only the suspension of complaint. If the biblical foundation of the complaint that dismissed the possibility of earthly remembrance had sat awkwardly with its humanistic solution that found immortality through poetry, the plot twist veers the reader back into the realm of medieval complaint and vision poetry in which the complainant vanishes. Even her sorrow is mortal. But despite all the reasons to mistrust her message, the poet takes the reader down a different interpretive journey. While scholars who interpret Verlame with skepticism are likely to see the ending of the poem as a Christian vision that “corrects the largely secular vision of” her lament, both the narrator’s response and his introduction to his visions suggest rather a common pedagogical theme in the two sections.66 For one thing, rather than reacting to the scene with suspicion, he responds with “inward sorrowe” and “deep dismay, / For her departure,” and initially he “had no word to say” and “sate long time in sencelesse sad affright, / Looking still, if I might of her haue sight” (472–76). His initial response is one of empathy, which implies at least that from his preliminary assessment her grief is indeed grievous. Furthermore, when he cannot find her and his “thought returned greeued home again,” he begins “Renewing her complaint with passion strong, / For ruth of that same womans piteous paine” (478–80). Notably, it may not be he himself who returns home as one expects in traditional complaint, but specifically his thought. It could be that “thought” serves as a synecdoche for his whole


Oram, Edmund Spenser, 132.


pensive self, or it could be that his mind wanders “home,” a metonymy for his own metaphysical state of being. If it is the latter, and thus he is contemplating his own vain transcendence, then his “troubled brain” and the “anguish [that] wound[s] my feeble heart” in “frosen horror” (482–84) is an entirely fitting reaction to the contemplation of his own vain existence rather than being an exaggerated form of empathy. The poet has been faced with an existential problem which finds him “inlie greeuing in my groning breast, / And deepelie muzing at her doubtfull speach,” and he finds that the meaning of her lament is “aboue my slender reasons reach” (484–87). The twelve Pageants that conclude the poem are presented as a “demonstration” to teach him that meaning: the meaning of her lament for the transience of earthly splendor, of the power or failure of poetry to transcend mortality, and of his own part in this troubling vain history. The very form of the answer to this riddle suggests a dualistic solution in which the material world is fleeting and heaven is eternal. The visions come in a series of twelve fourteen-line, iambic-pentameter vignettes like the vision sonnets elsewhere in the volume, but his are pairs of rhyme royal stanzas rather than sonnets proper. This structural decision, while reflecting the vision sonnets that Spenser had written and translated, makes each vision a microcosm of the larger bipartite series that includes six visions of destruction and six of glory. Each of the first six visions includes seven lines that describe a material object of particular magnificence, with a reverse simile in line five to explain that the object is greater than some famous and normally perverse image from biblical or mythological history. Yet despite its glorious appearance, it is corrupted by its own materiality that is subject to destruction and scorn in the second seven-line stanza, leaving the poet grieving in the final line. The second series of six visions is also composed of seven-line pairs. The first show some material of pure beauty, and the 79

second show that earthly object being translated into heaven glory. Problematically, in five out of six of these latter visions, the narrator is also left grieving, and thus it seems that the immediate reaction to the hope of heavenly glory does not leave the mortal viewer encouraged. On closer investigation we learn why: the poet’s complaint is in fact the link between the dualisms he laments. The first six visions of destruction are reminiscent of the sonnets of du Bellay and Petrarch that observe the beauty of an object before watching it fall to sudden destruction. The first is “an Image, all of massie gold” which is greater than Nebuchadnezzar’s “great Idoll” from Daniel 3 (491–97); the second “a statelie Towre” reaching “nigh vnto the Heauens” which is greater than the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 (505–11); the third “a pleasant Paradize / Full of sweete flowres” which is greater than the one Merlin made for Belphœbe (519–25); the fourth a Giant “Of wondrous power, and of exceeding stature” who is greater than Goliath of 1 Samuel 17 (533–39); the fifth a golden bridge which is greater than the Emperor Trajan’s over the Danube (547–53); the sixth is two bears from the Dudley family crest “That saluage nature seemed not to haue” peerless among beasts of the world (561–67). Thus the first visions are pageants of idolatry, ambition to be like God, pleasures of love and poetry, human strength, empire, and even the lives of two of the men the poem commemorates. The image falls because it is built on an altar “built of brickle clay” that is worn away by rain (498–504); the tower falls because it a “vaine labour[] of terrestriall wit” that is placed “on so frayle a soyle” as sand (512–18); Belphœbe’s garden is a “short pleasure bought with lasting paine” because its “earthlie blis” and “pleasures vaine” are eventually wasted and fade (526–32); the giant with all his “pompe and fleshlie pride” trips and falls “into the deepe Abisse / Where drownd with him is all his earthlie blisse” (540–46); the bridge is a mere “earthlie thing” 80

that mere time brings to ruin (554–60); and even the mild bears cannot maintain their “state of blis, or stedfast happinesse” because the cave in which they slept “was but earth” (568–74) that fell upon them. Notably, the same fate befalls all the objects, whether they are morally corrupt (the image, the tower, the giant), ambiguous (the bridge), or pure (the garden, the bears)—Spenser’s own poetry and the men he memorializes are subject to the same fate as the enemies of God. They earned their destruction not by being bad, but by being “terrestriall,” “earthlie,” “fleshlie,” made of “brickle clay,” “frayle soyle,” and “earth.” All on earth is indeed vain after all. The poet’s grief at this series of images earns him a second set of visions. Initially he weeps and determines, “Henceforth all worlds felicitie I hate” (574), apparently because it is in the world and thus subject to death. But he is not ultimately left “Distraught twixt feare and pitie” (579). A voice calls to him, interpreting the visions with the message we have already heard from Verlame, this time almost a direct quotation from Ecclesiastes, warning him “That all is vanitie and griefe of minde,” and thus “Ne other comfort in this world can be, / But hope of heauen” (583–85). The voice bids the poet “To cast [his] eye” on “the other side,” an allusion to the disciples being commanded to cast their nets on the other side of the boat to find fish, where he would behold “other sights” (588). Then he receives six pageants in which material objects are assumed into heaven: “a snowie Swan of heauenly hiew” (590), “an Harpe stroong all with siluer twyne” (606), “A curious Coffer made of Heben wood” (617), “a stately Bed” complete with its own “goodly Virgine” awaiting her bridegroom (631–36), a wounded knight “vpon a winged steed” (646), and “an Arke of purest golde” (659) containing ashes of which heaven and earth are competing for possession. Each of these is an image of Sir Philip Sidney, the poetic apologist who had celebrated the “peerless poet” in his Defense, 81

and thus they also represent commemorative poetry broadly. The swan was a popular symbol for the poet in the Renaissance, and this is not Spenser’s first use of it; the gloss of the Shepheardes Calender reminds us that, though the swan is not known as a sweet singer, “a little before hir death, [she] singeth most pleasantly, as prophecying by a secrete instinct her neere destinie” (October [90]).67 Likewise, Orpheus’s harp continued to play after his death, according to Ovid’s Metamorphoses (11.50–53), and the images of the coffer, union of bride and bridegroom, dying knight, and burial ashes all relate specifically to death and the soul’s ascent. Thus rather than the poem serving simply as a memorialization of Sidney, it presents the death of Sidney as an emblematic answer to the broader problem of earthly transience lamented by Hebrew and English complainants alike. In all six cases, each of these figures ascend or are assumed into heaven, in contrast to the previous six images that were objects of waste and decay, complicating the poem’s dualism between the temporal and the eternal, the earthly and the heavenly, the material and the spiritual. The swan flies “aboue the earth” to “become an heauenly signe” (599–601); the harp is raised “aboue the clouds” as it makes a “most heauenly noyse” until it also becomes “in heauen a signe” (611–15); the coffer whose treasure “Exceed[s] all this baser worldes good” is brought by angels “Aboue the reach of anie liuing sight” until “it is transform’d into that starre, / In which all heauenly treasures locked are” (620–30); the virgin in the bed hears her Bridegroom call her from “farre away” and responds by cheerfully vanishing with her bed (638); the wounded knight, compared to Perseus who is “borne of heauenly seed,” strikes his “winged steed” who

67 The image of the swan to represent the poet traces back to Plato’s Phaedo and was revived in popular emblem books such as Andrea Alciati’s Emblemata (Lyon, 1551) and Geoffrey Whitney’s Choice of Emblemes (Leyden, 1586). Robert J. Clements, “Iconography on the Nature and Inspiration of Poetry in Renaissance Emblem Literature,” PMLA 70 (1955), 784–85.


“straight to heauen him bore” (646–57); the arc containing “th’ashes…of some great Prince… / Enclosde therein for endles memorie / Of him, whom all the world did glorifie” is fought for by heaven and earth until Mercury intervenes and carries it “aboue the skie / …To liue in heauen,” leaving not only the poet but the whole earth to “grieue exceedingly” (659–71). In every case, heaven receives the material object and what it represents—singer, song, body, soul, nobility, remembrance—and the poet is left on earth, grieving and deploring his own “sorrow” (602, 614), “languor” (644), “losse” (658), and “dole” (672). As Helfer argues, “Poetry may be immortal in heaven…but not necessarily on earth, as the title of Spenser’s poem suggests.”68 Sidney may be immortal in heaven, but on earth his position is itself contingent, fragile, and in danger of oblivion. If the anticipation of heavenly glory is an answer to Verlame’s complaint, the specter of the first six visions, and the lament of Ecclesiastes, it is not an answer that gives the poet any hope in his present earthly state. Indeed, perhaps it is not meant to give him that hope. After all, the voice that called to him between his visions had insisted that there cannot be comfort in this world except hope of heaven, and thus the only hope for the material realm is to leave it. Indeed, even in Helfer’s generally positive assessment of Spenser’s attempt to repair the ruins of time in his poetry, the method she outlines does so through “a narrative of change, contingency, and continuity,” celebrating poetry while “speak[ing] to the contingent nature of all edifices, material or memorial, within time.”69 Perhaps Verlame’s climactic hope that through poetry “fame with golden wings aloft doth flie, /


Helfer, Spenser’s Ruins, 137.

Rebeca Helfer, “Remembering Sidney, Remembering Spenser: The Art of Memory and The Ruines of Time,” Spenser Studies 22 (2007): 129; 69


Aboue the reach of ruinous day” in order to “assay / To mount to heauen” (419-27) is indeed the same ambition of Rome and Babel alike. Perhaps her vision for poetry is indeed akin to raising a tower “whose toppe may reach vnto the heauen” (Gn. 11:4), an image that emerges often in Spenser’s Complaints, particularly in the Ruines of Rome. For Rome had likewise attempted to raise its “high top aboue the starres” (4.1), when “the children of the earth / Heapt hils on hils, to scale the starrie skie” (Rome 12.1–2). This ambition forces Jove to bury them with hills in sonnet 4 or to attack them with thunderbolts in sonnet 12, lest their ambition “threate the skies” (Rome 4.8). The ambiguity of her message and indeed of the whole of The Ruines of Time, in which human ambition is vain except for poetic ambition, in which there is no hope for human remembrance except when there is, in which the whole material world decays except for the parts of it that are assumed into heaven, emerges because poetry links both sides of these dualisms. It is what connects the present earthly sorrow of the material realm to the future (or present for Sidney) heavenly joy of the spiritual realm. Complaint and commemoration are merely two sides of the same reality that poetry holds together. While he lives on earth, the poet can only complain, but it is his grief that unites him to the spiritual joys his very sorrow anticipates. Spenser’s most direct exploration of poetic complaint poses a sollution to the problem of the biblical complaint of Ecclesiastes, but it is unsatisfactory at least to the poet left in grief while he continues to live in this vain world. In some ways, it is the overall question of the mode itself, the demand to make sense of suffering, grief, transience, and injustice. In this case, the poet’s continued grief is the most faithful response to his vision, because the hope offered is one from which he is currently categorically separated. Whether or not Spenser’s own response to the problem of 84

Ecclesiastes was analogous to that of his poetic persona, it is telling that poetic complaint dominated his poetic career, from his early translations for the Theatre all the way down to his unfinished “Mutability Cantos,” allowing the mode to stand on its own or incorporating it throughout his unfinished epic. These works highlight the primary problem that vexes authors of complaint—the vanity of all human life, from abandoned women to fallen princes—and in some ways present complaint itself as the answer to its own problem, as it links vanity of the moral world to the joys of heaven, what is and what should be. As we will see in coming chapters, the devotional use of complaint, when complaint can become a prayer rather than merely homily, addresses this deferral of hope by putting pressure on the justice of Providence rather than the wiles of Fate, demanding redemption on earth rather than merely eternal justice in heaven. Without the hope for concrete redemption, we are left only with the hope of the final lines of the Ruines of Time: So vnto heauen let your high minde aspire, And loath this drosse of sinfull worlds desire. (685–86)




And immediately while [Peter] yet spake, the cocke crew. And the Lord turned, and looked vpon Peter; and Peter remembred the word of the Lord, how he had said vnto him, Before the cocke crow, thou shalt deny me thrise. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly. Luke 22:60–621 Luke’s account of Peter’s denial includes a detail not found in any of the other gospels: after Peter’s third denial as he warms himself with the servants in the high priest’s courtyard, Jesus looks at him. There is eye contact, the gaze of the man whom Peter has followed for three years, whom he has vowed to die protecting, whom he drew his sword to defend earlier that night, and whom he has just denied. This personal detail, a moment experienced by two men in the midst of a crowd, gives the reader an imaginative entry into the intimate, heart-rending drama of the moment. For European poets in the late sixteenth century, it provided a fertile avenue for poetry. Beginning with the 1560 publication of Lagrime di San Pietro, a penitential poem initially pirated and misattributed to Cardinal de Pucci while the real author Luigi

Bible, Authorized Version (London, 1611). Future biblical quotations in the context of Southwell’s poem are my own from the Vulgate in consultation with the Douay-Rheims; biblical quotations in the context of his Protestant imitators are from the Geneva translation of 1560. 1


Tansillo had been included on Paul IV’s 1559 Index, the imaginative entry into Peter’s inner turmoil on the night of the passion fascinated European poets of the late sixteenth century.2 Tansillo’s name did not reappear on the Index of 1564, and though he died in 1568 his poem achieved massive posthumous popularity: it was included in four collections in the first fourteen years after his death,3 and then a much expanded version of the poem was published in 1585 and reprinted several times in the next three decades,4 while the earlier version was put to music by the Flemish composer Orlande de Lassus (Orlando di Lasso) in 15955 and subsequently translated into French by François de Malherbe (Paris, 1587, 1596, 1598) and Robert Estienne (Paris, 1595, 1606) and into Spanish by Luis Galvez de Montalvo (Toledo, 1598).6 But before it became a European

For more on Tansillo’s literary career before the ban, see Erika Milburn, Luigi Tansillo and Lyric Poetry in Sixteenth-Century Naples (Leeds: Maney Publishing, 2003). For information about the relationship between the ban and the composition of the Lagrime, see the prefatory material in Luca Torre, “La doppia edizione de Le lagrime di San Pietro di Luigi Tansillo tra censura e manipolazione,” (PhD diss., Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, 2010). 2

Agostino Ferentilli’s Primo volume della Scelta di stanze di diversi autori toscani (Venice, 1571, 1579, 1584); Francesco Turchi da Trivigi’s Salmi penitenziali di diversi eccellenti autori con alcune rime spirituali di diversi (1572); Zabata’s Nuova scelta di rime di diversi begli ingegni (Genoa, 1573); and Prima parte della scelta di rime di diversi autori (Genoa, 1582). I am indebted to Mario Praz for these citations. “Robert Southwell’s ‘Saint Peter’s Complaint’ and Its Italian Source,” The Modern Language Review 19 (1924): 273. 3

4 Genoa, 1587; Carmagnola, 1588; Venice, 1589; Venice, 1592; Venice, 1598; Venice, 1599; Venice, 1601; Venice, 1605; Venice, 1606; Venice, 1608; Venice, 1611; Naples, 1613; Venice, 1618.

Lasso’s dedication of his Lagrime to Pope Clement VIII connected the protagonist of the poem specifically to the pope as “il vero e legitimo successore” (the true and legitimate successor), and it seems clear that the continental literary vogue of the poem was connected to the redemption of the papacy in post-Tridentine Europe. Alexander J. Fisher, “‘Per mia particolare devotione’: Orlando di Lasso’s Lagrime di San Pietro and Catholic Spirituality in Counter-Reformation Munich,” Journal of the Royal Musical Association 132 (2007), 168. 5

6 Pierre Janelle, Robert Southwell the Writer: A Study in Religious Inspiration (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1935), 205. Joseph G. Fucilla also identifies Spanish and Portugese versions by Marqués de Berlanga, Jerónimo de Cobos, Diego d’Avalos y Figueroa, Fray Damián Alvarez, Juan Sedeño, Hurtado de Mendoza, Jerónimo de Heredia, Martín de Bolea, Luis Martín de la Plaza, and Jacinto de S. Francisco; in addition to resonances within poems of Lope de Vega, José de Valdivieso, Rodrigo Fernández de Ribera, Pedro de Jesús, and Quevodo; and a translation within an octave of Cervantes’s Don Quijote. “On the Vogue of Tansillo’s ‘Lagrime di San Pietro’ in Spain and Portugal,” Rinascita 2 (1939), 74–75.


fascination, an exemplary model of baroque penitential poetry, what Pierre Janelle calls a “‘cycle of remorse,’ which had its birth in Italy and spread to the whole of Western Europe,” a Jesuit student in Rome had already begun translating it into English.7 In Robert Southwell’s case, however, the half-hearted translation was abandoned after a little over a hundred lines, and the project shifted to one of appropriation, transformation into the English poetic mode of complaint. Before it had become a continental phenomenon, therefore, the poetic entry into the sorrow of Peter was privately becoming English. Because of the poem’s obvious dialogue with these European models, it is tempting to consider it an English adaptation of a vogue that was sweeping Italy, Spain, and France during the Catholic Reformation. Furthermore, because it would spur on its own fascination with the tears of Saint Peter among English poets after its rushed posthumous publication, it is tempting to see it as a Jesuit attempt to bring a continental, Catholic devotional mode to England. Its intial period of direct imitation was limited and short-lived; on the heels of the 1595 publication of Southwell’s Saint Peters Complaint, an anonymous Saint Peters Ten Teares appeared in 1597, William Broxup’s Saint Peters Path to the Joyes of Heauen and Samuel Rowlands’s The Betraying of Christ appeared in 1598, and Richard Verstegan’s Saint Peeters Comfort appeared in 1601. The poem seems to have inspired not only imitation but also devotion; stanzas appeared in Elizabeth Grymeston’s 1604 Miscelanea. Meditations. Memoratives under the subheading of “sixteene sobs of a

Though there is no definitive date of composition for his early translation, it was certainly composed during his training in Rome between 1578 and 1586. Pierre Janelle, The Catholic Reformation (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1949), 175. 7


sorowfull spirit” which the author “usually sung and played on the winde instrument,” and both Nicholas Breton’s “Countess of Penbrook’s Passion” and Aemilia Lanyer’s 1611 Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum can be read as responses to Southwell.8 It doubtlessly inspired imitation, devotion, and response in the immediate two decades after its publication, but the direct imitation dies down afterwards, and its sustained impact in bringing this continental mode into English poetry becomes most visible in the broader tears poetry tradition spurred by this initial series of imitations.9 Much more telling, however, are the ways Southwell diverges from his European sources, ways that his overt English appropriators do not necessarily imitate. In that Saint Peters Complaint puts the grief of the penitential Peter in the mode of English complaint, it not only diverges from the religious epic that inspired it, from the tragedy of the fallen hero that was sweeping European devotion, but it also stands apart from the English penitential verse that adapted it. While Southwell’s poem narrates the lament of a sinner in need of forgiveness, it is less concerned with the mechanics of penance than it is with a reencounter with love through sorrow that remains through the end of the poem. This depiction of sorrow for sin may have helped to fill a devotional need for penitential poetry for recusant Catholics without access to the sacrament of reconciliation as scholars have argued, but as a how-to guide for penitents separated from confessors it is far from

8 See Susanne Woods, “Lanyer and Southwell: A Protestant Woman’s Re-Vision of St. Peter,” in Centered on the Word: Literature, Scripture, and the Tudor-Stuart Middle Way, ed. Daniel W. Doerksen and Christopher Hodgkins (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004), 73–86. 9 For more on this, see Gary Kuchar, The Poetry of Religious Sorrow in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).


sufficient.10 While Protestant adaptations of the poem specify the terms of repentance, Southwell’s depiction of Peter’s contrition is deliberately ambiguous on one of the key elements of the Council of Trent’s definition of true contrition, the “resolution of not sinning again” (14.4.16).11 Although the poem is in dialogue with continental poetry and while it inspires further dialogue with English penitential poetry, its alignment with either is imperfect. The places where the poem diverges from these contemporary poetic movements, notably, move it toward the complaint mode signaled in the title. Saint Peters Complaint depicts the grief of a pitiful complainant and forlorn lover, ultimately leaving him suspended, cut off not only from his ultimate relief but also from present means to find it. The poem leaves Peter not with the consolation of absolution or even with the assurance of perfect contrition, but rather with sorrow to entertain him. Grief in this poem is neither a problem in need of a solution nor even a means to an end; it is the end. Southwell’s Peter encounters the memory of the eyes that love him through the very mechanics of complaint and thereby encounters the love itself. Furthermore, having entered that memory with the tools of Ignatian meditation, he is not freed from his sorrow but rather allows himself willingly to be imprisoned by it until such time as his lover returns. In the midst of Reformation controversies about salvation, justification, repentance, and the like, the poem does not define Peter’s sorrow according to the doctrine of penance; it depicts it as a complaint that is itself an encounter with love.

Reading Saint Peters Complaint in terms of the Tridentine doctrine of penance has been common since Nancy Pollard Brown’s “The Structure of Southwell’s ‘Saint Peter’s Complaint,’” The Modern Language Review 61 (1966): 3–11. 10

cum proposito non peccandi de cetero. Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent: Original Text with English Translation, ed. H. J. Schroeder, OP (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1941), 367. 11


Southwell’s English contemporaries who were delineating the space of penitence left this redemption of complaint un-imitated, selecting passages instead that reflected the penitential psalms and expanding them into clearly articulated definitions of doctrine. This lack of impact on contemporary penitential poetry should not be seen as a failure of the Jesuit’s literary mission, however; indeed, as a poet Southwell had bigger fish to fry. He was not attempting to change devotional poetry; he was attempting to make the poetry of the most skillful wits devotional. Thus while the immediate posthumous publication of the poems of a convicted traitor is curious historically, the widespread popularity of Southwell’s Saint Peters Complaint is in many ways less surprising; on the contrary, it is a strategic success. With a Jesuit aesthetic that uses the things of the world for the greater glory of God (ad maiorem dei gloriam) and saw literature as the handmaiden of religion, Southwell’s extended project of adapting complaint to biblical stories around the passion narrative demonstrates a sensitivity to the English literary vogue in several ways.12 First of all, as we saw in the introduction, the complaint was widely revitalized and proliferated in the mid- to late sixteenth century, and the dominance of the mode in his poems demonstrates his awareness of contemporary tastes. The publisher’s choice of title poem was certainly set to popular trends; from Southwell’s return to England in 1586 to his death in 1595, other self-identified complaints were hitting London presses such as George Gascoigne’s Complaint of Phylomene (1576, 1587), Samuel Daniel’s Complaynt of Rosamond (1592), Thomas Lodge’s Tragicall complaynt of Elstred (1593), Richard Barnfield’s Complaint of Daphnis for the

12 For a useful discussion of the ways Southwell reflects and diverges from his Jesuit education, see Janelle, Robert Southwell, 116–41; and Scott Pilarz, “‘To Help Souls’: Recovering the Purpose of Southwell’s Poetry and Prose,” in Discovering and (Re)Covering the Seventeenth Century Religious Lyric, ed. Eugene R. Cunnar and Jeffrey Johnson (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2001), 41–61.


loue of Ganymede (1594), William Hunnis’s Complaint of old age (1595), and of course Spenser’s Complaints (1591)—to say nothing of the poetic complaints within volumes such as Tottel’s Miscellany which went through two editions between his arrival and arrest (1587, 1589) and indeed Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis (1593). But before the publication of Saint Peters Complaint, early modern poets tended to complain with a mostly secular voice; in Christian terms, they tended to “sorrow…euen as others which haue no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). As we saw in chapter one, even the religious turn in complaint poetry spearheaded by Spenser found hope in looking beyond the vanities of the material realm to the hope of heaven. This is not to dismiss Spenser’s Complaints, but rather to suggest that Southwell proposes a different solution to the same literary and existential concerns. Like Spenser, Southwell uses this popular poetic form to religious ends, and in the end attempts somewhat paradoxically to find a hope strong enough not to be overwhelmed by the anguish it has come to meet. For these reasons, while the rushed printing of Southwell’s poems capitalized on his highly publicized execution, its sustained impact is better explained by its timely contribution to a literary crisis highlighted by his Protestant contemporaries.13 Alison Shell has demonstrated the ways in which the literary climate of the 1590s was increasingly turning to religious verse, from godly broadside ballads to translations of the divine poetry of Guillaume Salluste du Bartas. The same year that Sidney’s Defense first saw print after circulating in manuscript for over ten years, Saint Peters Complaint appeared

The timeliness of this contribution is only more recently being acknowledged; in the mid-twentieth century, C. S. Lewis had surmised that Southwell “modestly but firmly refused to take any notice, as a poet, of the period in which he was living.” English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), 544. 13


three times from London presses followed by one edition of the supplemental volume Mœniæ.14 Sidney was defending poetry from the accusation of frivolity and disingenuousness at the same time Southwell was defending it from the poets themselves. The prefatory letter “to his loving Cosin,” which scholars have connected to the likes of Spenser and Shakespeare, expresses a concern about poets “abusing their talent, and making the follies and fayninges of love, the customary subject of their base endevours” to the point “that a Poet, a Lover, and a Liar, are by many reckoned but three wordes of one signification.”15 The mission for his poetry went beyond consolation for the afflicted Catholic community; it was a literary mission “to weave a new webbe in their owne loome” and thereby demonstrate “how well verse and vertue sute together,” a mission to transform English poetry from the inside.16 Thus while his poetry is often interpreted in the context of his mission to the recusant community, its resonance and tension with the literary mission of his Protestant contemporaries would have come as no surprise to him or his publishers. Sadia Abbas

For an analysis of the differences between these editions, see Robert S. Miola, “Publishing the Word: Robert Southwell’s Sacred Poetry,” Review of English Studies 64 (2013): 410–32. 14

15 Christopher Devlin, Peter Milward, and Richard Wilson argue that the prefatory letter is covertly addressed to Southwell’s distant cousin Shakespeare, in part because of the proximity of the composition of the Saint Peters Complaint and the publication of Venus and Adonis, though they disagree about the lines of influence between the two. In the 1616 Jesuit printing of Southwell’s poetry the prefatory letter was addressed “To my worthy good cousin, Master W. S.” and signed “Your loving cousin, R. S.,” and if W. S. is indeed Shakespeare then there is a pun in the prefatory poem that concludes his suit for heavenly poetry with the admission that “the Graunt restes in your will.” Gary Bouchard, on the other hand, provides the most recent discussion of the letter’s affect on Spenser in his publication of the Fowre Hymnes. Christopher Devlin, The Life of Robert Southwell, Poet and Martyr (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1956); Peter Milward, Shakespeare’s Religious Background (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973); Richard Wilson, “A Bloody Question: The Politics of Venus and Adonis,” Religion and the Arts 5:3 (2001); John Klause, Shakespeare, the Earl, and the Jesuit (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2008); Gary Bouchard, “Who Knows Not Southwell’s Clout? Assessing the Impact of Robert Southwell’s Literary Success upon Spenser,” LATCH 3 (2010): 151–63. 16 “The Author to his loving Cosen,” in The Poems of Robert Southwell, S. J., ed. by James H. McDonald and Nancy Pollard Brown (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), 1.


argues, contrary to classifications of Southwell within a mostly European aesthetic, that his appeal rests in its native features, his “tendency to use heavy alliteration, fourteeners, and versions of poulter’s measure” which demonstrates “his cultivation of a native, English, medieval style.”17 Early hagiographic accounts emphasized that native appeal, from the earliest in the Jesuit Historia Particular de la Persecución de Inglaterra which claims the queen herself “showed signs of grief for [Southwell’s] death, especially when she saw a book that he had composed in the English tongue on different topics, pious and devout, designed to teach poets how to safeguard their talent and employ it as befitted.”18 Furthermore, Southwell was not merely part of a literary fad of the 1590s; all told, between 1595 and 1640, the primary volume was printed thirteen times from mainstream Protestant presses and twice from clandestine Catholic presses, and the supplement was printed in its own volume three times before it was appended to the main volume in 1620.19 Even if his popularity did not linger in the following centuries, Southwell was undoubtedly a major poet of the early modern period who contributed to some of the major conversations about the direction of English verse. In a sense, while this chapter builds on the work of Louis Martz and Pierre Janelle who demonstrate that Southwell transforms Tansillo’s narrative into a meditation, I am

Sadia Abbas, “Polemic and Paradox in Robert Southwell’s Lyric Poems,” Criticism 45 (2003), 457. Notably, F. W. Brownlow argues just the opposite in his biography, that Southwell intentionally used continental rhetorical techniques because “the new Renaissance English style was too closely associated with either a Protestant or a paganizing humanism.” Robert Southwell (New York: Twayne, 1996), 80. 17

Quoted in Philip Caraman, SJ, A Study in Friendship: Saint Robert Southwell and Henry Garnet (Saint Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1995), 113. 18

STC 22955–22955.5, 22955.7–22968; ARCR II 718–20. Notably, added together, this puts his early modern publication record on par with Shakespeare’s most published work Venus and Adonis at eighteen editions, or at least with Spenser’s most published work The Shepheardes Calendar at thirteen, far more than Donne’s Songs and Sonnets that only received five early modern editions. 19


arguing that he is using both Tansillo’s narrative and his Jesuit training in a self-conscious effort to refashion English complaint.20 Obviously these arguments are not mutually exclusive, but the particular method here is significant: Southwell does not merely hide his meditation behind the cloak of complaint—he transforms his Jesuit meditation on Tansillo’s narrative into English complaint, thereby attempting to change the direction of a poetic mode that was in a period of great flux. This may be a minor point for scholars of Southwell who rightly concentrate on the role of his poetry in the historical context of the Jesuit English mission. It is a more significant point in broader conversations of early modern devotional poetry whose primary figures such as Herbert and Donne embody this role of the redeemed complainant more than they do a specifically Protestant doctrinal aesthetic. But its implications are the most far-reaching in the wider context of complaint poetry that unleashed the force of human sorrow, outrage, grief, and anger in the face of the political and religious anxieties of the modern world. For Southwell, complaint is neither a mode of helplessness for those deprived of agency nor of covert empowerment toward social and political change. It is the place of redemption, not from sorrow but of sorrow.

From Tears to Complaint (1–48) Somewhat ironically, while the title poem of the volume Saint Peters Complaint was deemed at least by the publishers as the most significant, it is one of the more difficult poems to tackle for scholars. This is partially due to its length and apparent

20 The Poetry of Meditation: A Study in English Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954), 194. Martz uses Southwell to argue ultimately that Renaissance devotional poetry as a whole is shaped by Ignatian meditation, an argument that Anthony Raspa expands in The Emotive Image: Jesuit Poetics in the English Renaissance (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1983).


disorganization; its style seems fitting for the long interior monologue of the tortured conscience of its speaker, which makes it a cumbersome specimen for close literary analysis. The poem’s first modern editor Alexander B. Grosart assessed that despite its thematic “thread of unity,” the poem as a whole “really is rather a succession of separate studies” on Peter’s sorrow.21 For all his admiration of Southwell, Martz likewise assesses the poem to be an “unwieldy collection of 132 stanzas” and finds it an “often tedious work,” and his treatment of it is thereby sparse.22 Whatever organization does exist is far from apparent, and thus the broader movement of the poem is one that must be entered into rather than observed from above. Furthermore, early scholarship tended to dismiss Southwell’s obvious participation in a florid baroque aesthetic whose relationship with English literature is somewhat fraught.23 Even in recent scholarship, Anne Sweeney describes the poem as being “constructed along more typically baroque rhetorical lines” characterized by “a quivering extravaganza of repetitions on an emotional theme perhaps too hectic for

“Memorial-Introduction,” in The Complete Poems of Robert Southwell S.J., ed. Alexander B. Grossart (London: Robson and Sons, 1872), lxxxiv. 21


Martz, Poetry of Meditation, 194.

23 James Russell Lowell, for example, criticized the poem as Peter’s “drawl[ing] through thirty pages of maudlin repentance, in which the distinctions between the north and northeast sides of sentimentality are worthy of Duns Scotus.” Pierre Janelle, one of the scholars who argues that Southwell lost dexterity with his native tongue and contemporary English poetic movements during his education in Rome, considers the poem initially “disappointing” because of its “overlying crust of conceits and oratory,” an example of the writer’s “juvenile partiality for literary ‘elegance’” and “veil of artificiality” that he learned on the continent and would later abandon as he matured as an author. James Russell Lowell, “Library of Old Authors,” in Literary Essays (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1899), 1:253; Janelle, Robert Southwell, 205, 223.

For a discussion of Southwell’s position in the overlap between baroque and metaphysical poetic traditions, see Helen C. White, “Southwell: Metaphysical and Baroque,” Modern Philology 61 (1964), 159–68.


English literary tastes.”24 When Gary Kuchar demonstrates Southwell’s role in bringing the “literature of tears” tradition to England, he also argues that English poets were already parodying that tradition as early as Shakespeare and eventually Milton, and in some ways English scholarship has not entirely stopped doing so.25 Yet Southwell’s participation in a baroque aesthetic is certainly more commented on than understood; after all, baroque is itself a “chameleonlike adjective” when applied to literature, referring to anything from a “time section, dominated by a whole system of norms” from the late sixteenth century through the seventeenth all the way to an definable stylistic ideal that can be discerned in particular poets.26 It is in the ideal sense of the term that scholars speak of Saint Peters Complaint as exhibiting baroque characteristics, though there is no consensus about what those characteristics are: tension, distortion, imbalance, the grotesque, hyperbole, paradox, preciosity, ingenuity, decoration, erratic syntax, or thematics of melancholy, anxiety, or instability, any of which could be identified among

Anne Sweeney, Robert Southwell: Snow in Arcadia: Redrawing the English Lyric Landscape, 1586–95 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006), 11–12. 24


Kuchar, Poetry of Religious Sorrow, 31–76.

26 Frank J. Warnke, Versions of Baroque: European Literature in the Seventeenth Century (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972), 1. Warnke uses the term in the former sense, a transitional period between “Renaissance” and “Neoclassical” that contains elements of both; Martz uses it in the latter when he distinguishes between relatively contemporaneous poets with the terms “Renaissance,” “Mannerism,” and “Baroque” in From Renaissance to Baroque: Essays on Literature and Art (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1991), as J. Douglas Canfield also does when he argues for characteristically baroque features persisting in neoclassical poetry in his The Baroque in English Neoclassical Literature (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2003). Harold Martin Priest, in contrast, argues for using the three terms to distinguish different phases of the “greater Renaissance” in his Renaissance and Baroque Lyrics: An Anthology of Translations from the Italian, French, and Spanish (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1962), xviii. John M. Steadman usefully maneuvers through the ambiguity of the phrase with a combination of Renaissance theories of style and modern genre theory, ultimately suggesting an organic model in which baroque is a fluctuating adolescent phase between Renaissance and neoclassical periods, and as such the more one tries to define the ideal the more problematic it becomes with individual poets. John M. Steadman, Redefining a Period Style: “Renaissance,” “Mannerist,” and “Baroque” in Literature (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1990).


Southwell’s Protestant contemporaries.27 The revisionist scholarship of recent decades has begun recovering Southwell’s importance as an English poet with cross-confessional interest, correcting for centuries of the religious bias against Catholic poets and complicating the confessionalization and nationalization of literary forms.28 Not only do poetic styles transgress confessional boundaries, but devotional modes are also somewhat promiscuous. Despite its participation in a European aesthetic, however, the first thing one notices when actually comparing Southwell’s poem to the baroque tradition that inspired it is its departure from that tradition signified in the title itself: from Saint Peter’s tears

27 In Christopher D. Johnson’s recent 695-page study of excess in baroque poetry, Hyperboles: The Rhetoric of Excess in Baroque Literature and Thought (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), the hyperbole defines the literature of the period. In Timothy Hampton’s concise discussion of the ambiguity of the term in Baroque Topographies: Literature/History/Philosophy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991), he traces the term from Heinrich Wölfflin’s Roman understanding of it in his 1888 Renaissance and Baroque to Jean Rousset’s French application in his 1954 La Littérature de l’âge baroque en France, eventually placing it in the context of shifting topographies in the seventeenth century. When Fritz Strich contrasts baroque and Renaissance literature, he characterizes the former by the experience of the vanitas we have seen characterize medieval complaint and dominate Spenser’s poetry, describing a view of man as “a shadow, a fading music, a passing wave, a reed tossing in the storm and quickly snapped. A dream, a sport, or as one Baroque poet Andreas Gryphius put it, a fantasy of time.” Quoted in J. M. Cohen, The Baroque Lyric (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1963), 15. 28 Even Southwell’s laudators sometimes emphasized his distance from his Protestant contemporaries; F. W. Brownlow for example argues that his defiance of Protestant humanism contributes to his rhetorical force. Lowry Nelson, Jr. explores the problems between linking baroque poetic modes to nation and confession in his Baroque Lyric Poetry (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1961), 6–9. English poets, Catholic and Protestant, excelled in the appropriation of European styles; A. Lytton Sells calls England “an importing nation in more than one sense” when he introduces his study of English Italianisms. With this understanding of English identity being tied to importation, Mark Netzloff has recently argued for the importance of understanding the international nature of English Catholicism, contending that it is the diasporic nature of English Catholic communities that allowed them to contribute to conversations about English nationhood from the margins. A. Lytton Sells, The Italian Influence in English Poetry: From Chaucer to Southwell (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1955), 7; Mark Netzloff, “The English Colleges and the English Nation: Allen, Persons, Verstegan, and Diasporic Nationalism,” in Catholic Culture in Early Modern England, ed. Ronald Corthell, Frances E. Dolan, Christopher Highley, and Arthur F. Marotti (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 236–260.


(lagrime) to his complaint.29 This departure was not shared by continental imitators of Tansillo: the French adaptations by Estienne and Malherbe were both literally translated as Les Larmes de S. Pierre, and the Spanish adaptation by Montalvo, El Llanto de San Pedro, replaced tears with the broader term for weeping. But Southwell’s term “complaint,” in addition to situating it in a particular literary tradition, emphasizes not tears but words themselves and all the judicial associations that go along with them. This slightly complicates Nancy Pollard Brown’s argument that the poem represents an expression of the Catholic dogma of penance freshly explicated at Trent, evoking the image not of a penitent at a confessional but of an abandoned lover or shepherd bemoaning his grievance.30 While the poem still participates in the tears poetry tradition and indeed inspires an English appropriation of it—one of its immediate imitations in fact links its title more closely to that tradition in Saint Peters [Ten] Teares (London: 1597, 1602)—it is its participation in the complaint tradition that had a longer-term effect on English poetry. In fact, while Southwell borrows his subject and some of the poetic images from Tansillo, the structure of his poem is best described as a complaint (1–324) that, almost halfway through the poem, encounters an Ignatian meditation as the isolated complainant remembers his encounter with Christ’s eyes (325–522). Rather than dramatizing the reconciliation of the relationship through confession and forgiveness, the final section of

Anne Sweeney identifies the very Englishing of the poem as a potential interpretive departure from Tansillo; she argues that in Italian the poem becomes “in part a meditation upon the failings of the Catholic Church and its ministers,” but the English version suggests an application for “English churchmen who had rejected Roman Catholicism completely.” However, while she argues for its application “almost certainly” to English churchmen who have denied Christ rather than “the conflicted, confused English individual,” the long-term effect of the poem suggests a wider application. Snow in Arcadia, 100, 126. 29

30 Brown, “Structure of Southwell’s ‘Saint Peter’s Complaint,’” 3–11. See also Joseph D. Scallon, SJ, The Poetry of Robert Southwell, S.J. (Salzburg: Institut für Englishche Sprache und Literature, Universität Salzburg, 1975), 180–219. For Lasso’s participation in this penitential tradition, see Fisher, “Orlando di Lasso.”


the poem shows the complainant discovering his place in the community from which he has cut himself off, the place of sorrow itself (523–792). The sorrow that tortured him at the beginning of his complaint becomes a hospitable host, and rather than discovering a hope to move beyond the suffering of his fallen life the protagonist finds his place within it. Even in the final stanza that seems to exhibit a cautious hope, that hope only comes because of the memory he encountered through the tortured mechanics of complaint. When Mario Praz first identified Southwell’s “Peeter Playnt” as an unfinished translation of the 1560 edition of Tansillo’s poem, he called it a “crude attempt at translation,” initially in verse “of a very rugged sort” but eventually ending “after the bathos of a dull prose rendering.” Because of the coarse digression of “Peeter Playnt,” Praz suggested that Southwell had initially planned it as a full verse translation which he abandoned as he found “his faculties for mere translation rather flagging.”31 But Southwell abandoned more than the translation project; he abandoned the whole poetic mode and narrative style altogether. Tansillo had been writing what Janelle calls “the condensed sum total of all possible Christian epics,”32 one that begins in the 1560 version by describing its hero as “Il magnanimo Pietro, che giurato / Hauea tra mille lancie, e mille spade / Al suo caro Signor morir à lato” (F4r), which Southwell renders “That sturdy peer which with an othe did boaste / Amyds a thousand pyckes and blody blades / At his deare masters syde to yeld the ghoast” (1–3).33 The forty eight-line stanzas of the

31 Mario Praz, “Robert Southwell’s ‘Saint Peter’s Complaint’ and Its Italian Source,” The Modern Language Review 19 (1924): 279. 32

Janelle, The Catholic Reformation, 176.

33 For Southwell’s translation, I am quoting what seems to be the final reading from his manuscript that contains several renderings of Tansillo’s lines. The Brown edition of his poetry contains all renderings from the manuscript.


original poem begin right after the third denial as Peter receives “parole di sdegno e d’amor piene” (“wordes of wrath and of loue full”) (F4v, 68) from Christ’s eyes, and follow him as he flees the high priest’s courtyard. His actual lament does not begin until stanza fifteen, at which point it covers fifteen stanzas; the rest of the poem involves another three stanzas of narration when Peter returns to Gethsemane and identifies his master’s footprints, followed by a four-stanza eulogy to those footprints, concluding with a final four stanzas of narration as the dark morning of Holy Saturday ominously creeps over the world. It is a poem of tragedy, one in which our “miser” hero realizes “quanto differente / Dal primo stato suo si ritrouaua” (“how diuerse / from his former state he founde him self”) (F5r, 99–100). When Tansillo expands the poem between its 1560 publication and his death eight years later, he takes it further into the realm of Christian epic. Janelle points out that he consciously removed the “amatory vein of his first compositions” from his expanded version, excising a stanza in which the narrator compares Christ’s gaze to that of lovers.34 The 1585 version, which Southwell could have seen before leaving Italy the following year or in the various manuscript versions that had been circulating after Tansillo’s death in 1568, begins in an even more overtly heroic mode: with an invocation. Tansillo’s muse, however, is Peter himself, he “ch’avesti il novo eterno onore / d’aprire e di serrar gli usci del Cielo” (who will have the new eternal honor of opening and closing the doors of Heaven) (I.2), a more fitting Muse than Apollo or, as the 1606 edition adds,


Janelle, Catholic Reformation, 176.


Calliope or Clio, muses of epic and history, respectively.35 Peter, in this later version, is a fitting muse for such an epic not only because of the great height from which he had fallen but also because of the greatness of his tears; the poet has chosen his subject in order that “pianga le colpe mie col pianto altrui” (I may weep my faults with another’s tears) (I.1). To heighten the tragedy of Peter’s fall, Tansillo follows his invocation with the narrative background for the story. He describes the real champion of the story, “L’alto Signor, che fu dal Padre eterno / qua giù mandato a tôr di giogo il mondo, tanti anni in preda del rapace Inferno” (the high Lord, who had been sent down here from the eternal Father to remove the yoke from the world, for so many years in the grip of rapacious Hell) (I.3 1585), foreseeing “la sua morte sì penosa e dura” (his very painful and hard death) and thus “come amor lo spinse / i suoi seguaci a l’alta impresa accinse” (as if impelled by love he urged his disciples to the high undertaking) (I.4 1585). By beginning with these epic descriptions of Peter and his Lord, Tansillo’s revisions sought to heighten the scale of the epic, raising the scale of Peter’s failure and thereby increasing his humiliation for his fall. Whether or not Southwell saw any of the versions of Tansillo’s revisions, he took his own appropriation in the opposite direction. Rather than expanding the background, Saint Peters Complaint begins in medias res with the complaint itself, removing all of the narrative elements from the Lagrime and creating instead what Sweeney calls an extended dramatization of the effects of the first week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of

For the 1585 and 1606 editions of the Lagrime, I use Luca Torre’s 2010 parallel edition, citing the pianto and stanza number. I am not aware of a modern edition of the 1560 version, which I accessed at the British Library. Translations from the 1585 and 1606 versions are my own, in addition to translations of the 1560 version after line 108, where “Peeter Playnt” abruptly ends. 35


Loyola, the Jesuit guide for spiritual retreats.36 Furthermore, rather than beginning with an invocation that calls on the keeper of the gates of Heaven as his muse, Southwell adds a verse epistle to the reader to apologize for the lowness of his protagonist. Gone is the “magnanimo Pietro” of Tansillo’s version; the epistle introduces not an epic but “sad memories of Peters plaintes,” not a type of great heroes who have fallen but an example of “brittle mould, that now are Saintes” (2, 4). Without any narrative elements, we are given an inverted vision of Peter’s trajectory: not the greatly fallen hero remembering the contrast from his former state, but of mud temporarily stirred up in the “cleerest brooke” (3). Because we have a redeemable hero, Southwell encourages readers not to weep their own sins with other people’s tears but rather to “Learne by their faultes, what in thine owne to mend” (6). In this way, he prefaces the poem with eschatological hope, insisting to the reader that “So ripe is vice, so greene is vertues bud: / The world doth waxe in evill, but waine in good” (11–12). While the poem advertises itself as complaint, it transforms the vision of complaint in its set-up; in contrast to Spenser’s view of a world crumbling into decay, we are presented with a vision of reverse entropy, a filthy world that crumbles into beauty.37 Furthermore, rather than beginning with an invocation to a heavenly muse as Tansillo did in his revisions, the main text of Saint Peters Complaint begins with an invocation to the speaker’s own grief, a muse that is not divine or iconic but rather within


Sweeney, Snow in Arcadia, 80.

Conversely, these lines can be read with Spenserian gloom, suggesting that evil is waxing while good is waning. The eighteenth-century Scottish churchman Ralph Erskine takes the lines in the gloomier direction when he purloins them in his 1715 funeral elegy for Patrick Plenderlieth: “God doth sometimes first crop the sweetest flow’r, / And leaves the weeds till tempests them devour. / So ripe is vice, so green is virtue’s bud, / The world doth wax in ill, but wain in good, / And Noah’s to his ark: we fear a flood.” The Sermons, and Other Practical Works of the Reverend and Learned Ralph Erskine, A. M. Minister of the Gospel in Dunfermline (London: 1821), 10.632. 37


the fallen Peter’s own soul. There is no heavenly inspiration for his verse; as he opens with an imperative, “Launche foorth my Soul into a maine of teares,” his lines come directly from himself, his mind that is “Full fraught with grief” (1–2). From this teary soul and grieved mind, the fisherman speaker constructs a Petrarchan conceit with thoughts as torn sails, care the stern, sighs the wind, remorse the pilot, his misdeed the map, torment his heaven, shipwreck his reward, dread the sands, the vapors of his breast the wind, his eyes filled with clouds.38 But though he warns his soul to “Flie not from forreine evils, flie from thy hart: / Worse then the worst of evils is that thou art” (11–12), his invocation summons the full force of his troubled passions, fleeing the sin of his heart but not the violent affects of his anguish. In this way he situates himself within complaint, and like the isolated, pitiable figures that crowd English poetry he is left with only “mournefull plaintes…Whose screeches in my fraighted conscience ring” (19–12). Screeches are the typical tone of the complainant, as we saw in the “shrilling voyce” and “shreiking yell” in Spenser’s translations of du Bellay (Rome 1.5,8) or the “dolefull shrikes” (Time 471) with which Verlame had vanished. Peter’s invocation is further situated within a Spenserian mode as he calls himself “The monument of feare” and “The scorne of time, the infamy of fame” (28), as Rome had become “worlds sole moniment” (Rome 29.14) and Verlame had called herself “The worlds sad spectacle, and fortunes scorne” (Time 28) in The Ruines of Time. Having isolated himself from divine inspiration that could have fueled his poetry, the speaker is left only with his own passions to guide his verse and the language of complaint to bolster it.


Cf. Rime sparse 189.


As the invocation closes, Peter expresses his own literary mission in terms reminiscent of those Southwell had laid out in his letter “to his loving Cosen” at the beginning of the manuscript, the mission “to weave a new webbe in [the poets’] owne loome.” The poet himself had repeated this mission at the end of the verse epistle to the reader when he calls on the “heavenly sparkes of wit” whom the poet asks to “shew native light,” “to seeke a phere” among English poets rather than allowing “your Orient cleere” to be clouded “with mistie loves” (19–21). Now at the end of his invocation Peter takes on the poet’s mission, situating it in the mode of complaint. He denounces the “Ambitious heades” that not only “Devote your fabling wits to lovers layes” but also “dreame…of fortunes pride,” naming the most typical goddess and foe of forlorn complainants (31–32). Instead of the fickle praises of Fortune or Love, Peter’s own “sharpest greeves, that ever wrung” will be the “Texte to my thoughtes, Theame to my playning tunge”; the “Sad subject of my sinne” will provide the “everlasting matter of complaint”; and thus “My threnes” (songs of lamentation, from the Greek θρῆνος) will find “an endlesse Alphabet” (35–39). As he goes on describing the aim of his verse, he ranks his own complaint “Beyond the panges which Jeremy doth paint” (40), raising his sorrows above those of the biblical model for the complaint mode.39 Peter puts his mission in explicitly literary terms; since he has “most cause to weepe” (42), he can outcomplain all other complainants, even other biblical ones. “All weeping eies resigne your teares to me” (43), his invocation concludes, as he prepares his audience for a demonstration of the ultimate form of literary complaint.

39 Barbara Kiefer Lewalski shows this classification of Lamentations as biblical complaint, citing the Junius-Tremellius Bible, Calvin’s commentary on the book, Heinrich Bullinger’s Jeremias, John Hull’s Exposition upon a Part of the Lamentations of Jeremie, and Wither’s Hymnes and Songs of the Church for examples. Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), 444.


Complaining Compunction (49–324) Because he has presented his as the ultimate complaint, Peter incorporates all forms of literary complaint into his initial 324-line expression of his grievances. In so doing he accommodates Ignatian principles of compunction within a literary mode well suited to the “psychological self-apprehension” of the Jesuit tradition.40 He begins as a fallen hero out of the de casibus tradition, he continues as a dark parody of a forlorn lover, and he ends bemoaning the vanity of the cyclical world in the vein of Spenserian contemptus mundi complaint. This complaint, he reminds us at one point, is even a pastoral complaint in the truest sense of the term, because Peter who was so named to be the rock upon which Christ would build his church and the “pastor for the faithfull flocke” has become instead “A rocke, of ruine; not a rest, to stay: / A pastor, not to feede: but to betray” (171–74). As he saturates his list of grievances with various conceits and literary flourishes, the forlorn, isolated complainant recounts the events of his fall and accuses various other characters for their role in his destruction. By the end of this section few have escaped his indictment: he includes complaints against the soldiers who did not kill him in the garden (151–56), against the portress to whom he had made his first denial (211–16), against John for bringing him in to the high priest’s courtyard (229–34), against the fire for whose temporary warmth he had sold his soul (253–58), against the cock who announced his fall (259–76), and against women in general who instigate the falls of great

Sweeney, Snow in Arcadia, 27. While Protestant poetry is often associated with introspective selfanalysis (e.g. Peter Iver Kaufman, Prayer, Despair, and Drama: Elizabethan Introspection [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996], 41–102), the influence of Ignatian spirituality in Protestant poetics suggests a link in the internalization of devotion across confessions. At any rate, Protestantism did not have a monopoly on selfexamination. 40


men (301–24).41 He also delivers complaints against various abstract foes such as life itself (85–96) and fear that had frozen the love in his heart (295–300). But while Peter has no qualms about attributing blame to other actors in his tragedy, he begins his complaint with a strong diatribe against himself before he recounts the events of the evening about two hundred lines into the poem. He reserves his lengthiest and most scathing complaint for the chief criminal. In some ways, this complaint is vaguely Tansillian, especially at the beginning when he complains in the voice of a fallen hero. The initial accusation of himself is in fact a more intense and expanded derivation of the Italian Peter’s realization that “Per tema di morir negai la uita” (for fear of death I denied life) (F6r), when the English Peter laments that “I fear’d with life, to die; by death, to live” (49). Both Peters remove any potential excuse for their fear by remembering the miracles they had seen Jesus perform. Tansillo lists the healings of the lame, the mute, the blind, and the dead before admitting that “Queste opre e piu, che’l mondo & io sapea, / Ramentar mi douean che il lor fattore / Fontana di salute esser douea, / E sgombrar del mio petto ogni timore” (These miracles and more, which the world and I know, should have reminded me that their maker is the fountain of salvation, and should have freed my heart from any fear) (F6r), while Southwell focuses specifically on the healing of the blind man in John 9 who became a bold witness for Christ because “One wonder wrought him in his duety sure,” whereas “I after thousands, did my Lord abjure” (77–78). Both begin by wishing for death, a common feature of complaint. Peter’s first words in the Italian poem are “Vatene uita

41 Sweeney takes the outcry against “John my guide into this earthly hell” who led him into “so ill a court” (229–30) to have political overtones in contemporary Elizabethan politics, possibly echoing the kinds of betrayals faced by old Catholic families such as the Howards, but it is clear in the context of these lines that Peter is deflecting a blame that rests solely on him. Snow in Arcadia, 83, 121n74.


uà” (Go away, life, go) (F5v); he spends four stanzas railing against life for staying with one who would wish himself dead, and another seven envying the Holy Innocents who died as saints. In the English poem he calls life “the maze of countlesse straying wayes” (91) and wishes he had died in the sea (139–50) or by the soldiers (151–56) before he had been given a chance to deny his Lord; by the end of the poem, he too is envious of the Holy Innocents (553–76). This longing for death or for a shorter life echoes the laments of Ecclesiastes (“I praised the dead more than the living, and I judged him happier than both who was never born and has not seen the evils done under the sun”) and of Job (“why is light given to the miserable and life to those who are in bitterness of soul?”).42 Southwell is most Tansillian when Tansillo is most biblical. However, despite the fact that roughly half of Tansillo’s poem is devoted to Peter’s lament, Southwell notably abandons his translation in the stanza before the Italian Peter begins his diatribe against himself; by the time he was finished translating the frame story for Peter’s complaint, Southwell could tell he would be writing a different poem. Part of the difference lies in his approach to compunction: despite his accusations against other characters and his wish to die, Southwell’s Peter is primarily complaining against himself, rather than being the victim of too long a life. In this self-complaint, Peter employs parts of the first week of the Spiritual Exercises. The first meditation is a contemplation of sin, in order that by considering how the fallen angels or Adam and Eve or the person who commits one mortal sin is deserving of hell, the exercitant may realize that such a penalty is more fitting for his or her many sins. Similarly, the second meditation includes a

42 laudavi magis mortuos quam viventes, et feliciorem utroque iudicavi qui necdum natus est nec vidit mala quae sub sole fiunt (Eccles. 4:2–3); quare data est misero lux et vita his qui in amaritudine animae sunt (Job 3:20).


reflection on oneself, realizing one’s smallness in relation to other human beings, their smallness in relation to angels and saints, and all creation’s smallness in relation to God, and asking oneself in response, “what now can I alone be, little man that I am?”43 In the same way, Peter’s self-complaint begins with his realization of the magnitude of his own sin as he insists that it is worse than so many apparently greater sins. He is lower than Judas and Caiaphas who at least esteemed Christ’s life worth thirty pieces of silver: “I, worse then both, for nought denied him thrise” (102). He demonstrated “more hatefull tyrannies” than the Jews who spit at Christ because he “spit thy poyson in [his] makers face” (129–30). This realization becomes an ominous transfiguration that reveals who he truly is, a dark parody of the “stony name” that Christ had given him and of biblical heroes such as the boy David: “My othes, were stones: my cruell toung the sling: / My God, the marke: at which my spight did fling” (124–26). Beyond the scope of the Tansillian Peter who merely laments his fall, the Southwellian Peter takes on a judicial battle against himself; he is not merely regretting his actions, but bolstering the case for his condemnation. Yet even in his indictment against himself, Peter remains conscious of the love of the one he has wronged, and thereby retains the possibility of redemption.44 The awareness of Christ’s presence in the midst of human sin is a key element of the Jesuit

iam quid homuncio ego unus esse possum? (58). Quotations from the Spiritual Exercises are translated from the Vulgata version in Ignatius of Loyola, Exercitia spiritualia S. Ignatii de Loyola et eorum directoria, ed. José Calveras and Cándido de Dalmases, vol. 100 of Monumenta Ignatiana (Rome: Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 1969), cited parenthetically by paragraph number. 43

This point is especially apparent in contrast to the Italian poem; it is perhaps the difficulty of accessing the Italian and seeing that contrast that leads some scholars to assert the poem “is about selfhatred, and failure.” Sweeney, Snow in Arcadia, 153. 44


conception of compunction; indeed, the final colloquy for the first meditation on sin in the Spiritual Exercises involves “imagining Jesus Christ approaching me fastened to the cross,” conversing with him “as friends speak to friends, or servants to masters.”45 For Ignatius, the ultimate goal of a reflection on sin is not the feelings of fear and shame, though they are steps along the way; it is wonder at Christ’s love, amazement that the world and all its creatures have been given to enliven and preserve so base a sinner.46 This emphasis on love is a prominent feature of Jesuit meditations on sin in the sixteenth century and early seventeenth; for example, in his meditation on the tears of Peter in the Meditationes de praecipuis fidei nostrae mysteriis (1605), Southwell’s Spanish contemporary Luis de la Puente says: Consider…the bitter teares of saint Peter, which did not proceed from a feare of punishment, but from a love vnto his Master; For calling to mynd the fauors and benefitts he had receaued of him, togeather with the ingratitude he had shewed in denying him in such an occasion, his eyes did conuert themselues into two fountaynes of teares, with an extreame bitternes and greefe of hart. It is neither fear nor even guilt that produced this grief; it is love. Puente goes on to describe the lament in which Peter asks, “how canne I liue, having renownced the author of life?” concluding by asking his tongue, “how wast thou lett loose to accurse thy selfe, if


imaginando Iesum Christum coram me adesse in cruce fixum… sicut amici sermo ad amicum, vel servi ad dominum

(53). 46 In his commentary on this section of the Exercises, Gilles Cusson explains that “the awareness of sin does not aim at the annihilation of the sinner, but at the true discovery of God’s love for him.…In this sense, the experience of the first week is something uniquely positive. Not only does it unfold in the presence of the Savior, but the abyss of sin is meditated upon only to allow us to sound the immense length and the breadth of the divine love for man.” Cusson, Biblical Theology and the Spiritual Exercises: A Method Toward a Personal Experience of God as Accomplishing Within Us His Plan of Salvation (St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1988), 161–62. For more on the Christology of the first week, see Hugo Rahner, Ignatius the Theologian, trans. Michael Barry (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968), 53–93.


thou knewest him who had shewed vnto thee so great loue?”47 Notably, sin is only seen as such in the context of the rich love of Christ, the life and love one has received from him, and thus the very acknowledgement of one’s fault includes the hope of its amendment. By a Jesuit understanding of compunction, sorrow and love are opposite sides of the same coin. Thus while Southwell’s complaint involves more self-accusation than Tansillo’s lament, it is also infused with the intimacy of the lover’s complaint. Early in the poem the language is more martial, fitting for a de casibus complaint, for the complaint of the “magnanimo Pietro” of Tansillo’s poem. He has “left my guide” (50) and so lost his possibility of “heavenly raigne” (52); he is “Vaine in my vauntes” and a “Gyant, in talke: like a dwarfe, in triall quail’d: / Excelling none, but in untruth and pride,” demonstrating the great distance “betwene high wordes and deedes” (61–65); he accuses himself of “rashnesse: hastie ryce to murdering leape” (67). But as his complaint continues, the Southwellian Peter is constantly aware that the relationship he has betrayed is one of love. Thus despite the severity of Peter’s grief, he has more hope than the perpetually weeping Tansillian figure who would be reduced to lifelong grief even after his reinstatement: “De la sua uita tutto il rimanente / Non fu mai notte, che ei non si destasse, / Vdendo il gallo à dir quanto fu iniquo, / Dando lagrime noue al fallo antiquo” (all the remnant of his lyf / There was neuer nyght but therin he did wake / Herynge the cock tell him how

Louis de la Puente, Meditations upon the Mysteries of our Holie Faith, trans. John Heigham (St. Omer: 1619), 2:186. Anne Sweeney identifies the parallel moment in Southwell’s poem when Peter asks “How can I live, that have my life deny’de?” as an employment of the rhetorical self-questioning in the Spiritual Exercises. Sweeney, Snow in Arcadia, 28. 47


vnfayful he had ben / and geuynge new teares to his old falt) (F4v, 87–90).48 For Southwell’s Peter, on the other hand, his primary sin is not his infidelity to his martial lord but that “feare with love” had “cast so uneven accompt” (98), that his “friendship” had retreated “at the first affronte” (118), that “forgotten love” had been “exilde” (157). His images of the one he has wronged are nurturing: Peter is the muddy stream who has not repaid the gifts of “The mother sea” (103); he is the field that returns briars after Christ had toiled to manure his heart with “fertile heavens desires” (112). Because Christ’s relationship to him is one of love, Peter’s denial is a lover’s betrayal, one in which “every word was to his hart a wound, / And launst him deeper then a thousand swordes” (135–36). The “ougly childe” which his adulterous “thoughtes begat” (159) reveal that he has betrayed his lover, his friend, his mother, his husbandman. Peter’s is not the complaint of a fallen hero anymore; it is the dark parody of the complaint of the betrayed lover. Rather than the betrayed, his voice is that of the betrayer, which from his perspective warrents the deeper sorrow. After situating the tone of his complaint as one of the betrayer’s self-accusation, Peter spends lines 181–258 recalling events of the fateful evening in light of the loving relationship he has betrayed, ultimately a betrayal of himself. Although he had been the “earnest friend while pleasures light did shine” on Mt. Tabor at the Transfiguration and wanted to build three dwellings there (Matt. 17:1–8), he was a “drowsy friend” in Gethsemane “when eclipsed glory prostrate fell” (Matt. 26:36–46) and denied him three times (181–92). Peter may have succumbed to fear, but his crime was not one of

48 Tansillo is reflecting a tradition of the lifelong effect of Peter’s remorse. Puente likewise says that “In this manner did he also weepe all the rest of his life, as often as he heard the cock crowe, in so much as it is said of him, that the multitude of scalding teares that he did shedd, had made hollow furrowes, like vnto channells or gutters, all along his cheekes.” Puente, Meditations, 2:186.


cowardice but of failure in love, when “Base feare out of my hart his love unshrinde” (195). Rather than a crime of passion, it is one of lack of passion, one in which his “crasie love” revealed its “luke-warme desires,” desires that “seeke their friendes delightes, but shun their paine” (199–202). “Craze” initially enters the English language as a verb for Chaucer, meaning to break or shatter, and thus “crazy” in the early modern period can mean either cracked or sickly. When Peter berates his “crasie love,” the image is that of the cracked and shaky rock he has become, the “rocke of ruine,” as he said earlier.49 This “crasie,” cracked, unstable, frail love deserves a full stanza of appositions: Ah, coole remisnes, vertues quartane fever, Pyning of love, consumption of grace: Old in the cradle, languor dying ever, Soules willfull famine, sinnes soft stealing pace, The undermyning evill of zealous thought, Seeming to bring no harmes till all be brought. (205–10) It is a sin of abating passion, of coolness in the heat of his virtue, of starvation of love, of wasting away the body of grace. Because he has betrayed love, he has betrayed his own heart, and he is both the perpetrator and the victim of the complaint. As he continues to replay the events of the night in his memory, he recalls that “love, was loath to part; feare, loath to die,” and in this vexed position between love and fear Peter realizes that “[I] lost my selfe, while I my verdict wonne” (217–22). Ultimately his sin is negative, a sin of the absence of love. Yet despite the severity of this self-accusation, Peter ends his complaint with accusations against the chief participants in his fall in increasing ferocity: the fire (253–

49 The adjectival form was fairly new when Southwell composed Saint Peters Complaint. The OED first records its use in a 1576 Ciceronian translation titled A panoplie of epistles, in that case referring to unsoundness of health; the first recorded use of its literal meaning of “cracked” or “shaky” is in Philip Stubbs’s 1583 Anatomie of abuses. Spenser would soon employ this use of it in his 1595 pastoral complaint Colin Clouts come Home Againe.


58), the rooster (259–76), and the woman at the door to whom he made his first denial, with the rest of the female sex thrown in for good measure (277–324). At first glance this aspect of Peter’s grief seems the least sympathetic for readers; the religious reader will notice Peter is redirecting his guilt to someone else, like Adam blaming Eve for his own sin, and the modern reader will undoubtedly hear misogyny in his concluding tirade of appositions for the women who cause the falls of great men.50 O women, woe to men: traps for their falls, Still actors in all tragicall mischaunces: Earthes necessarie evils, captiving thralles, Now murdring with your tongs, now with your glances, Parents of life, and love: spoylers of both, The theefes of Harts: false do you love or loth. (319–24) This diatribe concludes twelve stanzas of invective in which Peter compares his own fall to that of the giant Goliath who was brought down by a stone, of Pharaoh who was brought down by gnats, and of David, Solomon, and Sampson who were brought down by “The blaze of beauties beames” (307). After over 250 lines of mostly self-accusation, this outwardly focused outrage seems awkwardly placed. On a penitential level, it seems that Peter has regressed from the broken spirit and contrite heart he demonstrated up to this point, hating his fall primarily because it was initiated by something as weak as “A puffe of womans wind” (150).

50 James H. McDonald and Nancy Pollard Brown suggest that the responsibility attributed to the portress is meant to resonate with Elizabeth’s Oath of Supremacy that tempted English Catholics to deny the Church of Rome. Richard Wilson furthermore connects the portress to the Venus of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, the seductress that has pulled Southwell’s “loving cosin” from nobler writing to the wiles of the Elizabethan court. Kari Boyd McBride, on the other hand, suggests that women become in this poem a replacement for the Jews in carrying the guilt of the passion narrative, and contrasts Peter’s misogyny to the erotic imagery he uses for Christ. Robert Southwell, The Poems of Robert Southwell, S. J., ed. James H. McDonald and Nancy Pollard Brown (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), lxxxix; Richard Wilson, “A Bloody Question: The Politics of Venus and Adonis,” Religion and the Arts 5:3 (2001): 297–316; Kari Boyd McBride, “Gender and Judaism in Meditations on the Passion: Middleton, Southwell, Lanyer, and Fletcher,” in Discovering and (Re)Covering the Seventeenth Century Religious Lyric, ed. Cunnar and Johnson, 17–40.


But while this explosive accusation is entirely inappropriate for penitential verse as it directs the blame outside the sinner, in the context of Peter’s complaint it brings in yet another stock trope from literary complaint as Peter describes a series of powerful men being taken down by rocks, gnats, and women. The homiletic contemptus mundi complaints often employ images of strong figures being devastated by the small as they emphasize the vanity of earthly ambition. Spenser himself was currently capitalizing on this trope in his contemporaneous “Visions of the worlds vanitie” roughly around the time Southwell was composing this poem. In Spenser’s series of vision sonnets, he had shown these images in a series of separate vignettes: a great bull tormented by a gadfly, a crocodile submitting to a bird, an eagle forced away from its eyrie by a fly’s fire, a Leviathan attacked by a swordfish he had swallowed, a dragon poisoned by a spider, a Cedar decayed from a worm, an Elephant tormented from an ant who crawled up his snout, a ship slowed by a sucking fish, a Lion tortured by a wasp, and Rome saved by a goose. Each of these images demonstrates some variant of the lesson that it is “great vainnesse…to scorne / The weake, that hath the strong so oft forelorne” (6.13–14). When Spenser’s speaker reflects on having seen “so great things by so small distrest,” he finally concludes by exhorting his reader to “forget not what you be: / For he that of himselfe is most secure, / Shall finde his state most fickle and vnsure” (12.6, 13–14). The lesson of this particular trope, at least for Spenser’s speaker, is not one of blaming the relatively weaker party for bringing down the stronger, though he may feel pained by the loss; indeed, the speaker even exhorts the reader at one point to “Learne by their losse to loue the low degree” (12.10). Rather, the lesson is ultimately one of humility, a warning to the stronger party not to be proud but to be aware of his or her own vulnerability.


Similarly, although Southwell’s Peter does not demonstrate a particular “loue” to those of “low degree” who are associated with his fall, his emphasis on their part in his tragedy demonstrates his frailty more than their blame. The rooster, “Whose piersing note doth daunt the Lyons rage,” like the bird to the crocodile or the wasp to the lion from Spenser’s visions, performs a similarly paradoxical function of assuaging Peter’s “frightes, and brutish heates,” of being the clock “to count my foyles,” and ultimately of serving as “the just rebuker of my crime” (260–65). Thus like the insects of Spenser’s visions who bring down powerful beasts, the rooster is an instrument of the “milde revenger of aspiring pride” who “canst dismount high thoughtes to low effectes,” chiding Peter for his fault and correcting his “lofty boastes” (271–74). Similarly, Goliath’s “storming rage” and “boasting fury” was brought down by the “Weake weapons” of David’s “staffe and sling” (277–82), and “th’Egyptian king” was “enforst…to stoupe” by “Smal gnats” (289). Read against the mode of complaint Southwell is adapting, these vignettes are not deflecting the blame per se but rather are a stock expression of humility, the realization of frailty when a lofty creature can be toppled by a comparatively weaker entity. In light of this convention, the misogyny of his tirade serves to heighten the length of his fall; as much as he is deriding the women who have toppled great men, he does so in order to debase himself further.51 While the stone that slew Goliath was at least skillfully thrown, Peter was merely “hisde to death with wordes of womans spite” (288);

51 Suzanne Woods argues that Aemilia Lanyer’s defense of the women in the passion narrative in her Salve Deus Rex Judæorum represents a response to Peter’s invective. Notably, Southwell himself seems less than sympathetic to Peter’s invective, and there is a way that the encounter with the eyes of the lover he betrayed immediately following this invective serves as the poem’s own response to the diatribe of the speaker. Woods, “Lanyer and Southwell.”


while the gnats that took down Pharoah were at least physically vexing, Peter “quayld at wordes that neither bit nor stonge, / And those delivered from a womans tongue” (293– 94). Even against the kings and warriors who fell to women’s wiles, Peter insists that his own fall is more humiliating, and thus is still employing the Ignatian directive of ranking his own crimes worse than those who commit a damning mortal sin. They were moved by these Sirens because “Love, by affecting, swallowed pleasures hookes,” a fault that may be “Enough, to damme, yet not to damme so deepe” (309–12); Peter on the other hand was toppled “Not [by] love, but feare,” and “Not feare of force, but feare of womans breath” (315–16). At this point, his is the complaint of the Spenserian poet who sees the pride of human achievement revealed for all the frail vanity that it is, frailer than the wind that blows it away. The Spenserian contemptus mundi complaint is the final mode of complaint that Peter’s cries have surpassed. In his compunction, his grief is greater than that of any forlorn shepherd, fallen hero, betrayed lover, or humbled creature.

Complaint as Meditation (325–522) After the vehemence of Peter’s complaint reaches its threshold with his tirade against women, immediately following his most scathing condemnation of these “theefes of Harts,” the tone suddenly turns without warning, and with an apparent non sequitur Peter remembers the moment in which Christ looked upon his sin. In time, O Lord, thine eyes with mine did meet, In them I read the ruines of my fall: Their chearing raies that made misfortune sweet, Into my guilty thoughts powrde flouds of gall, Their heavenly lookes that blist where they behld, Darts of disdaine, and angry checks did yeeld. (325–30)


This memory of Christ’s eyes is amplified into two hundred lines of encomium, selfinterrogation, apostrophe, and affective invocation that seems somewhat out of place in the context of the three hundred lines of complaint that led to this moment. Notably, whereas Tansillo’s revisions remove the one stanza comparing Christ’s gaze to lovers’ silent language, Southwell amplifies it to an extreme. After his accusations and selfloathing, Peter begins to wax erotic, indulging, as Martz says, “in all the worst extravagancies of Petrarchan poetry.”52 Southwell pulls out all the poetic stops for these lines, saturating his description of the eyes with Petrarchan comparisons to a “spotlesse Sunne” (336), “flames devine” (349), “graceful quivers of loves dearest darts” (352), “liquid pearle” (357), and “blasing comets, lightning flames of love” that warm his frozen heart (361). He combines these erotic metaphors with more devout comparisons, such as “Sweet volumes stoarde with learning fit for Saints” (337), “registers of truth” (344), “nectared Aubryes of soule feeding meats” (351), and “living mirrours” (367). The metaphors become extended metaphysical conceits, especially in the case of the “gracious spheres” (403), “little worldes” (409), and “mixtures” of “sweet elements” (415), and they evoke biblical images such as the “Pooles of Hesebon” (379), “Bethelem cisternes” (427), “Turtle twins all bath’d in virgins milke” (433), and the rod with which Moses struck “the Horebb rocke” (439).53 It is little wonder that Martz sees this lengthy eulogy as an indulgence on Southwell’s part, and its abrupt placement at the end of his tirade contributes to the impression of apparent disorganization of the poem as a whole.


Martz, Poetry of Meditation, 186.


Sg. 7:4; 2 Sam. 23:13–17; Sg. 5:12; Exod. 17:1–7; cf. Num. 20:1–13.


However, this extended amplification of the brief moment mentioned only in Luke when “the Lord turned, and looked vpon Peter” is far from tangential; its strategic placement as the centerpiece of the poem indicates its centrality not only to Peter’s emotional and penitential journey but also to Southwell’s redemption of the complaint mode. Not only does Christ turn and look at Peter, not only does the poem abruptly turn from an expression of grievance to that of wonder, but Peter turns; Kuchar identifies this moment as one of metanoia where Christ’s sufficiency meets Peter’s finitude.54 In effect, the three hundred preceding lines go from a complaint, an impassioned appeal for justice at the speaker’s own expense, to the first step of its own resolution. Because the compunction of the complaint had situated Peter’s self-accusation in the context of Christ’s love, the complaint itself becomes the first stage of a meditation on that love as remembered through the encounter with his eyes. As Ignatius prescribes, meditation goes through three stages, one for each of the three respective faculties of the soul: memory (memoria), understanding (intellectus), and will (voluntas).55 Through the process of complaint, as Peter establishes his culpability in his own downfall, he recreates in his memory the events of the night that lead to this moment of recognition, the recognition not only of his sin but of Christ’s love. Thus when he remembers the moment at which “thine eyes with mine did meet,” he is prepared for the next stage of meditation, utilizing


Kuchar, Poetry of Religious Sorrow, 41.

55 Though the Spiritual Exercises do not elaborate on these functions, Ignatius is drawing from a long tradition in which Augustine connected this tripartite division of the human soul to the Trinity, and the mystics furthermore used it to explain the soul’s deification in contemplation. See Alexandre Brou, Ignatian Methods of Prayer (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Company, 1949), 109–22; Lambert Classen, “The ‘Exercise with the Three Powers of the Soul’ in the Exercises as a Whole,” in Ignatius of Loyola, His Personality and Spiritual Heritage, 1556–1956: Studies on the 400th Anniversary of His Death, ed. Friedrich Wulf (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1977), 239–48.


the faculty of understanding as he reads in them “the ruines of my fall,” and for the next twenty stanzas (325–444) he explores the significance of the message he read in that moment: the message of love. This prepares him for the final stage of meditation as he summons his will to respond to that message with the full force of his affections (445– 522).56 Because his complaint had been conscious of the love that had been betrayed, its very vehemence has laid the ground for the complainant to reencounter that love. In Peter’s memory of his encounter with Christ’s eyes, Southwell’s divergence from Tansillo is most evident. He certainly gathers some inspiration from the Italian account of the moment, such as the “living mirrours” (367) through which Peter sees himself, the “glaunces [which] are a silent speech” (385), the “Sunnes, all but your selves in light excelling” (397), and the warmth that acted in his “frozen hart…like melting snow” (364). But for Tansillo, these “parole di sdegno e d’amor piene” (“wordes of wrath of loue full”) (F4v, 68) contain wrath almost exclusively; for Southwell the wrath is subsumed almost entirely in the love. Tansillo’s narrator dictates the words Peter heard when “Ogni occio del Signor lingua ueloce / Parea” (“Ech eie of Chryst a runnyng tunge did seem”) (F4r, 50), the accusations that call Peter a “Amico disleal, discepol fiero” (“frende disloyall…discyple fierce”) (F3v, 32), that assert that Peter was “Perfido e ingrato soura ogn’altro sei” (“faythless and vngratefull aboue all other”) (F4r, 62) because he even took sadistic pleasure in Christ’s sorrows. Thus when Tansillo compares Peter’s vision of the gaze of Christ to the moment when a “Giouane donna il suo bel uolto in specchio…uide…di lucido cristallo” (“youthful dame her beautuoise face in glasse / of

56 Though the noun affectus is not in the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius often describes the actions of the will with its Latin root verb afficio (to affect, i.e. to exert an influence on body or mind to carry it out); the affections are themselves movements of the will. Brou, Ignatian Methods, 117.


Christall bryghtnes did so well discrye”) (F3v, 33–34), the mirror reveals only Peter’s fault. Though he compares the eyes to the spring sun by which the snow “Tutta si sface, e si discioglie in acque” (“doth quyte melt and resolue in to water”), the fear which melted into tears from Peter’s “cor gelata” (“frosen hart”) (F4v, 78–79) could only be those of grief. For Southwell’s Peter, on the other hand, while Christ’s eyes do indeed pour “flouds of gall” into his “guilty thoughts” and shoot “Darts of disdaine, and angry checks,” they are nevertheless “chearing raies that made misfortune sweet” and that “blist where they beheld” (327–30). Thus even the images that Southwell borrows from Tansillo are transformed into images of love as Peter employs his impassioned intellect to understand the significance of his memory of the eyes. Southwell also describes the “lightning flames of love” that “Made me their warming influence to know” and melted his “frozen hart,” but the imagery is one of warmth rather than endless tears; in fact, when the previous stanza mentions tears, they are the treasure unlocked by the “cabinets of grace” that “did to my misdeed their mercies measure” (359–66). The poem is not merely an English equivalent to the Lagrime; the few times Peter’s tears are mentioned at all in the first half, they are not the “bitter tears of repentance” that scholars expect to see in penitential poetry.57 When Peter compares the eyes to “living mirrours, seeing whom you shew,” he is seeing not his fault as he did in Tansillo’s poem but actually being transformed in the reflection. The reflection in Christ’s eyes makes shadows worthy of the “shadowed things,” being made “nobler then in native hew” and “shap’d in those life


Scallon, Poetry of Robert Southwell, 151.


giving springs” (367–70).58 While the “glaunces” of Christ’s eyes are still “a silent speech…Whose textes to faithfull heartes need little glosing,” Peter learns not condemnation but rather “softnes in thine eye,” which offers “them love, that love with love wil buy” (285–94). Southwell’s Peter finds self-condemnation only in his own complaint; his encounter with Christ’s eyes, as he understands it, brings the warmth and softness of love. The eyes reveal his fault only to transform it, just as the vehemence of his complaint reveals his fault only to have it transformed into a meditation on Christ’s love. In that context, the “extravagancies of Petrarchan poetry” are central to the meditation; in effect, after the complaint decried the betrayal of holy love, the memory of Christ’s eyes reestablish that love in all its extravagance. In the context of divine love, this memory is itself an encounter, enacting a transformation of the faithless lover. The eyes become an “endlesse…labyrinth of blisse, / Where to be lost the sweetest finding is,” the “Sweet volumes…Where blisfull quires imparadize” the minds of the Saints (337–42), situating the lost soul within the one who finds him.59 They “did vouchsafe to warme, to wound, to feast / My cold, my stony, my now famishde breast” (353–54), enacting sensual affect, penetration, and consummation all at once. Indeed, the more concretely we imagine the image of his stony breast being wounded by the eyes, the more it aligns with compunctio in its etymological sense: a prick or puncture. Christ’s eyes wound like those of the Petrarchan lady, but they perform a masculine role as the instigators in the

58 These references to eyes that make Peter more worthy of being seen are among the Southwellian influences that John Klause argues for in Shakespeare’s King John. Shakespeare depicts the Dolphin Lewis seeing “The shadow of myself form’d in [Blanch’s] eye,” and concluding that “I never lov’d myself / Till now infixed I beheld myself Drawn in the flattering table of her eye” (2.1.498–503). Klause, “New Sources for Shakespeare’s King John: The Writings of Robert Southwell,” Studies in Philology (2001), 404–05. 59 The OED records the first use of the word imparadise in Samuel Daniel’s Delia (1592), and the adjectival form imparadised in the 1590 Arcadia. Depending on the date of composition of Saint Peters Complaint, this might antedate both of them.


relationship, the initiators; Christ’s vision, rather than being a passive sense that takes in its environment, is one that “By seeing things…make[s] things worth the sight, / You seeing, salve, and being seene, delight” (377–78). Similarly, the extended conceits emphasize only love to a drastic extreme. In fact, the apostrophe to the “gracious spheres, where love the Center is” turns into a deliberately repetitive conceit in which every detail of the spheres is compared to the same thing, an erotic application of the Ignatian directive to see God in all things: “The compasse, love, a cope that none can mis: / The motion, love that round about us rowles. / O Spheres of love, whose Center, cope and motion, / Is love of us, love that invites devotion” (403–08). In the next conceit, the “little worldes, the summes of all the best,” Peter goes from seeing love in all things to love: in the worlds of Christ’s eyes, glory is heaven, God is the sun, all virtues are the stars, the light of life is the air, grace is the water “whose springs, whose showers, / Cloth natures earth, with everlasting flowers,” and love shows up again as the fire that links the glorious heaven to the fruitful earth as it “next to heaven doth rest” (409–14). These elements of fire, air, water, and earth get mixed into an alchemical solution in the following stanza in which these “simples are by compounds farre exceld” (417). Love is not only the fire that links heaven and earth; it is the element that combines other elements into a compound that is more than the sum of its parts.60

60 Gary Kuchar has written extensively on the alchemical imagery in Saint Peters Complaint, though he focuses especially on the next section of the poem when Peter invokes his tears as the quintessence of this alchemical process. “Alchemy, Repentance, and Recusant Allegory in Robert Southwell’s Saint Peters Complaint,” in Redrawing the Map of Early Modern Catholicism, ed. Lowell Gallagher (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), 159–84.


The four biblical allusions in the eulogy to Christ’s eyes serve to establish them as the place of this transformative encounter that makes Peter “worth the sight.” In a poem derived from the Italian tears-poetry tradition, Southwell notably deemphasizes Peter’s tears and resituates the tears in the liquid eyes of the betrayed. It is Christ’s eyes that are the “Pooles of Hesebon, the bathes of grace, / Where happy spirits dyve in sweet desires” (379–80), a reference to the Song of Songs when the lover makes the same comparison for the eyes of his beloved.61 Notably, unlike the traditional typological reading of the biblical poem that places Christ as the lover and the soul as the beloved, Southwell initially reverses the allegory and makes the eyes of Peter’s Lord the pools for which the lover longs. It is again Christ’s eyes that are the longed-for water when Peter compares them to “Bethelem cisternes, Davids most desire, / From which my sinnes like fierce Philistims keepe”; the “drops” that he longs “To fetch…That I therein my withered heart may steepe” are not his own tears but rather the water from Christ’s eyes, which Peter “would not shed…like that holy king” (427–31).62 In a poem that has notably deemphasized Peter’s physical tears up to this point, these liquid metaphors are curiously placed, apparently making Christ the weeper rather than Peter. The possibility of the tears of Christ is reminiscent of a meditation by Southwell’s contemporary Luis de Granada, a Dominican whose Of Prayer and Meditation was translated by Richard Hopkins in 1582 and was popular in English recusant communities. According to Luis, the message Peter understood in Christ’s eyes communicated tears, but they were Christ’s tears more than Peter’s: “For the eies of our Sauiour Christe doe not onelie speake, but


oculi tui sicut piscinae in Esebon (7:4).


Cf. 2 Sam. 23:13–17.


also worke, as it plainlie appeared by the teares of Peter, which albeit they gushed from the eies of Peter, yet did they much more proceide from the looke and eies of Christe.”63 For Southwell, as for Luis, Christ’s eyes are the source of the tears that eventually emerge from Peter’s eyes. Thus in the following two biblical allusions, these eyes that contain their own wellspring of desirable water transform the lover into their own image. They begin to take on more masculine, initiating images, becoming comparable to “Turtle twins all bath’d in virgins milke, / Upon the margin of the full flowing bankes” (433–34), the simile that the beloved of the Song of Songs uses when she compares her lover’s eyes to “turtledoves washed in milk upon brooks of water and dwelling beside plentiful streams.”64 Furthermore, they surpass “Moyses wand” which “did strike the Horebb rocke” twice “Ere stony veynes would yeeld their christall blood,” although in their case “one looke servd as an onely knocke, / To make my heart gush out a weeping floode” (439–42). This much more masculine image of the wand that strikes the rock to produce flowing water is a curious conflation of two different accounts of water in the wilderness in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20. It is the later story that shows Moses striking the rock twice when God had commanded him only to speak to it, a breach of obedience that cost him entry into the Promised Land, but it is the earlier story when he strikes it only once that identifies the place as Horeb. By identifying the place as Horeb, even while hearkening to the sin of Moses, Southwell emphasizes disobedience and retribution even while emphasizing mercy and provision, in this case the provision of the water from Peter’s eyes


Fisher 191; Luis de Granada, Of prayer and meditation, trans. Richard Hopkins (Paris: 1582), 70v–71r.


columbae super rivulos aquarum quae lacte sunt lotae et resident iuxta fluenta plenissima (Sg. 5:12).


to match those he has already seen in Christ’s. Peter has become, as Kuchar argues, “the typological fulfillment of the rock that Moses strikes,” a figure of compunctio in the etymological sense, punctured by Christ’s rod to supply both tears and love.65 Luis explains, “the eies of Christ doe open our eies, and those are the eies that doe awake such as are a-sleepe,” and likewise here the fountain of water in Christ’s eyes opens fountains in Peter’s.66 The water that the lover has been longing for as a parched sojourner in the wilderness has gone from the eyes of his beloved to his own, transforming him into the beloved herself. “But O, how long demurre I on his eies, / Whose looke did pearce my heart with healing wound” (445–46), Peter finally asks, triggering the transition to the final stage of meditation: from his already affective intellectus to the full voluntas, from an exploration with his understanding to a movement of the will, his response to understanding his memory. For Ignatius, the will is the summation of all stages of meditation because it is the faculty of desire, coming from the Latin volo (to wish, want, intend), “volendo totum illud memorari et intelligere” (desiring to remember and understand the whole) (50). After the “healing wound” that pierced Peter’s heart, tears are the culmination of that process of desire, and the next hundred lines invoke this affective response with another barrage of literary devices that portray the desired tears as the climax of the meditative journey. His sighs and plaints are like the swan’s death-song (451–56); his tears are the quintessence of the alchemical fires of fear that burn the fuel of “selfe accusing thoughtes” and are stoked by winds of penance (457–62). Importantly, these tears are not the bitter


Kuchar, Poetry of Religious Sorrow, 35–36.


Fisher 192; Luis de Granada, Of prayer and meditation, 71r.


tears of remorse that we see in Tansillo; they are the sweet relief to his bitter selfcondemnation. They are the “ofspring of my griefe” that bring “needfull aide” and “wishde relief” to their languishing parent (463–65), the “good effectes of ill deserving cause” who are “Ill gotten impes, yet vertuously brought forth” (469–70). Thus this movement of the will, the calling forth of his affective response—“Come sorrowing teares” (463), “Come good effectes of ill deserving cause” (469), “Come shame, the lincea of offending mind” (517)—is not a punishment for his sin but is actually a soothing of the sting of his shame. It is the relief and reinforcement he needs to take him from his meditation back into the realm of complaint.

Community of Complaint (511–792) In the last third of the poem, Peter’s affective conclusion to his meditation allows him to reenter the community from which his lonely fall has separated him. It is a fallen company, one made up of a similar line of de casibus great men and women who have plummeted into lowliness. As Peter seeks to find his place within it, he views three different communities. First he looks for his place among those who have fallen before his time, mostly Old Testament figures, but he finds that he is lowlier than all of them. Then he considers reclaiming his place among other first-century figures who have followed Christ beside him, but likewise he finds that he has fallen too low to return to his former community. Finally, in his isolated position of self-accusation and compunction, he finds his place as a guest in sorrow’s house, a strangely warm place of welcome. From there, he is able to turn back to Christ and plead for the grace that he has come to see in all the prior stages of his complaint. In this way, the complainant is brought in the end out of the agony of his isolation into an encounter with mercy in the very world that still bears 127

the effects of his sin, through the mechanics of his sorrow itself. Rather than a Spenserian solution that can only rise above the sorrow of the vain world by fleeing it, Southwell’s complaint positions the redemption of the sorrow of sin and corruption within the grief itself. The first community among whom Peter seeks his place are figures of tragedy, figures who seem to fit Chaucer’s Monk’s description of tragedy: “Tragedie is to seyn a certeyn storie, / As olde bookes maken us memorie, / Of hym that stood in greet prosperitee, / And is yfallen out of heigh degree / Into myserie, and endeth wrecchedly” (1973–77). Peter in fact begins with the Monk’s second example, but while the Monk had claimed that “Hadde nevere worldly man so heigh degree / As Adam, til he for mysgovernaunce / Was dryven out of hys hye prosperitee / To labour, and to helle, and to meschaunce” (2011–14), Peter insists that his own fall is greater. Adam, after all, “sought a veyle to scarfe his sinne,” while nothing in all of creation could conceal Peter’s “monstrous fact, which even the birds reveale” (511–16). Cain likewise deserves more mercy than Peter’s “impious tong may crave,” for “he Kild a ryvall with pretence of good, / In hope Gods doubled love alone to have,” while Peter fell out of fear that “spoild my vanquisht thoughts of love” (523–28). Hagar had plenty of reason to weep when she was exiled into the wilderness of Beersheba where her son Ishmael lay dying of thirst, but Peter insists that “I feele more then was feard of thee,” because “not my sonne: my soule it is that dies” (529–40). Even the sin of Absalom who led rebellion against his father King David is more pardonable, for it was “High aymes, yong spirits, birth of royall lyne” that “Made him play false, where kingdoms were the stakes,” whereas Peter “A kingdome lost, but hopd no mite of gaine.” Worse than the attempted patricide of the “Ungratefull child” who pursued his father, Peter waged a “gyants warre with God himself” (541– 128

52).67 Among these iconic figures of Old Testament tragedy, Peter insists, his shame is more blatant, his crime less excusable, his cause for grief greater, and his offence more heinous. The final example of tragic historical figures that Peter identifies is one that Southwell borrows from Tansillo. Within the fifteen eight-line stanzas of Peter’s long lament in the Lagrime are eight stanzas that praise the “buon destin” (good fortune) of the “fanciulletti, che moriron santi” (little children who died saints) by the hand of Herod when he sought to kill the infant Jesus. While the three six-line stanzas Southwell devotes to the Holy Innocents are more than the one or two he devotes to the other figures, his treatment is drastically shorter than his Italian model. Tansillo’s Peter, who spent four out of the six previous stanzas lamenting his too-long life, is fixated on the babes as figures of envy not only for their lack of sin but also because they gained “ne la superna corte / Prima corona” (the first crown in the supernal court) (F6v), the applause of heaven, the honor of being sung as “guerrier nouelli / Vestiti à bianco” (new warriors clothed in white) who had earned a “Corona di martir col sangue scorta” (crown of martyrdom with their supply of blood) (F7r). Southwell’s Peter likewise envies the innocence of those “that die in blisfull hower” (555), whom “spotlesse death in cradle rockt asleep,” describing the roses and lilies on their hearse as “virgin white” steeped “in martirs red,” the “pearles and rubies” on their crowns (560–63). But he spends much less time envying their heavenly glory than he does envying the tears of their mothers, what Matthew’s gospel describes as a “voice heard in Rama, lamentation and great wailing, Rachel weeping for her sons and

67 For the fall of Adam, see Genesis 3; for Cain, see Genesis 4:1–16; for Hagar, see Genesis 21:8–21; for Absalom, see 2 Samuel 15–18.


refusing to be comforted because they are no more.”68 Whereas Tansillo tells the mothers “non piangete uoi lor morte ria” (do not weep for their foul death) but rather “Lasciate pianger me la uita mia” (let me weep for my life) (F7r), Southwell takes it a step further when he entreats them similarly, “Rue not their death whom death did but revive: / Yeld ruth to me that lived to die alive” (569–70). Southwell’s Peter wants their tears, not merely space for his own. He has already invoked his own tears; now he is seeking a community of weepers. So far, his search has produced no results. The second community he seeks out is that of those who have likewise followed Christ during his ministry, but he is too ashamed to reclaim his place beside them. After briefly envying the man who ran naked from the Garden of Gethsemane and thus escaped without disrobing himself of grace in Mark 14:51–52 (571–76), Peter wonders to whom he can return in his naked sin to sue for grace. Not the Virgin Mary, he determines right away, not with his “breath still reeking hellish steeme,” for how could “a virgins love redeeme” a “hart deflowrde” (577–88) who had abjured her Son? Nor could he return to the “sister Nymphes” of Mary and Martha and “infect that sanctified aire / Or staine those steps where Jesus breathd and trode” (589–94), and his senses are paralyzed at the thought of even naming “revived Lazarus…, / The third of that sweet Trinitie of Saints” (595–600). There is no hope either of reclaiming his place beside James and John with whom he had “made a triple corde” of Christ’s dearest friends, for his “rotten twist was broken with a worde,” and thus Ecclesiastes is proven ultimately untrue when it declares “that triple twisted corde is hardly broken” (601–06).69 The only


vox in Rama audita…ploratus et ululatus multus Rachel plorans filios suos et noluit consolari quia non sunt (Matt.

2:18). 69

funiculus triplex difficile rumpitur (Eccl. 4:12).


ones who would rejoice to see him now are “The dispossessed divels that out I threw, / In Jesus name, now impiously forsworne”; indeed, his “perjury was musicke to their daunce” as they “Triumph to see me caged in their mew” (607–12). As he seeks to find his place in the story from which he has cut himself out, the only place that would receive him gladly is that of devils. From this place of isolated exile as an “Outcast from heaven, earthes curse” (638), he has the space to spend the next hundred lines considering “th’anotomy of sinne” (665) and its effects on his eye, heart, thought, tongue, and ears (673–84), leaving him bankrupt of all but “bartring paines” as he trades “sorrowes ware” in a “shop of shame” (685–90). But it is in that very place that he finds both his wealth, “wealthiest…when rich in remorce” (692), and his identity, “In Orphian seate devoted to mishap” (698). In the poignant climax of the poem, the exiled orphan identifies his place as a guest in sorrow’s house. At sorrowes dore I knockt, they crav’de my name; I aunswered one, unworthy to be knowne: What one? say they, one worthiest of blame. But who? a wretch, not Gods, nor yet his owne. A man? O no, a beast? much worse, what creature? A rocke: how cald? the rocke of scandale, Peter. From whence? from Caiphas howse, ah dwell you there? Sinnes farme I rented, there, but now would leave it: What rent? my soule: what gaine? unrest, and feare, Deare purchase. Ah too deare. Will you receive it? What shall we give? fit teares, and time, to plaine me, Come in, say they; thus griefes did entertaine me. (703–14) It is an oddly tender scene, somewhat of a benign precursor to the House of Care in Spenser’s 1596 Faerie Queene (4.5), as if Spenser’s Care spoke in the voice of Herbert’s Love from “Love” (III). Like the forlorn lover Scudamour in Spenser’s allegory, Peter passes his “nightes without repose” (719), but the sorrow that welcomes him is an oddly gracious 131

host, inviting his lowly guest inside, sympathetic to the dear price he paid for his unrest, offering the requested entertainment. Peter may describe himself as a “true prisoner to their jaile” (715), but he is a willing captive; he may “sleepe in waking woes” (720), but he agrees that “This sleepe most fitly suteth sorrowes bed” that he sought out (733). He has accepted his identity as the “rocke of scandale,” the ironic twist of the name initially given to him in love by the Christ he has denied, and in that poverty he is able to embrace the fare offered by his host. His host, the sorrow who entertains him, is not a good in and of itself; it is “the smart of evill, Sinnes eldest child.” But unlike the attempted patricide of Absalom, the son of a good father, sorrow is “Best, when unkind in killing who it bred” (734–35), and thus by embracing the offspring of sin Peter has hope of killing the father. The selfemptying of his willing captivity earns him a funeral of his “lifes losse under deathes dreary roofes,” a redemptive conceit worthy of a stanza of description. A selfe-contempt, the shroud: my soule, the corse: The beere, an humble hope: the hersecloth, feare: The mourners, thoughtes, in blackes of deepe remorse: The herse, grace, pittie, love, and mercy beare. My teares, my dole: the priest, a zealous will: Pennance, the tombe: and dolefull sighes, the knill. (745–50) At the end of his orphaned exile, in his bankruptcy at the home of the offspring of sin, Peter receives a full funeral for his deadened soul he has already shrouded in selfcontempt. His corpse is carried on the bier of his humble hope by grace, pity, love, and mercy. In that redemptive company, his zealous will is positioned to entreat the mercy he needs. At the end of the isolation of Peter’s complaint, he finds redemptive hope in the company of sorrow; rather than an evil to be escaped, grief becomes its own redemption.


Thus the end of the poem does have a certain cautious hope, but it never loses the sorrow that Peter has entered, nor does it even have the assurance of forgiveness. Like so many of the other biblical characters of Southwell’s poems, Peter is left in suspension, hanging between his sorrow and his awareness of being loved.70 He acknowledges Christ as the “health of feverd soule, heaven of the minde, / Force of the feeble, nurse of Infant loves, / Guide to the wandring foote, light of the blind, / Whome weeping winnes, repentant sorrow moves” (751–54), but the poem ends before full reconciliation occurs. In fact, in Catholic terms Southwell gives reason to question the fullness of Peter’s contrition at this point; in nearly eight hundred lines, the closest the penitent ever gets to the necessary resolve never to sin again is Peter’s “poore desire…to mend my ill.” Even this desire, the will in the Ignatian sense, is poor because Peter’s “pride is checkt” after his previous vows proved vain; now he can only assert, “I should, I would, I dare not say, I will. // I dare not say, I will; but wish, I may” (761–64). These lines are the only evidence that Peter’s “sorrow and detestation of mind for sin committed” is coupled “with the resolution of not sinning again” (14.4) that the Council of Trent mandates for true contrition, and thus this conclusion is far from a how-to guide for English recusants

“S. Peters afflicted minde” likewise leaves Peter in affliction, “Forlorne and left like Orphan child” (15), ending only with a justification of his grief; the shorter “Saint Peters Complaynte” cuts off the stanza with his final hope as Peter says, “With feare I crave, with hope I humbly call” (72); and “S. Peters remorse” gets the closest to optimism when it ends “I was, I am, I will remaine / Thy charge, thy choice, thy childe” (59–60); but none get anywhere near perfect contrition nor the consolation that comes from it. David’s only hope at the end of “Davids Peccavi” is that now that he is in sorrow without fancy, his wit and will may mend. As we will see in the next chapter, Mary concludes in “The virgin Mary to Christ on the Crosse” isolated from even the comfort of the angels, and Mary Magdalen ends “Marie Magdalens complaint at Christs death” with only love after the spear has driven her (Christ’s) life away. Joseph is the most explicitly suspended in “Josephs Amazement,” concluding that his apparently faithless betrothed Mary is “a friend to love, a foe to loth, / And in suspence I hang between them both” (83–84). 70


separated from the sacrament of reconciliation.71 The Peter of the poem not only ultimately lacks the “peace and serenity of conscience with an exceedingly great consolation of spirit” (14.3) that the Council associates with the sacrament, but his contrition itself is suspect.72 Although the Council allows that “sometimes this contrition is perfect through charity and reconciles man to God before the sacrament is actually received” as long as the penitent desires the sacrament (14.4), an important allowance for English recusants without available confessors, Peter qualifies his “poor desire…to mend my ill,” separating his obligation and desire from his intention which is still lacking.73 These lines are the only lines out of 792 that address his intention to change, easy to miss among the rest, and if Southwell intended the poem to guide recusants to perfect contrition he chose a surprising way to do it. Instead what he gives is a complaint in which the complainant is never given a solution to his sorrow; indeed, if sorrow is the place of encounter with Christ, it is not a problem but the solution itself.

Complaint vs. Tears: Southwell’s Imitators Southwell’s suspension of consolation and even of perfect contrition is a surprising artistic decision if we imagine Saint Peters Complaint to be a contribution to the popular movement of penitential poetry in the later sixteenth century. It is notable for a priest whose vocational training emphasized spiritual direction and the hearing of confessions to have left out the final element of perfect contrition, indicating that Southwell had


animi dolor ac detestatio…de peccato commisso, cum proposito non peccandi de cetero. Canons and Decrees, 367.


conscientiae pax ac serenitas cum vehementi spiritus consolatione. Canons and Decrees, 367.

contritionem hanc aliquando caritate perfectam esse contingat, hominemque Deo reconciliare, priusquam hoc sacramentum actu suscipiatur. Canons and Decrees, 367. 73


intentions for his poem beyond a model for would-be penitents. Saint Peters Complaint is not a poem about penitence; it is a complaint, a demand for redemption in the midst of a fallen world, a world in whose fall the speaker himself is complicit. The difference between this approach and the penitential tradition is especially striking in contrast to Southwell’s immediate appropriators who tend to sermonize their penitential poems to find relief in forgiveness and reconciliation. All these imitators, Protestant and Catholic alike, correct this apparent negligence, writing their much shorter poems with Southwell’s stanza-form in ways that emphasize a resolve to change, confidence in God’s forgiveness, and often the consolation of forgiveness itself. These poems never achieved the notoriety of the masterpiece they corrected; they were buried in a larger movement of penitential poetry within which Southwell did not fully fit, and thus their audience remained smaller, limited to those of their doctrinal positions. We see this narrowing of scope from the first imitation, printed two years after the publication of Saint Peters Complaint. Unlike Southwell’s attempt “to weave a new webbe in [the poets’] owne loome” of complaint and his opening invocation to the speaker’s own grief, his anonymous imitator in the 1597 Saint Peters Ten Teares begins by expunging secular wit in favor of the “holy Ghost and sacred spirit.” “Imaginarie Muses get you gone, / And you Ideas idle company,” the poem begins; “Restraine your haughtie metaphorick lines: / For reuerent truth your glory vndermines” (A2r). This vision of a Christian poem, it becomes clear, is one inundated in Scripture and clearly articulated (Calvinist) doctrine. Halfway through the poem, in fact, Peter declares explicitly that “My table is thy holy Testament” (B3r), which is clear enough with the network of biblical


echoes laced throughout the poem, especially from the penitential psalms.74 From the beginning the penitential protagonist retains a confidence in the forgiveness he will receive. Gone is Southwell’s pitiful Peter who considers himself worse than Judas; this Peter is sure that his weeping indicates the fruit of true repentance, the “sacrifice [that] thou didst accept” (A3v), the “broken spirit and contrite and humbled heart” of the penitential psalms.75 His weeping “morne, noone, and night” is a reflection of a conversion that has already happened, following the path laid out in the psalms; and thus he can be “sure thy sinnfull soule is fled” because “Thy God hath heard thy pitty moouing crye” (A4v).76 This Peter is much more in control of his repentance than Southwell’s, telling his heart “With penitence I doo commaund thee breake,” insisting to God that “If for thy saints such grace thou hast regained, / I am a Saint though sinne hath made me stained,” remembering that “Thy mercy is so kinde, thy loue so sweete, / That judgement comes, and kisses mercies feete” (B1r).77 This poet has no pretenses of weaving webs in the looms of the “haughtie metaphorick lines” of idle poets; Peter weeps not like a forlorn shepherd, fallen prince, or abandoned lover, but like the penitent psalmists, confident in the salvation promised him.78

For an account of the use of the penitential psalms in early modern England and their use and appropriation for Protestant and Catholic doctrines of repentance alike, see Clare Costley, Miserere Mei: The Penitential Psalms in Late Medieval and Early Modern England (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012). 74

Cf. “The sacrifices of God are a contrite Spirit: a contrite & a broken heart, ô God, thou wilt not despise (Ps. 51:17). 75

Cf. “I fainted in my mourning: I cause my bed euery night to swimme, & watter my couche with my tears.…The Lord hathe heard my peticion. the Lord wil receiue my praier” (Ps. 6:6,9). 76


Cf. “Mercie and trueth shal mete: righteousnes and peace shal kisse one another” (Ps. 85:10).


This is a particularly optimistic Calvinist treatment of penitence. For a different handling, see Anne



Not only is the protagonist of the Ten Teares confident, but he is also explicit about the source of that confidence so that his readers can find it as well. Lest a reader might imagine that Peter earned his forgiveness through his ostentatious shows of grief, he keeps his sorrow in check, already confident even before his reinstatement that “Thou wilt not giue [my soul] ouer vnto death” (B2r).79 Thus he bends his “poore submissiue minde, / …when others bow their knees,” making “no glorious shew” of his repentence and “blow[ing] no trumpets with the Publicans” (B2v).80 His tears and lamentations do not serve as currency, he clarifies, not before the Lord who “regardest the heart, and not the toung, / For too much babling dooth our prayers wrong” (B3r).81 Because his weeping is private, it is sincere, and thus Peter is confident that his genuine repentance is written “within thy booke of life, / the regester of thy elected flocke” (B4r). While the 1597 publication date suggests an effort to capitalize on the popularity of Saint Peters Complaint, Saint Peters Ten Teares sets itself apart from its predecessor not only by making the path of repentance Protestant but also by making it clear. Unlike Southwell who leaves the protagonist’s perfect contrition ambiguous by the poet’s own doctrinal standards, this Protestant poet clarifies exactly how Peter can eventually declare with confidence that he has “runne and woone the golden crowne, / the glorious conquest of my penitence” (C3r).


Cf. “The Lord hathe chastened me sore, but he hathe not deliuered me to death (Ps. 118:18).

80 Cf. “And when thou prayest, be not as the hypocrites: for they loue to stand, and pray in the Synagogues, & in the corners of the streetes, because they wolde be sene of men. Verely I say vnto you, they haue their rewarde” (Mt. 6:5). 81 Cf. “Also when ye pray, vse no vaine repetitions as the heathen: for they thinke to be heard for their muche babling” (Mt. 6:7); “for man loketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord beholdeth the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7);.


The next imitation to be printed, William Broxup’s Saint Peters Path to the Joyes of Heauen (1598), is even more explicit about its purpose of mapping the route out of the sorrow of sin to the joy of salvation. The opening letter states the intention “that the Reader may learne the true path to perfect Ioy, and how to humble himselfe in the schoole of repentance,” in order that “hee shall receiue the fruites of his good worke” (A3r), a how-to guide by example. While the argument of the poem clarifies that we should not dare to presume grace unless “with blessed Peter we repent” (C1v), the poem proper begins by urging sinful man to rise and not to let “despairing thoughts thy soule affright” (C2r).82 By the seventh stanza, Broxup’s Peter already knows that “true repentance did new life beginne” and that “Christ did forgiue, and all my sinnes forget” (C2v), and thus his purpose for declaring this sin at this point is “To giue true comfort to despairing soules” and “to manifest Gods glorie” (C3r). While Broxup liberally borrows from Southwell’s poem, seemingly most fascinated with Peter’s dialogue at sorrow’s house, the poem as a whole demonstrates a dramatically different relationship with sorrow.83 Tears are for Broxup a currency to gain

82 Indeed, this is not Southwell’s humble Peter whose pride is so checked that he cannot even resolve not to sin again; Broxup’s Peter insists that “Were now the Cocke to crow, as thrice he crue, / No woman (though I dyde) should me subdue” (E4r). 83 “Impious wretch, vile obiect of disgrace, / The mappe of shame, the excrement of earth” (C3v; cf. SPC 25–29); “Sweete Lorde, with fauour measure my offence, / Let true repentance counteruaile thine ire, / Let teares appease, where trespasse doth incense, / Let pitie moue: let humble hope desire” (D1r; cf. SPC 781–84); “In Calender of shame, my name is showne” (D3v; cf. SPC 498); “But who? a wretch, vnworthy to be knowne, / A Saint? O no, not Gods, nor yet his owne” (D4r; cf. SPC 703–06); “All weeping eyes, resigne to me your teares” (D4v; cf. SPC 43); “What then, a saint, no no, a beast, nay worse” (E1v; cf. SPC 707); “That in the shope of shame trades periur’d ware” (E2v; cf. SPC 690); “Sinnes farme I rented, with hard intrest bought, / The rent my soule, yet all my gayne was griefe, / Deere was that purchase, which my downfal wrought / In Caiphas court, I lost my soules reliefe” (E3r; cf. SPC 709–12); “With mildnes measure, my submissiue minde” (E3v; cf. SPC 781); “With feare I craue, with hope I doe intreat” (E3v; cf. SPC 786); “Ah seruile feare, that maskes a drooping minde” (E4r; cf. SPC 295); “To spit thy poyson in thy makers face…My oaths were darts, my cruell tongue the sling, / My God the marke, and him I did maligne” (E4v; cf. SPC 125–30); “Forget, forgiue, sweet Iesus say Amen” (H3r; cf. SPC 792).


grace, a means to an end—“The more in plentie, greater is their power”—for they are a “pearled dew” with “allureth God to grace” (C3r). Gone are the Petrarchan images of the forlorn lover; this Peter is explicitly concerned with his eternal salvation, admitting that “of damnation am I sore afraid” as he (like the speaker of the Ten Teares) entreats God to “write my teares within the booke of life! / The register of thine elected fold” (E3r). He admits a certain self-interest in this repentance, for “Who would not shedde whole floods of teares a while, / Which afterward might haue such cause to smile?” Peter knows “the worth of true heart-grieued teares,” because “These weeping teares did quench Gods kindled ire, / Appeasde his furie, winning heauens blisse, / Procur’d Gods grace, purchast my soules deisre” (F3v). Broxup situates Peter’s repentance in “a doctrine firme and sure, / Worthie of all men to be still imbraced,” that “Christ came on earth, the sinfull soule to cure” so that “We shall be crownde with euerlasting glorie.”84 Ultimately, Peter’s sorrow is a means to an end, one that will be put aside when his end is accomplished, so as he begins to achieve confidence in his salvation he exhorts himself to “cease thy ouer-mournfull dittie” (H2r), to “trust in God, driue damnd dispayre away, / And so come boldlie to Gods mercie gate” (H3r). Like the Ten Teares, Broxup corrects Southwell’s concluding sorrow, giving the repentant Peter firm doctrinal assurances of forgiveness. Samuel Rowlands proves to be a more selective borrower from Southwell than is Broxup, distinguishing which aspects of the poem represent the godly grief of repentance and which represent the damning grief of despair. The Betraying of Christ (1598) includes a

84 Cf. “This is a true saying, and by all meanes worthie to be receiued, that Christ Iesus came into the worlde to saue sinners, of whome I am chief” (1 Tim. 1:15); “And when the chief shepherd shal appeare, ye shal receiue an incorruptible crowne of glorie” (1 Pet. 5:4).


poetic lament from the repentant Peter and one from the despairing Judas, both of which echo lines from Saint Peters Complaint. Rowlands’s mission, according to his prefatory letter, is similar to that of Southwell: to recover the “natiue diuine off-spring and issue” of poetry that is currently being “wrested and turned to the fooleries of Loue” (A3r). But it turns out it was not just the fooleries of love that need correction; Rowlands to some degree corrects his poetic inspiration, adding Judas’s grief as a foil for Peter’s to distinguish between the godly sorrow that leads to repentance unto salvation and the worldly sorrow that leads to death, an important distinction especially for Protestants in the sixteenth century.85 Rowlands seems much more interested in the latter kind of sorrow: he devotes fifty-six six-line stanzas to the section “Judas in despaire” and a mere nine to “Peters teares at the Cockes crowing.” Occasionally the 336 lines of Judas’s lament echo Southwell’s lament of Peter, only now it is not the repentant Peter but the damned Judas who is “of all creatures…the most ungrateful” (B4r; cf. SPC 30), Judas who compares himself to Cain, Sampson, Absalom, and the adulterous David (C1r, C3r, D2v; cf. SPC 302, 487, 523, 541), Judas who wishes he had died in the skirmish in Gethsemane (C4r; cf. SPC 151–56), Judas who is the “cheefe actor in the Iewish spight” (C4r; cf. SPC 127, 498), Judas who denounces his “False tongue” that “pronounc’d All haile to hurtfull end” (C4r; cf. SPC 133), Judas who recounts the “argument” of his shame whose “subiect” is sin with an alphabetized “index” of evils (D1v; cf. SPC 37–40), Judas who must “Retire for euer from the sweet society” of the triple-cord of Christ’s closest disciples (D2r; cf. SPC 601–06), and Judas who hides in darkness “gloomier then that night / In vvhich by me

85 Cf. “For godlie sorowe causeth repentance vnto saluacion, not to be repented of: but the worldie sorowe causeth death” (2 Cor. 7:10). For the importance of this notion of godly sorrow in early modern poetry, see the introduction to Kuchar, Poetry of Religious Sorrow, particularly 4–7; for the importance of this distinction for Protestant theologians, see Kaufman, Prayer, Despair, and Drama, 15–40.


heav’ns brightnesse was betraide” (D2v; cf. SPC 119). For Rowlands, Southwell’s description of Peter’s unqualified grief provides a fertile vocabulary to explore the damning grief of despair. Rowlands borrows occasional lines from Southwell for Peter’s much shorter lament as well, but the overall effect is markedly different. Judas’s long lament is the tortured cry of a soul divided between “Fear, Thought, & Anguish” that leaves him vulnerable to the “roaring Lion” and “Insatiable serpent” who comes to prey on soul and body alike (C3r). Judas welcomes not remorse but “despaire, confounder of my sprite” (D2v). Peter’s nine stanzas of grief, on the other hand, are not those of despair but rather the “sharpest greefs [that] imploy repentant eies” (D3r; cf. SPC 35). Like Southwell’s Peter, he denounces his “coward heart [that] kept vvords and deeds asunder” (D3v; cf. SPC 65) and is ashamed that “Weake vvomans breath hath ouerthrowne a rocke” (D3v; cf. SPC 167, 316), condemning his “False periur’d tongue” (D3v; cf. SPC 252). But Rowlands’s Peter only echoes Southwell’s descriptions of Peter’s sin, not his grief; he exhorts his soul to grief only “Till teares regaine lost grace in mercies eie.” The short lament, avoiding the multiplication of words like the heathens, has a clear end in sight, the “assisting aid” of the God to whom he calls, “mercies hand” that will raise the penitent “from sinfull ground” and render him “Rising to stand, standing to fall no more” (D4r). In effect, The Betraying of Christ gives us two paths of sorrow, making Southwell’s description of Peter’s agony the model for the damning despair of the unregenerate and Peter’s admission of his fault the starting place for the sanctifying sorrow of repentance, adding the necessary assurance of God’s mercy and transformed life that Southwell left ambiguous.


Lest we be tempted to imagine the addition of consolation and confidence in Christ’s mercy is important only to Southwell’s Protestant imitators, we should note that Peter’s grief also finds its longed-for consolation in the recusant reflections of Richard Rowlands Verstegan: intelligencer, printer, propagandist, poet, antiquarian, and friend of Southwell’s. The very title of Verstegan’s eighteen-stanza “Saint Peeters comfort” (1601) announces a different emphasis than the poem that inspired it, not the complaint of the vulnerable weeper but the comfort of the reinstated disciple. Verstegan’s Peter recounts the grief of his “fals periury” in order to declare Christ’s mercy, which he now celebrates. Thus the image of “sorrowes iayle” in which Southwell’s Peter lay captive becomes the place where “pittie [did] ouer-heare my cry, / And did in my behalf accesse obtaine.” By the poem’s fourth stanza, Verstegan’s Peter is already describing his recovery by the one “whome I deny’d to know” (not God, as with the Protestant poets, but Jesus), who “therevpon so great compassion took, / That hee on it sweet mercy did bestow.” As Peter praises the “Sweet mercy, that it self so far extends, / As to accept contrition for amends” (F3r), he seems to be offering the sequel to Southwell’s poem, the consolation from the contrition that Southwell left incomplete and unfruitful. Verstegan attempts to write in the voice of his predecessor, including his embrace of sorrow (“kynde grief stil wil I entertaine” [F3v]), his reflections about his “stony name” that has now been redeemed (“The Rock of stone hee hath confirmed mee” [F4r]), and his emphasis on love (“Loue is my debt, for loue and mercy due” [F4v]). Even the checked pride of Southwell’s Peter that made his contrition suspect is now displayed in a redeemed form as Verstegan’s Peter declares, “neuer thought shal in my brest abyde, / To say I wil, and not assistance craue, / Because my wil, must thy wil also haue” (F3v). Verstegan is not offering a corrective to


Southwell’s poem but is attempting a completion of it. The recusant poet did not need to rectify the Jesuit’s theology, but found the dangling conclusion in need of resolution. The lack of resolution did not prevent the poem from being used as a penitential device during the sixteenth-century fascination with the topic, even if readers found the need to compensate for that dearth in their personal implementation. Elizabeth Grymeston’s 1604 Meditations, an early modern mother’s advice book written for her son Bernye, offers a unique example not of a corrective or completion of Southwell’s poem but an application.86 The section headed “Morning Meditation, with sixteene sobs of a sorowfull spirit, which she used for mentall prayer, as also an addition of sixteene staues of verse taken out of Peters complaint; which she usually sung and played on the winde instrument” offers a hint of how the poem was read by at least one woman, a wife and mother with recusant leanings and family ties to Southwell.87 She begins with the statement, “Happie is the man whose life is a continuall prayer,” and then proceeds with sixteen paragraphs of collage prayers, each followed by a stanza of Saint Peters Complaint.88 Her favorite stanzas seem to occur mostly toward the beginning and end, Peter’s initial invocation to his grief and his closing pleas for mercy, with only one stanza from the

On the genre of mother’s legacies, seeWomen’s Writing in Stuart England: The Mother’s Legacies of Elizabeth Joscelin, Elizabeth Richardson and Dorothy Leigh, ed. Sylvia Brown (Stroud: Sutton, 1999). 86

Megan Matchinske in fact argues that the Miscelanea as a whole serves as a covert recusant history book of political pragmatism. Women Writing History in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 45–73. 87

Susan M. Felch explores the development of collage prayers and psalm paraphrase in Tudor women writers, but she describes it as a particularly Protestant phenomenon. Grymeston’s recusant leanings and her incorporation of Southwell’s poem into her lines of scripture phrase confuse the confessional lines. “‘Halff a Scrypture Woman’: Heteroglossia and Female Authorial Agency in Prayers by Lady Elizabeth Tyrwhit, Anne Lock, and Anne Wheathill,” in English Women, Religion, and Textual Production, 1500–1625, ed. Susan M. Felch and Micheline White (Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2011), 147–66. For more on the development of women’s devotional writing and the collage prayers of scripture phrase, see Kate Narveson, Bible Readers and Lay Writers in Early Modern England: Gender and Self-Definition in an Emergent Writing Culture (Surrey UK: Ashgate, 2012). 88


invocation to Christ’s eyes given in the middle. She does not keep strict chronological order, quoting stanzas 5, 7, 3, 115, 114, 16, 8, 87, 111, 80, 82, 126, 130, 129, 131, and 132, in that order. Southwell’s lines initially seem like illustrations of the posture of her own prayers. Her opening prayer that admits that “I am ashamed to be seene of thee, because I am not assured to be receiued by thee” concludes with Southwell’s stanza describing the speaker as “A sorie wight the obiect of disgrace” (D4v; SPC 25); her second prayer that begins “Lord, I am depressed with the burden of my sinnes” and continues by describing her words as “seasoned with sighes, and bathed with tears,” concludes with Southwell’s stanza in which Peter describes the “Sad subiect of my sinne” that fills his mind with “euerlasting matter of complaint” (E1r; SPC 37–38). Southwell’s lines, apparently put to music as Tansillo’s were by Lasso, seem to be the soundtrack for her mental prayer.89 But as Grymeston’s “sixteene sobs” progress, they become decreasingly sob-like, and Peter’s agony seems increasingly out of place. Though her sixth sob cries to God “Out of a maze of amazements” which is the apparent link to Peter’s description of life as “a maze of countelsse straying waies,” the prayer as a whole is confident that “by thy goodnesse I was created, by thy mercy redeemed, by thy power preserued, and by thy grace I shall be gloried,” while Southwell’s stanza never gets beyond the grim view of life as “A liuing death, a neuer turning streame” (E1v; SPC 91–96). Her plea for God’s pardon and protection for future sins in the seventh sob is linked to Peter’s invocation of the tears of all weeping eyes; her request for God’s aid in living a holy life in the eighth

89 Southwell seems certainly to intend his poems to be sung. His prefatory letter calls them “dittyes,” and he instructs his cousin to add “the Tunes, and let the Meane, I pray you, be still a part in all your Musicke.”


sob is linked to Peter’s embrace of shame and the scourge of infamy; her praise to God for delivering her out of the jaws of death in the ninth sob is linked to Peter’s onslaught of blame from the mouths of “fawning vipers” (E2v; SPC 661). Yet even as she makes little effort to link the content of her prayers to the posture of the poem’s speaker, she seems to hold up his tearful, sorrowful lines as models for humility, especially the concluding stanzas. In fact, she includes five of the last seven stanzas in her last five sobs, conveniently skipping the two stanzas that involve the ambiguous contrition that could not promise to mend his ill, yet even then incorporating one of the lines from the omitted stanzas into her tenth sob.90 Though she weaves Southwell’s voice into her prayers as she does lines from Scripture and the liturgy, the doctrinal assurances that anchor her prayers come from her prose rather than his poetry. Southwell is for Grymeston a model of sorrow; she has other material to construct her models for repentance. Clearly, Southwell’s characteristic ending of suspension for his forlorn speakers was not a popular feature for his penitential appropriators, who universally saw the need to get Peter to the point of joy and consolation and to clarify the steps to get there. Part of the reason Southwell did not lay out the path to penitence is presumably that he was not writing a penitential poem but a complaint, one that would show the most “Ambitious heades” of his poetic age “how well verse and vertue sute together.” But certainly part of the reason was that for Southwell, sorrow was not a problem, nor even a means to the end of consolation, but a potential place of encounter with love. In fact, according to the Spiritual Exercises, sadness and consolation are not necessarily mutually

90 As she requests the understanding to love the Lord’s commands, desire to perform them, and strength to execute them, she asks the Lord to “giue what thou commandest, and then command what thou wilt,” nearly a direct quotation from the stanza in which Peter explains why he could not promise his own amendment (E2v; SPC 766).


exclusive; while Ignatius characterizes spiritual desolation by, among other things, turmoil within the soul, he also characterizes spiritual consolation by, among other things, tears and grief for sins or about the passion of Christ, or anything that is directed to praise and service of God (316, 317). One might be tempted to interpret the inner turmoil we see in Peter as an indication of spiritual desolation caused by his sin, redemptive only as a means to an end if it leads to true repentance; after all, it certainly has its share of disquiet and inner conflict. Peter describes “The dispossessed divels” triumphing over him, taunting him that “Our rocke…is riven” and that “Our Cedar now is shrunke into a shrub” (613–18); as a prisoner in sorrow’s jail he describes his restless state in which “Dayes, passe in plaintes: the nightes without repose: / I wake, to weepe: I sleep in waking woes” (715–20), a sleep that is “A racke, for guilty thoughtes…The scourge, that whips” (736–37); he knows that if justice treats his wrongs with “rigor,” “Feares, would dispaires: ruth, breed a hopeless rage” (773–74); he lies “ulcered” at pity’s gate “Craving the reffues crummes of childrens plate” with “The wormes of conscience” swarming within him (775–80). Though God may allow such spiritual desolation for a number of reasons, it would be a surprising way for a Jesuit to choose to leave his protagonist at the end of the poem, without a clear indication of how to leave it. However, the linchpin between consolation and desolation is not the sorrow, grief, and turmoil of the soul; it is love. Before describing the various affective movements included within consolation, Ignatius defines it as “an interior motion within the soul through which it comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord”; when he associates tears with consolation, they are “tears which move it to love for its Lord” (316). The sorrow of desolation is a turmoil and disquiet that leave the soul “without hope and 146

without love” so that it “feels separated from our Creator and Lord” (317). And though there is little indication that Peter has confidence his prayers will be answered—he has already determined he cannot ask sympathy of Mary because he is a “lothsome wretch detested of” both mother and son (588)—the fact that the final two stanzas depict him begging for mercy indicate that his tormented mind has remained innocent of despair, of the certainty that God will not forgive. “With feare I crave,” the tormented sinner says; “with hope I humbly call” (786); hope has been born even in the tormented place of his fear. Far from depicting a state of desolation, the entire poem is propelled by the love of the one the speaker has betrayed—whether his complaint that berates himself as a betraying lover or his meditation on the eyes that love him—and thus the very agony of his sorrow is a movement of love. Indeed, since Jesuit compunction considers sorrow for sin and the experience of love as different sides of the same coin, Peter’s complaint is merely the shadow cast by the light of the “blasing comets, lightning flames of love” from his lover/beloved’s eyes. It is the memory of love that both tortures and heals him in his complaint, but in both torture and healing it triggers the motion of his own love, allowing him in the end to entreat, “Be thou thy selfe, though chaungling I offend” (790). His changeability is only seen as such in light of the consistency of Christ’s love, and thus his complaint itself proves to be its own consolation. In the end, Southwell links the continental tradition of the tears of Saint Peter to the forlorn laments of the complaint tradition in a way that proposes a redemption of earthly suffering caused by one’s own sin. In this way he bends the poetic fascinations of his tumultuous age into a means of access to divine love, carving out a new space within the complaint tradition for grief of fallen, earthly wights to be its own source of healing. If suffering and consolation are part of the same movement of the heart, then the 147

complainant is not powerless but an agent of his or her own healing. The agony of human suffering is not an evil to be escaped but the place of redemption. This approach to the tears of Peter may, as scholars have shown, have been somewhat helpful to recusant Catholics in need of reaching perfect compunction without the sacrament, but it also, perhaps more strongly, addresses an audience not limited to the poet’s own pastoral ministry. In a country that had faced decades of political and religious turmoil, where the most popular wits protested the sorrows of love and faith and power and patronage through scores of poetic complaints, Southwell sketched a new model of complaint not as an agent of change but the change itself. This purpose for his poetry is fitting when we consider not only his pastoral but also his personal mission. Southwell was not only, perhaps not even primarily, catechizing his readers for life as recusants; he was also preparing himself and his readers alike for persecution and potential martyrdom. For those living in the shadow of religious violence, complaint provided a space for fundamental human suffering to be its own grace.




He was oppressed, and hee was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Isaiah 53:71 When the prophet Isaiah described the “man of sorrows” who “was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth,” he was clearly not describing the Christ of medieval passion lyric. On the contrary, the medieval tradition of the planctus Christi, poems expressing the complaint of Christ from the cross, involves a hero who is quite explicit about the extremity of his suffering, suffering that involves not only injustice and cruelty from the outside but also anger, grief, and fear from the inside. In a sense, Christ at his most heroic moment, the moment in which he is lifted up from the earth to draw all men to himself, is also at his most vulnerable, and medieval complaints amplify the passions that he suffers in his passion.2

Bible, Authorized Version (London: 1611). Unless otherwise noted, biblical quotations in the context of medieval authors are my own translations from the vulgate; Old Testament quotations in discussions of Southwell are also my own partially derived from the Douay-Rheims translation; those in discussions of Herbert are from the King James Authorized Version of 1611; and those of other Elizabethan poets are from the Geneva Bible of 1599. 1

As I explained in the introduction, I will be following Dixon’s advice in avoiding the anachronistic term emotions that became prevalent in the nineteenth century, using the terms passions and affections instead. Augustine attempted to reduce passions to different forms of the single movement of the soul—love—and 2


Thus Southwell was not original in his use of complaint for devotional ends; his expression of the sorrow of Peter in the complaint mode hearkens to a medieval literary tradition that depicts the archetypal man of sorrows as a complainer. In fact, the most acclaimed of his poems of Saint Peters Complaint involves the lament of a particularly vulnerable Christ: a babe born already suffering the passion of his unrequited love that would lead to his ultimate death. The dual use of the mode for sinner and savior alike implies a redemption of complaint beyond the one we saw in the previous chapter: not only does it draw the sinner to repentance, but it is itself part of the path of imitating Christ. As if to highlight the role of imitation in his strangely passionate Christmas poem, Southwell chooses not to imitate the long tradition of medieval complaints of Christ but rather those of his English contemporaries, drawing the language of popular secular poetic complaint into “The burning Babe.” Just as the Christ of the gospels echoes the voice of the poet David when he cries, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Southwell’s Christ echoes the voice of Elizabethan poets who lament the pangs of love.3 Like the Petrarchan complaints it evokes, the poem presents a hero who is a victim of his own passions, one who challenges readers to respond with passion of their own. For this reason, human passions are depicted as redeemable, perhaps even redemptive in and of themselves. In the extremity of his vulnerability, Christ allows human vulnerability to be a form of imitation. Complaint can thus draw the Christian closer to him.

Aquinas defined a list of either four or eleven (18). Augustine distinguishes between the passions that are movements of the lower soul and are motivated by the same appetites that animals experience (lust, hate, hope, fear, anger), and the affections that were signs of the order of the will that could be reunited with God (love, sympathy, joy) (21–22). Deus meus Deus meus ut quid dereliquisti me (Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34); Deus Deus meus quare dereliquisti me (Ps. 21:2/22:1). 3


The use of the complaint mode to connect Christ’s sufferings with those of his followers both poses certain problems for Southwell’s Protestant readers and is itself the solution. The implicit connection of the complaint of Christ to those of other biblical figures presents Christ’s suffering as unique in degree but not in kind. There are two profoundly theological issues at stake: the nature of Christ’s human suffering and of the Christian’s response to it. Southwell’s use of the complaint suggests a Christ beset by the full fury of human passions and a response that imitates him in these passions, which could be seen to fly in the face of Protestant consolation works of the period. For one thing, much English consolation literature tends to a neo-Stoic understanding of the passions that are dangerous in excess, and thus the portrait of the extremity of Christ’s complaint risks immoderation. But perhaps more importantly, the very possibility of imitating Christ was a point of confessional controversy, especially if imitating involved self-mortification and asceticism. If Christ’s sacrifice is fundamentally other, a unique event that he surmounted once and for all that humans can neither add to nor imitate by their own sacrifices, then the proper response to his grief could only be gratitude and worship. Yet while the Protestant literature of the period certainly shies away from imaginative entries into Christ’s passion, the poetry of complaint allows a certain access to imitation of Christ’s passion(s) without being hindered by the theological divisions that separate the poets. Complaint becomes a universal language of human passion, and on all sides of confessional lines poets explore a Christ who speaks it fluently. In their amplification of Christ’s passionate passion, they create a point of access through suffering in kind, if not degree. This is not to say that the challenge to imitate Christ’s passionate passion was not uncomfortable, and thus it was certainly not one that poets, Catholic or Protestant, 151

embraced wholesale while they began exploring the potential for combative piety in their devotional complaints. Indeed, devotional complaints written in the voice of biblical saints and sinners are more prevalent than those written in the voice of Christ, especially when they are penitential as we saw in the previous chapter. Furthermore, the complaints of Christ that do exist seem hesitant in their approach to the problems of his vulnerability and human imitation of it. When the zealous Catholic convert William Alabaster writes “The Portrait of Christ’s Death” during his house arrest in 1597 and 1598, for example, it remains a relatively silent portrait; Christ’s sufferings are purely physical and encourage a form of imitation similarly free of mental anguish. While Samuel Rowlands as we have seen demonstrates a keen interest in the complaints of Judas, Peter, and Mary Magdalen, his Poems upon the Passion (1598) are hesitant to assign complaints to Christ. Christ does speak in the section “The seuen words of Christ vpon the Crosse,” but this sequence generally comments rather than amplifying, stressing especially the fact that the man of sorrows did not direct his complaint against his persecutors. Inversely, Nicholas Breton’s contemporaneous “Countess of Pembroke’s Passion” is certainly written in the complaint mode, Breton’s favorite literary voice, but the complaint is given to the poet rather than to Christ for whom he grieves. For Alabaster, Christ is a model of imitation in avoidance of passions such as fear and grief; for Rowlands, Christ may express them, but he directs them toward his Father rather than toward his persecutors, in effect separating his complaint from the other prolonged complaints in his work; for Breton, Christ’s passion elicits an imaginative entry into grief, but the poet’s grief rather than Christ’s. The stakes are great: if Christ suffers human mental anguish, potential martyrs like Alabaster could lose their model for unflinching courage, or alternatively sinners could lose sight of the otherness of Christ’s sacrifice, his 152

ability to endure suffering from a position of pure grace, that Protestants argued to be the wellspring of salvation. But as the interest in devotional complaint grew in the early decades of the seventeenth century, some poets found the medieval and liturgical traditions of the planctus Christi to allow an imaginative entry not only into Christ’s physical suffering, but his mental anguish as well, allowing complaint to serve as a point of access to a particular form of imitation of Christ. In the case of Sir John Davies’s The Holy Roode, or Christs Crosse (1609), the complaint covers a relatively small portion of a laboriously lengthy poem, utilizing the typological biblical source for Christ’s complaint from the book of Lamentations that had made its way into medieval complaints and the Sarum liturgy alike. Rather than presenting Christ’s suffering as an exhortation to gratitude, Davies uses the complaint to urge readers to pity, to respond to Christ’s passion with passion of their own. Most notably, George Herbert’s prominently placed “The Sacrifice” is a highly amplified early modern version of the planctus Christi in conscious dialogue with the medieval tradition it evokes. The poem’s repeated question of “Was ever grief like mine?” places the question of the uniqueness of Christ’s passion at the heart of the complaint. Yet its placement near the beginning of a sequence full of the poet’s own complaints, along with its vivid depiction of Christ’s lavish human passion that the rest of The Temple depicts from the pen of the poet, sets Christ’s suffering as unique in degree but not in kind from that of the rest of humanity. In this way, Herbert seems to acknowledge the figure for whom all the rest of his anxious, passionate poetry in The Temple searches: the similarly afflicted Christ. Thus across the confessional line that separates them, poets from Southwell to Herbert present to their Catholic and Protestant readers a Christ who hardly demands imitation because he has already imitated humanity, a Christ who clears 153

the path to himself by entering into the extremity of human passions. Complaint, even if it be directed against one’s persecutors or God himself, is not necessarily contrary to mercy and love; in the height of human passion, it may be the most direct route to them.

Literary and Theological Traditions of Christ’s Complaint The vociferously suffering savior of Southwell, Davies, and Herbert is in dialogue with a long literary and theological fascination with depicting the passions that come along with Christ’s human nature. On the literary end, the protagonist of the medieval planctus Christi is on a mission to see that the persecutors and bystanders alike know precisely the extent of his agony. In a posture somewhere between those of a civil plaintiff and a Petrarchan lover, this Christ makes his claim on humanity’s heart clear and protests the cruelty he receives in return. For example, in a passion poem that has the man of sorrows repeating the Latin refrain quia amore langueo (“because I languish with love”), a line from the beloved’s cry in the Song of Songs, Christ appears to the speaker who wanders “In a valey of þis restles mynde” searching for “a trewe loue.”4 This lover protests the injustice of his torture on the grounds that “I am true loue, þat fals was neuere” and is prepared to make assertive if not violent efforts to regain his love—“I wole abide til sche be redy, / I wole hir sue if sche seie nay; / If sche be richilees, y wole be gredi, / And if sche be daungerus, y wole hir praie.”5 His complaint is just, as he reminds the reader in another poem that announces itself as “the comepleynt off god” in the first

fulcite me floribus stipate me malis quia amore langueo (Sg 2:5); adiuro vos filiae Hierusalem si inveneritis dilectum meum ut nuntietis ei quia amore langueo (Sg 5:8). 4

Frederick J. Furnivall, ed., Political, Religious, and Love Poems (Oxford: Early English Text Society, 1965), 184 (“Quia Amore Langueo II,” ll. 1, 3, 17, 65–68). 5


line, because he has done “all that me oughte”—why then, as the refrain repeats, “arte thowe to thy Frende onkynde?” In this case, the false lover is given the chance to respond to the accusations against him in dialogue form: Christ presents his complaint against man for his failure to acknowledge his loving gifts, man grovels and appeals to God’s pity, and Christ responds by “Compleynnyng hym thus to synfull man” anew and demanding “Man! make Amendis or þou dye.”6 In some lyrics he pleads to his beloved for whose sake he is naked and nailed, “I love the, thenne love me,” or asks “What more shulde ich haven ydon / That thou ne havest nouht undervon?” as he lists his loving acts.7 These are poems of a rejected lover, one whose beloved is wearing a “garland…of grene, / Of floures many on” while he himself wearing one “of sharpe thornes” that reduces his color all to red.8 They are poems that protest the cruelty that the speaker has suffered at the hands of those he loves, poems that appeal to a just assessment of his suit, poems that righteously threaten even as they graciously offer mercy, poems that inspire love by emphasizing sacrifice. These complaints of Christ are undoubtedly less prevalent in early modern lyric. Furthermore, the examples that do show up in the early sixteenth century are not particularly devotional and are sometimes satirical. For example, when John Skot printed “The New Notborune Mayd Vpon the Passion of Cryste” around 1535 in imitation of the popular ballad “The Nutbrown Maid,” it is a parody that re-imagines the familiar


Furnivall, Political, Religious, and Love Poems, 190–200 (“The Complaynt of Christe,” ll. 1, 9, 12, 140,

168). 7 Douglas Gray, ed., English Medieval Religious Lyrics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), 26 (27, l. 17); 29 (29, ll. 13–14). 8

Gray, English Medieval Religious Lyrics, 30 (30, ll. 3–5).


complaint-and-dialogue motif between the crucified Christ and Mary as a debate between a faithful maid and her harsh lover, playfully putting Christ in the disagreeable position of the unsatisfied lover.9 As the confessional crises of the sixteenth century heightened the stakes of religious exploration, the planctus devotional lyric was not an immediate subject for revival, despite the Protestant interest in versifications of biblical topics. Part of that stagnancy may be due to its reliance on a medieval poetic tradition more than on Scripture—after all, beyond “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” a line borrowed from the psalms, the Christ of the gospels is fairly uncomplaining from the cross. Certainly the stagnancy is due in large part to the focus in planctus Christi poems on the importance of the reader’s response to Christ’s passion, such as a call to repentance embodied in good works, rather than on the preeminence of God’s grace. Instead of a depiction of a passionate savior, some of the literary depictions of Christ in the early modern period are downright hostile to human passion. When Christ weeps in Thomas Nashe’s 1593 Christs Tears ouer Ierusalem, he is startled by his grief for such a sinful people and is shown “condemning himselfe (in his thought) for being so bitter,” and only allows himself to weep after he “excuseth it in these termes, that it was not his fault, but theirs” (21).10 There are echoes of the Petrarchan complaint in his sorrow, his “vnfortunatest…fortune of any that euer lou’d, to loue those that not onely hate mee, but hate them-selues” (34), and he likens his sorrow to that of the complaining

9 “The New Notborune Mayd Vpon the Passion of Cryste: The Nutbrown Maid Converted,” ed. by Emily A. Ransom, ELR 45.1 (2015): 3–31. As stated in the introduction, this poem reverses the roles of the dialogue: normally it is Mary bewailing her son’s misfortune and Christ consoling her, yet this one gives the complaint to Christ and the consolation to Mary. 10 It should be noted, however, that Christ is initially shown weeping “affectionate Teares” (15); nevertheless, the tears become hostile quite quickly. Page numbers for Nashe’s Christs Tears ouer Ierusalem come from The Works of Thomas Nashe, vol. 2, ed. Ronald B McKerrow (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958).


prophet Jeremiah (35), but he remains uneasy about his grief. He even goes so far as to suggest that grief could be a sin, saying that the people of Jerusalem “almost made me commit sin, in sorrowing for thy sinnes,” weeping tears that become “no longer a pure siluer Spring, but a mirie puddle for Swine to wallow in” (36). His scandal at his tears reflects his disgust with the people for whom he weeps, and in a particularly troubling passage he asks rhetorically “What hath immortalitie to doe with such? Had my Father no employment for mee, but to sende mee to scrape on a dung-hill for Pearle, where nothing will thriue but Toade-stooles?” (42). Christ may cry, and he may have a just suit, but he has none of the vulnerability of a complainant; he is not himself subject to passions of fear or sorrow, nor even of discontent, which Nashe lists as the fourth sin of pride later in the work.11 Christ is moved, but apparently only by righteous indignation. This literary shift away from depictions of Christ’s subjectivity to human passion reflects a long history of Christological debate. Before a poet can decide between imitation or admiration of the passion, the question of what precisely one is imitating or appreciating becomes crucial. Depending on the interpretation of certain moments from the gospels such as the cleansing of the temple, the death of Lazarus, and the agony in the garden, Christ seems to have experienced some more problematic passions such as anger, grief, and fear. From its very origins, Christianity struggled to understand the relationship between Christ’s divinity and his humanity that these incidents in his life highlighted: did Christ fear his own death when he wept in the garden, for example, or was he grieving the suffering he could foresee for his followers and persecutors alike? It

11 “Nothing,” Nashe says, “so much prouoketh God to iudgement as discontent” (130). This of course does not apply to discontent at one’s own sins or at the vanities of the world, the latter of which Nashe’s Christ exemplifies in abundance.


was not until the Council of Chalcedon in 451 that the debate on Christ’s humanity was canonically resolved, but two centuries later the Council of Constantinople was still trying to work out whether his submission to the Father’s will in the garden implied a human will separate from that of his Father.12 Likewise, the anger of Christ at the moneychangers or the Pharisees often sounds less than loving and patient, and it forces theologians to wrestle with the fact that the wrath of God is not merely an Old Testament phenomenon. Imitatio is the obvious human response to the humanity of Christ, but depending on which aspects of Christ’s experience are being imitated it can be strikingly unglamorous. When it comes to anger in particular, the question of Christ’s experience of human passion and a Christian’s response to it is especially problematic, particularly because ira is listed among the deadly sins.13 For theologians, the Old Testament depictions of God’s corrective anger can be helpful. Augustine maintains that anger against the vices of the wicked can be righteous if it seeks the wrongdoer’s amendment, and Gregory distinguishes between the vicious anger stirred by impatience and the virtuous anger stirred by zeal.14 Anger can be among the most dangerous vices because,

Michael J. Heath, introduction to A Short Debate Concerning the Distress, Alarm, and Sorrow of Jesus, in Collected Works of Erasmus, vol. 70, Spiritualia and Pastoralia, by Desiderius Erasmus (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 3. 12

Catherine Peyroux explores this question in her study of the seventh-century Vita Sanctae Geretrudis abbatissae Nivialensis. Peyroux looks particularly at the distinctions between the Latin ira and furor in the text, distinguishing the furor with which the young saint rejects her would-be suitor and the iracundia with which the dejected suitor leaves afterwards. Catherine Peyroux, “Gertrude’s furor: Reading Anger in an Early Medieval Saint’s Life,” in Anger’s Past: The Social Uses of an Emotion in the Middle Ages, ed. Barbara H. Rosenwein (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), 37, 44–45. 13

14 Augustine, De civitate dei 14.15; Gregory, Moralia in Job 5.33. Quoted in Little, “Anger in Monastic Curses,” 12.


as a twelfth-century Victorine said, “pride denies God, envy blames God, and anger drives God away.”15 Yet sinners may righteously be angry for their own sins and vices, and God’s anger is righteous and corrective, as theologians from Augustine, Gregory, and Lactantius identified.16 This promotion of corrective anger continues into the sixteenth century; Luther himself uses the notion to an unsettling extreme when he argued in his 1525 pamphlet Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants that the unreasoning rioters in the German Peasants’ War could only be defeated by the righteous anger of the sword.17 But the anger of the complaint mode comes from a vulnerable victim, not a vindictive judge. In fact, if we use Kristine Steenbergh’s characterizations of literary depictions of anger in the early modern period that vacillate between calculating discipline and blind fury, between masculine self control and feminine susceptibility, Christ seems to follow the feminine fury model. The planctus Christi tradition demonstrates a possible feminization of him, at least in that it makes him vulnerable, subject to the outside forces of passions he cannot control, passions that act upon him.18


Superbia namque Deum negat, invidia accusat, ira fugat. Quoted in Barton, “Zealous Anger,” 155.

Barton, “Zealous Anger,” 158. This is perhaps why when Aquinas lists his eleven passions in pairs (love and hate, desire and aversion, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, courage and fear), anger is the odd one out; perhaps anger is itself its own opposite. 16

17 Paul Freedman, “Peasant Anger in the Late Middle Ages,” in Anger’s Past: The Social Uses of an Emotion in the Middle Ages, ed. Barbara H. Rosenwein (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), 179. While Luther’s view of righteous anger here is similar to that of Augustine and Gregory, it counters other medieval theologians such as Martin of Braga who taught that anger is a sin of the soul and one should not correct a sinner with a sin, and John Cassian who insists that a monk must be free of all forms of the poison of anger. Little, “Anger in Monastic Curses,” 12–13.

Kristine Steenbergh, “Emotions and Gender: The Case of Anger in Early Modern English Revenge Tragedies,” in A History of Emotions, 1200–1800, ed. Jonas Liliequist, Studies for the International Society for Cultural History (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2012), 122. 18


The source of Christ’s passions, whether they came from his divine or his human nature, has immediate implications on the moral value of human passions. For Augustine at least, human passions cannot be avoided. He taught that stoic apatheia was undesirable—those who were not roused by any affectus had lost humanity rather than having gained peace—yet he also taught that passions represented disturbances that must be overcome by reason and virtue.19 Furthermore, Thomas Aquinas distinguished Christian philosophy of the passions from stoic apathy by separating the passions of the soul that flow from the sensitive appetite from the movements of the will that flow from the intellectual appetite. Since both appetites were part of the soul, passions were only bad inasmuch as the soul itself was bad, but nevertheless all passions must be subjected to the rule of reason.20 It was not a matter of passions being bad in and of themselves, but they were certainly bad leaders. As one might expect, the advent of the Renaissance and Reformation further complicated these questions of Christ’s passions and the Christian response rather than simplifying them. Because of Christianity’s long history of flirtation with Stoicism that saw virtue as conformity to rational law and vice as the following of irrational passions, Renaissance authors such as Petrarch and Rabelais attempted to combine the Stoic condemnation of the passions with an Augustinian submission of passion to reason.21 Yet some humanists such as Coluccio Salutati, rather than gleaning elements of Christian


See City of God XIV.9, quoted in Dixon, From Passions to Emotions, 41.


See Summa Theologica 1a.2ae.24, 2, quoted in Dixon, From Passions to Emotions, 47.

Jill Kraye mentions, among other factors that contributed to Christianity’s early amicability toward Stoicism, the collection of letters between Seneca and St. Paul that was accepted as genuine from Jerome until the fifteenth century. “Moral Philosophy,” in The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, ed. Quentin Skinner, Eckhard Kessler, and Jill Kraye (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 367–68. 21


truth from Stoic philosophy, argued that Stoic apathy conflicted with Christ’s weeping in the garden, not to mention his anger at the Pharisees. After all, since appetites, passions, and affections were all seen as movements of the will rather than contrary forces that warred against the will, they could be directed toward reason.22 Furthermore, as Victoria Kahn argues, the representation of passions in the Renaissance could be used not simply to tame other passions but rather to incite them.23 Simply put, the long theological tradition that came to no simple explanation of the nature of Christ’s own passions carried over into complicated and often conflicting recommendations among Renaissance humanists for handling the regulation of human passions, both in lived experience and in rhetorical theory. Since martyrdom was traditionally seen as the highest form of imitatio Christi, the confessional crises of the Reformation heightened the importance of the possibility of imitating Christ’s passions. On the cusp of the Reformation, this import was not lost upon Desiderius Erasmus and John Colet in their friendly but heated conflict about the tears of Christ. In this dispute that began as a debate between friends in Oxford in 1499, later published in 1503 as Disputatiuncula de taedio, pavore, tristitia Iesu, Erasmus would take a

Dixon, From Passions to Emotions, 22. Michael Schoenfeldt connects this sustained interest in management of passions in the early modern period to the Renaissance notion of selfhood and identity; selves are “differentiated not by their desires, which all more or less share, but by their capacity to control these desires.” Michael Schoenfeldt, Bodies and Selves in Early Modern England: Physiology and Inwardness in Spenser, Shakespeare, Herbert, and Milton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 17. 22

23 Kahn, “The Passions and the Interests in Early Modern Europe: The Case of Guarini’s Il Pastor fido,” in Reading the Early Modern Passions: Essays in the Cultural History of Emotion, ed. Gail Kern Paster, Katherine Rowe, and Mary Floyd-Wilson (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 227. For a deeper discussion of the Renaissance reception of Ciceronian rhetoric in relation to the passions, see ibid., 219. The potential for passions to be well directed had many direct implications on poetry; Iovianus Pontanus, hearkening to Cicero’s De officiis and De oratore, called for poets to appeal not to reason but rather to the senses, impressing moral thought through the senses. A. D. Cousins, The Catholic Religious Poets from Southwell to Crashaw: A Critical History (Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, Inc., 1991), 18.


line like Salutati’s, arguing that Christ “shuddered at the dreadful and immense torture that drew ever closer and almost crushed him, because of the frailty of our nature that he had accepted along with many of our woes.” Conversely, Colet argued that shuddering at death would be contrary to his love for humanity, especially since Christ was the source of all charity, the one who gave martyrs courage and joy in the face of death.24 As the Reformation began producing a plethora of modern martyrs, their mutual friend Thomas More would agree with Erasmus as he awaited his own martyrdom in 1535, insisting in his De tristitia Christi that Christ not only was able to feel sadness, sorrow, and grief, but also that he chose to feel them. Furthermore, Christ did not require us to do violence to our nature by trying to eliminate these passions; rather, the active struggle with fear is a source of merit, just as the suffering of Christ is the spring of our salvation.25 According to More, the Christian can imitate Christ’s submission to the Father’s will because he had first imitated human fear and vulnerability. With this literary and theological background in mind, it is striking that in the decades following the publication of Saint Peters Complaint, poetic depictions of the complaint of Christ begin to emerge, some of them following closely in the model of the medieval planctus. By some accounts of the prevailing literary trends of the period, this may come as a surprise. For example, when Debora Shuger argues for the marginality of the crucified Christ in Protestant English literature, explaining that a Reformed

qui iam propius instaret ac prope premeret, propter naturae nostrae imbecillitatem, propter naturae nostrae imbecillitatem, quam cum plurimis malis nostris assumpserat, exhorruisse atque ab eo affectu profectam vocem illam hominis reformidantis. Desiderius Erasmus, Disputatiuncula de tedio pavore tristicia Iesu, vol. 5.7, Opera omnia Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami, (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 210. 24

25 Thomas More, De Tristitia Christi, ed. Clarence H. Miller, vol. 14 of The Complete Works of St. Thomas More (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976), 49, 53, 63, 73, 83, 93.


anthropology emphasizing interiority was reflected in its Christology, she identifies in Calvinist passion narratives “a certain discomfort with this figure of abject vulnerability.”26 Furthermore, Michael Schoenfeldt argues that in the broader spectrum of devotional poetry, the passion shifts in the seventeenth century “from being a site of the deepest imaginative engagement for medieval Catholic writers to a comparatively marginal subject,” and that Protestant devotional lyric shifts “from identification with the spiritually gruesome suffering of the crucified Christ toward the appreciation of the extravagant mercy ensuing from Jesus’ victory over sin and death on the cross.”27 Indeed, while exceptions to this prevailing narrative exist, they are rare, and as a general rule the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century is an unlikely place to look for a resurgence of a medieval poetic tradition that centers around an imaginative entry into the extreme agony of Christ’s passion. Precisely for this reason, the exceptions to this overall tendency among devotional authors are striking. Furthermore, the exceptions do not fall neatly along confessional lines; scholars such as R. V. Young and Joseph Teller rightly take issue with the tendency in scholarship to draw doctrinal lines between Catholic and Protestant poets, and indeed on all sides of confessional lines the decades on either side of the turn of the seventeenth century witnessed a poetic resurgence of complaining Christs. This resurgence, though it seems to lie at the theological heart of the growing interest in devotional complaint, does not carry on into the next generation of devotional poetry. When Francis Quarles writes

Debora Kuller Shuger, The Renaissance Bible: Scholarship, Sacrifice, and Subjectivity (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1994), 97. 26

Michael Schoenfeldt, “‘That Spectacle of Too Much Weight’: The Poetics of Sacrifice in Donne, Herbert, and Milton,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 31 (2001): 562. 27


about the passion, he avoids an imaginative entry into Christ’s experience of human grief and fear; when Robert Herrick adds a touch of complaint to his Noble Numbers in “His Saviours words, going to the Crosse,” his Christ never loses the posture of the kingly actor tasting suffering for a show; when John Milton begins a passion poem, he quickly gives up the endeavor and leaves the poem unfinished. Yet despite its short duration, this threedecade interest reflects the Christological implications inherent in the growing interest in devotional complaint that swept English poetry up until the English civil wars. For a few decades, Christ uttered his grief from the pens of English poets, and even if he regained his composure in the mid-seventeenth century, he had already opened the path to the sanctification of human grief. Even if Christ’s passion is every bit as unique as Protestant theologians emphasize, his vulnerability allows poets to empathize with it as the summit of human sorrow caught in the conflicting storms of love, anger, grief, and pity.

Christ’s Complaint in Southwell’s “The burning Babe” While Southwell’s poetry is an obvious place to begin an exploration of devotional complaint, his peculiar complaint of Christ has an awkward relationship to the planctus tradition. On the one hand, the 1595 publication of Saint Peters Complaint predates the emerging interest in depictions of Christ’s words from the cross, and it seems safe to assert that its attention to the complaints of biblical figures is instrumental in that surge. By returning poetic interest to an imaginative entry into Christ’s expression of grief, Southwell connects the grief of his complaining saints to that of God himself, demonstrating a form of imitatio Christi made possible by Christ’s own preemptive imitatio of human grief. The use of the complaint mode allows for an expression of the vulnerability of Christ that tends to be underemphasized by Protestant theologians, and it 164

is this vulnerability that allows for imitation of his passion through the onslaught of raging passions. While the vulnerability of the speaker is inherent in the complaint mode, Southwell makes a number of subtle alterations in the standard tropes in order to reposition the locus of power to the complainant himself. The very vulnerability of the speaker is what makes his words transformative, and with the poem’s final shift into liturgical time the poet is invited to follow the speaker into his divine vulnerability, his allegedly holy heartbreak. In the end, Southwell presents a Christ who is himself engaging in sacred parody, the conversion of secular poetic traditions to devotional ends, and invites readers to imitate him in converting their own experience into the liturgical drama of the gospel. As we have discussed in the previous section, Southwell’s method of using complaint to devotional ends reflects a keen sensitivity to the literary tastes of his English readers, sacred parody of contemporary tastes. By now it is almost a scholarly commonplace to speak of Southwell’s influence on the development of English devotional verse in terms of Jesuit meditation and poetic theory that entered imaginatively into Christ’s passion, in addition to his utilization of the emblem book tradition and the Augustinian theory of the plain style as a Christian rhetorical mode.28 The debates surrounding his poetics have centered on the relative importance of these influences on Protestant poets such as Herbert and Donne, but tend not to complicate the assumptions about Southwell’s poetic theory: if he does influence devotional poetics at all, it is

These are the primary traditions that A. D. Cousins connects to Catholic religious poets, of which Southwell is the first poet he explores. Cousins goes on to connect Jesuit poetic theory to affective aesthetics, the connection between human creation and God’s creation, and the reconciliation of pleasure and virtue. Catholic Religious Poets, 1, 17. 28


assumed, he does so by bringing Jesuit poetics into English verse.29 Of course, part of that poetics involves sacred parody (ad majorem Dei gloriam), which has kept scholarship on Southwell’s poetry from being too monochromatic, acknowledging instead the fusion of styles as various as epigram, complaint, wisdom poem, consolatory poem, fortune poem, among others.30 This is not to say that scholars fail to notice the variety of influences in his poetry, or the way he “intermingles native with Counter Reformation traditions and writes with a stylistic as well as psychological range,” but the temptation is always to connect Southwell to traditions that he brought into England rather than those he expanded within. Thus even with A. D. Cousins’s sensitivity to that fusion, most of his discussion of “The burning Babe” explores it as a Jesuit compositio loci, a poetic icon.31 Similarly, Gary Bouchard identifies the poet’s faults in terms of his “baroque excess” or his “baroque habit of saying too much,” and even when Anne Sweeney highlights his “clear, Christian Englishness and its appeal to popular feeling” as the great strength of his poetry, she identifies it as an “accommodation of the teacher and lesson to the audience” that he learned from Ignatius.32 It is impossible to separate Southwell from his continental formation, as well it should be, but even that continental education points to his need to accommodate his message to an English voice. A significant part of that English voice, as I have already demonstrated, involves the complaint mode, a mode that

29 For an examination of Jesuit poetic theory, its relationship to Augustinian rhetorical theory, and its connection to Southwell, see Cousins, Catholic Religious Poets, 30–31; also Roberts and Roberts, “To weave a new webbe in their owne loome,” 66–70. For an exploration of Southwell’s reception in the early modern period, see Robert Miola, “Publishing the Word: Robert Southwell’s Sacred Poetry,” The Review of English Studies 64 (2013): 410–32. 30

Roberts and Roberts, “To weave a new webbe in their owne loome,” 72.


Cousins, Catholic Religious Poets, 38, 47.


Bouchard, “The Roman Steps to the Temple,” 142–43; Sweeney, Snow in Arcadia, 21, 27.


involves a radical vulnerability when applied to Christ as it is in his most famous Christmas poem. While “The burning Babe” holds a peculiar place among Southwell’s lyrics and among the many traditions it brings together, its challenge to respond to Christ’s vociferous vulnerability makes it an appropriate entry into the study of early modern complaints of Christ. As a poet of complaint who has no hesitation weaving new webs in a variety of poetic looms, secular and otherwise, Southwell in this case chooses to modify the loom itself almost beyond recognition. The closest he comes to a passion complaint is within a Christmas poem, and while many of the standard topoi are in place, they have undergone so much inversion that most readers do not recognize complaint as one of his resources for “The burning Babe.” Indeed, while the poem is certainly a complaint by the terms defined in the introduction (e.g. the affective entreaty of the speaker, the suspension of the conclusion), Southwell is not explicit in the association as he is in Saint Peters Complaynt. This may be because he does not need to be explicit for an early modern audience. The lonely speaker who encounters a weeping figure who laments and vanishes, leaving the speaker to wonder over the strange vision, speaks for itself without the identification in the title. Yet the fact that this “homely, yet cryptic” poem has not been associated with the tradition it clearly evokes is not an indication of scholarly neglect as much as it is of the poet’s transformation of his tools, unnoticed because it is so obvious, which makes it an admirable though perplexing poem. Anne Sweeney in fact, who associates the poem with a more English style, identifies it as “the strangest of all


Southwell’s lyrics.”33 It is indeed strange, not least because Southwell is deliberately parodying a secular form of the complaint mode rather than making use of the religious mode that would have been readily available.34 This departure from the tradition he imitates is interesting for several reasons. For one thing, Christ is no longer the suffering redeemer complaining from the cross; now Christ is a lamenting baby appearing in the sky. For another thing, Southwell’s divine complainant looks much more like his secular counterparts than the figures we see in planctus Christi poems; he laments the pangs of love itself rather than the injustice of his assailants. In this way, complaint can be passionate without alienating. The extremities of Christ’s sufferings draw the reader into his love rather than creating a separation between his grief and humanity’s. The burning Babe As I in hoary Winters night Stoode shivering in the snow, Surpris’d I was with sodaine heate, Which made my hart to glowe; And lifting up a fearefull eye, To view what fire was neare, A pretty Babe all burning bright Did in the ayre appeare; Who scorched with excessive heate, Such floods of teares did shed, As though his floods should quench his flames, Which with his teares were fed:



Alas (quoth he) but newly borne, In fierie heates I frie,

Anne Sweeney, Robert Southwell: Snow in Arcadia: Redrawing the English Lyric Landscape, 1586–1595 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006), 2, 12. 33

34 For more on Southwell and sacred parody, see Gary M. Bouchard, “The Roman Steps to the Temple: An Examination of the Influence of Robert Southwell, SJ, upon George Herbert,” Logos 10.3 (2007): 144.


Yet none approach to warme their harts, Or feele my fire, but I; My faultlesse breast the furnace is, The fuell wounding thornes; Love is the fire, and sighs the smoake, And ashes, shame and scornes;



The fewell Justice layeth on, And Mercy blowes the coales, The metall in this furnace wrought, Are mens defiled soules: For which, as now on fire I am To worke them to their good, So will I melt into a bath To wash them in my blood. With this he vanisht out of sight, And swiftly shrunk away, And straight I called unto minde, That it was Christmasse day.35



The opening lines, which Louis Martz sees as a Jesuit composition of place, establish the narrator encountering a vulnerable, weeping figure and thereby echo medieval and contemporary complaints.36 Southwell’s speaker meets the complainant “in hoary Winters night” (1) as he “Stode shivering in the snow” (2), and thus at the outset at least, it is the speaker, not the complainant, who is introduced in the position of vulnerability. Furthermore, it is the speaker who is stationary, while it is the complainant who approaches him by appearing in the air, strikingly different from the standard motif of wandering poets who stumble upon their weeping figure by a river. The encounter

Robert Southwell, The Poems of Robert Southwell, S. J., ed. James H. McDonald and Nancy Pollard Brown (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), 15–16. 35

Louis L. Martz, The Poetry of Meditation: A Study in English Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954), 81–83. 36


with the complainant is certainly ominous in that the speaker responds by “lifting up a fearefull eye” (5), but it is not a chilling omen as it often is in the complaint tradition. Rather it is the omen of warmth in the midst of “hoary” winter, something makes the speaker “Surpris’d…with sodaine heate, / Which made my hart to glowe” (3–4). Indeed, while the speaker’s eye is fearful, this does not necessarily indicate that the spectacle produces fear in him, though that is the most obvious interpretation; his eye could be characteristically timorous to match the shivering posture in which he began the poem, or it could be filled with awe. Thus in the first six lines, before we are even introduced to the title character, Southwell has established his connection to the complaint tradition and begun the process of transformation. This is a complaint, but with a new set of terms: a vulnerable speaker, an initiating complainant, and a warm omen. The complainant finally appears in line eight, signaled by a phonetic shift to match the change in emphasis. The initial airy sounds of the first six lines (“hoary,” “stoode shyveringe,” “snowe,” “Surpris’d,” “sodayne heat,” “hart,” “fearefull,” “vewe,” “fire”) give way to labial firmness of “A pretty babe all burning bright” (7) to trigger the poem’s shift from its initial emphasis on the poet’s cold and vulnerability to the complaining babe.37 In contrast to the speaker’s shivering in the second line of the poem, the babe is burning, “scorched with excessive heate” (9). The flames that burn the babe contrast not only to the snowy winter and to the speaker’s shivering, but also to the babe’s own “floods of teares” (10) which he sheds in such supply that one would think “his floods should quench his flames” (11). On the contrary, as any Petrarchan lover knows, the

37 The airy sounds continue throughout the complaint, however; between “fiery,” “frye,” “feele,” “fire” [three times], “faultles,” “furnace” [twice], “fuell” [twice], and “For,” twelve f-words appear in the initial thirteen lines of the babe’s lament.


excess of tears serves not to quench the fire but to feed it, for in the heart tears become a flammable liquid. Thus it is worth noting that the first six lines set up two different points of contrast to the babe’s fire: the speaker’s snowy cold and the babe’s own flood of tears. The first contrast is between mutually exclusive sensations cold and heat, for as the babe approaches, the speaker’s cold fades into warmth. Indeed, he is in the process of transformation from the presence of another who “made my hart to glowe” (4) before he has identified who that other might be. In contrast, while the speaker’s cold gives way to the babe’s heat, the fire and flood within the babe are paradoxically compatible: the tears feed the fire. In the first twelve lines Southwell sets up two contrasting figures and creates a space capacious enough to hold together two extremities: within the babe himself. Half of the poem’s thirty-two lines are dedicated to the babe’s complaint, which is not often identified as such because it is more obviously an extended metaphysical conceit inspired by Jesuit meditation, as Louis Martz argues, or complemented by the emblem book tradition, as Peter M. Daly elaborates.38 Indeed, while the poem as a whole follows several familiar complaint motifs, the complaint itself is rather odd. When the babe begins bemoaning, “Alas…but newly borne, / In fierie heates I frie” (13–14), we are prepared for a complaint relating to his ill treatment, the injustice of his undeserved pain. We are prepared for a vulnerable complainant, both because of vulnerability inherent in the tradition and because of Southwell’s other nativity poems that, as Scott Pilarz says, “underscore Christ’s poverty, suffering and seeming helplessness in the face of

38 Martz, The Poetry of Meditation, 81–83; Peter M. Daly, “Southwell’s ‘Burning Babe’ and the Emblematic Practice,” Wascana Review 3 (1968).


inhospitable, dangerous conditions.”39 But unlike medieval complaints of Christ that lament the pain of his passion and the cruelty of his tormenters, the burning babe is not concerned with physical suffering or injustice but rather his desire to extend grace. He laments that “none approach to warme their harts, / Or feele my fire, but I” (15–16). In this way he reminds the reader of the speaker in a lover’s complaint, one who suffers the pangs of love that can only be relieved by loving. Furthermore, the “I” of line sixteen is curious. Grammatically it implies that the babe is warming himself with his own fire, a bit of an obvious statement when he has already been described as “scorched with excessive heate” (9). However, in that case the statement is slightly untrue, because the speaker, though he did not initially approach the babe, has at least been surprised with his “sodaine heate, / Which made my hart to glowe” (3–4), and thus it seems that there is at least one person warming his heart and feeling his fire. Indeed, if the speaker’s involuntary encounter with the babe’s fire counts, the “but I” could be his own interjection into the line, a brief weaving of his own voice into the complaint of the babe. After all, as A. D. Cousins has identified, this poem illustrates the recollection of “a moment of dialectic, the encounter between the ‘I’ profane of consciousness (the narrator’s past self) and the ‘I’ who is Christ.” In this moment of the poem, the distance between the divine and the profane “I” has become almost indistinguishable.40 If the first-person pronoun refers to the babe, it negates the

39 Scott Pilarz, Robert Southwell and the Mission of Literature, 1561–1595: Writing Reconciliation (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2004), 93. 40 Cousins, Catholic Religious Poets, 44. It is worth noting that Southwell’s poetic voice is generally considered to be impersonal and objective (see Roberts and Roberts, “To weave a new webbe in their owne loome,” 74). Without arguing against this observation, we may note that without crossing into the realm of self-expression, Southwell has made the universal personal.


encounter (such as it is) that the poet has had with the warmth of the fire, perhaps because it has not been triggered by the poet’s own initiative. If it refers to the poet it is that very initiative, the poet’s attempt to approach the warmth that has already approached him through his poetic voice. The ambiguity of the line invites the reader to enter into the drama of divine vulnerability as the poet has begun to do, merging the contrary figures of sinner and savior together as the conflicting interpretations of the line are merged into the opening of the complaint. The next twelve lines are devoted to the explicit development of the conceit, a perplexing image that dominates the critical attention to the poem as it merges sacred and secular complaint motifs. The eclectic nature of the conceit, if the key to the sustained appeal of the poem, is certainly also the source of its perplexing curiosity. Pierre Janelle calls it “The most hackneyed of all conceits”: his breast is the furnace, thorns are the fuel, love is the fire, sighs are the smoke, shame and scorns the ashes, defiled souls the metal, Justice lays the fuel, and Mercy blows the coals.41 It is an odd conceit for several reasons, and rather than clarifying the strange image of the babe burning in the sky it makes it even stranger. Part of this oddity may indeed be due to modern readers’ unfamiliarity with the emblematic tradition and its “fundamentally allegorical way of experiencing the world,” as Daly suggests, which involves images such as fiery hearts in furnaces that could explain at least some of the odd combinations of motifs.42 The conceit includes only one explicit image of the passion in the “wounding

41 Pierre Janelle, Robert Southwell the Writer: A Study in Religious Inspiration (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1935), 168. 42 As Andrew Harnack observes, however, there is no evidence of emblems to account for the poem’s primary and most memorable image of a burning babe. On the other hand, Christ’s heart as a burning


thornes” that fuel the fire (18), yet even these are only hurting him by extension; it is the love that burns him, and these particular instruments of torture serve only to fuel the fire of love burning in the furnace of his breast. After identifying his sighs as the smoke, which seems the matter of Petrarchan complaint, the babe identifies his shame and scorns as the ashes, connecting Petrarchan complaint to passion complaint, obscuring the distinction between Christ’s lament and the laments of afflicted lovers. Furthermore, even the reference to shame and scorns refrains from the accusatory tone of complaint because they are not the material that hurts him but its effects, not the fire but the ashes, the byproducts left of the thorns after the fire of love has burned them, and like the smoke, they are ephemeral images.43 Beyond the merging of secular and religious complaint traditions, the central image merges poetic and biblical complaint traditions, linking the complaint of the babe to that of Old Testament prophets and transforming those images in the process. Indeed, the image of heat within the breast is not exclusively an image of love in the early modern period. In many cases it is an image of rage, and thus when the babe uses it for love he redefines an image of judgment into one of mercy. In this way he redefines the very passion of fury within the breast: passion in the heart of the babe is redemptive rather

furnace would eventually find its way into the Litany to the Sacred Heart (cor Iesu, fornax ardens caritatis) that synthesized many other litanies that date back to the seventeenth century, which Southwell predates. Devotion to the Sacred Heart dates at least to early Franciscans, Bernard of Clairvaux, and the Norbertine hymn Summi regis cor. Daly, “Southwell’s ‘Burning Babe,’” 31; Harnack, “Robert Southwell’s ‘The Burning Babe’ and the Typology of Christmastide,” KPA Bulletin 4 (1977): 26. For more on the development of the devotion to the Sacred Heart and its relationship to early modern affective devotion, see Ted A. Campbell, The Religion of the Heart: A Study of European Religious Life in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991), 36–41. For biblical images of the wicked or the oppressed perishing like smoke, see for example Psalm 37:20; 68:2; 102:3; Hosea 13:3. For biblical images that associate ashes to fleeting vanity, see Job 13:12; 30:19; Isaiah 44:20. 43


than vindictive. The examples of burning breasts as images of fury are numerous, such as when John Studley’s 1566 translation of Agamemnon depicts Clytemnestra’s anger as “The flashing flames and furious force of fiery fervent heate” that are “Outraging in my boyling breast” and heating “my burning bones.”44 In Steenbergh’s terms where this fury of Clytemnestra feminizes its subject and diminishes her self-control, making her a passive recipient to outside forces, then this Christ seems oddly feminized, victimized and disempowered by the flames within his breast. Only for him, the flames are those of love, not the rage of Clytemnestra; Christ is a vulnerable victim, but he is the victim of divine love. Furthermore, beyond being images of the passion, the thorns that are consumed in the fire of love and the ashes and smoke of shame and sighs are reversals of images of judgment from biblical poetry, such as when Isaiah describes wickedness as a fire that consumes thorns and sends out pillars of smoke, or when the betrayed lover Hosea describes the wickedness of Israel as an oven in their heart whose fire blazes unchecked.45 Southwell evokes these images of righteous anger while transforming them: now love has become the fire, and it is scorn itself that is left in ashes in its wake. It is Justice laying the fuel (presumably still the thorns?), not wickedness, and if the babe is passively subjected to raging passions, they are the raging fires of love. Thus when Christ complains in


Quoted in Steenbergh, “Emotions and Gender,” 125.

“Wickedness is kindled as a fire; it shall devour the brier and the thorn, and shall be kindled in the thicket of the forest, and it shall be wrapped up in smoke ascending on high.” (Is 9:18); “They applied their heart like an oven while he laid snares for them; he slept all the night baking them, in the morning he himself was kindled as flames of fire” (Hos 7:6). It may be that when Anne-Marie Miller-Blaise suggests that “the imagery proves much more Petrarchan than biblical,” she is looking more at New Testament images of Christ’s birth or passion than Old Testament images of prophetic judgment. “Priests and yet Prophets? The Identity of the Poetic Voice in the Shorter Religious Lyric of Robert Southwell and George Herbert,” in Les Voix de Dieu: Littérature et prophétie en Angleterre et en France à l'âge baroque (Paris: Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2008), 122. 45


Southwell’s poetry, he is in a particularly vulnerable position, appealing not to justice against his oppressors but to their pity in the full Petrarchan sense of the term. Yet the identification in the final line of the liturgical setting for this poem, Christmas day, creates a surprising degree of power in the helplessness of the babe, along with an invitation and a means for the speaker to respond to the vision. Indeed, while Christ the babe is Christ the vulnerable, he is also Christ who answers the laments of Old Testament poetry by entering into the throes of suffering and speaking them himself. Andrew Harnack argues that the appearance of the burning babe is emblematic of Moses’s encounter with God’s presence in the burning bush, a theophany that was sometimes connected to Mary’s virginal purity at the Incarnation.46 Like in “New heaven, new warre,” this is a Christ child born with his ultimate goal in mind—it is the “little Babe so fewe daies olde” who “Is come to ryfle Satans folde” (25–26)—yet this Christ child is not marshaling his troops but burning in the flames of love, love that desires to spread its warmth, to purify the metal of “mens defiled soules” and “worke them to their good” (24–26). If no one will come to feel his fire, he will himself “melt into a bath” (27), as his last words declare; if this complaining Christ is at all threatening, he is threatening to a good end, and his final proposed action is the passive act of melting. In fact, it is the very action the speaker began to undergo in the opening lines when he was “Surpris’d…with sodaine heate, / Which made my hart to glowe” (3–4), the very action whose absence the babe lamented when he grieved that there was no one to “approach to

46 “Typology of Christmastide,” 27. Anne Sweeney identifies the image instead with Matthäus Greuter’s engraving Ignatius’s Vision at La Storta, but these connections are certainly not mutually exclusive. Snow in Arcadia, 13.


warme their harts, / Or feele my fire” (15–16). The babe himself is imitating the actions to which the poet and readers are called. With this final determination to work men’s good and wash them in his blood, the babe “vanisht out of sight / And swiftly shrunk away” (29–30) seemingly as suddenly as he came, and the reader is left with the challenge to respond. Oddly for a poem that many see as among Southwell’s penitential verse, while the poem completes the complaint frame with one final glimpse of the speaker, it offers no glimpse of his affective reaction to the vision.47 We do not know if his heart is still glowing as it was when he first encountered the babe or if the warmth has shrunk away as well; we do not know if he is still fearful as he was at first. He only tells us that “straight I called unto minde, / That it was Christmasse day” (31–32); he tells us a thought, a piece of information to help interpret the significance of the vision, but not of his reaction to it.48 But the recollection of the poem’s placement in liturgical time may itself reflect a transformation in the poet, his opportunity to shift from the being speaker of secular complaint to that of devotional lyric, in addition to his recognition of the locus for that transformation. Furthermore, the absence of explicit references to a transformation in the speaker presents the challenge of participating in the transformation to the readers themselves. This is a trademark of Southwell’s poetry, which scholars have observed “was not intended to explore his own

Among scholars who see this as a penitential poem, Scott Pilarz includes his discussion of the poem in his chapter “Reconciling Sinners to God and the Church,” pointing out the oddity of the theme of repentance in a Christmas poem. Indeed, the penitential themes are as out of place as the plantus Christi motifs. Writing Reconciliation, 253. 47

48 F. W. Brownlow speculates that the visionary poem actually represents a mystical vision that Southwell himself had on Christmas Day. Robert Southwell, 121.


spirituality but rather to effect a change in his readers.”49 In this case, the most readily available response to Christ’s complaint is not repentance as a penitential poem would exhort nor sorrow as planctus Christi poems urge but a response to love with love, approaching Christ’s burning passions to feel their fires as well. The only proper response to the passions in this particular complaint is to imitate them.

Christ’s Complaint in Alabaster, Rowlands, and Davies Thus “The burning Babe” presented a challenge to devotional poets to imitate a Christ who had already imitated human vulnerability, to learn the posture of devotion from the passions of his sensitive, suffering heart. This challenge was not accepted wholesale even by Catholic poets who were more ready to imitate Christ’s courage and firm resolve in the face of persecution than his fear and anguish. Nevertheless, as poets begin to explore the possibility of entering imaginatively into Christ’s suffering, they lean toward complaint. Notably, the more these depictions of Christ allow him to direct his extreme agony against his oppressors, the more they present a Christ who is passionately loving. In passion accounts, it seems, passions such as anger and grief go along with the ultimate passion of love. Those whom Christ loves, it seems, he complains against. For the zealous Catholic convert William Alabaster, however, Christ’s passion is not an invitation to express the laments of the anguished savior but rather a challenge to follow a martyr’s fearless integrity. Alabaster’s passion sequence, written during the period between his first conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1597 and his escape from

49 John R. Roberts and Lorraine Roberts, “‘To weave a new webbe in their owne loome’: Robert Southwell and Counter-Reformation Poetics,” in Sacred and Profane: Secular and Devotional Interplay in Early Modern British Literature (Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1996), 68.


England in 1598, three years after Southwell’s execution, challenges readers with the assertion that any sacrifice pales in comparison to that of Christ, and thus depicts a Christ who embraces his suffering unflinchingly. The passion holds a central place in Alabaster’s poetic inspiration, but the terms he establishes for it are combative. His autobiography attributes his conversion to a particular fondness for the passion in which he felt “a greater tendernes of harte towardes Christes Crosse and Passion than…the protestantes weare wont to feele.”50 While it is fair to take his tenderness on his own terms, he presents it polemically: he became Catholic because Protestants did not have the same tenderness that he did for Christ’s cross and passion. Thus while his poetry does indeed reflect a fascination with the passion and the most complete manuscript of his Divine Meditations begins with an eleven-sonnet sequence titled “The Portrait of Christ’s Death,” Alabaster maintains an interest in the combative functions of the passion. It is a portrait not only of Christ’s death but also his assault against the powers of evil and persecution that oppress his true church. When the first sonnet commits “To take the portrait of Christ’s death in me” (1.10), it is a portrait of zeal, one that teaches the recent convert to face persecution boldly by imitation. As we are prepared for at the outset, the portrait of Christ’s death that emerges from the headstrong convert is strikingly heroic. Alabaster’s Christ sings a hymn to “sound the onset martial…upon his foes to run” (1.3–4) and accordingly does “not dread the bitter thrall / Of pain and grief and torments all in one” (1.7–8). The next sonnet describes it as “An hymn triumphant for an happy fight” (2.2) by the

The Sonnets of William Alabaster, ed. G. M. Story and Helen Gardner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959), xii. 50


“giantlike…victorious king” (2.5) who “anticipated with delight / The present pains which should such glories bring” (2.7–8). Since Alabaster wants to imagine a Christ who anticipates his present pains with delight, his agony in the garden is notably absent from the sequence even in the two sonnets that follow the savior to the Mount of Olives. As a whole, the sequence is more concerned with the poet’s response to the passion than with the passion itself, emphasizing calling to “Go by this tract which thither [to Mount Olivet] right doth tend, / Which Christ did first beat forth to walk thereby” (6.5–6). This is a Christ for imitation, but a particular kind of imitation, following the passion into zealous martyrdom. As a result, Alabaster’s Christ is not seen complaining, even if parts of the poem remind readers of medieval complaint. G. M. Story and Helen Gardner call his seventh sonnet “one of his most moving poems, and at the same time, based as it is on the old Complaint of Christ motif, one of his most traditional,” and indeed its attention to specific paradoxical images of Christ’s agony and magnanimous love is a standard technique in medieval passion poetry.51 What should there be in Christ to give offence? His corded hands, why they for thee were bound, His mangled brows, why they for thee were crowned, His pierced breast, thy life did flow from thence. (7.1–4) Yet even these four lines, the only part of the sonnet that recalls the medieval planctus, are more telling for their divergence from the tradition than their continuation of it. Most notably, this account of Christ’s binding, crowning, and piercing is in the third person, and thus is not strictly speaking a complaint, nor does it make a strong pathetic appeal.


Alabaster, Sonnets, xxxiii.


Christ himself never utters a word in the sequence as a whole, and even in the sonnet that looks the most closely at his wounds they are not meant to invoke a sense of the intensity of his suffering. On the contrary, the poet seems to brush them aside to focus instead on the grace that flows from them. Again, Alabaster’s emphasis seems to be on a practical rather than affective response to the passion. Indeed, as the sonnet continues, its emphasis shifts from the assaults on Christ to the relatively minor assaults of persecution, reminding the reader that “Those shafts which raze they skin, ran through his heart” (7.9). Thus the final couplet declares it a mistake if “we grieve to suffer for his sake” (7.13), for Alabaster’s Christ does not grieve in his crucifixion any more than he feared in the garden in the earlier sonnets. While Story and Gardner are right to recall medieval precedents for the paradoxical images in the passion, their comparison to the planctus Christi is more revealing for its contrast. If it were a complaint, it would be a complaint strangely stripped entirely of complaint, with Christ reduced to a supporting role. In any case, Alabaster’s Christ is not the complaining type. The Christ of the satirist Samuel Rowlands’s contemporaneous Poems upon the Passion (1598) comes a little closer to a complainer, though he still falls short of the vulnerability of the tradition and certainly of the other complainants in the collection, and separates himself from the possibility of imitation. Rowlands as we have seen made use of Southwell’s model for devotional complaint when fashioning his own collections of passion poems in this the first of his published works, freely offering complaints from Judas, Peter, and Mary Magdalen, but he is hesitant to assign complaints to Christ. On the contrary, his forty-nine-stanza sequence “The seuen words of Christ vpon the Crosse” is generally careful about commentating on Christ’s words rather than amplifying, keeping the actual biblical quotations demarcated. Yet even then, complaint comes into 181

the seven-stanza section “Deus meus, deus meus, vt quid me dereliquisti?” even if the actual complaint is short. My God (said Christ) vvhen God to God cõplained, My God, vvho am true God and perfect man, Why hast thou my distres’d estate refrained, Thou doest seuere sinnes imputation scan, Forsaken in this strait, thy selfe bereauing, Me to afflictions cruel’st torments leauing.52 In case any readers missed from the first line the fact that this stanza is an actual complaint, unlike Christ’s other words from the cross in the other sections, the poet chimes in at the next line to explain, “Vntaught (till now) vvas Iesus to complaine.” It is indeed a complaint, but there is a distinction here that Rowlands spends several stanzas to clarify. Despite the fact that Christ had just undergone infinite wrongs from humanity silently, it is only now that he offers a complaint, and he does not complain to his offenders but rather “Only his father now accus’d alone.” Because of the extended complaints elsewhere in the work, the paucity of complaint from the mouth of the ultimate sufferer is striking. Christ may complain, but he does so selectively. Considering the trouble Rowlands takes in order to separate Christ’s complaint from the others in the work, it is curious that he is just as careful to specify that the words are indeed the words of complaint. Most of the stanzas in this section function as an apology for the complaint, brief and conservative though it had been in the first place. While Rowlands is generally not a subtle poet, in this case he outdoes himself with directness, devoting three stanzas after the one quoted above to make the point that Christ’s earlier restraint from complaint had shifted, and now “his complaint vvas of his

Samuel Rowlands, The Betraying of Christ (London, 1598), F1. The other lines quoted in this section are from the same page, recto and verso. 52


father made, / Not meant to those denide, condemn’d, betray’de.” In this way, complaint can indeed be an act of a righteous victim, but the terms are made explicit: it cannot be vindictive, cannot be against the ones who wrong him. This sets the complaint apart from the medieval planctus that shows Christ calling to the passersby and appealing to justice against his oppressors, and his restraint sets it apart from the protracted complaints of the penitent saints elsewhere in the work. Christ is not quite the model of fortitude that he was for Alabaster, but his response to suffering is also distinct from the extreme agony of the various complaining saints and sinners. Furthermore, since Christ’s plea is directed to his Father rather than his persecutors, in keeping with the biblical account, the poet is silent about the human response. Seemingly, there is nothing to do but to acknowledge that “He laid our sorrowes burden on his sprite.” The reader is a spectator of the complaint, not a participant, and thus there is no place for imitation. It is a portrait of Christ as pure grace, a grace that sets him apart from those to whom he extends it. Yet the interest in devotional complaint stirs a reassessment of Christ’s complaint itself, one that does not merely follow the biblical line but rather reintroduces a medieval devotional mode that had been largely dormant in the early modern period. Sir John Davies’s 1,818-line The Holy Roode, or Christs Crosse (1609) devotes 102 lines to Christ’s complaint from the cross, deliberately drawing from the planctus Christi tradition rather than merely the biblical lines to which Rowlands had constrained himself. There is still some hesitation about expanding on the silence of the man of sorrows from the gospel account. While the laboriously long narrative does not hesitate to amplify Christ’s limited words from the cross in other places, converting for example his “Woman, behold thy son” (Jn 19:26) to thirty-six lines of pentameter, the narrator concludes the lengthy 183

complaint by identifying Christ’s anguish itself as the speaker, which spoke the words in silence (19.2.19).53 But the silent words of Christ’s anguish are undoubtedly in the planctus Christi tradition, beginning with the standard address from Lamentations, “You that passe by this place, behold me too, / And see if any paines be like to mine!” (18.2.25–26). Like other poems in the planctus tradition, Davies highlights the ironies of the images from the passion: while the sign on the cross declares Christ worthy of a crown, he wears a crown that bores holes in his brows; while he is the maker of everything, he has been made an offence; while his feet never stood in the way of sinners (Ps. 1:1), they now bear the weight of all our sins; while he once rode the Cherubim, now he is “made a Pack-horse for thy Sinnes” (19.1.40); while he was once compassed by singing angels, now he is compassed by gnawing worms. Like centuries of poets before him, Davies demonstrates great delight in depicting the paradoxes of the passion through the mode of the suffering servant’s complaint directed against his persecutors. But a complaint against his persecutors does not indicate a lack of love on Christ’s part. On the contrary, like the planctus lyrics that echo the Song of Songs, this Christ appeals to his persecutors in the voice of the lover’s complaint, urging them to look into his face where they will see nothing but patience, and furthermore, will see the place “(bath’d in sanguine streames) / Where Paine, and Patience sits in high’st extreames!” (18.2.36). This Christ has none of the hostility that the extremity of passions could justly exhibit. Instead, throughout the fairly unimaginative complaint, the word “pity” becomes the most redundantly repeated word, hearkening to the unrequited love of a

Lines are cited parenthetically by page, column, and line number from The Holy Roode, or Christs Crosse: Containing Christ Crucified, described in Speaking-picture (London: 1609). 53


Petrarchan complaint. When he repeats his address to the passersby, he reminds them that “my Palmes / For you are rent, and all their sinews crackt” and begs them for “your Pitties Almes” (18.2.49–51). In the next stanza he addresses them even more gently, “O deere Pilgrims, pittie you my paine, / And loue, O loue me, lest I die in vaine” (19.1.5–6); or again two stanzas later, “pittie me, for whom I die, / Pittie, O pittie, my vnpittied woes” (19.1.15–16); and two stanzas later he reasons “Sith thus in Loue, for Man, sh’endures this doule, / Then, in loue, pittie (man) my painfull Soule” (19.1.29–30); and five stanzas later he argues yet again, “Sith then, O Loue, I am thus plagu’d for Thee, / Pittie, O pittie, (Dear Loue) pittie me” (19.2.5–6); and finally in the second to last stanza, he makes yet another plea, “Sith, this, and more than this, is done for thee, Pittie (Deere Loue) in Loue, O pittie me” (19.2.11–12). While there is a direct link from Christ’s death to religious martyrdom as in Alabaster’s sonnets—indeed, Davies’s Christ argues to his hearers that “Sith for your Treasons (ah) I thus am Rackt: / Then, sith this Racke, from wracks doth set you free, / Can you doe lesse than loue the Racke for me?” (18.2.52– 54)—for the most part the call is simply to pity and love. As in the Song of Songs, this Christ “doth languish for the loue of thee” and thus urges man to “let it grieue thy Soule, my Soule to grieue” (19.1.31–32). We have returned to the imitatio of Alabaster’s sequence, but without his resolve. Now it is the vulnerability of the afflicted lover that the reader is called to imitate. Oddly then, comparision among Alabaster, Rowlands, and Davies seems to indicate that when poetic descriptions of Christ’s complaint become more directly addressed against his persecutors, they become more passionately loving. Complaint becomes a way to incite love.


Christ’s Complaint in Herbert’s “The Sacrifice” If the comparison we have seen among Alabaster, Rowlands, and Davies serves to typify the relationship between complaint and love, Herbert’s “The Sacrifice” may be the fullest entry into intimacy with Christ among the early modern planctus Christi, since it is certainly the most explicit imaginative entry into his passionate vulnerability. In the case of Herbert, the possibility of encountering Christ’s love through the extremities of his passion rests on the interpretation of the poem’s refrain “Was ever grief like mine?” that brings the question of imitatio front-and-center in the poem. Simply put, if the purpose of the refrain is as many scholars suggest to separate Christ’s grief from humanity’s, then the poem creates a distance between Christ’s passion and the human passions in which he seems to participate, thus demonstrating that imitatio Christi is not possible. Alternatively, if the poem invites—indeed, urges—the comparison between passion and passions, putting the supreme grief of Christ in human terms and even echoing the voice of biblical complaint from the prophets who had come before him, then the complaining voice that Herbert borrows from the medieval tradition becomes his point of access to the love implied or explicitly evoked in it. If that is the case, then it is no surprise that Herbert places the poem in such a prominent position at the beginning The Temple. It is the voice of the friend who surprises the poet at the end of the lyrics of anxious striving, the complainer who taught the poet to complain yet praise, the goal at the end of his afflicted searching. Of course, the final word for an interpretive conundrum in Herbert’s poetry is never a simple either-or answer, and “The Sacrifice” does indeed imply the possibility of an inimitable Christ. Nevertheless, we can see by attention to the complaint traditions at work in the poem that the passion demands comparison to human passions, and thus prepares the way to imitate, albeit always insufficiently, Christ’s extremities of grief. 186

“The Sacrifice” is notable for many reasons, including its placement as the second poem in “The Church” sequence, its uncharacteristically long length, its exclusive use of the voice of Christ rather than that of the poet, and its deliberate hearkening to a medieval poetic mode. It is in many ways the most atypical of Herbert’s poems, if that term can be used in reference to a poet whose most striking feature is his variation. While most of The Temple explores new possibilities for form and poetic voice in devotional lyric, Herbert writes “The Sacrifice” in a jarringly traditional mode such that most of scholarly criticism on the poem has either used it as evidence for the poet’s indebtedness to medieval and Catholic literary forms or has tried to find subtle indications that he is dismissing the form that he is closely imitating. Yet it is the very “deare angrie Lord” to whom the speaker of “Bitter-sweet” declares, “I will complain, yet praise; / I will bewail, approve: / And all my sowre-sweet dayes / I will lament, and love” (1–4), the figure whom the rest of the poems search for and struggle with, a figure Herbert receives from a colorful tradition and with whom he strives unsuccessfully to compete in “grief’s sad conquests” (“The Reprisal,” 11).54 “The Sacrifice,” with all its paradoxical images, layers of allusion, and ambiguities of language, is a fitting entry point to the baffling struggle to draw near to a man-God whose very nature is one of paradox. Because of the peculiarity of “The Sacrifice” in the poet’s corpus, criticism of the poem varies dramatically depending on the critic’s understanding of the overall purpose of The Temple, Herbert’s theology, or the key to his aesthetics. It is in some ways a litmus

All quotations from Herbert’s The Temple are taken from The English Poems of George Herbert, ed. Helen Wilcox (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), and are cited parenthetically by line number of the poem indicated. 54


test for Herbert criticism. It can be dismissed because “it is not, in spite of its subject, one of Herbert’s immediately moving poems,” or it can be praised as “the keystone of Herbert’s Temple, just as its subject is the keystone of Christian Theology.”55 Its peculiarities in a self-consciously arranged collection indicate its importance: the second and by far the longest poem in “The Church” sequence, it picks up right after “The Altar” had asked in its closing couplet that “thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine,” and maintains a self-consciously traditional voice in a sequence characterized by innovation. For a scholar to ignore the poem would be a statement of its own.56 Rather than being an indication of its marginality, the anomalousness of the poem demonstrates its significance, not only for Herbert criticism but also to the developing emphasis on complaint in devotional lyric. After all, in light of Schoenfeldt’s observation about the shifting emphasis away from the passion in the seventeenth century quoted earlier, it is notable that Herbert’s “The Sacrifice” engages closely with medieval planctus Christi complaints much more than any of Southwell’s passion poetry does. When it comes to the complaints of Christ, it is Southwell who is the innovator and Herbert who uses the medieval loom. Nevertheless, while it is obvious that the poem engages with the medieval tradition, the nature of that engagement is among the primary scholarly debates it has engendered. William Empson sees it as an illustration of his seventh type of ambiguity in

55 Helen Vendler, The Poetry of George Herbert (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975), 137; Gene Edward Veith, Reformation Spirituality: The Religion of George Hebert (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1985), 65. 56 Some scholars do ignore it, of course. Elizabeth Clarke’s nearly 300-page study of Theory and Theology in George Herbert’s Poetry hardly mentions it at all.


which a word or phrase has two opposite meanings in the context of the passage such that it demonstrates a complete division in the author’s mind. In this case, the division in Herbert’s mind centers around Christ’s identity as the victim and hero.57 Rosemond Tuve’s studies of Herbert’s medieval sources respond to Empson’s reading by showing how the poem’s “neat and sharp type of irony” is connected to the tradition Herbert inherited, which “is full of minute shocks, of unexpected connexions, sudden recoils in the emotion described or produced.”58 Furthermore Herbert adds a particular attentiveness to biblical echoes into his “diligent Collation of Scripture with Scripture,” as Chana Bloch shows, and the rhetorical power of the poem often depends on his “studied juxtaposition of two texts that are linked by a single word” full of scriptural resonance, not only medieval liturgical and hermeneutic traditions.59 The question of whether Herbert engages in the medieval tradition as a disciple, an ironist, or an innovator continues to vex criticism of the poem, and any effective reading of the poem must hold together these paradoxes. Since some of those paradoxes are inherent in the traditions themselves, it is difficult to assert that he is actually dismissing the traditions he evokes, and it seems more productive to explore the ways that he sharpens the ironies of the planctus Christi lyrics. By

In conclusion, Empson sums up this paradox by identifying Christ as “scapegoat and tragic hero; loved because hated; hated because godlike; freeing from torture because tortured; torturing his torturers because all-merciful; source of all strength to men because by accepting he exaggerates their weakness; and, because outcast, creating the possibility of society.” William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity (London: Chatto and Windus, 1949), 233. 57

58 Tuve, A Reading of George Herbert (London: Faber & Faber, 1952), 50, 41. She first made this connection two years earlier in her essay “On Herbert’s ‘Sacrifice’” (The Kenyon Review 12 [1950]: 51–57). Nevertheless, Helen Vendler sees a “rather frigid ingenuity and stylization” in the poem that is “at odds with the literary tradition of verbal simplicity in poetic treatments of Christ’s Passion” in the very tradition from which the poem borrows. Vendler, Poetry, 137. 59 Bloch, Spelling the Word, 65. For her full investigation into Herbert’s use of scripture in “The Sacrifice” and her qualifications of Tuve’s Reading, see 65–79. Also see Frank Livingstone Huntley, Essays in Persuasion: On Seventeenth-Century English Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 69 for a table that records the close parallel between “The Sacrifice” and Mark’s account of the passion.


adapting the formal structure of the complaint to emphasize the unconditional love of Christ, highlighting different vulnerable sides of human passions, and connecting the lament to the grief of biblical prophets who came before, Herbert illustrates a grief that makes itself imitable through complaint. Indeed, if Herbert is a Protestant innovator who transforms a medieval tradition, he is following a tradition of Catholic medieval poets who did the same thing. The poem, like many medieval lyrics, expands the Good Friday Reproaches (Improperia) in the Sarum missal. At this part of the Good Friday liturgy as it was celebrated in England before the Reformation, two barefoot priests wearing albs and stripped of their other vestments reproach the congregation as Christ to the people of Israel. O my people, what have I done unto thee, or wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me. Because I brought thee out of the land of Egypt, thou hast prepared a cross for thy Saviour.…Because I led thee through the wilderness forty years, and I fed thee with manna, and brought thee into a land sufficiently good, thou hast prepared a cross for thy Saviour.…What could I have done more unto thee that I have not done? I planted thee indeed, O my vineyard, with fair fruit, and thou art become very bitter unto me; for thou gavest me to drink in my thirst vinegar mingled with gall, and piercedst thy Saviour’s side with a spear.60 The paradoxes of the liturgy, which are in turn derived from biblical sources such as Isaiah 5:4 and Lamentations 1:12, were a source of inspiration to many medieval poets.61 For example, a short lyric from the Franciscan John Grimestone’s 1372 preaching book begins with its address to “Ye that pasen be the weyye” and challenges them, “Beholdet,


The Sarum Missal in English, trans. Frederick E. Warren (London: The De La More Press, 1911), 258.

61 “What more should I have done for my vineyard that I have not already done for it?” (Isa. 5:4); “O all you who pass by the way, give heed and see if there be any sorrow like my sorrow” (Lam. 1:12).


al mi felawes, / Yef ani me lik is founde.”62 Another major fourteenth-century Franciscan poet by the (fitting) name of William Herebert adapted the reproaches more closely, beginning by asking “My volk, what habbe y do the / Other in what thyng toened the? / Gyn nouthe and onswere thou me,” a refrain repeated after every two-tofour lines.63 Herebert’s stanzas follow the irony of the liturgy’s reproaches: while he led the people out of Egypt and through the wilderness, they led him to the cross; while he fed and clothed them, they gave him vinegar and pierced his side. But while Herebert closely follows the liturgy, he also expands on it, adding additional images: while he scourged their captors, they sold him as a captive; while he opened a path through waters, they opened one through his side; while he led them with fire and cloud, they led him to Pilate’s court; while he gave them drink from a stone, they gave him drink of gall; while he struck the kings of Canaan for them, they struck his head with a reed; while he gave them a crown of the kingdom, they gave him one of thorns. Thus for a seventeenthcentury Protestant to transform his medieval sources is in a sense to be daringly traditional. Like Herebert, Herbert incorporates every trope from these reproaches into his own planctus Christi and models the entire 252-line poem on the structure of paradoxical reversals of images. Yet he takes notable liberties even in the places where he imitates. Rather than connecting it to the cross as the liturgy does or to the water from the rock as Herebert does, Herbert combines the image of manna with that of the vinegar mingled


Gray, English Medieval Religious Lyrics, 25 (26.1,3–4).

63 “Popule meus quid feci tibit?,” a lyric from a fourteenth-century manuscript, similarly begins, “Mi folk, nou ansuere me, / an sey wat is my gilth; / wat mitht i mor ha don for þe, / þat i ne haue fulfilth?” and similarly follows the images from the Reproaches, though it does not include a refrain as Herebert does. Charles Brown, ed., Religious Lyrics of the XIVth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), 88–89.


with gall: while Christ had fed the people “With Manna, Angels food,” they instead “gave me veneger mingled with gall, / But more with malice” (237–39). Then where the liturgy connects Isaiah’s image of Israel as a vineyard that the Lord planted to the vinegar at the cross, Herbert connects it to the crown of thorns. Despite the fact that “I my vine planted and watred there,” now the crown of thorns on his head “are all the grapes Sion doth bear” (161–63).64 By connecting Isaiah’s vineyard to the crown of thorns, Herbert makes room for another typological link, this time to “the earths great curse in Adams fall” that Christ can remove from the earth and place instead upon his brows (165–67).65 But the greatest change he makes to the Reproaches, one that his medieval predecessors generally do not share, is a shift in their structural emphasis. While each of the liturgical images follow Isaiah by beginning with divine kindness that contrasts with the cruelty that Christ suffers at the hand of his people, most of the stanzas of “The Sacrifice” begin with an image of the cruelty of the people, adding the ironic image of divine kindness afterwards. In this way, by climaxing with God’s unconditional and in many cases initiating love rather than beginning with it, each of the stanzas emphasizes the gratuitous grace of God that comes before and remains beyond the cruelty of the people.66

64 Herbert expands the possibilities of poetry that combines Eucharistic imagery with Christ’s comparison of himself to a vine in John 15. Caxton’s translation of “The Fifteen Oes,” for example, calls Jesus the “verai true plenteuous vyne” that sheds blood “as a ruoe ckystre of grapes.” “The Fifteen Oes,” ed. Rebecca Krug, in Cultures of Piety: Medieval English Devotional Literature in Translation, ed. Anne Clark Bartlett and Thomas H. Bestul (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999), 216.

As a result of his disobedience, God told Adam, “cursed is the ground for thy sake: in sorow shalt thou eate of it all the dayes of thy life. Thornes also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee” (Gen. 3:17–18). Chana Bloch uses this as an indication of Herbert’s closer reliance on scriptural allusion than medieval sources, though for Tuve this is itself a “liturgical way of using [symbolic imagery].” Bloch, Spelling the Word: George Herbert and the Bible (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 67–68; Tuve, Reading, 61. 65

66 For examples of God’s grace coming before man’s cruelty, see for example the people defying him who would have been slaves without him (9–10), the disciples leaving the star that brought the wise men


It is this structural transformation that keeps the potentially caustic Christ approachable, a feature necessary for Louis Martz’s argument that “The Sacrifice” represents not an imitation of the liturgy but a meditation on it.67 Indeed, the opening stanza of “The Sacrifice” foreshadows Love’s eventual question in “Love III” that closes The Temple when the speaker insists that “I cannot look on thee” and Love responds “Who made the eyes but I?” Similarly, Christ opens “The Sacrifice” by complaining, Oh all ye, who passe by, whose eyes and mind To worldly things are sharpe, but to me blinde; To me, who took eyes that I might you finde: Was ever grief like mine? (1–4) There is a call to see, a challenge to open one’s eyes to the lavish display of suffering that opens The Temple, and in some ways the rest of the sequence narrates the speaker’s attempt and possible failure in the quest for vision that Christ inaugurates here in the second poem. According to Rosemary Freeman in her study of English emblem books, the poem succeeds in creating a figure of the Christ of medieval paintings in the reader’s imagination by its sustained invention of specific images of the passion.68 This emphasis on sight is not found within the reproaches themselves, but as we have seen it is integral to

from the east (50–51), the condemnation coming from the same breath he gave to Adam (69–71), the people spitting on he who healed the blind man with spittle (133–35), Christ face being covered like that of Moses (137–39), the crown of thorns being the only grapes from Zion’s well-planted vineyard (161–63), the mockers taunting him to come down when he already descended from his father’s throne (221–23), the people feeding them vinegar when he had fed them with manna (237–39); for examples of his grace abiding beyond their cruelty, see Judas finding hell at Christ’s lips which are the gates of eternal life (41–43), Christ suffering binding who has loosed their bands (47), Barabbas being released in order to condemn the prince of the peace that passes all understanding (118–20), the scarlet robe illustrating the healing in his blood (157–59), the people striking the rock of all eternal blessings (169–71), Christ hanging between two thieves though he only stole from them only death (229–31), the soldiers piercing his side whence sacraments might flow (245–47). 67 Martz, Poetry of Meditation, 92. Patrick Grant follows that line in his study of Herbert’s connection to Augustinian devotion. Patrick Grant, The Transformation of Sin: Studies in Donne, Herbert, Vaughan, and Traherne (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1974), 77–79, 94–95. 68

Rosemary Freeman, English Emblem Books (London: Chatto & Windus, 1948), 160.


the sustained expansion of images in the complaint mode, and in some ways it clarifies Herbert’s relationship to the tradition from which he borrows. The poem opens with a Christ who takes the role of the biblical, liturgical, and poetic complainant, and he challenges the passersby to fill the role of the traditional speaker, the one who encounters a complainant and walks away changed.69 Unlike Southwell who opens “The burning Babe” with the poet’s affective response to the complainant before the complaint has even begun, Herbert gives us no framing poet, only the complaint itself for a suffering that no one is seeing. The reader must fill that role.70 For this reason, Herbert’s choice of refrain is surprising because his Christ does not allow for argument. Unlike Herebert who borrows from the Reproaches to create a refrain that asks “My volk, what habbe y do the, / Other in what thyng toened the? / Gyn nouthe and onswere thou me,” Herbert takes his refrain from Lamentations, the biblical model for the complaint mode. Like the weeping prophet Jeremiah who asks “Is it nothing to you, all ye that passe by? behold and see, if there be any sorrowe like unto my sorrow” (Lam. 1:12), Herbert’s Christ begins the poem by addressing the passersby and ends nearly every stanza with the refrain “Was ever grief like mine?” Notably, while the medieval refrain demands a defense, Herbert’s version simply repeats a presumably

69 Indeed, even if the Reproaches do not emphasize the call to see, Tuve points out that the passage that challenges passersby to see “if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow” was read on the last three days of Holy Week in the Sarum Use; Christ in his passion both stands in for the people of Judah and weeps for them. Tuve, Reading, 34. 70 John Mulder sees the poem as part of The Temple’s overall motif of the poet-persona’s search “for the conditions that will allow his groans to be part of a divine harmony,” an argument slightly problematic in “The Sacrifice” when the poet himself remains hidden. Taken on its own terms, the poem seems to challenge to reader for a response more than it represents the poet’s own search. “The Temple as Picture,” in “Too Rich to Clothe the Sunne”: Essays on George Herbert, eds. Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980), 3.


rhetorical question. This repetition acts as Christ’s own personal litany to his own sorrow and becomes, in Parker H. Johnson’s words, “the least noticed…and most intrusive line in the poem.”71 Like a liturgical prayer, it changes its tone depending on the preceding lines, the way that repeating the response of “have mercy on us” in a litany might feel different after invoking the “Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity” than it does after the “Heart of Jesus, loaded down with opprobrium.”72 In “The Sacrifice,” Christ’s refrain sometimes follows his complaints against the blind passersby or his betrayers, but sometimes builds upon descriptions of his own frailty, stanzas that begin by saying “Therefore my soul melts” (21) or end by affirming his blood’s power to heal “all [wounds], but my fears” (27), stanzas that explain that his sorrow is so great that “if sinfull man could feel, / Or feel his part, he would not cease to kneel, / Till all were melted, though he were all steel” (209–11). Indeed, while the question seems to be rhetorical since Christ’s suffering is incomparable, it is even in some ways incomparable with itself. The grief of the Maker who is wished dead by those to whom he gives the power to wish is unique, incomparable with the grief of the teacher whose text is confounded by comments, which is in turn incomparable with the dove who must return for refuge from the raging floodwaters. In this way, the poem gives us sixty-three snapshots into different sides of that suffering that is unlike that of any other. But Christ’s suffering is unique not only because it is different in kind due to his innocence and his deity—because he is “Most true to those, who are my greatest grief” (39) and because “they condemne me all with that same breath, / Which I do give them


Parker H. Johnson, “Economy of Praise,” George Herbert Journal 5 (1981/82), 50.


Cor Iesu, fornax ardens caritatis…Cor Iesu, saturatum opprobriis, miserere nobis.


daily” (69–70)—but also because it is different in degree due to his humanity. Indeed, as Martz pointed out, it is notable that “The Sacrifice” begins a sequence of poems that emphasize the human grief of the poet, providing a lens through which we can view human suffering.73 While Herbert’s Christ is aware of his divinity, he is also attentive to point to his humanity that involves extreme vulnerability, and thus Gene Edward Veith’s declaration that the man of sorrows “remains, in every stanza of the poem, the omnipotent God, who by His will subjects Himself to human will, that is, to sin” requires some qualification.74 Indeed, this Christ only remains omnipotent God to the extent that Herbert’s Christology is more Lutheran than Calvinistic, as Esther Gilman Richey argues, more willing to allow Christ’s suffering to be applied to his divine, not only human, nature.75 The speaker of “The Sacrifice” devotes four stanzas to the agony in the garden, a scene in which “my soul melts, and my heart’s dear treasure / Drops blood” (21–22), a poignantly human display of agony. Herbert’s Christ continues, These drops being temper’d with a sinner’s tears, A Balsam are for both the Hemispheres Curing all wounds, but mine; all, but my fears: Was ever grief like mine? (25–28) Notably, the line that mentions his fears does so awkwardly, the final clause of a line that would be more rhetorically powerful without it, seemingly thrown in there for the rhyme

73 Louis Martz, “Voices in the Void: The Action of Grief in Proust and Herbert,” in George Herbert in the Nineties: Reflections and Reassessments, ed. Jonathan F. S. Post and Sidney Gottlieb (Fairfield, CT: George Herbert Journal, 1995), 92. 74

Veith, Reformation Spirituality, 64.

Richey argues that, rather than following a Calvinist Christiology, “The Sacrifice” illustrates a God who “gives up sovereignty, security, and finally himself to come into contact with all that is other,” and his death in the end “completes the experience of a world that has failed to comprehend him, not by eliminating the difference between himself and that world but rather by suffering it.” Esther Gilman Richey, “The Property of God: Luther, Calvin, and Herbert’s Sacrifice Sequence,” ELH 78 (2011): 288. 75


despite the fact that “-eers” is among the easier rhyming sounds in the English language and thus an alternative would have been readily available had the author wanted one. It is as if Herbert made sure to force in a reference to Christ’s incurable fears whether or not it fit with the rest of the stanza, as if his vulnerability were just as important to the poem as his righteousness.76 Thus while the refrain in some stanzas heightens the sense of the exclusivity of his suffering, in others it strengthens the reader’s empathy; readers have also felt their hearts melt in fear, and if the answer to the rhetorical question is still “no,” it is “no” because Christ’s suffering is supreme, not necessarily foreign. Yet as the complaint continues building its paradoxes, the oddity of the refrain becomes more pronounced, especially when it follows references to the grief of biblical prophets—certainly in the cases in which Christ echoes the grief of Jeremiah, there had once been a grief somewhat like his, one would think.77 For Empson, these echoes produce a caustic characterization. Jesus initially seems to speak with a “pathetic simplicity” and “innocent surprise,” but the references to Jeremiah’s lament for Jerusalem reveal a “fusion of the love of Christ and the vindictive terrors of the sacrificial idea.”78 This fusion of love and vindictiveness produces what J. A. W. Bennett describes as “a new and pervasive ironical bitterness of tone” beyond the level we see in medieval passion

Though her schema for understanding emotions may not be entirely applicable for the period, Martha C. Nussbaum points out that emotions themselves “reveal us as vulnerable to events that we do not control,” a vulnerability that Nussbaum argues has real worth. The extremity of Christ’s emotions in this poem, at any rate, certainly reveal him as vulnerable and potentially lacking in agency, albeit willingly. Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 12. 76

77 Mary Ellen Rickey notes that “it would be difficult to find a single strophe of The Sacrifice which does not manifest in a doubly-charged word or two the terrible discrepancy between Christ’s nature and his scornful treatment.” Mary Ellen Rickey, Utmost Art: Complexity in the Verse of George Herbert (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1966), 71. 78

Empson, Seven Types, 227–28.


poetry, in the end producing “strangely little of grace in this poem” that maintains “a sombre colour that permeates every verse.”79 There is certainly reason to cringe at the prophetic echoes; even the reference to Lamentations in the address to the passersby is disturbing in the context of the suffering of Christ. The full context of the biblical complaint demands the passersby to “behold and see, if there be any sorrowe like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me, in the day of his fierce anger,” thus making God the perpetrator of suffering.80 Of course, there is room in substitutionary atonement for Christ likewise to attribute his suffering to God’s wrath and anger against the sin of humanity that is being applied to him, but the complainant does not spell that out; it may be that some of the speaker’s hostility is applied to God rather than the people who afflict him directly. Indeed, in light of the references to his heart melting in fear, it is notable that biblical references to hearts melting are often images of the sinner’s reaction to the wrath of God, wrath that is now being applied to Christ.81 Though Lamentations is the right biblical model for the complaint, the words are unsettling from Herbert’s Christ who takes none of the humility of his biblical model since he is indeed sinless and instead composes an extended litany of wrongs committed against him by God as much as by the people and for the people. Thus in his incorporation of biblical complaints into the lyric complaint of Christ, Herbert adds another layer of ambiguity where Rowlands had taken pains to clarify: the

J. A. W. Bennett, Poetry of the Passion: Studies in Twelve Centuries of English Verse (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), 155–56, 157. 79

o vos omnes qui transitis per viam adtendite et videte si est dolor sicut dolor meus quoniam vindemiavit me ut locutus est Dominus in die irae furoris sui (Lam. 1:12). 80


See for example Ps. 22:14; 107:26; Is. 13:7; 19:1; Ez. 21:7; 22:20–22; Nah. 2:10.


identity of the defendant against whom the complaint is addressed. Of course, in the actual biblical account from the synoptic gospels Jesus is only seen complaining against God himself, and Herbert does indeed highlight this moment of the passion. In the most dramatic variation to the form that most of the sixty-three stanzas follow precisely, the speaker asks, O my God, my God! why leav’st thou me, The sonne, in whom thou dost delight to be? My God, my God ————— Never was grief like mine” (213–15). The jarringly incomplete stanza, one of only two stanzas that turn the refrain’s rhetorical question into a declaration, makes God indeed seem as far “from the words of my roaring” as proclaimed in David’s psalm which Jesus quotes.82 In some ways, Christ’s cry that the poet chose to expand, repeat, and then leave incomplete enforces a focus “on Christ’s grief rather than on the events and ironies of his passion,” as Parker Johnson argues, for now even his silence becomes a window into his grief the likes of which never was, the silence of the Father that reduces the Son to silence, albeit momentarily.83 But unlike Rowlands’s effort to distinguish Christ’s complaint in this moment from those of other human figures, Herbert’s constant attention to biblical precedents keep this grief and the ultimate silences with which the stanza ends in dialogue with the grief of the prophets he echoes.

82 Christ asks, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken mee?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:35), directly quoting Psalm 22:1. Herbert adds a reference to the voice from heaven that spoke at Christ’s baptism and transfiguration, saying “This is my beloued Sonne, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17; Matt. 17:5; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). 83 Johnson, “Economy of Praise,” 50. Richey manages to read these lines more optimistically, highlighting Christ’s memory of the Father’s pleasure at his baptism in order to show God’s continued delight “in the part of himself that relinquishes his power in order to feel, that abandons himself to the other and for the other, even in this moment of greatest loss.” Richey, “Property of God,” 298.


Furthermore, he hearkens to scriptural passages that do not fit his particular mode of anguish, such as the reference to the suffering servant who does not raise his voice. I answer nothing, but with patience prove If stonie hearts will melt with gentle love. But who does hawk at eagles with a dove? Was ever grief like mine? (89–92) Perhaps this Jesus “held his peace” (Matt. 26:63) before the chief priests as the one of the gospels did, but by virtue of the complaint itself he is no longer the “man of sorrows” who “opened not his mouth” (Is. 53:7).84 Nevertheless, one hundred anguished lines later, Herbert’s Christ is still claiming that as the people cry for his crucifixion, “God holds his peace at man, and man cries out” (187), lines that could imply that it is Christ as God keeping his silence as he does in the gospels while the crowd cries out, or alternatively that God the Father restrains his vindication while Christ as man cries out on the cross. If he is indeed acting “with patience” as he claims, it is a strange patience, one that requires a reversing of the passages it evokes. For example, the image of melting stony hearts with gentle love certainly hearkens to God’s promise to “take the stony heart out of their flesh, and…give them an heart of flesh” (Ez. 11:19; 36:26), an image of gentle love, but because it is in the context of proving and melting their hearts, it more precisely follows the image from the prophet Jeremiah when God announces his wrath on the “daughter of my people” by saying that “I will melt them, and try them” (Jer. 9:7). In that context, it is an image of wrath, one that leads the weeping prophet to cry out “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of

For other scriptural references to Jesus’ silence in his passion, see Matt. 27:12–14; Mark 14:61; 15:5; Luke 23:9; John 19:9. 84


the daughter of my people!” (Jer. 9:1), not an image of the “gentle love” that Herbert’s Christ associates with himself. But the very power of the poem is in its paradox, as Martz affirms, in “its ability to keep constantly before the mind both the immensity of God’s omnipotence and the immensity of God’s love, the companion-powers of punishment and mercy,” and these very references to Old Testament judgment prove to be no exception to that characteristic technique.85 If the complaint of Christ can hearken to biblical complaints of prophets, then perhaps while his “silence rather doth augment their crie” (93) at the beginning of the next stanza, his complaint augments his patience by allowing him to place himself in a different role: the role of a prophet who bewails suffering, in this case his own, not unlike Southwell’s babe who bemoaned his lack of opportunities to extend grace. Indeed, when Herbert gets to Christ’s words to the women mourning for him— “Daughters of Hierusalem, weepe not for me, but weepe for your selues, and for your children” (Luke 23:28)—he combines the ominous words from the gospel with words that could seem vengeful. Weep not, deare friends, since I for both have wept When all my tears were bloud, the while you slept: Your tears for your own fortunes should be kept: Was ever grief like mine? (149–52) Though Ilona Bell takes the first two words in this stanza at their word as an injunction not to weep and therefore as an undermining of the very meditative tradition it invokes, R. V. Young insists on the bitter irony of these lines that enjoins the listeners to weep at


Martz, Poetry of Meditation, 95.


their hardness of heart.86 Indeed, Herbert’s lines allow for a wide range of interpretation. They problematically ascribe Christ’s tears in Gethsemane to the coming fall of Jerusalem rather than to the fear that we saw in him at the beginning of the stanza, seeming to allow Herbert to take both sides of the Colet/Erasmus/More argument about the agony in the garden. They also establish his position as complainant as a merciful one, the one who weeps not only for the grief he suffers, but those of the ones who have ignored him. It seems that this Christ will be all of Jeremiah’s characters at once: the one who weeps the brutality of God’s wrath, the one whose heart melts with fear, and the one melting hearts in the furnace of his love.87 Perhaps it is for this reason that a complaining Christ can include paradoxical references to his “tendernesse” that “Doubles each lash” (125–26) in a poem that brings charges against the ones for whom he claims to have tenderness.88 The initial reference to sight comes back in the second half of the poem with explicit references to blindness that can be lovingly cured or stubbornly maintained. Behold, they spit on me in scornfull wise, Who by my spittle gave the blinde man eies, Leaving his blindnesse to mine enemies: Was ever grief like mine? (137–38)

Ilona Bell, “‘Setting Foot Into Divinity’: George Herbert and the English Reformation,” Modern Language Quarterly 38 (1977), 226; R. V. Young, Doctrine and Devotion in Seventeenth-Century Poetry: Studies in Donne, Herbert, Crashaw, and Vaughan (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000), 109. 86

This is why Veith can see in this poem a tension “between Christ’s passivity and His omnipotence,” though his assurance that the tension is resolved “by the evocation of a boundless grace that overrides everything that His tormentors deserve” may be a little to simplistic of a solution for Herbert. Veith, Reformation Spirituality, 64–65. 87

Empson identifies this passage as another potential place for ambiguity: “Doubles, because I feel plain so easily, because I feel it painful that they should be so cruel, because I feel it painful they should be so unjust, because my tenderness enrages them, because my tenderness (being in fact power) will return equally each stroke upon them, because I take upon myself those pains also.” Empson, Seven Types, 230. 88


In John 9 after Jesus heals a man born blind by rubbing mud made from his own saliva into the man’s eyes, which Mary Ellen Rickey has connected to a possible pun on the words “spittle” and “hospital,” he says in the presence of the Pharisees, “For iudgement I am come into this world, that they which see not, might see, and that they which see, might be made blinde.…If yee were blind, ye should haue no sinne: but now ye say, we see; therefore your sinne remaineth” (John 9:39, 41).89 Empson of course is quick to point out the potential threat these lines imply, “Leaving his blindness wilfully…as a cruel judgment upon my enemies,” though he also points out the implication that the fact “that they should spit upon me is itself a healing” because it is part of their own redemption in his death. The context of the passage in John 9, however, makes it clear that blindness is the prior condition of his enemies, and thus it is left to them not as a punishment but because they will not allow it to be removed.90 Since the poem is addressed to the blind passersby, this reference to blindness must be directed not only to those who spat on his face, but also to any who like the Pharisees claim that they can see.91 The listeners are called to admit that they cannot see and thus in their blindness have spat at the healer; ultimately, they need Christ to spit on their eyes. Yet despite the poem’s intermittent reminders of the need for corrected sight, the final lines of the poem issue a call to testimony, rather than vision, and their divergent possibilities for interpretation have anchored scholarly criticism and debate on the poem


Rickey, Utmost Art, 72–73.


Empson, Seven Types, 231.


See Matt. 26:67; 27:30; Mark 14:65; 15:19.


since the mid-twentieth century, resting in the question of whether Christ’s sorrow can ultimately be imitated. But now I die; now all is finished. My wo, mans weal: and now I bow my head. Onely let others say, when I am dead, Never was grief like mine. (249–52) Empson notoriously identifies the ambiguity of these final lines that stem from the English language’s lack of a clear form of the oratio obliqua, suggesting that these lines could be interpreted to mean either “After the death of Christ, may there never be a grief like Christ’s” or “Only let there be a retribution, only let my torturers say never was grief like theirs, in the day when my agony shall be exceeded.”92 From this ambiguity Bell similarly sees a Christ who prays that others might say the words of the refrain of their own sorrows, not as a threat but rather as an exhortation to a personalized form of suffering that “undermines the traditional meditative goal of communal suffering” in Catholic meditation because it calls the reader to see his or her own suffering as unique and thus separate from Christ’s passion.93 Johnson likewise sees in the closing lines the impossible challenge of imitatio Christi, the poet’s task of transcribing Christ’s words when the Word cannot be imitated, though it is a labor that Herbert chooses to undertake.94 Schoenfeldt concurs with a reading that undermines human ability to replicate the grief of the suffering servant, arguing that the “bitter ambiguity that renders promise and threat, gratitude and revenge, indistinguishable” in the final lines ultimately demonstrates


Empson, Seven Types, 228–29.


Bell, “Setting Foot,” 227.


Johnson, “Economy of Praise, 52.


“that the imitatio Christi is from a Reformed perspective an impossible and ultimately misguided form of devotion,” as the next poem, “The Thanksgiving,” makes clear.95 Nevertheless, as we have seen, Herbert’s attention to creating space for paradoxical interpretations allow for a Christ who has already imitated humanity—in the voice of Jeremiah and David, in the experience of heart-melting fear and grief, in the very descriptions of divine love that are presented as holy inverses of human cruelty—and thus can be imitated, if always imperfectly. Young’s understanding of the ambiguity of the final lines sees the possible reference to imitatio Christi as something to which the poet aspires: “Christ is also saying that others must make an impossible claim, that their grief is like His (that is, unique), which is possible—since all things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26)—by entering through grace into the sacrifice of Christ.”96 Indeed, based on her study of the poem’s correlation to Luther’s Christology, Richey argues that the distinction Christ makes here in the end between his own suffering and the suffering of humanity “is not a distinction borne of separation” but rather extreme inclusion such that the distance between Christ and humanity disappears entirely.97 Although Arnold Stein understands God’s grief to “silence the flow of human complaint and questioning,” he also shows that one of the major themes laced throughout The Temple is that of complaint, complaint on a formal level in the medieval tradition that bemoans the evils in this life and human love.98 It could be said that while the speaker in the next poem asks


Schoenfeldt, “That Spectacle,” 574. 575.


Young, Doctrine and Devotion, 109.


Richey, “Property of God,” 300.


Arnold Stein, George Herbert’s Lyrics (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1968), 95.


“how then shall I imitate thee?” (“The Thanksgiving,” 15) and that of the following poem declares quite firmly that “I have considered it, and find / There is no dealing with thy mighty passion” (“The Reprisal,” 1–2), all the poems in some ways deal with the passion of the speaker himself, at least inviting the reader to consider human complaint as a response to that of Christ. The invitation is a seemingly impossible paradox, but it is the kind of paradox on which Herbert’s poetry and indeed the entire impulse for devotional complaint thrive. Herbert is an appropriate place to conclude the discussion of early modern complaints of Christ because the effort to approach the burning love of Christ through the extremities of human passion permeates The Temple as a whole and persists in the next generation of devotional poets. Though the sequence shows God always getting the upper hand over the poet’s attempt to “meet arms” with him (“The Temper [I],” 13), the battle persists. Herbert’s anxious poet describes prayer as an “Engine against th’Almighty” and “Christ-side-piercing spear” (“Prayer [I],” 5–6); he attempts unsuccessfully to compare all men’s tears to Christ’s and decides that “Thou art my grief alone” (“Affliction [II],” 11); he like Christ and David is found “crying night and day, / Come, come, my God, Oh come, / But no hearing” (13–15); he begs God not to use him, bruise him, urge him, scourge him, blind him, grind him, fill him, or kill him (“Sighs and Groans”). But because this extreme agony reflects the sufferings of Christ, sometimes directed at Christ himself, sometimes at the God to whom Christ’s complaint was directed, it is an expression of faith and potentially a pathway to intimacy. Indeed, John Calvin’s commentary on David’s messianic complaint in Psalm 22 had identified that “in that he calls Him twice his God, and utters his groanings unto His bosom,” David’s


complaint “is no obscure confession of faith.”99 Likewise, Herbert’s “Affliction [III]” recounts the way in which “My heart did heave, and there came forth, Oh God! / By that I knew that thou wast in the grief” (1–2). Since Christ’s passion imitated the extremity of human passions, a person’s own cries of grief and anguish can be an imitation of his sorrow which was ultimately directed toward God, even if in complaint. God is in the grief because Christ is in the complaint. In devotional complaint, therefore, passionate tears have a much broader application than the sorrow for sin that we saw in the previous chapter. Poets explored, albeit cautiously, an avenue to see the same volatile passions in their incarnate God and perhaps to imitate his vehement complaint. In the following chapter we will see how they negotiated the most clamorous of Christian complainers: Mary Magdalene. Like Peter, she is a sinner, but in her complaints by the tomb she weeps not sorrow for her sins but rather in the assertive agony of an abandoned lover. The Magdalene will complete this challenge of imitatio Christi entirely reflexively: just as Christ suffers the pangs of love for those who refuse to pity him, she suffers the same as Christ seemingly refuses to pity her.

John Calvin, A Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 1, trans. Arthur Golding, ed. T. H. L. Parker (London: James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 1965), 247. 99




But Mary stood without at the sepulchre, weeping: and as shee wept, she stouped downe and looked to the Sepulchre, And seeth two Angels in white, sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feete, where the body of Jesus had layen: And they say vnto her, Woman, why weepest thou? John 20:11–131 In John’s account of the resurrection when Jesus eventually appears to the weeping Mary Magdalene by the sepulcher on Easter morning and she confuses him for the gardener, he repeats the angel’s provocative question, “Woman, why weepest thou?” (20:15). Mary had just given the obvious answer to the angels—“Because they haue taken away my Lord, and I know not where they haue layd him”—but the question itself is worth pausing over. Why after all would anyone question the tears of a woman beside the tomb of the man she loves? Does the question imply that in her specific case weeping is absurd because she should have known that he would rise again, as in Luke’s version that has the angels asking rhetorically, “Why seeke ye the liuing among the dead?” (24:5)? Furthermore, if there is an implicit rebuke in the question, does John’s version, which does not include the important detail that Christ is living, imply more generally that


Bible, Authorized Version (London, 1611).


excessive grief over the dead should be avoided? Or on the contrary, does John’s inclusion of Mary’s response suggest that in that moment, before the risen Christ has revealed himself as the one speaking to her, her tears are defensible? After all, Luke, who makes the question both rhetorical and corrective, also depicts earlier scenes in which Christ deters the tears of the widow of Nain who had lost her son, Jairus who had lost his daughter, and the daughters of Jerusalem who wept for him.2 John, in contrast, who allows the possibility that Mary’s tears are defensible, depicts an earlier scene in which Christ seems to permit the bereaved Mary and Martha to accuse him of letting their brother Lazarus die and then joins them in their weeping before raising him from the dead.3 Fittingly then, it is John alone who depicts Mary’s encounter with the risen Christ, while Luke has the women running to the disciples with only the message of the angels, which “seemed to them as idle tales, and they beleeued them not” (24:11). John depicts a Christ who meets the weeper in her tears. Whatever the theological implications for early modern exegetes of Mary’s weeping, the story proved to be a poetic goldmine for devotional poets. Between her tears in John 20 and those of the sinful woman in Luke 7 with whom she has been traditionally associated, the devotional poetry of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is bedewed with the Magdalene’s tears. Patricia Badir identifies more than one hundred

“And when the Lord saw her, hee had compassion on her, said vnto her, weepe not” (7:13); “And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said, Weepe not, she is not dead, but sleepeth” (8:52); “But Jesus turning vnto them, said, Daughters of Hierusalem, weepe not for me, but weepe for your selues, and for your children” (23:28). 2

“When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jewes also weeping which came with her, he groned in the Spirit, and was troubled, And said, Where haue ye laid him? They say vnto him, Lord, come, & see. Jesus wept” (11:33–35). 3


English poems, biographies, homilies, sermons, and plays devoted to them between 1550 and 1700.4 In addition to their countless appearances in poems on other topics, they are the main subject of poems by Robert Southwell, Nicholas Breton, Gervase Markham, Richard Verstegan, Henry Constable, George Herbert, Thomas Jordan, Richard Crashaw, Henry Vaughan, and several anonymous poets, and they are the central theme of many sermons and prose works printed in the period.5 Most of these poems connect the traditions of her tears from John 20 and the sinful woman of Luke 7 (and some also hearken to the tears of Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus in John 11), but many of them focus on her tears at the sepulcher—even if she is a former penitent, the central tears of these poems are not those of remorse.6 Importantly, none of the poems follows Calvin’s commentary on John that harmonizes the gospels by putting the other women with the Magdalene when she encounters Christ; they keep the intimacy of her

Patricia Badir, The Maudlin Impression: English Literary Images of Mary Magdalene, 1550–1700 (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), 3. 4

Poems specifically on the topic include the anonymous Complaynte of the louer of Cryst Saynt Mary Magdaleyn (London: 1520); “The complaynt of Mary Magdaleyne” (London: 1526); Southwell’s “Mary Magdalens blush” and “Marie Magdalens complaint at Christs death” (London: 1595); Breton’s The Passions of the Spirit (London: 1599), The Rauisht Soule, and the Blessed VVeeper (London: 1601), and The Passion of a Discontented Minde (London: 1601); Markham’s “Marie Magdalens lamentations for the losse of her master Iesus” (London: 1601, 1604); Verstegan’s “Complaint of S. Marie Magdalen at her not fynding Christ in his sepulchre” (Antwerp: 1601); I. C.’s Saint Marie Magdalens conuersion (England: 1603); Constable’s four “To St Mary Magdalen”s (date disputed); Herbert’s “Marie Magdalen” (London: 1633); Jordan’s “On Mary Magdalen’s coming to the Tomb of our Saviour” (London: 1643); Crashaw’s “The Teare” and “The Weeper” (London: 1646); and Vaughan’s “St. Mary Magdalen” (London:1655). 5

Sermons and prose works include the translation of Origen’s Homilie of Marye Magdalene (London: 1565); Lewis Wager’s Life and Repentaunce of Marie Magdalene (London: 1566); Southwell’s Marie Magdalens funeral teares (London: 1593); Breton’s Marie Magdalens Loue (London: 1595) and Auspicante Jehoua (London: 1597); John Sweetnam’s S. Mary Magdalens pilgrimage to paradise (London: 1617); Harim White’s The ready vvay to true repentance (London: 1618); and Thomas Walkington’s Rabboni; Mary Magdalens tears, of sorrow, solace (London: 1620). Occasionally she even lingers as the mythological figure of the converted Venus that Marjorie M. Malvern traces in Venus in Sackcloth: The Magdalen’s Origins and Metamorphoses (Carbondale: Souther Illinois University Press, 1975); see for example Breton’s The Rauisht Soule. 6


abandonment and personal encounter as it is described in John.7 Mary weeps not only as a penitential sinner as she frequently did in the Middle Ages but also now as an abandoned lover. Her lament has entered into the realm of the female complaint. As early modern devotional poets valorized the feminine excess of the Magdalene, they gave a modern and confessionally palatable expression of a long medieval tradition of the planctus Mariae, the complaint of the Virgin Mary by the cross of her son.8 In the Middle Ages, the idealization of the Mother of God allowed poets to explore a place for unrestrained, feminine passion in the divine mechanics of salvation.9 Through the extremities of her maternal grief, she completes and participates in her son’s salvific death. The idealized Virgin as a model of human participation in salvation represents an overtly feminine model for the highest devotion. If some argue that this glorification effects a misogyny that exalts the Virgin to an unattainable status above other women, it

Calvin’s explicit reason for including the other women in this scene is to harmonize the resurrection accounts in the four gospels—while John describes a private encounter between the Magdalene and Jesus, Matthew refers to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, Mark includes both of them in addition to Salome, and Luke adds Joanna and another collection of unnamed women. Debora Shuger suggests a deeper ulterior motive for Calvin, a rejection of the Ovidian undertones of the scene and an attempt “to preclude any private encounter between this heterosexual couple in their early thirties.” Debora Shuger, “Saints and Lovers: Mary Magdalene and the Ovidian Evangel,” The Bucknell Review 35 (1992), 154. 7

8 While the tradition thrived in the later medieval period, Greek laments of the Virgin exist at least from Romanos’s kontákion in the early sixth century, which influenced later the Greek liturgical Stavrotheotókia. Broadly speaking, the Virgin’s lament connects to a larger European tradition of planctus laments written for the death of any important personage or destruction of a city. For the Greek tradition, see Margaret Alexiou, The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1974), 62–82; For a bibliography of this broader tradition, see Janthia Yearley, “A Bibliography of Planctus in Latin, Provençal, French, German, English, Italian, Catalan and Galician-Portuguese from the Time of Bede to the Early Fifteenth Century,” Journal of the Plainsong and Mediaeval Music Society 4 (1981), 12–52.

Sarah McNamer in fact argues that the history of the entire late medieval affective devotion tradition that would eventually give rise to Ignatian mediation “is intimately intertwined with gender history.” Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval Compassion (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), 7. 9


leaves men even less capable of attaining her standard of perfection in love for Christ.10 The literature surrounding her illustrates what Gail McMurray Gibson calls an “incarnational aesthetic” in which the human encounters the divine as a woman receives a man into her body, and the Virgin represents the life of the Christian and of the church.11 In order to follow after Christ in the highest way, it seems from this literature, one must become like a woman. While many of the imaginative devotions surrounding the Virgin were under scrutiny and often attack during the reformations, Robert Southwell presented the Magdalene to English readers as another imaginative outlet for this feminine ideal of devotion, a notable exception to the “masculinization of piety” and “interiority of devotion” that scholars have identified in the reformations.12 The Magdalene’s association with the sinful woman in Luke 7 made her more palatable than the Virgin because she did not present a threat to the doctrine that all are sinners, a doctrine whose applicability to Christ’s mother was being considered in some (though not all) Protestant

10 For a summary of shifting scholarly understandings of the idealization of the Virgin, from valorization or marginalization of women to an open discourse between the two, see Thomas H. Bestul, Texts of the Passion: Latin Devotional Literature and Medieval Society (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), 115–20. 11 Gail McMurray Gibson, The Theater of Devotion: East Anglian Drama and Society in the Late Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

For this masculinization of piety, see for example Donna Spivey Ellington, “Impassioned Mother or Passive Icon: The Virgin’s Role in Late Medieval and Early Modern Passion Sermons,” Renaissance Quarterly 2 (1995), 255; Natalie Zemon Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France: Eight Essays by Natalie Zemon Davis (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1975), 88; Carlos M. N. Eire, War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 315; and Maureen Sabine, Feminine Engendered Faith: The Poetry of John Donne and Richard Crashaw (London: Macmillan Press, 1992), x; and Gary Kuchar, Divine Subjection: The Rhetoric of Sacramental Devotion in Early Modern England (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2005), especially chapter two. For this interiority of devotion, see Ellington, “Impassioned Mother,” 230, 254; and From Sacred Body to Angelic Soul: Understanding Mary in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2001), 188–207. 12


circles.13 But since poets were at least as interested in the Magdalene’s tears of abandonment at the tomb as they were with her tears of repentance in the home of the Pharisee, they were not merely looking for an alternative to the Virgin’s model of perfection. Just as often, they were continuing the tradition of idealized female grief by applying the maternal tears of the medieval planctus Mariae tradition to the Magdalene’s intensely lachrymose scene from John. Rather than creating a new model for feminine devotion, the transfer of the Virgin’s literary complaint onto Mary Magdalene allowed her seemingly excessive, feminine passion a place in English literary devotion well into the seventeenth century.14 Mary’s superabundant grief is still part of an incarnational aesthetic in which the divine enters into human passion; it is simply another Mary who is doing the weeping. The literary embrace of the female body and veneration of female grief that emerges with Marian complaint is particularly notable in contrast to the sermons and consolation works of the period. Scholars point to an emphasis on Aristotelian or neoStoic moderation and the rule of reason in Renaissance consolation literature.15

13 Importantly, the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was not formalized until centuries later in 1854, and while it was widely held by theologians since late antiquity, even Thomas Aquinas argued against it. Mary’s sinlessness, a related but different issue, was not a formally mandated doctrine in Catholicism, and the occasional Protestant dissenter was broadening a conversation rather than opposing an established doctrine. 14 Peter V. Loewen and Robin Waugh issue a challenge for scholars to examine whether the Magdalene’s “ecstatic speech on Easter morning connects to the Virgin Mary’s laments at her Son’s Crucifixion and death,” particularly in the “shared rhetorical techniques…that would suggest that the specifically feminine language of suffering that the Virgin Mary expresses during her various laments concerning her Son is passed on to Mary Magdalene as a kind of exclusively feminine language.” “Introduction,” in Mary Magdalene in Medieval Culture: Conflicted Roles (New York: Routledge, 2014), 14. See also Kerrigan, Motives of Woe, 31. 15 See for example Joshua Scodel, Excess and the Mean in Early Modern English Literature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), 2–8. For an important revisionist corrective, see Richard Strier, The


Katherine Goodland argues that English Protestants became suspicious of ritualized mourning for the dead, seeing it “as effeminate, barbaric, and contrary to faith,” and indeed Calvin’s commentary on John 20 criticizes the Magdalene for tormenting herself with the “idle and useless weeping” that emerged from her “superstition” and “carnal feelings.”16 Weeping for Calvin was important as a sign of repentance from sin, but not the grief of loss, even in the Magdalene’s case when it was Christ’s own death that she mourned. Such a proscription of “excessive weeping” is not universal, and G. W. Pigman III traces changing attitudes toward grief from what he calls the “angry consoler” to “compassionate moderation” toward the end of the sixteenth century, from a suppression of grief under the rule of reason to a more sympathetic attitude of moderation of the passions.17 This decreasing anxiety about grief that Pigman notes historically coincides with the growing interest in literary complaint in England, particularly with female complaints of abandoned women.18 As poets applied this literary mode to biblical models

Unrepentant Renaissance: From Petrarch to Shakespeare to Milton (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 29– 58. 16 Katharine Goodland, Female Mourning in Medieval and Renaissance English Drama: From the Raising of Lazarus to King Lear (Aldershot: Ashgave, 2005), 4; Jean Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, tr. William Pringle (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), 2:254. 17 Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:256; G. W. Pigman III, Grief and English Renaissance Elegy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). 18 John Kerrigan begins his introduction to his anthology of female complaint with this iconic description: “Set before a cave mouth, or in the hallow of a vale, a ‘female’ figure laments. Individualized yet impersonal, at the abandoned limits of society, she utters her loss through a landscape that yields nothing but that voice. Hence the ellipsis and redundancy, as sorrow for a lover’s absence reverberates into clamour. And hence, more psychologically, distress’s closed reciprocation: rapt auditor of herself, recoiling into solipsism, the persona images the other in something like her likeness. Anger against the vow-breaking lover lends this text an edge, making a grievance of complaint.” Motives of Woe: Shakespeare and “Female Complaint”: A Critical Anthology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 1. See also Lawrence Lipking, Abandoned Women and the Poetic Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).


for superabundant passion, devotional writers were slowly becoming more comfortable with it. In great contrast to Calvin’s scorn of excessive weeping over loss or to neo-Stoic moderation, however, Southwell boldly portrays the Magdalene’s tears as a justification of excess. Seen in isolation, the feminine grief of Mary (Virgin or Magdalene) can appear to modern readers as an expression of “her passivity, her emotionality, her physical weakness and lack of power,” but in the broader context of devotional complaint it is actually the culmination of the combative piety we have seen in the complaints of Peter and Christ.19 As we saw with the tears of Peter, the line between complaint and penitence could be murky in laments from a man who engendered his own downfall. While Peter’s tears were entirely appropriate, they could function for the reader as the exemplary tears of a model penitent as much as the warning tears of a de casibus complaint, and in either case they are connected to sin. Furthermore, while Christ’s complaint on the cross is necessarily sinless, poets seem divided about whether the cries of the innocent Savior are comparable to our own or are distinct in kind, whether Christ’s passion draws in human passions or silences them. Mary’s tears by the sepulcher, in contrast, are neither penitential nor sinless; they are the tears of an already-forgiven sinner who faces a different kind of godly sorrow: not the sorrow of repentance but the sorrow of love.20 Importantly, her association with the sinful woman of Luke 7 is never forgotten even generations after its biblical foundation had been called into question in the early Renaissance; but just as importantly, her scene by the sepulcher is the one that


Bestul, Texts of the Passion, 128.

This is a significant distinction for Christian sorrow, one that Gary Kuchar explores at length. See The Poetry of Religious Sorrow in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 7–11. 20


captures the poetic imagination. She is a sinner like the rest of us, but that is not the reason for her grief in these poems. The Magdalene’s complaint carves a space for forgiven sinners to re-enter the fury of the human passion to which Christ had subjected himself and thus for human passion itself to be redeemed. Furthermore, her scene by the sepulcher in John 20 adds a problematically gendered dimension of redeemed human passion, well suited not only for complaint broadly but also for female complaint in particular. As we have seen, the broader scope of the complaint tradition is more interested in justifying grief than in finding consolation, and perceived notions of feminine excess put the justification of grief at the center of female complaint (“Woman, why weepest thou?”). Furthermore, since women are often viewed as erotic figures, the acts of betrayal that trigger their complaints are more often domestic than political, with stakes that are private and interior more than public and exterior.21 Female complaint tends to protest against personal wrongs rather than public, tends to appeal to love rather than justice, and tends to demand restoration rather than retribution (“Because they haue taken away my Lord, and I know not where they haue layd him”). This domestication may seem to trivialize feminine complaint, especially from the pens of male poets, but for religious complaint it does quite the opposite. When the Magdalene bemoans her abandonment by her lover Christ, her personal grief valorizes her suffering and implies a certain agency within it; Christ owes it to her and her alone to reappear. When she appeals to love, both her love for him and the love he promised to her, she appeals to the highest theological virtue that justifies the excess of

21 Eros can be understood as political, of course, in which case female complaint is intensely political, but that is a different use of the term. For the politics of eros, see Melissa Sanchez, Erotic Subjects: The Sexuality of Politics in Early Modern English Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).


her displays of grief. When she demands restoration of their union, both an internal union of his presence in her heart and an external union of their bodies in the tomb of his death and her sorrow, she wields the feminine power of regenerative love. Because she is female, she represents an otherness that is paradoxically unitive and a spirituality that is paradoxically embodied—a faith that is “more than grammatically feminine,” as Crashaw said of the assertively confrontational faith of the Canaanite woman.22 Whether her sorrow achieves union in the womb of death within his own tomb or entices his physical return, complaint is the agent of the consummation. In all the ways that feminine complaint is passive, depending on the personal love of the one who has abandoned her, it becomes active and regenerative precisely when it is directed toward Christ, especially in its excess. Southwell’s redemption of excessive feminine grief proved provocative for Protestants and Catholics alike, both compelling and uncomfortable for the poets who imitated him. Many such as Constable, Herbert, and Vaughan stay with the medieval fixation on her tears of repentance, even as they hint toward her tears of abandonment and love. Breton and Vaughan seem uncomfortable with the femininity of her grief, emphasizing Christ’s relationship to the Magdalene as her lord or father rather than her lover, or with the excess, marginalizing it as a factor of her femininity. In either case, her feminine complaint is not a model for Christians as they approach suffering; it is either not particularly feminine or not for all Christians. But the image of the abandoned

Fœmina, tam fortis fidei? jam credo fidem esse / Plus quam grammatice fœminei generis. “Mulier Canaanitis,” The Complete Poetry of Richard Crashaw, ed. George Walton Williams (New York: New York University Press, 1972). 22


woman grieving from the depth of her excessively feminine love for Christ continued to compel poets, from the firmly Protestant Markham to the Catholic Verstegan to the convert Crashaw. This use of the complaint thereby reveals a growing tension in faith’s relationship to feminine excess that transcended confessional lines.23 Whether explicitly or implicitly, therefore, the prevalence of these Magdalene complaints demonstrates an early modern curiosity with the most frequent trope from the medieval planctus Mariae: the explicit justification of excessive grief, almost an argument against moderation, as Richard Stier argues in The Unrepentant Renaissance. This poetic impulse does not necessarily imply an opposition to the moral theology expressed in contemporaneous devotional tracts—after all, as R. V. Young points out, devotional poetry serves a different function from doctrinal treatises—but it certainly does indicate a divergence in the theological imagination.24 While moral theology remained uneasy about excessive passion, complaint poetry created a space in the theological imagination for redemptive passion that was regenerative in its excess. The Virgin’s suffering at the passion and the Magdalene’s at the sepulcher allowed devotional complaint to do what theology often could not in the early modern period: to admire the viscerality of female grief, even connecting feminine grief to faith itself. As the Magdalene took on a voice that combined the Mother of Sorrows with the typically secular female complainant, the

This tension about passion is part of the discourse about religious sorrow that Gary Kuchar observes in the “poetry of tears” of early modern England. In his words, “devout sorrow is less an emotional state than it is a language—a grammar of tears, so to speak.” In this case, however, emotional states are very much at issue. Poetry of Religious Sorrow, 2. 23

24 R. V. Young, Doctrine and Devotion in Seventeenth-Century Poetry: Studies in Donne, Herbert, Crashaw, and Vaughan (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000).


anguish of her abandonment became the womb that Christ entered and from which she herself was reborn.25

The Medieval Planctus Mariae Taking on the voice of the Mother of Sorrows did not validate the Magdalene’s grief, however. In some ways, the former demanded the reader to question the latter.26 In medieval lyric, the superabundant Sorrows of Mary filled the poetic landscape, and medieval complaints of the Virgin were almost as numerous as those of Christ.27 The cult of the Mater Dolorosa (Mother of Sorrows) rose in the eleventh century and was in full bloom by the fourteenth with a wide array of hymns, lyrics, and dramatizations of her sorrow at the foot of the cross where she stood as the redemptive counterpart to Eve who

25 For discussion of the image of the womb and tomb and their associations with the Virgin and Magdalene in the medieval anchorite tradition, see Alexandra Barratt, “Context: Some Reflections on Wombs and Tombs and Inclusive Language,” in Anchorites, Wombs and Tombs: Intersections of Gender and Enclosure in the Middle Ages, ed. Liz Herbert McAvoy and Mari Hughes-Edwards (Cardiff, UK: University of Wales Press, 2005), 27–38.

In this way, the neo-Stoicism observed in Renaissance consolation works was hardly new. When Ben Jonson insisted in his “Of Death” that “He that feares death, or mournes it, in the just, / Shewes of the resurrection little trust,” he could have been quoting the disciples in medieval morality plays who the Virgin and the Magdalene to moderate their tears. 26

For historical studies of the continental analogues and historical roots of this tradition, including hymns and lyrics by Jacopone da Todi, John XXII, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Innocent III, Gregory XI, and Gregory I, see Sandro Sticca, The Planctus Mariae in the Dramatic Tradition of the Middle Ages, tr. Joseph R. Berrigan (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988); and Filippo Ermini, Lo Stabat Mater e I Pianti della Vergine nella Lirica del Medio Evo (Città di Castello: Casa Editrice S. Lapi, 1916). For a study of this tradition in Anglo-French literature, see F. J. Tanquerey, Plaintes de la Vierge en Anglo-Français (XIIe et XIVe Siècles) (Paris: Édouard Champion, 1921). Christine Peters argues for a shift in devotional emphasis in the later Middle Ages from the nativity and last things to the passion and the person of Christ that served to defeminize and humanize the Virgin, but the planctus tradition is intensely feminine. Patterns of Piety: Women, Gender, and Religion in Late Medieval and Reformation England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 60–96. 27


once stood by the forbidden tree.28 The planctus Mariae tradition can be seen as a foil to the planctus Christi of the previous chapter; the Virgin’s complaint is the female counterpart to her son’s masculine anguish, the human side of her son’s divine-incarnate cries.29 As such, her grief is often under explicit scrutiny. The long literary tradition of the planctus Mariae evokes all the excess typical of female complaint, questioning it both explicitly and implicitly through the Virgin’s defensiveness, her seeming opposition to Christ’s redemptive death, her dangerous approximation to despair.30 Yet ultimately she is always exonerated; if she takes offence at the cross, she does so less out of imperfect knowledge than out of love.31 Insofar as her complaint is an expression of her love, it is not in danger of excess because, at least according to Aquinas, there is no such thing as

28 For the historical origins of this tradition, see Eva de Visscher, “Marian Devotion in the Latin West in the Later Middle Ages,” in Mary: The Complete Resource, ed. Sarah Jane Boss (London: Continuum, 2007), 179–87; Beth Kreitzer, Reforming Mary: Changing Images of the Virgin Mary in Lutheran Sermons of the Sixteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 18–19, 71; Barry Spurr, See the Virgin Blest: The Virgin Mary in English Poetry (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 24; Marina Warner, Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1976), 206–223.

Some scholars have connected the emphasis of male and female bodies in these poems to an overall sexualization of the Virgin in the late Middle Ages. See for example Sarah Stanbury, “The Virgin’s Gaze: Spectacle and Transgression in Middle English Lyrics of the Passion,” PMLA 106 (1991), 1088; Gary Waller, The Virgin Mary in Late Medieval and Early Modern English Literature and Popular Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 52–53. 29

John Kerrigan argues, however, that female complaint in general exonerates its protagonist more often than male complaint, claiming that “the most striking thing about plaintful women in Tudor poetry is their lack of ‘defect,’ and that even culpable “de casibus women can be ‘fallen’ yet sympathetic.” Motives of Woe, 27. 30

John Gower’s Mirour de l’Omme, like many of the planctus lyrics, emphasizes that Mary suffered as she did in the passion not from lack of understanding but from a deeper awareness than anyone else. The narrator comments, “Ce partient, dame, a ton devoir / Pour dolour et tristesce avoir / Plus que nulle autre en terre née; / Car tu scies, dame, bien du voir / Ce que nul autre puet savoir” (It was your duty, Lady, to have more sorrow and sadness than anyone else born on earth; for you well knew, Lady, what no one else could know) (29077–81). The Bridgettine Myroure of Oure Ladye likewise emphasizes in its meditations of the passion that “she vnderstode the wordes of the prophetes better then dyd the same prophetes them selfe” (244). For a discussion of Mary’s joys and sorrows in the context of these works, see Georgiana Donavin, Scribit Mater: Mary and the Language Arts in the Literature of Medieval England, (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2012), 42–52. 31


excess in love for God.32 Sinless but not divine, she models a participation in the sufferings of Christ based purely on a love that suffers with the beloved, that suffers from both his pain and outrage against those who inflict it.33 In this way her femininity with all its seeming excess actually becomes the model of Christian perfection, the consummation of her maternal union with him at his conception that continues into a union with his death. As she demands bystanders and readers to mourn with her, she becomes the Mother of Sorrows in another sense; her sorrow procreates itself into the sorrows of all Christians. Before these poems defend the mother’s display of grief, however, they imply that its appropriateness is questionable. Both Mary and narrator often take a defensive role with respect to her anguish, countering the normally unspoken accusations that it is gratuitous and excessive. Sometimes she defends her lament with standard arguments from female complaint that insist that she is forlorn and abandoned by her lover. “Mi fadir, my broþir, my spouse he was,” she explains, “My modir, my socour, & al þat ys!” and thus “Now fadirlees & modirlees y mai forþ passe, / Broþerlees, spouselees, ful wrecchid y-wis, / As a þing forsaken þat no þing has!” (40–44).34 Her grief is fitting not only because of her isolation without him but also because of who he is; his greatness

32 Summa Theologiae, I–II, question lxiv, article 4. Paul Ramsey speaks of this as an Augustinian corrective to the Aristotelian virtue of moderation. In Augustine’s terms, all virtues including temperance are “forms of an intemperate love for God. There can never be too much love for God, nor too little of the impulses which impede it.” Basic Christian Ethics (New York: Scribner, 1950), 226. 33 Origen speculated that the sword that Simeon prophesied that would pierce Mary’s soul was the sword of doubt at the foot of the cross, causing her faith to waver, but this idea did not take hold in the West. Kreitzer, Reforming Mary, 71, 117. 34 “The Virgin’s Complaint, Filius Regis Mortuus est,” in Frederick J. Furnivall ed., Political, Religious, and Love Poems (Oxford: Early English Text Society, 1965), 233–37.


justifies the most lavish displays of grief for his death. “He dieþ, he dieþ, þat is my blis,” she bemoans; “No wondir is of my greet heuynes!” Thus she can ask the reader rhetorically in another poem, “What wonder is it þowe I be wo, / For he is dede þat soke my pappe?” (37–38).35 Sometimes the poet himself will take her case, commanding the reader, “Blame her nat” that she “mornyd…in her mynde,” because “hit was but kynde.” Even the hope of the resurrection is not enough to dissuade her grief, for though “She wyst that he shuld ryse agayne,” nevertheless at the scene of his death “she was full wo / To se her chylde suffre suche payne.”36 These poems imply a suspicious reader that would question her faith based on her superabundant sorrow, but ultimately they remove the theological virtue of hope from the assessment of her grief. Her hope for the resurrection does not spare her from anguish while he is dying.37 If the Virgin’s defensiveness implies room for suspicion, her dialogues with her divine son make it almost explicit by setting her up as a foil to her son: the feminine and

“The Virgin’s Complaint and Comfort, Filius Regis Mortuus est. Resurrexit: Non Mortuus est,” in Furnivall, Political, Religious, and Love Poems, 238–42. 35

36 No. 97, “The Mourners at the Cross,” in Carleton Brown, ed., Religious Lyrics of the XVth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1939), 144–48. 37 The question of whether or not Mary’s knowledge of the resurrection tempered her sorrows is a common subject of medieval sermons and mystery plays alike. Ambrose portrayed her with stoic impassivity, while Anselm asserted that when she saw her Son’s passion she could not help but weep such that “fountains…flowed from [her] most pure eyes” and a “flood…drenched [her] matchless face.” A medieval mystery play depicts Joseph of Arimathea telling her that “this wailinge helpes nothinge” and repeating his reminder of the prophesied resurrection, to which she retorts that she is already mindful of the future resurrection, but that “yit havinge remembraunce, / The gret cruelty and ffelle vengance / Of the Jues so unkind,” she cannot help but sorrow in the present. The Italian Franciscan Bernardino of Busti defends the image of a lamenting Virgin on the grounds that “ideo ipsa est speculum et exemplum…omnium lamentantium mortem Christi, et archa et armarium dolorum corporis boni Yesu” (She is therefore a mirror and example of all those lamenting the death of Christ and she is the ark and chest of bodily sorrows of the good Jesus). Rachel Fulton, From Judgment to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary, 800–1200 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 239; Reliquiæ Antiquæ: Scraps from Ancient Manuscripts, Illustrating Chiefly Early English Literature and the English Language, ed. Thomas Wright and James Orchard Halliwell, (London: William Pickering, 1841–43), 130–32; Bestul, Texts of the Passion, 112.


masculine, the human and divine.38 When her feminine sorrow is contrasted against his manly fortitude, however, their sufferings merge even as the contrast is emphasized, a complementary relationship made more effective by her sexual otherness.39 Generally, the son is attempting to comfort his suffering mother, often pointing out that her grief increases his pain. In one poem, he exhorts her, “Biheld thi child wyth glade mode” and “do wey thi wepinge,” while she asks, “hu may I blithe stonden” when she is watching his hands and feet “Nayled to the harde tre” and feels “The swerd…at min herte-grunde / That me byhycte Symeon.” But as it turns out, the son is speaking not out of reprimand but a reflexive love, love that suffers with her as she suffers with him; he tells her that her “blodi teren…doth me werse than mi ded” just as she tells him that “Thi pine pineth me to dede.” In this poem, mother and son reach an impasse when it comes to consolation because they both insist on feeling the grief of the other. Additionally, they both have a vocation to feel the sufferings of humanity; just as Christ must suffer both “for thine sake” and “For Adam…And al mankin that is forloren,” Mary must suffer so that she “miht leren / Wat pine tholen that childre beren, / What sorwe haven that child forgon.” She is the archetypical woman of sorrows as much as he is the archetypical man of sorrows,

38 Planctus dialogues are not only seen in passion lyrics; sometimes Mary gets a head-start on the sorrowing in Nativity poems as she foresees her baby’s death, and this dialogue between mother and child happens in infancy. One odd lyric begins with Mary singing Jesus a lullaby to calm his weeping, but he protests her consolation with a description of his passion. By the end of the poem it is the mother who is weeping, and the baby tries to comfort her with a reminder of her former lullaby. No. 103, “Jesus comforts his mother,” in Davies, Medieval English Lyrics, 197–98. 39 For a discussion of the Marian dialogue poems and the synthesis of voices they reach, see Donivan, Scribit Mater, 239–44. Donna Spivey Ellington identifies the merging of the passions of Christ and Mary in late medieval sermons as well, pointing out that homilists such as Jean Gerson, Oliver Maillard, and Gabriel Barletta depict her reconciliation to her son’s passion with his own words to the Father—“Thy will be done”—and show her swooning in response to his falling under the weight of the cross. “Impassioned Mother,” 234.


and because of that she can “help at alle nede, / Alle tho that to me grede” with her intercessions.40 These dialogues contrast the sufferings of mother and son as complementary sides of the same redemptive work that takes on the sufferings of humanity.41 Perhaps the most dubious characteristic of the Virgin’s grief is her longing to die, both a typical trope of the complaint tradition and a tell-tale indication of the deadly sin of despair. The Virgin joins the poetic tradition of complainants who like Job long for death because of their certainty that life itself contains no more good, but in her case there is a theological foundation for that desire, a literalization of Jesus’s exhortation to take up one’s cross and die with him. As she catalogues her grievances against the various instruments of his torture, she wishes they would turn on her as well. In one lyric, she lobbies to the Jews—“I cried on þe iewis, & bad hem hang / Þe modir bi þe sone” (50– 51)—the cross—“Ȝe trees! crie mercy, ȝe be my foo; / Hadde ȝe ordeyned a roode for me, / To hang me bi him, it hadde ben weel doo” (78–80)—and the whip—“Thou scourgë maad of ful touȝ skyn…Whi beet þou him, & fórbare me?” (97–100)—to turn against her as they already had against her son.42 In another lyric, she makes the same request directly to death itself, saying “I criede on deth, ‘why wilt þu fle? / Cum, sle his


No. 23 in Gray, English Medieval Religious Lyrics, 18–20.

Because of this emphasis in the Virgin’s cooperation with Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, many scholars have seen a historical and theological link between the role of Mary as Mater Dolorosa and Mediatrix. See Jaroslav Pelikan, Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 125–36. 41

42 “The Virgin’s Complaint, Filius Regis Mortuus est,” in Furnivall, Political, Religious, and Love Poems, 233–37.


moder, þu morder man!’” (31–32).43 If it seems like despair, it is not a despair of life itself but a life without Christ. The Christological focus of her grief not only distinguishes it from despair, but also capitalizes on her feminine relationship with him as mother, a relationship based on physical union.44 His death becomes a betrayal because it ruptures this relationship, and thus her desire to join him in death often takes the tone of an accusation, a complaint in the etymological sense. Sometimes she directly accuses him of unkindness, of being “harde to þi moder, / þu þat were euer godliche to al oþir” (5–6).45 “Take me with the, my ioyes be gone,” she begs her son in another lyric; “Lat bothe be lyke, thy deth and

“The Virgin’s Complaint and Comfort, Filius Regis Mortuus est. Resurrexit: Non Mortuus est,” in Furnivall, Political, Religious, and Love Poems, 238–42. 43

Katherine Goodland highlights “the dramatic agency of maternal mourning” in maternal complaints that allow them to “participate fully in the bodily suffering of their children, voicing their mutual pain in lamentation”; in the case of the Virgin, this ultimately demonstrates “the dramatic agnecy of maternal mourning.” As Ellington points out, medieval sermons tended to emphasize Mary’s participation in the redemptive suffering of Christ. Jean Gerson for example depicts her echoing his words from the cross: “Mon Dieu, mon Dieu pourquoy as tu deguerpi la precieuse chair qui tres sainctement et tres purement fu de moy prinse, conceue et enfantee par l’adumbration et operation du Saint Esprit?” (My God, my God, why have you forsaken the flesh that was taken from me with such holiness and purity, conceived and born from the overshadowing and work of the Holy Spirit?). Goodland, “‘Veniance, Lord, apon thaym fall’: Maternal Mourning, Divine Justice, and Tragedy in the Corpus Christi Plays,” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 18 (2006), 173, 167; Gerson, Oeuvres complètes (Paris: Desclée, 1971), 7:510. 44

No. 128, “The Blessed Virgin to her Son on the Cross,” Religious Lyrics of the XIVth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924), 228. Thomas Hoccleve, somewhat of a specialist in English complaint, includes charges against all three persons of the Trinity in his complaint of the Virgin, along with a catalogue of other characters of varying degrees of distance from the event. She begins with the two seemingly absent persons of the Trinity: “O fader god, how ferse & how cruel, / In whom the list or wilt, canst þou the make!” (1–2); “O holy gost, þat art alle comfortoure…Whi hast thu me not in thi rémembraunce / Now at this tymë, right as thu had tho?” (15, 22–23). The Son receives accusations because he “withdrawith bitter deth, / And makith a wrongful disseueraunce” (78–79), because he gave an unequal replacement in John who “a disciple is; thu art his lord” (169), because he called her “but woman’…As I to the were straunge & al vnknowe” (176–77). She also accuses Gabriel for failing to warn her, her parents for bearing her, death for its cruelty, the moon and stars for restraining their weeping, the son for allowing the crowd to see her son’s nakedness, and the earth for sustaining the cross and drinking his blood. 45


myne” (7–8); or again, “Suete sone, reu on me & bring me out of þis liue” (9).46 She wishes for death not because she has fallen prey to the sin of despair, but because “love me bindet to my sone,” and thus is it only appropriate that this union should continue bodily and allow them to “deyyen bothen isame.”47 In that union with him, the corporal suffering of the Virgin and that of her son become merged in the lyrics.48 For example, many poems claim that she “wepte water & blode,” reflecting Christ’s sweat in Gethsemane, and one poet follows that description by admitting that “I can not tell wheder of them / More Rufull was to see” (45–48).49 She desires to continue her maternal union with him into death, a desire fueled by the one love one cannot have in excess. Ultimately, as she unites herself to his death through her seemingly excessive grief, the Virgin’s maternal union with Christ is an invitation for readers to become children of her sorrows.50 From the midst of her agony, she appeals to bystanders to weep with her. In sacramental time in which Christ’s sacrifice is repeatedly being made present in the Eucharist, that appeal is also being made to contemporary readers who are the current

46 No. 97, “The Mourners at the Cross,” Religious Lyrics of the XVth Century, ed. Brown, 144–48; no. 64, “Lamentacio dolorosa,” in ibid., 82–83. 47

No. 22 in English Medieval Religious Lyrics, ed. Douglas Gray (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992),

18. 48 Some twelfth-century sermons emphasize Mary’s co-suffering with Christ as a participation in his role as redeemer. A pseudo-Albertian treatise called her the “helper of redemption through her compassion.” Though Doctors such as Aquinas and Bonaventure insisted that Christ was the only savior, Mary’s participation as “salvatrix” and “redemptress of the world” continued to be found in devotional literature through the fifteenth century. Kreitzer, Reforming Mary, 117. 49

No. 64, “The Hours of the Cross,” in Religious Lyrics of the XVth Century, ed. Brown, 136–38.

This invitation to share in the passion of Christ and the Virgin is not only a fundamental compoent of the planctus Mariae tradition, as Sarah McNamer points out, but also of the entire late medieval affective devotion tradition that gave rise to Ignatian meditation. Affective Mediation, 2. 50


bystanders of the crucifixion.51 Sometimes she speaks directly to “alle women that ever were borne,” begging them to “Wepe with me” because “My childe is youres and lovys yow wele,” and thus they should be as grieved for his death as they would be for the death of their own children.52 Repeatedly in lyrics and mystery plays alike, the Virgin calls out, “Who can not wepe com lerne at me!” sometimes in direct defiance of exhortations for her to “have moderation / Of youre most sorowfulle lamentacioun,” thereby refusing to be a warning against excess but rather a model for grief.53 She in fact turns the accusation around in some lyrics, accusing the non-weeping spectators of having “herte so indurat” (15).54 In this way her complaint holds together a seeming paradox of private and public lament.55 On the one hand, her sorrow is altogether unique, for she is the

In Hoccleve’s complaint, in fact, that procreative, maternal quality of her sorrow is illustrated in her relationship with her albeit inadequate foster son John, whom she calls “my derë frende”; they are a good match because she is “A woful modier” and he “an hevi sone” (190–91), and thus they can be comfortless and destitute together, and they can die together in each other’s company. John’s empathy is contrasted against the “sones of Adam” whom she accuses of indifference: “That ye noght rewe on him, myn hert it sleth” (227, 238). Some complaint lyrics seem to be the poet’s accepting of that calling to share Mary’s sorrow. One poet concludes the complaint with his own appropriate response: “O dolorous mayde so bright, / Make me to mowrone with þee, / Þat never by daye ne night / Youre stronge sorowe forgote be” (21–24). No. 11, “Stabat Mater Dolorosa,” in Religious Lyrics of the XVth Century, ed. Brown, 22–25. See also no. 79, “A Lament over the Passion,” in ibid., 94–95. 51

No. 25 in English Medieval Religious Lyrics, ed. Gray, 22–25. A later variant of this poem appears as no. 112, “Mary complains to other mothers,” in Medieval English Lyrics, Davies, 210–11. 52

53 Reliquiæ Antiquæ: Scraps from Ancient Manuscripts, Illustrating Chiefly Early English Literature and the English Language, ed. Thomas Wright and James Orchard Halliwell (London: William Pickering, 1841–43), 136, 139. Another example of this refrain is no. 25 in English Medieval Religious Lyrics, ed. Gray, 21–22, and variants of the phrase “Who cannot weep, come learn of me” appear throughout planctus Mariae lyrics. D. C. Baker projects that variants of this phrase represent “what was probably a large class of late fifteenthcentury planctus” in the introduction to his edition of another of those variants. “‘Therfor to wepe, cum Learne off me’: A Planctus Fragment in MS Corpus Christi College, Oxford, F.261. Medium Aevum 38 (1969): 291. 54

No. 8, “O Thou, with Heart of Stone,” in Religious Lyrics of the XVth Century, ed. Brown, 16–17.

Jennifer E. Bryan discusses the paradoxes in the context of Hoccleve’s “Complaint of the Virgin,” connecting this paradox in the devotional poem to Hoccleve’s private complaint and the public narrative of Regiment of Princes. Jennifer E. Bryan, “Hoccleve, the Virgin, and the Politics of Complaint,” PMLA 117 (2002), 1172–87. 55


only virgin mother of the only Son of God; on the other hand, her sorrow is the point of reference for all Christians as they approach the crucifixion through her grief.56 As Ann Astell points out, through this exhortation to sorrow the planctus tradition emphasizes Mary as the exemplar for Christians and the Mater Ecclesiae, and George R. Keiser sees this trope as a challenge to readers “to achieve a pathetic union with” the mother and the son.57 In poems that often overtly raise the question of the defensibility of her ostentatious grief, it is this regenerative love that makes all the ferocity of her anguish redemptive.

Reforming Mary: From the Virgin to the Magdalene While the medieval planctus tradition provides a theologically rich defense of the Virgin’s imagined sorrows, the need for the defense implies some degree of readerly discomfort. It is no surprise then that as reformers began criticizing perceived perversions in Marian devotion, early modern theologians would become uncomfortable with the extremity of her sorrow. Her lamentations by the cross, after all, were an imaginative extrapolation rather than a revelation from Scripture or doctrine, combining Luke’s

56 When Elizabeth A. Witt compares the medieval dramatic traditions of Mary in England and France, she argues that the English mystery plays tend to emphasize her unattainable superiority while the French passion plays make her pathetically human. In this play and in the planctus tradition broadly, however, these depictions of Mary are not mutually exclusive. Mary is unattainably superior because she is so pathetically human. Contrary Marys in Medieval English and French Drama (New York: Peter Lang, 1995). 57 Ann W. Astell, The Song of Songs in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 173; George R. Keiser, “The Middle English Planctus Mariae and the Rhetoric of Pathos,” in The Popular Literature of Medieval England, ed. Thomas J. Heffernan (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1985), 174. Sarah McNamer explores the possibility that because of this exhortation to readerly compassion, Marian lament gave rise to popular resistance to the ethics of violence in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Affective Meditation, 150–73.


record of Simeon’s prophecy that “a sword shall pearce thorow thy owne soule also” (2:35) with John’s undescriptive statement that Mary stood by the cross of Jesus (19:25).58 Furthermore, Protestants were hesitant to emphasize Mary’s participation in the passion, her compassion, for fear of detracting from the totality of Christ’s sufferings or implying the need for human effort in the work of salvation.59 Catholics on the other hand were careful to guard her from potential and real accusations of imperfection, especially since her typological connection to the church as the Mater Ecclesiae was a sign of the church’s own chastity. While some key points of Marian doctrine were not explicitly questioned theologically in the established church, devotion became suspicious: rosaries, images, litanies, and the repetition of Aves were frequent evidence used to condemn papist sympathizers, and Marian shrines and images were targets of physical attack for their perceived idolatry. Nevertheless, the Virgin Mother remained powerfully in the literary imagination especially during the reign of the Virgin Queen, not only in the vestiges scholars have traced in dramatic heroines and Petrarchan ladies but also in explicitly devotional poetry. Even her superabundant grief at the cross, as uncomfortable as it was

58 The Geneva Bible of 1599 and the Douay-Reims of 1635 both include annotations in Luke 2 to connect Simeon’s prophesy to Mary’s Sorrows. The Geneva explains, “That is, sorows should pearce her heart as a sword” but does not explain further, while the Douay-Reims interprets more thoroughly that “Simeon prophecied not only of Christ but of our B. Lady, of al her sorowes: wherein she was alwaies partaker with our Sauiour, from his flight into Ægypt euen to his death.” The Geneva leaves Mary’s brief scene at the cross in John unannotated, while the Douay-Reims points out both “The great loue faith, courage, compassion, and sorovves, that our Lady had: who forsooke not the Crosse and her sonne” and “The maruelous respect that Christ had to his mother.” Neither, however, venture any extrapolation on how her sorrow was expressed, whether a private inner sorrow or a public lamentation. Calvin’s commentary on John does not even mention her sorrow, focusing instead on Christ’s faithfulness in his duty toward his earthly mother and in the gift of faith that allowed the three women to stand by the cross.

Like with most theological controversies of the period, of course, exceptions abound. Cf. John Donne, “Nativitie”: “with him into Egypt goe, / With his kinde mother, who partakes thy woe,” 13–14. 59


doctrinally, remained in the theological imagination through the increasing transferal of her archetypally feminine grief onto the Magdalene. The Elizabethan reformers inherited a complicated relationship with Marian theology from the early continental reformers, one that opposed potentially idolatrous worship even while it still upheld the Virgin as a figure of Christian devotion. None of the early reformers rejected Mary’s perpetual virginity, though they were careful not to admit any human contribution to salvation, which disallowed her participation in Christ’s saving act. Luther did not protest the invocation of saints, Mary’s perpetual virginity, or her title of Queen of Heaven, and as late as 1544 he seems still to have upheld the doctrine of her Immaculate Conception, though he tempered these with an emphasis on her “nothingness” and utter lack of merit for the graces she received.60 Later reformers such as Calvin disallowed her intercession and asserted that any request made to her for grace is an “execrable blasphemy,” even if she was, in Bullinger’s words, “the most unique and the noblest member” of the church.61 In England, Hugh Latimer went so far as to attack her sinlessness, a doctrine that most reformers still upheld.62 Marian invocations and feasts disappeared and occasionally reemerged in the established prayer

60 In his 1521 his Exposition of the Magnificat, he insisted that the greatest honor we can do to her is to pray, “O blessed Virgin and Mother of God, how utterly nothing and despised you have been, and yet God has looked upon you so graciously and abundantly and has done great things in you. You have not been worthy of any of these, and the superabundant grace of God is in you far above your merit.” In his 1522 Sermon on Mary’s Nativity he insisted that since her special grace as the Mother of God is not due to her own merit, “we are just as holy as she,” and in a 1527 sermon on the Annunciation he added among the possible meanings of her name “a little drop of water” to emphasize her nothingness. Quoted in Hilda Graef, Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion, vol. 2, From the Reformation to the Present Day (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1965), 8–11. 61

Quoted in Graef, Mary, 12–15.

He interpreted her interruption of Jesus’s teaching in Luke 8 as evidence “that we gave her too much, thinking her to be without any sparkle of sin.” Quoted in Paul Williams, “The Virgin Mary in Anglican Tradition,” in Mary: The Complete Resource, ed. Sarah Jane Boss (London: Continuum, 2007), 319. 62


books and calendars, and the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 completely forbade any invocations of the saints as “a fond thing vainly invented and…repugnant to the Word of God,” which included Mary by default.”63 Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Piety simply avoided talking about Mary altogether; his section on the Communion of Saints discusses instead the communion of all believers, and his “answer to Travers” manages to navigate around the topic of her sinlessness without staking a claim.64 While her importance in the English imagination never faded, reformers were especially wary of broader questions of the saints’ place in liturgy and devotion, and thus their treatment of her shifted inconsistently between honor, silence, suspicion, and denunciation. Because of Mary’s tenuous place in the reformation landscape, devotion to the Mother of Sorrows was likewise suspect among both Protestants and Catholics. Her sorrow at the passion was both doctrinally uncontroversial and entirely imaginative, and thus Protestants worried that emphasizing her passion detracted from that of Christ. Luther criticized those who “carry in a great deal from Christ’s departure from Bethany and the pains of the Virgin Mary and come no farther” in his Good Friday sermon on the passion that deemphasized the suffering mother.65 For some reformers, such as Zwingli, Spangenberg, and Vischer, Scripture’s lack of description of Mary’s demeanor at the

63 Quoted in Graef, Mary, 16. While the 1544 Litany included an invocation to the Virgin, it was removed in the Prayer Book together with other invocations to the saints and the commemoration of the Virgin in the Eucharistic Prayer. The extrabiblical Marian feasts disappeared in 1549 and 1552, which commemorated only the explicitly biblical feasts of the Annunciation and Purification; while the Calendar of 1561 restored the feasts of Mary’s Conception, Nativity, and Visitation, the feast of her Assumption would not return to Anglican calendars until the twentieth century. Williams, “Virgin Mary,” 322. See also Paul Williams, “The English Reformers and the Blessed Virgin Mary,” in Mary, ed. Boss, 238–55. 64

Williams, “Virgin Mary,” 324.


Kreitzer, Reforming Mary, 120.


cross was not an invitation to the imagination but a proscription against it and a declaration of her silence. She became for them a model of fortitude for Christians who bear their crosses with patience, not excessive complaining. As they did so, Mary became defeminized, as Vischer admired the “great patience and steadfast faith” of this “manly and gallant” woman.66 Oddly, Catholic theologians followed this shifting portrayal of her as a silent spectator, not for biblical reasons but because they were eager to defend the Virgin against accusations of frailty of faith.67 Francis de Sales for example insisted that she showed no “feminine” weakness at the foot of the cross but stood obediently in “perfect submission” to the will of the Father, firm and silent.68 Robert Bellarmine likewise depicted Mary as a silent figure in imitation of her son: “I indeed believe that the tongues of both were as mute because of such great sorrow, and that they were able to speak either not at all or only a little.”69 In an anonymous Song of Mary the Mother of Christ: containing the story of his life and passion, the Virgin’s presence at the crucifixion is notably omitted from the passion sequence. While Protestant theologians were hesitant to imagine her participation in Christ’s suffering and thus to merge the figures, Catholic


Graef, Mary, 14; Kreitzer, Reforming Mary, 121, 121.

67 Donna Spivey Ellington argues that, in portrayals of the passion, “The Mary of the late sixteenth century is silent, ” and Trevor Johnson further observes that Catholic writers “portrayed her as silent, distant, and obedient” by the cross because of the importance of her purity and Immaculate Conception as “a key emblem of Counter-Reformation Catholic identity.” Ellington, From Sacred Body to Angelic Soul, 198. Trevor Johnson, “Mary in Early Modern Europe,” in Mary: The Complete Resource, ed. Sarah Jane Boss (London: Continuum, 2007), 363. 68

Ellington, “Impassioned Mother,” 244–46; Kreitzer, Reforming Mary, 23, 73.

69 Bellarmine, 5.183: Ego quidem arbitror, linguas amborum prae nimio dolore quasi mutas effectas, vel nihil vel omnino partim dicere potuisse.


theologians were hesitant to imagine any demonstrations of feminine weakness that would separate the figures. Because of this general discomfort, Mary became more ignored than maligned among English Protestant reformers, and traces of Marian devotion emerge in poetry and drama even as she remains mostly absent from the homiletic sphere.70 While Diarmaid MacCulloch identifies a “general Protestant silence falling over Mary,” Arthur F. Marotti takes the opposite line that “One of the areas of practice in which residual Catholic culture was most evident is that of Marian devotion,” a difference between doctrine and literature, between theology and imagination.71 Without a doubt, traces of Marian piety remain in the poetic imagination through the portrayals of women in drama, the rise of the Petrarchan lady in Elizabethan poetry, and the growing cult around England’s virgin queen. Scholars such as Gary Waller, M. Thomas Hester, Roberta Albrecht, and Ann Branan Horak identify shifting veneration and denigration of the female body in English Petrarchanism, drama, and poetry as evidence of nostalgia for the Virgin that lingered into the seventeenth century.72 When it comes to the lavish praises of England’s saintly

70 Erasmus in fact had predicted as much in one of his Colloquies titled “The Pilgrimage of Devotion,” in which the Virgin of Lapide is purported to send a letter to a Zwinglian reformer named Glaucoplutus. In it she expresses her gratitude to him for dissuading people from invocation of the saints and sparing her from the constant entreaties with which she was beset before. Nevertheless, she concludes, her reprieve is little consolation for its cost, for people have gone from hailing her as Queen of Heaven to refusing even to pray a Hail Mary. Through the layers of satire that seem to point fingers at any perceivable group, Erasmus identifies the phenomenon that would affect Marian piety in England over the next century.

Diarmaid MacCulloch, “Mary and Sixteenth-Century Protestants,” in The Church and Mary, ed R. N. Swanson (Rochester: Boydell Press, 2004), 213; Arthur F. Marotti, “Forward,” in Marian Moments in Early Modern British Drama, ed. Regina Buccola and Lisa Hopkins (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007), xiii. 71

Gary Waller, The Virgin Mary in Late Medieval and Early Modern English Literature and Popular Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011); M. Thomas Hester, “Donne’s (Re)Annunciation of the Virgin(ia Colony) in Elegy XIX,” South Central Review 4 (1987), 49–64; Roberta Albrecht, The Virgin Mary as Alchemical and Lullian Reference in Donne (Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 2005); Ann Branan 72


monarch, the Marian echoes become overt, and scholars have long pointed to an English cult of Elizabeth that seemed to replace the medieval cult of Mary.73 However, this political cult of the Virgin Queen did not necessarily replace the religious cult of the Virgin Mother; Helen Hackett argues that it complemented and even validated it. The most overt comparisons between Elizabeth and the Virgin are a typological link in the divine plan of history, and thus the former virgin does not supplant the latter but rather uses her sanctity to claim divine endorsement.74 Even as Protestant doctrine cautioned against idolatrous veneration, the devotion remained in the literary imagination enough to support a secular veneration of Petrarchan women and the maiden queen. Because the medieval devotion to the Sorrows of Mary was always linked to the complaint tradition, the culture of literary complaint was one of the strongest traces of the Virgin in the English imagination even as theologians avoided explorations of her grief.75 In drama, Katharine Goodland identifies lingering vestiges of the planctus tradition in the

Horak, “‘That Fair Blessed Mother-Maid’: Marian Imagery and Poetic Identity in John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, and Andrew Marvell” (PhD diss., Rutgers, 2001). See for example Elkin Calhoun Wilson, England’s Eliza, Harvard Studies in English vol. 20 (New York: Octagon, 1966); Frances A. Yates, Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (London: Routledge, 1975); Roy Strong, Gloriana: The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I (London: Thames & Hudson, 1987). 73

Helen Hackett, Virgin Mother, Maiden Queen: Elizabeth I and the Cult of the Virgin Mary (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), 10. 74

75 A clear case in point of this difference between imagination and theology appears in an English translation of the Jesuit Luca Pinelli’s 1594 meditation The Virgin Maries Life (Douay, 1604). We are told to “Contemplate how the virgin Marie made that voiage” after the cross “weeping al the waie” (49), to envision how “with most doleful teares she stoode beholding this lamentable pageant” of her son’s crucifixion (51), and to “Contemplate the dolorous lamentation that the virgin made” when she received his dead body in her arms, leaving his tomb “not without manie sobbes and sighes” (56). Yet on the same pages, Pinelli gives a discordant moral in his points for meditation. When he tells us to “Learne of the virgin Marie how thou must behaue thy selfe in tribulations” (50), he urges us not to “lament nether of thine owne condition, nor of God who did permit it to be such as it is,” but rather to “praise god” (51); when he urges us to “Learne of the virgin Marie how thou must behaue thy selfe, in the death of thy deare friends,” the lesson “is that thou must not lament, nether of god, nor of his creatures, nor of thine owne case” (56). When he imagines Mary he sees her ostentatious demonstrations of grief; when he seeks to imitate her he extrapolates forbearance.


inverted pietà as Lear carries the dead body of the innocent Cordelia onto the stage at the climax of King Lear, and Alice Dailey identifies George Chapman’s The Widows Tears as a secular parody of the grieving women in medieval passion plays.76 In fact, while some scholars have seen the increased interest in the weeping Mary Magdalene as a reformed substitute for the Virgin, her participation in a similar devotional aesthetic did more than provide an imaginative alternative to the Sorrows of Mary; it continued and even valorized it.77 Just as Hackett argues that the cult of the Virgin Queen intentionally created a typological link to that of the Virgin Mother, the poetic emphasis on the weeper at the sepulcher democratized the devotion to the Mother of Sorrows, using the Virgin’s complaint as an aesthetic precedent for those of other lovers of Christ.78 Thus as literary complaint was thriving on the English press, poetic depictions of the tears of Mary Magdalene became increasingly popular among both Catholic and Protestant writers. Though complaints of the Magdalene, like those of Peter, resonate with the penitential tradition when she is linked to the sinful woman who weeps on

Katharine Goodland, “Inverting the Pietà in Shakespeare’s King Lear,” in Marian Moments in Early Modern British Drama, ed. Regina Buccola and Lisa Hopkins (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007), 47–74; Alice Dailey, “Easter Scenes from an Unholy Tomb: Christian Parody in The Widow’s Tears,” in ibid., 127–39. Notably, according to the introduction of this collection, the pietà was the most common Marian image that remained in English Protestant churches. For another example of the significance of the Magdalene’s Easter scene for early modern poetry, see Margo Swiss, “Donne’s Medieval Magdalene: Apostolic Authority in ‘To the Lady Magdalen Herbert, of St Mary Magdalen,” English Studies in Canada 18 (1992), 143–56. 76

77 Joseph Szövérffy points to a medieval example of this transferal, also associated with the Magdalene’s compassion at the cross. The medieval hymn O quam digna memoria makes an uncommon reference to her as Eve who sows the joy of the resurrection where the old Eve had sowed sorrow. “Typology in Medieval Latin Hymns: Notes on Some Features in the Mary Magdalen, Martha, and Lazarus Hymns,” Medievalia et Humanistica 12 (1958), 48–49.

Katherine Ludwig Jansen shows through an extensive study of medieval sermons and lay responses that, despite the Magdalene’s association with Mary of Bethany who symbolically represented the contemplative life, by the thirteenth century she had become symbolically linked to the active life of the laity. The Making of the Magdalen: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 15. 78


Christ’s feet in Luke 7, more often than not they depict her tears at the sepulcher in John 20, her tears of feminine complaint.79 English complaints of the Magdalene existed in the late Middle Ages, but as a widespread phenomenon they emerged in the late sixteenth century, beginning with Southwell and lingering through Crashaw in the mid-seventeenth century. While scholars tend to associate these poems with a nostalgic longing for Christ’s bodily presence in the Eucharist, the Magdalene’s voice is strongly connected to the long tradition of feminized literary complaint that highlights questions outside confessional polemics.80 Debora Shuger identifies in Magdalene literature a passio amoris that remains connected to the passio crucis, an “erotic impulse [that] is never spiritualized” because spiritual longing and sexual desire were understood through the same metaphysical process beginning in the eyes and traveling through the imagination into the heart.81 Ultimately, in fact, Christ validates the Magdalene’s ostentatious grief and her demand for his material body by meeting her in the flesh; the spiritual or “ghostly” body she encounters is every bit as physical as the anticipated bodies of “the quick and the dead” at the final judgment and the new creation. In that her feminine sorrow entices an

This represents a significant shift from medieval devotions. In Joseph Szövérffy’s extensive survey of medieval Magdalene hymns, a large majority treat her conversion and the annointing in the home of Simon, and there are less than half as many that refer to her scenes by cross or sepulcher. Similarly, he finds that the Magdalene is referred to as Peccatrix roughly three times more frequently than as Apostola, and finds only one hymn that refers to her as Testis crucis Christi. Among the dozens of hymns surveyed, he finds only two with distant echoes of the planctus motif. “‘Peccatrix quondam femina’: A Survey of the Mary Magdalene Hymns,” Traditio 19 (1963), 92, 95, 99, 102. 79

80 Furthermore, the eucharistic interpretation of her complaint often spiritualizes the solution of her very carnal problem that cannot be solved by any less than Christ’s physical body itself. Badir for example describes that when the Magdalene is searching for his material body she misses him standing in front of her and mistakes him for the gardener, but “when she learns to look for Christ within her soul, the deep and dark repository of her memory, her senses align and Christ appears before her in ghostly form,” and thus these poems advocate a “spiritual seeing” after the loss of Christ’s bodily presence. Badir, Maudlin Impression, 65. 81

Shuger, “Saints and Lovers,” 157.


encounter with Christ’s newly resurrected flesh, it is procreative, and she herself is reborn from the womb of Christ’s tomb. At a time when English poets are preoccupied with the poetry of complaint, it is now the Magdalene telling English readers, “Who cannot wepe, come lerne at me.”

The Early Modern Planctus Mariae: The Challenge The Magdalene had in fact always been an iconic figure of weeping, but the devotional complaint of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries changed the literary focus of her tears in significant ways. While the traditional Magdalene was an amalgamation of four potentially different weeping biblical women—the sinful woman of Luke 7 who washed Christ’s feet with her tears, the woman caught in adultery in John 8, Mary of Bethany who fell at Jesus’s feet weeping after the death of her brother Lazarus in John 11, and Mary Magdalene who wept at the sepulcher on Easter morning in John 20—medieval hymns to the Magdalene focused their encomia on her tears of remorse as a former sinner.82 Southwell redirected this devotional emphasis when he focused instead on her ostentatious expressions of grief by the sepulcher, linking the tropes of female complaint, the planctus Mariae, and two peculiar late-medieval Magdalene works, both with ostensible connections to Chaucer. Southwell emphasized the Magdalene as an

82 Early in the Renaissance, humanist scholarship began to point out the potential distinction between the three women. See especially the controversy between Jacques Lefèvre d’Etaples and John Fisher in the early sixteenth century, recounted in, Sheila M. Porrer, Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples and the Three Maries Debates (Genève: Droz, 2009); Anselm Hufstader, “Lefèvre d’Etaples and the Magdalen,” Studies in the Renaissance 16 (1969): 31-60. For the medieval tradition of the Magdalene, see Helen Meredith Garth, Saint Mary Magdalene in Mediaeval Literature (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1950).


ideal model for tears of love, love that directed all the seeming excess of her vehement passions into union with her lover. As Southwell’s posthumous popularity spread in early modern England, Magdalene complaints became numerous.83 None is a direct imitation, but each follows his emphasis on her audacious complaint of love on Easter morning, hearkening to the feminine grief of the Virgin who was becoming a more muted figure in English literature.84 These poems reveal significant tensions in early modern approaches to the exemplary female passion that Southwell had put at the center of the Magdalene’s complaint. For some poets such as Henry Constable, George Herbert, and Henry Vaughan, the Magdalene’s tears were exemplary and distinctly feminine, but only as tears of repentance from sin. Nicholas Breton, on the other hand, makes her tears expressions of Christian longing, but they are either exemplary only for women or spiritualized into a heavenly longing. Gervase Markham embraces the eroticism of female complaint in his

83 Southwell’s influence can be seen not only in poetry; Louis Martz observes that Thomas Morley set three stanzas of “Marie Magdalens complaint at Christs death” to music in his First Book of Ayres. The Poetry of Meditation: A Study in English Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954), 192n. 84 Notably, while Southwell did have a significant personal devotion to the Virgin Mary and wrote a planctus Mariae complaint, “The virgin Mary to Christ on the Crosse” holds a marginal status among his poems in contrast to his Magdalene complaints. The only surviving manuscript copy is the Harmsworth manuscript at the Folger Shakespeare Library, which also adds a few poems by other Catholic writers, apparently a different manuscript than Busby used for Mœoniæ. It is neither a part of the third-person Marian sequence that begins the Catholic editions nor the first-person biographical complaint poems that begin the Protestant editions. The Virgin’s complaint did not appear in either of the Catholic editions of Southwell’s poems nor the earliest print editions by John Wolfe and Gabriel Cawood, but rather in supplemental volume Mœoniæ published by John Busby, possibly gathered from one of the Catholic manuscript collections. In contrast, the Wolfe and Cawood editions published the year of the poet’s death place the complaint of the Magdalene third in the volume, after the long title poem Saint Peters Complaint and the penitential “Mary Magdalens blush.” In these editions, the Magdalene’s complaint seems to be a twopart female counterpart to Peter’s. The Catholic editions, in contrast, do not include either Marian complaint. For a comparison of the Catholic and Protestant editions of Southwell’s poems, see Robert Miola, “Publishing the Word: Robert Southwell’s Sacred Poetry,” Review of English Studies 64 (2012), 410–32. For the manuscript history of the poem, see Pollard Brown, “Textual Introduction,” in The Poems of Robert Southwell, S.J., ed. James H. McDonald and Nancy Pollard Brown (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), lxxxi.


depiction of her complaint by the sepulcher, initially hinting at its applicability to women and to repentance, but ultimately applying it to any Christian who would desire Christ’s presence with love. In Richard Crashaw’s poems of the passion, we see a full-scale embrace of feminine passion, not only in the Magdalene and the Virgin but even in Christ himself. Ultimately the dialogue about feminine grief that these poems reveal does not fall in clearly defined confessional lines. Instead, the poems reveal an active dialogue about human passion that devotional complaint incited, a dialogue that navigates uncomfortable questions in the theological imagination about excessive and gendered passion. Though Southwell’s interest in the Magdalene, like that in Peter, coincided with post-Tridentine fascination with her tears of repentance, it was more strongly connected to a late-medieval exploration of her tears by the sepulcher, a departure from the literary vogue with which he is generally associated. Southwell was exposed to Italian, extended, third-person poetic encomia of the tears of the Magdalene during his time in Rome, poems that recounted the former sinner’s life through the lens of tears, from her conversion to her legendary penitence in the wilderness after Christ’s ascension.85 These poems are more homiletic than Southwell’s two lyrics; for the most part they are third-

For a study in the Magdalene in the Spanish Golden Age, see Elizabeth B. Davis, “‘Woman, Why Weepest Thou?’: Re-visioning the Golden Age Magdalene,” Hispania 76 (1993), 38–48; Jordi Aladro and Alicia Colombí de Monguió, “Antecedentes e Influencias Literarias en la Obra Lírica de Lope en Torno a la Magdalena,” in Eros Divino: Estudios Sobre la Poesīa Religiosa Iberoamericana de Siglo XVII,” edited by Julián Olivares (Zaragoza, Spain: Prensas Universitarias de Zaragoza, 2010), 99–134; and Maria del Pilar Chouza-Calo, “Lope de Vega and ‘Las lágrimas de la Magdalena’: An Erotic Conversion,” in El Siglo de Oro antes y después de El arte nuevo, ed. Oana Andreia Sâmbrian-Toma (Craiova, Romania: SITECH, 2009), 49– 58. For the poetry of tears and penitence in France, see Terence C. Cave, Devotional Poetry in France, c. 1570–1613 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 243–93. For more examples of the Magdalene in medieval and early modern English and continental literature, see the introduction of Garth, Saint Mary Magdalene, 9–17. 85


person accounts of her tears interwoven with second-person praise, unlike Southwell’s first-person monologues.86 In every case, they emphasize repentance, what Pierre Janelle calls the Counter Reformation’s “mood of self-reproachfulness,” rather than the passionate desire and grief of abandonment from the Magdalene’s Easter scene.87 At the same time, however, Southwell was also exposed to a medieval Latin pseudo-Origenist sermon, or perhaps an Italian version of it similarly misattributed to Bonaventure, of which he wrote a much-expanded (nearly triple-length) amplification in luminous English prose.88 Mary Magdalens Funerall Teares was printed in at least five London editions beginning with the John Wolfe printing for Gabriel Cawood in 1591, the year before Southwell’s arrest, and was also included in five early modern editions of his poetry.89 This dramatic dialogue amounts to a defense of human passion, using the

86 See, for example, Erasmo da Valvasone’s Le Lagrime della Maddalena, first printed along with the 1579 edition of Tansillo’s Lagrime di San Pietro and another passion lyric by Angelo Grillo a year after Southwell’s arrival in Rome, and Camillo Camilli’s Le Lagrime di Santa Maria Maddelena that was likewise published twice while Southwell was in Rome and reprinted subsequently. Da Valvasone’s poem was published with Tansillo and Grillo in 1579 (Venetia), 1587 (Genova), 1588 (Carmagnola), 1589 (Venetia), 1592 (Venetia), 1595 (Venetia), 1598 (Venetia), 1599 (Venetia), 1605 (Venetia), 1606 (Venegia), 1618 (Venetia) and 1838 (Milano); with Tasso and Grillo in 1592 (Bergamo) and 1593 (Bergamo); printed in its own volume in 1598 (Venetia), 1605 (Bergamo), 1693 (Ventura), and 1797; and translated into Spanish in 1613 (Naples) and 1738 (Venezia). Camilli’s was published in 1583 (Venetia), 1585 (Perugia), 1592 (Firenze). See also Lope de Vega, “Las lágrimas de la Magdalena” in Rimas Sacras (1614); Pedro Malón de Echaide, La Conversión de la Magdalena (1588); and Diogo Mendez Quintella, Conversam e Lagrimas da gloriosa Sancta Maria Magdalena (Lisboa: 1615). 87

Janelle, Robert Southwell, 189.

88 Chaucer claimed to have translated this sermon in his Legend of Good Women. It was first printed in Latin in 1505 and printed in English translation in 1555 and 1565. For information about the Italian text and Southwell’s methods of paraphrase and expansion, see Pierre Janelle, Robert Southwell the Writer: A Study in Religious Inspiration (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1935), 184–90; for a later argument that Southwell translated and expanded from the Latin original, see F. W. Brownlow, Robert Southwell (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996), 35–36. For an analysis of the rhetorical techniques of the Latin text, see Margaret Jennings, “The Art of the Pseudo-Origen Homily De Maria Magdalena,” Medievalia et Humanistica 5 (1974), 139–52. 89 It received its own editions from London presses in 1591, 1592, 1594, 1602, and 1609; Lowndes and Hazlitt cite another printing in 1607. It was included both in the Catholic editions of his poems, S. Peters


Magdalene as an example of what his introductory letter calls “such a loue as could neuer exceede, because the thing loued was of infinite perfection” (33). Illustrating this in his poetry, Southwell wrote two lyrics of the Magdalene: “Mary Magdalens Blushe” and “Marie Magdalens complaint at Christs death,” both of which emphasize her passionate and even sensuous love. In this way he not only took inspiration from the sermon he amplified, but he also connected his poetry to several overlapping literary traditions: the first-person complaints of abandoned women, the planctus Mariae, and even a stray fifteenth-century Complaynte of the louer of Cryst Saynt Mary Magdaleyn that was misattributed to Chaucer for over three centuries.90 Southwell turns the eroticism of the female complaint and the excess of the Virgin’s complaint into a full-scale defense of human passion, using the Magdalene as a model for passion that is directed by love and leads the lover to physical union with the divine. While there is no direct evidence that Southwell was familiar with the pseudoChaucerian poem, it is a jarringly erotic example of the Magdalene’s adaptability to the complaint tradition. Southwell’s later works were sensitive to this potential, and his Mary Magdalens Funerall Teares well depicts both the eroticism of the female complaint and of the

complaint. And Saint Mary Magdalens funerall teares. With sundry other selected, and deuout poems (St. Omer, 1616 and 1620), and in the Protestant editions of St Peters complainte in 1620, 1630, and 1636. It was initially printed in octavo in 1520 and spuriously attributed to England’s great poet in an anthology six years later, and it appeared in all subsequent early modern editions of his works. The first attribution to Chaucer was in The boke of fame, made by Geffray Chaucer: with dyuers other of his workes (London, 1526), and the poem appeared again in Chaucer anthologies in 1532, 1542, 1550, 1561, 1598, 1602, 1687, 1777, 1782, 1822, 1845, and 1855. For a discussion of the potential links between “Orygenes upon the Maudeleyne” and Chaucer’s literary career in female complaint, see Karen Elizabeth Gross, “Chaucer, Mary Magdalene, and the Consolation of Love,” Chaucer Review 41 (2006), 1–37; also John P. McCall, “Chaucer and the Pseudo-Origen De Maria Magdalena: A Preliminary Study,” Speculum 46 (1971), 491–509. For a discussion of the poem’s language and style that indicate a late-fifteenth-century composition, see the introduction to The Lamentation of Mary Magdalene, ed. Bertha M. Skeat, (Cambridge: Fabb and Tyler, 1897), 5–33. 90


Magdalene in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, combined with the Virgin’s justification of excess.91 Like the planctus Mariae, the Magdalene’s self-defined complaint demonstrates that superabundant passion and faith can be complementary. She affirms that “I trust in his grace and in his mercy dere” while insisting that “I shall not spare to wayle and wepe my fyll” (A3r) as long as she remains separated from Christ’s body. She justifies her right to weep because she has “loste his presence / Whiche in this worlde was all my sustenaunce” (A3v), and thus before reform made its way to the Henrician court, the Magdalene was already a figure of the nostalgic longing for Christ’s body.92 Beyond the poem’s devotional content, it combines the planctus Mariae tradition with the erotic language of Ovidian and Petrarchan traditions, demonstrating a kind of agency in the Magdalene’s sensuous love. She describes the “brennynge loue [that] my herte so doth constrayne” (A3r) and “werketh all within my breste” (B1r), and she eventually finds a strikingly carnal solution. Although her unloving lover has withdrawn his “body and soule precyous” from “thy louer Just & trwe” (B4r), she can still give her body to his sepulcher, proving herself “Crystes true louer mary Magdeleyn / Whose herte for loue brast in peces tweyn” (B5r). In this way she writes her own obituary as the woman who died “For his

If Jennifer R. Rust is correct in her suggestion that Spenser parodies Southwell’s Magdalene in the aftermath of his exectution in the 1596 edition of the Faerie Queene, this suggests at least one (negative) reaction to Southwell’s appropriation of female complaint. Spenser as we have already seen used female complaint to great effect throughout his literary career; if he felt the need to parody Southwell, perhaps the Jesuit had taken it too far. Jennifer R. Rust, “Malengin and Mercilla, Southwell and Spenser: The Poetics of Tears and the Poetics of Martyrdom in The Faerie Queene, Book 5, Canto 9,” in Redrawing the Map of Early Modern Catholicism, ed. Lowell Gallagher (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), 185–209. 91

92 In this way I am providing another alternative though not contradictory reading to the useful studies by scholars such as Kuchar who place this work specifically in the context of the recusant community separated from the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. See for example “Gender and Recusant Melancholia in Robert Southwell’s Mary Magdalen’s Funeral Tears,” in Catholic Culture in Early Modern England, ed. Ronald Corthell, Frances E. Dolan, Christopher Highley, and Arthur F. Marotti (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 135–57.


pure loue,” and delivers instructions that “in token of loue perpetuall / Whan I am buryed in this place present” her survivors must “Take out my herte the very rote and all / And close it within this boxe of oyntement” and thus “To my dere loue make theof a presente” (B5v).93 If “my turtyll doue frende of hewe,” “my moost excellent peramoure” (B6r), and “my spouce” (B6v) insists on keeping his body from her, she can at least give her body to him forever by invading his own tomb. The poem reverses the image of Christ entering the womb of the Virgin; now the Magdalene enters the tomb of Christ, an uncomfortably bodily union that he cannot deny her if he is dead. Grounded in the Virgin’s justified excess, she seizes on the erotic agency of female complaint.94 In Southwell’s hands, the eroticism of female complaint becomes a defense of human passion when rightly directed toward the highest theological virtue of love.95 As he makes clear in his prefatory letter to Mary Magdalens Funerall Teares, he is not providing an alternative to eroticism but rather redirecting it. His meditation is “fittest for this time” because “passion, and especially this of loue, is in these daies the chiefe commaunder of moste mens actions, & the Idol to which both toonges and pennes doe sacrifice their ill bestowed labours” (30). It is a “needefull” literary lesson in “how to

Robin Waugh has written about the implications of this image not only for its appropriation of tropes from secular erotic traditions but also for the Magdalene’s role as apostola apostolorum, in that a person’s power of speech was located in the chest. “The Voice of the Heart in a Box in the Middle English Lamentation of Mary Magdalene,” in Mary Magdalene in Medieval Culture: Conflicted Roles, ed. Peter V. Loewen and Robin Waugh (New York: Routledge, 2014), 229–46. 93

For a recent exploration of the relationship between gender, emotions, and authority, see Authority, Gender, and Emotions in Late Medieval and Early Modern England, ed. Susan Broomhall (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). 94

Gary Kuchar in fact argues that Southwell creates “hyperbolized expressions of female ideality in order to reimagine the forms of sacramental continuity conjoining spiritual and temporal orders.” Divine Subjection, 10. 95


direct these humours vnto their due courses, and to draw this flud of affections into the right chanel” (31). He then provides an argument for the potential virtue of the passions of love, hatred, anger, desire, fear, dislike, audacity, sorrow, despair, and joy, concluding that “ther is no passion but hath a seruiceable vse either in the pursuite of good, or auoydance of euill, and they are all benefits of God, and helpes of nature, so long as they are kept vnder vertues correction” (32).96 Furthermore, while he begins with standard Thomistic arguments for passions being handmaids to reason and Augustinian arguments for moderation of passion, he offers the Magdalene as an example not of reason or of moderation but of superabundant love. Indeed, later in the text the narrator says that her “reason is altered into loue” (46) and that “Loue is not ruled with reason, but with loue” (111), and it is love that ultimately rules the Magdalene’s passions. Southwell’s letter explains that “such a loue…could neuer exceede, because the thing loued was of infinite perfection,” that her love “led all her passions with the same bias” so that even her excessive passions “neither should be shame to vtter, nor sinne to feele” (33). The Magdalene’s passions do not serve reason as much as both her reason and passions serve love. The text therefore becomes a justification of the passions it describes, reading like a dialogue between the narrator and Mary Magdalene who eventually both direct complaints to Christ before and after his appearance. Initially the narrator echoes Calvin’s criticism of the Magdalene, suggesting that “there is some trespasse in thy teares, and some sin in thy sorow” (56), chiding her for declining from her “more then a manly

96 This list of human passions matches that of Aquinas almost exactly. Aquinas mentions love, hatred, desire, delight, sorrow, hope, despair, fear, courage, and anger. Assuming that joy can substitute for delight, then Southwell only fails to mention hope and adds dislike.


courage” and becoming “nowe so much a woman that thou canst not commaund thy eies to forebeare teares” (72). She replies with reasoned arguments and conceits that eventually entice him to take her part when the risen Christ disguises himself from her and to chide him for seeming to “suspend hir longinges, prolong hir desires, and martyr hir with these tedious delaies” (100).97 By the end, in contrast to Calvin’s criticism of her “excessive weeping,” the narrative justifies her complaint not only with Christ’s appearance, but also with the interpretive liberty of a reappearance after her departure in which he finally allows her to touch his resurrected body.98 She ultimately therefore wins her case, and the narrator describes her tears as “too mightie oratours, to let any suite fall,” orators with “so perswading a silence, and so conquering a complaynte, that by yeelding they ouercome and by intreating they commaund.” Christ gives her the very grace she longed for—the grace of himself—and thus the narrator concludes that her tears “win the inuincible, & bind the omnipotent” (116). Her passions become the driving force behind her love, love that is ultimately justifiable and that makes her complaint efficacious.

97 Kuchar argues for the Magdalene’s excessive passion being simultaneously condoned and censored. While I acknowledge both sides of the tension, Southwell seems ultimately to tilt the balance to the former. Divine Subjection, 37. 98 Many scholars, such as Brownlow, spiritualize the resolution such that the Magdalene “can only know the divine persons in the recesses of her own heart.” But the narrative complicates such a reading. Both Calvin and Southwell harmonize John and Matthew’s accounts of the Resurrection: the one in which Christ appears only to Mary Magdalene and forbids her from holding onto him, and the other in which he appears to multiple women who take hold of his feet and worship him. In Calvin’s account, Christ appears to the full collection of women accounted for in the four gospels’ resurrection narratives, has the discourse with Mary Magdalene that John records with the other women present, is worshiped by all the women who take hold of his feet as Matthew recounts, and then chides their carnality by commanding them not to hold onto him as John relates. In Southwell’s account, on the other hand, the encounter is between Christ and the Magdalene alone as John records, and she leaves in sorrow after Christ commands her not to hold onto him, until she meets with the other women along the way who together reencounter the resurrected Christ and are finally allowed to take hold of his feet in worship. Brownlow, Robert Southwell, 43.


Southwell’s two short Magdalene lyrics follow this emphasis on love, even “Mary Magdalens Blushe” that thematically should be a penitential poem. The Magdalene begins in a penitential vein by describing “The signes of shame that stayne my blushinge face” (1) and lamenting “Howe cheape I sould that Christ so dearly bought” (10), but the poem ends with two stanzas that amount to a defense of “sence.” In the penultimate stanza, her sense—passions, affect, emotion—seems to be a clear enemy of the soul. O sence! O soule! O had! O hoped blisse! Yow woe, yow weane; yow draw, yow drive me backe; Yow crosse encountring, like their combate is, That never end but with some deadly wracke; When sence doth wynne, the soule doth loose the feilde, And present happ makes future hopes to yelde. (25–30) It seems at first that sense is the enemy of her soul and the cross-encountering is the battle between her lustful desires and her soul’s health. However, the final stanza complicates that dichotomy and suggests another meaning of the “cross-encountering” of the sense and soul, an actual encounter with the love that would ultimately reveal itself on the cross. Though this stanza begins by accusing sense of robbing heaven of saints and spoiling souls of grace, the Magdalene ultimately exonerates her passions when she declares that “sence doth scarce deserve these hard complayntes, / Love is the theefe, sence but the entringe place” (33–34). With love as the ultimate culprit, we have another double meaning that creates a tension between salvation and damnation. Love could refer to her past sins, the sexual exploits that tradition associates with the Magdalene. But the sinful woman in Luke 7 is also a figure of another kind of eros; as Christ himself explains in the passage, she is a woman of superabundant love that flows from how deeply she has been forgiven. The conclusion of the poem indicates that the very passions of which she


repents become the door through which love, the highest theological virtue, can enter. Human passion not only can be forgiven, but can also be redeemed. In “Marie Magdalens complaint at Christs death,” the love that entered in the final stanza of “Mary Magdalens Blushe” becomes the central focus, her paradoxical death and life, desolation and consolation, dependency and agency. Although she is in almost despairing agony at her separation from Christ, desiring death with the best of literary complainants, her very complaint finally creates the union she desires by the end of the poem. She begins by asking that “Sith my life from life is parted / Death come take thy portion” (1–2), introducing a pun that becomes the controlling motif of the poem: the merging of her identity and his. In the final three stanzas, she does this through a close weaving of the words “love” and “life.” With my love my life was nestled In the summe of happynes From my love my life is wrested To a world of heavynes O lett love my life remove Sith I live not where I love (25–30) At first, “my love” is a metonym for her lover Christ in contrast to “my life” which is her, but by the end of the stanza “love” expands its meanings from his person to her passion to a verb. As Christ’s death creates a tension between love and life, between her identity and his that had once been entwined together when her “prison was his hart” (36), love broadens its scope of meaning. By the final stanza of the poem, when the Magdalene complains against the “Spitefull speare” (37) that delivered her soul from the “sweet captivity” (32) of Christ’s heart, a dark parody of childbirth that brings forth death, her “life” is suddenly the metonym for Christ, and her “love” seems to refer to the passion that she is left with in the absence of Christ’s person. But as a passion, love allows her to


defy the otherwise triumphant power of death as she taunts the spear saying, “Though my life thow dravst awaye / Maugre the my love shall staye” (42). Love gives her an agency in her helplessness as she holds onto the passion that two stanzas earlier had been a metonym for her lover himself.99 As her love and her life have been torn away from each other, their meanings have been confused and strangely merged, and it is the passion of her love that generates both her helplessness and her agency, that engenders both despair and the possibility of resurrection. Through these three works, Southwell makes three claims about the Magdalene’s tears that, held together, create an uncomfortably dramatic portrait of human passion. Since her tears are those of abandonment rather than repentance, they exemplify a kind of “godly sorrow” distinct from the sorrow that leads to repentance as in 2 Corinthians 7:10. Since they are tears of female complaint, they welcome the associations of eroticism, excess, private wrongs, appeals to love, and demands for restoration. Finally, since they are tears of love, they suggest an application not simply to women but to all Christians who are called to love God with their heart, soul, mind, and strength. The boldness of these implications is particularly evident in comparison to the proliferating wave of Magdalene poems in the seventeenth century. Some poets only allow her tears to be model tears of repentance, such as Constable, Herbert, and Vaughan. For Breton, they are tears of love, loss, and abandonment, but (like Vaughan) they apply only to women. Markham, Verstegan, and Crashaw, and perhaps Alabaster to a lesser degree,

Or is it still? Perhaps it is she (“my life”) who is being driven away as the spear rips Christ’s heart [present tense], and Christ (“my love”) shall stay despite the spear’s violence [future tense], a possible foreshadowing of the resurrection. 99


allow her tears to be erotic, feminine, and unilaterally exemplary.100 Read together, these poems reveal an active dialogue across confessions as poets explore a language for eroticized passion in the mechanics of salvation and Christian devotion.

The Early Modern Planctus Mariae: The Tensions On all sides of confessional lines, poets were readier to depict the Magdalene’s eroticized sorrow as a model for repentance than for love and longing. The scene of the weeping sinful woman in Luke 7, in addition to having long medieval roots in literature and theology, connected the devotional poetry of both Protestant and Catholic reforms, both repentance and penitence.101 Even Southwell’s Catholic reception refashioned her into a more penitential mode. Catholic editions of his poems do not include “Marie Magdalens complaint at Christs death,” and they rename several of his other poems to

Since these three poets are all (to some degree) Catholic, it is tempting to associate this eroticized devotion with Catholic devotion with its emphasis on the Virgin whose Sorrows were the literary basis for the Magdalene’s complaint. A sampling of poems on the Virgin, however, proves how difficult it is to generalize devotion along confessional lines. In addition to the Catholic Southwell’s Marian sequence, “The virgin Mary to Christ on the Cross,” and “Josephs Amazement,” Richard Verstegan wrote “A reprehension of the reprehending of our ladies praise” and Thomas Lodge wrote Prosopopeia containing the teares of the holy, blessed, and sanctified Marie, the Mother of God (London, 1596). But other Marian poems are harder to define confessionally, from Henry Constable’s four poems “To our blessed Lady” and Richard Crashaw’s “Sacta Maria Dolorum” (Protestant-to-Catholic converts) to John Donne’s La Corona and Nativitie (Catholic-to-Protestant convert). Some of the authors’ confessions can only be guessed, such as the anonymous 1601 Song of Mary the Mother of Christ: containing the story of his life and passion. Furthermore, poets who remain firmly in the Protestant camp still highlight the Virgin. Despite his zealous Protestant patriotism, John Taylor wrote The life and death of the most blessed among women, the Virgin Mary mother of our Lord Iesus, and Henry Vaughan’s “The Knot” and George Herbert’s “To all Angels and Saints” both praise the Virgin. For more about Donne’s ambiguous posture toward the Virgin Mary, see George Klawitter, “John Donne’s Attitude toward the Virgin Mary: The Public versus the Private Voice,” in John Donne’s Religious Imagination: Essays in Honor of John T. Shawcross, ed. Raymond-Jean Frontain and Frances M. Malpezzi (Conway, AR: UCA Press, 1995), 122–40; for recent work on Donne’s ambiguous religious confession, see chapter two of Brooke Conti, Confessions of Faith in Early Modern England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 50–73. 100

Notably, the Prayer Book of 1549 included the feast of St. Mary Magdalene among its few feasts, for which it used the gospel reading from Luke 7 rather than a gospel that actually mentions her by name. The feast was removed altogether in 1552. Peters, Patterns of Piety, 234–35. 101


create a biographical sequence for the penitent Magdalene that mirrors that of Peter.102 Constable, a 1590s convert to Catholicism, likewise writes four sonnets “To St Mary Magdalen” among his “Spirituall sonnettes, to the honour of God: and hys saintes,” and while they use erotic language liberally they apply it to repentance, the “sweete coniunction” (14) that the espoused soul receives in the fourth sonnet after turning from “synfull passions” (6) and being instead “enamored with his dietye” (8). Even the second sonnet, the only one that mentions her tears by the sepulcher when it asks her to “ioyne thy wett eyes, with teares of my complaint, / while I sighe for that grave, for which thow cry’d” (3–4), is ultimately hoping to feel the “panges of thy repentance” (8). The tradition of the penitent Magdalene was too imbedded in the literary imagination to abandon entirely, even in poems that highlighted a different kind of tears. Protestant poets likewise gravitated toward the image of the repentant sinner who washed Christ’s feet. Herbert’s “Marie Magdalene” meditates on the irony of a sinner washing the feet of the sinless who had deigned “To bear her filth” (14), concluding with the paradoxical claim that “in washing one [Christ], she washed both [her and Christ]”

102 The St. Omer editions begin with the long Saint Peters Complaint followed by four lyrics renamed to fit a Petrine biography: “Saint Peters Peccaui” (compiled from “Davids Peccavi” and “Sinnes heavy loade”), “S. Peters Retrune home” (“Looke home”), “Saint Peters Comfort” (“Scorne not the Leaste” and “Tymes goe by turnes”) and “Saint Peters Wish” (“Life is but Losse”). After Peter’s biography, the edition provides a female counterpart. The long prose treatise S. Mary Magdalens funerall teares is similarly followed by five lyrics renamed to fit a Magdalene biography: “S. Mary Magdalens Blush,” “No Joy to liue,” “S. Mary Magdalens Traunce” (“Lew’d Love is Losse”), “S. Mary Magdalens farewell” (“From Fortunes reach”), and “At home in Heauen.” Although Robert Miola and Alison Shell, among others, have traced many ways that Protestant editors appropriate the Jesuit and “consistently suppress the Catholicity of Southwell’s work” in order to make him an “author of divine and witty poems, generally Christian, confessionally neutral,” and “a very valuable and popular commodity to the London book trade,” Catholic editors tended to shape Southwell’s corpus in the image of his continental contemporaries, making him more a penitential poet and less a complainer. Miola, “Publishing the Word,” 424; Alison Shell, Catholicism, Controversy and the English Literary Imagination, 1558–1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 61.


(18).103 Henry Vaughan, who has no trouble making Christ a weeper in his two “Jesus Weeping” or two “Mount of Olives” poems, makes the Magdalene’s tears humbly penitential while being sensuously feminine, and thus the tears of the sinful woman at the feet of Christ are a lesson in a form of repentance for which female passivity is especially suited. Learn, ladies, here the faithful cure Makes beauty lasting, fresh and pure; Learn Mary’s art of tears, and then Say, You have got the day from men. (45–48) For Vaughan, the Magdalene’s tears were a gendered form of repentance.104 Crossconfessionally, repentance was a safe space for passionate tears, and the Magdalene’s grief tended to be more subdued, humbler, and gentler than the visceral complaint of her scene by the sepulcher. Even poets who focus specifically on the Magdalene’s tears of longing at the tomb appear uncomfortable with the extremity of her grief, which leads some to apply her grief specifically to women like Vaughan did. Nicholas Breton took this approach, an obvious

As the previous chapter argued, Herbert does indeed explore complaint as a mode for Christ’s sorrows and the poet’s always imperfect imitation of them. Thus while he does not give voice to the complaint of the Magdalene, he imitates the complaint of his ever-inimitable Lord. “Good Friday” functions as the poet’s first-person complaint on Christ’s behalf, asking that “each houre / Of my whole life” may be devoured in grief so that Christ’s “distresse through all may runne, / And be my sunne” (13– 16). This is not the Magdalene asking that her heart become Christ’s tomb, but a repentant sinner asking that his heart be lodging for “Thy whips, thy nails, thy wounds, thy woes” (26). Even in “Sepulchre” when the poet draws a tacit analogy to the Magdalene by searching for Christ’s body, his ultimate sorrow is one of repentance not longing, lamenting that stony human hearts show their spaciousness in the multitude of sins lodged there and yet leave Christ without. 103

In “Anguish,” the poet gets a little closer to imitating female complaint, desiring to “weep blood” (7) as we saw the Virgin frequently doing in medieval complaints, suggesting a possible pun on the Mother of God in his final entreaty for the grace to allow his spirit “To act as well as to conceive” (18). But in contrast to Herbert, even Vaughan’s Christ is not a complainer even when he weeps. In “Jesus Weeping” (I) Christ’s tears are the “live-dew” (14) on the parched earth that cause it to yield the thorns that will crown his passion, and in “Jesus Weeping” (II) they are the “healing tears! the tears of love!” (10) that grieve for Lazarus’s death before reliving him, demonstrating that “thou art all grief and love” (22) and setting an example of mirth within grief. 104


choice as he was writing under the patronage of a woman: Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, the sister of Sir Philip Sidney. These poems provide a thematic unity between his devotional verse and the Petrarchan complaints of his lyrics in compilations such as Brittons Bowre of Delights (1591) and The Arbor of Amorous Devices (1597), but they oddly spiritualize the Magdalene’s longing to remove the uncomfortable eroticism of her passion, strangely defeminizing the saint they present as a model for women. In his prose treatise Marie Magdalens Loue (1595), printed four years after the publication of Mary Magdalens Funerall Teares and the year of the publication of Saint Peters Complaint, he presents the Magdalene as a model for how “grace [did] so woork in her looue” and “how faith vvrought in her affection” (A6r).105 Creating a twist on Calvin’s criticism of her feminine weakness, Breton commends “the strong effects of loue” that made “A woman in nature feareful” become “now vailiant,” which demonstrates “the force of loue in the elect” (A8r). Importantly, he distinguishes the “teares of sorrowe, as when Peter had denied Christ” from Mary’s “teares of Loue” (E3r), emphasizing love over the literary tradition of repentance. Because this love allowed the naturally fearful woman to become valiant, she is an exemplar for all women to become less feminine at least in so far as her valiance by the tomb is masculine, and Breton interjects toward the end of the treatise, “O would to God that all women woulde learne this Modestie of Mary!” (D8v).

Similarly, his Auspicante Jehoua (1597), a devotional guide dedicated to the Countess of Pembroke and addressed “to the ladies and Gentlewomen Reeders,” Breton offers a prayer in imitation of the Magdalene’s constancy of love at the sepulcher. The prayer asks for the grace to imitate Mary’s passionate pursuit of Christ. “In sorrow she sought thee,” Breton writes, “in humility she loued thee, & in loue shee found thee: yea, aliue shee loued thee, dead, shee mourned for thee, buried she sought thee: and risen she found thee” (D2v); likewise, the prayer asks that the speaker not “bee satisfied with any thing till I be filled with thy loue: let mee weepe at thy graue, that I may ioy in thy grace; & so mourne for thy absence, that I may reioice in thy presence” (D3r–v). 105


Breton continues this use of the Magdalene as a restrained model for female love in his poetry. In The Blessed VVeeper (1601), the poet begins in a typical complaint trope, encountering the weeping Magdalene by the tomb as “she in bitter teares / Bewail’d the losse, or lacke of her deere loue,” and recounting “The whole discourse, her passions seem’d to moue” (D4v). Her lament is strongly Southwellian as she remembers when she had been “the out-cast of all grace, / And banisht for my sinne, from heauenly blisse” (E1r), but as Breton had emphasized in his prose, her tears are of love rather than sorrow for sin. The Magdalene at the sepulcher demands her hearers to “let me weepe, and neuer make an end,” justifying her tears by her loss of “the Vesture of that vertues grace,” “the beautie, of that blessed face,” and “the ioyes, that heauens were glad to winne” (E1v). But as Breton makes her a model for the sorrow of love, he avoids explicitly erotic references; the Magdalene calls Christ her Father, her Lord, and her brother (E1v–E3r) rather than her lover or paramour; the closest she gets to erotic terms is to call him “My Lord, my Loue, my life, my King and God” (E4r). While she does end the poem with her “soule in rauisht ioy,” she is content to accept Christ’s command not to hold onto him, saying “I will not presse one foote beyond the line / Of thy loues leaue.” The reunion is spiritual at the expense of the physical; she asks him to “vouchsafe me but a looke / Of that sweete heauenly holy eye of thine, / Of my deere Loue the euer-liuing Booke” (F3v), reading rather than touching. As in his prose, Breton applies the de-eroticized model of excessive passion particularly to women, wishing in the final line that “all women might such VVeepers be” (F4r). From the Magdalene, women are to learn abundant but modest tears, tears that flow from a spiritual longing that can be consummated not with flesh but with the gaze of “the euer-liuing Booke.”


Despite the feminine readership for his Magdalene poems, many of Breton’s other devotional poems depict a seemingly male speaker who seeks to follow her example. In the voice of a presumably male speaker, the eroticized language of female complaint is more frequent, though the ultimate consummation the languishing speaker seeks is always spiritual. In The Passion of a Discontented Minde (1601), he desires “To play a poore lamenting Mawdlines part, / That would weepe streames of blood to be forgiuen” (B1v), a merging of the penitential Magdalene tradition with that of the medieval complaints of the Virgin who wept blood at the passion.106 As the speaker seeks penitential tears, he imitates the Magdalene’s tears of love “When she had lost thy presence but one day” (C1v), and he ultimately longs for the tears to approach Christ “as the wife that hath her husband wronged / …And say, My King, my Lord, and Spouse most meeke” (D1r). Likewise in his Excellent Poeme, vpon the longing of a blessed heart: which loathing the world, doth long to be with Christ (1601), the poet aspires “In absence of the obiect of affection: / And longing for the substance of reliefe” to imitate the Magdalene who “would not cease” weeping “vntill her loue might haue / Her longd fruite on which her spirit fed” (D1v). The Passions of the Sprit (1599) is perhaps the most eroticized of his devotional complaints, though it spiritualizes the fulfilment of the poet’s longing not only outside the carnal but outside the world altogether. The poet calls Christ “My dearest loue / that dearest bought my loue, / My onely life / by whom I onely liue,” and waxes romantic as he

This penitential poem is highly influenced by Saint Peters Complaint, turning Peter’s own penitential rhetoric to himself when he berates himself as worse than the “Thrise happy sinner…Who though he fell with puffe of womans blast” obtained grace through his tears, while the wretched speaker “haue falne of mine accord, / Thenne thousands times against the liuing Lord” (B2v); or again, “He solde him once, that once for gaine was done, / I oftentimes, yet lesse then nothing wonne” (B3r). Ultimately, the speaker eventually corrects Peter’s incomplete contrition by asserting that “Repentance surely is but vaine, / Without full purpose, not to sinne againe” (B4r). 106


remembers, “My loue is fayer / and fayrer then the sunne, / Which hath his light / but from his fayrest loue” (A8v). The speaker justifies the grief with a four-part blazon of Christ’s beautiful feet, hands, head, and fruit that are pierced and bleeding, concluding with the typical justification of complaint: “Who doth not dye / with such a sorrow reading?” (B2r). Many of his images sound corporeal, such as when he wishes his own soul to be the tomb that swallows Christ as the fish had swallowed Jonah (B8r), to “wash / his body with my teares” (C3r), to “striue with Ioseph for the course” (C3v), “To kisse the body / where it lies intombed” (C4v), and to “sit / with Mary at the graue” (C6v). But despite the corporeal analogies, the speaker longs for a reunion that is spiritual; he wants to hold Christ in his soul as the tomb or fish, and as “Ionas left the sea / and came to land, / And Iesus from the earth / to heauen ascended” (B8r), the poet desires to follow Christ to a heavenly, spiritual consummation, omitting any images of Christ’s resurrected flesh. At the conclusion of the third canto halfway through the poem, he finds comfort in the promise that the soul “That for his loue / who sorrows heere so sore, / Shall ioy in heauen, / and neuer sorrow more” (D3v), and the second half of the poem is devoted to praise of heavenly joys. When the Magdalene is not a model for repentance or feminine modesty, she is a model for spiritual consummation.

The Early Modern Planctus Mariae: The Legacy Despite these early tensions between the Magdalene as a model of repentance or of love, a model for women or for all Christians, many early poets followed this devotional emphasis on the Magdalene’s passionate, excessive, feminine grief as a model for all Christians. While one might expect Protestants to be wary of her feminine excess, eroticized spirituality, currency of tears, agency in complaint, and apparent frailty of 255

faith, poets on both sides of confessional lines depict these traits. Catholic poets are hardly uniform in their treatment of the Magdalene; William Alabaster and Richard Verstegan, for example, depict a similar agency in her complaint, but vary on the extent to which the reunion it achieves is spiritual or physical. The serial convert Alabaster includes a sonnet “Upon Christ’s Saying to Mary ‘Why Weepest Thou?’” among his sonnets about the passion, likely written around his initial 1597 conversion to Catholicism. This Magdalene describes Christ as “my soul’s life” and “my heart’s life” who “out of my heart his fled” (2–3). Importantly, this relationship of dependency gives her tears the agency to “after him fast run / To seek Christ out” (9–10). But in the case of Alabaster, the longed-for consummation seems to be spiritual rather than physical, a reencounter with “his grace” as “beams [that] reflect upon my rainbow’s dew” until “in my heart I feel his love to burn” (13–14). Verstegan’s “Complaint of S. Marie Magdalen. At her not fynding Christ in his sepulchre,” on the other hand, likewise depicts an efficacious complaint, but they gain a reunion that links spiritual and physical bodies.107 As she anoints his grave with her tears since she cannot anoint his body with her ointment, she hopes that her weeping “may him moue, / His presence to imparte” (90). The conjunction she seeks with the dead Christ is a spiritual one that requires his physical body; if the gardener is too troubled to make room for his body, she proposes that “My harte shalbe his toombe,” and on this metaphorical tomb he may “wryte, / This epitaph in verse, / Heer lyf that lately lay for dead. / Liues and reuyues his hearse” (90). Her

107 This is not to depict Verstegan as a Christian dualist; Paul Arblaster has written about Verstegan’s indebtedness to Southwell and the Ignatian tradition, especially in its embrace of the human senses as supports for interior devotion. See Antwerp & the World: Richard Verstegan and the International Culture of Catholic Reformation (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2004), especially 80–82 and 194–96.


heart is the place where spiritual conjunction and resurrection happens, but the reunion requires the physical body. Other poets embrace the potential eroticism of the Magdalene’s position as an abandoned lover more strongly, such as the 110-stanza Saint Marie Magdalens conuersion, printed from a secret Catholic press in 1603 by the poet I.C. This poem introduces itself as “A womans conquest of her one affects, / A womans warre with her selfe-appetite” (A3r), and half of the poem is devoted to her scene by the sepulcher. True to the title, the early part of the poem is the Magdalene’s complaint against herself for her sin reminiscent of Southwell’s Peter, sin that was ultimately conquered through the love Christ introduced into her heart. Even her conversion is presented as a complaint in which “Her soule within her holdes a parlament” (B3v) as she knocks “asham’d at mercies gate” (B3r), pleading for the mercy of an unconvinced Savior. After a series of eulogies to her tears and Christ’s love which “within her brest infoldes” (B4v), the poem moves to her presence at the cross which “shee imbraceth in her twisted armes, / Mixing her salt teares with his luke-warme bloude” before delivering eighteen stanzas of complaint. The complaint begins directed to Christ, “my Lord, my Love, my Soules delight” (C2r) to whom she justifies her grief and offers a bloody blazon to the “wonderfull effectes, of wonderous loue” (C2v) that she cannot help but weep to see. The narrator ends with her scene on Easter morning when “her stout harte” ignored the perils of the soldiers because “Loue made her strong, although herselfe were weake, / Loue gaue swifte winges vnto her quicke desire, / Loue added fire to her former heat” (C4v). She delivers only four lines of complaint against the envy of the Jews whom she assumes stole Christ’s body before the angels appear and tell her to “cease her sad complaintes and heauy moane” (D1r), and the poem comes to a rapid, anticlimactic resolution after the long build-up. 257

Because love is the driving force of the poem, the poet ends with a eulogy to her tears for love in which the poet asks, “lett my soule bee wedded to thy loue” like hers and “Thy louing sweetnes lett me not forgete” (D2r). In her passionate love that burns in her like an internal fire, the Magdalene is an example for all Christians to follow in their pursuit of Christ. While the Catholic Alabaster, Verstegan, and I.C. presented the Magdalene’s passion as a model for all Christians to follow, they were outdone erotically by the Protestant Gervase Markham’s full-scale embrace of female complaint. Markham is certainly a likely candidate for literary complaint, most known for his prose completion of Sidney’s Arcadia in 1607 and 1613, a prose work filled with pastoral complaints. The preface of Mary Magdalen's lamentations for the loss of her master (1601, 1604) situates the poem in complaint by “Exciting Collin in his graver Muse” (A4v), and the protagonist uses the language of a female complainant, crying out from “The deepest passion of true burning love / That any love-sicke heart possest,” and hearkens to Verlame in the Ruines of Time as she laments that “My Lord is dead, to vvhom my soule did live” (B1v). The closest she gets to repentance in the poem is her regret that she had ever left the tomb long enough for someone to steal the body, but even then her complaint smacks of accusations against Christ for abandoning her, and as in the medieval pseudo-Chaucerian complaint she finds agency in bequeathing her bones to his sepulcher. Like Southwell’s Magdalene whose love merges Christ’s life with hers, Markham’s Magdalene insists that “I am not vvhere I am, but vvith my love” because her “Love is more strong than life-destroying


death” (C4r).108 Like Calvin and like Southwell’s narrator, Markham’s angels initially accuse the Magdalene of declining from her “manly courage” and stooping to become “now so much a vvoman” that she cannot “bid thine eies from teares be staide” (D1r). But like Mary Magdalens Funerall Teares, the preface introduces the poem as an example of weeping “When the excesse no fault or errour showes” (A4v), and like Southwell’s Magdalene she justifies her sorrow in Christ’s identity when she urges them to “thinke to vvhom my sorrow is enclining, / And beare vvith my poore love-bound miserie” (D2v). Even after the appearance of the resurrected Christ, she is not content only to look at him because, as she explains, “love, in nature coveteth / To be united, yea transformed vvhole / Out of it selfe into the thing it loveth” (F4v). All the key facets of Southwell’s Magdalene complaints are present: the motifs of female complaint, accusations of abandonment, merging of identities, and justification of excess that make her a feminine a model for all Christians. Furthermore, although Markham occasionally hints at applying the Magdalene’s sepulcher tears to women or to repentance, the poem as a whole amounts to a vindication of human passion directed by divine love reminiscent of Southwell by whom it is directly influenced. In his preface he says that “Marie shewes to maids and matrones both, / How they should weepe and decke their rose-like cheekes,” initially setting up the Magdalene as an example for women in particular. Additionally, he describes her “Repentant sighes” and “penitent tears” (A3v) that “tell the manner of her hearts repent” and “plead pardon for amiss” (A4v), and the conclusion exhorts Christian souls to “take

108 The live/love pairing is very common in Southwell, not only in “Marie Magdalens complaint at Christs death that says “I live not where I love” but in other poems such as “I dye alive” that declares “Not where I breath, but where I love, I live.” Cf. Song 8:6.


Marie to thy mirrour” in order to “Learn sinfull man of this once sinfull vvoman, / That sinners may find Christ, vvhich sin abandon” (H1r) and “That love recovereth him, that sinne did lose” (H2r). In keeping with the logic of the poem, however, the preface and conclusion are more concerned with justifying “Maries teares, contemned” which “long have slept, / As jems unpriz’d” (A3v), and the primary lesson she teaches is “who it is her matchlesse mourning seekes” (A4v), bringing the moral back to the passion of abandonment. Markham’s final exhortation is not to women only but to the Christian soul to “follow her in like affections fervour” (H1v) and to learn the efficacious power of her “Continued teares of constant love” (H2r). The lesson of Mary’s tears is centrally one of passionate love that applies to all Christian souls.

Epilogue: The All-Purpose Weeper The Magdalene remained an important figure in the English literary tradition, and whether complainant or penitent she was always a weeper. Even while the ensuing poetry of tears emphasized the sorrow of repentance, the Magdalene’s tears remained connected to love.109 Nowhere is this link between tears and love in devotional poetry more evident than in Richard Crashaw’s poetry, mostly written before his conversion to Catholicism in or before 1645.110 In fact, while “The Weeper” is perhaps the most iconic

For other seventeenth-century examples, see Thomas Robinson, The Life and Death of Mary Magdalene: A Legendary Poem in Two Parts, ed. H. Oskar Sommer (London: Early English Text Society, 1899); William Drummond, “For the Magdalene,” in Flovvers of Sion (Edinburgh, 1623). 109

Nandra Perry in fact uses a “highly sensual ‘sacramentalist’ worldview” as a lens that “posits charity (rather than faith) as the ultimate epistemological tool” throughout Crashaw’s poetry. Though it is an uncommon argument, it should be noted that Clifford Davidson argues for situating Crashaw’s poetry with the theology and devotion of the established church in England. Perry, “‘Tis Heav’n She Speakes’: Lady Religion, Saint Teresa, and the Politics of Ceremony in the Poetry of Richard Crashaw,” Religion and 110


example of the early modern poetry of tears—“the epitome of…fascination with the Magdalene,” in Linda Jacobs’s words—it is surprisingly void of references to sin and contrition.111 Not only would it fail as a guide to true penitence as did Saint Peters Complaint; it does not even depict remorse. Liberal in his use of Petrarchan and Southwellian imagery, beginning with the opening paradox that asks whether the Magdalene is “a Flaming Fountain, or a Weeping fire,” the poet eulogizes the beauty of her tears without explaining them.112 In fact, for a poet associated with the European baroque and the penitential tradition, Crashaw’s corpus is surprisingly barren of penitential poems.113 His Magdalene is a figure not of Christian repentance but of passionate love, love that is directly connected to Christ and the Virgin in his other poems, similar to his Protestant contemporary Joseph Beaumont’s treatment in “S. Mary Magdalen’s Ointment.”114 In this way, Crashaw uses the Magdalene to link human passion with divine, deploying startlingly erotic images that present feminine excess as a

Literature 38.2 (2006), 2; Davidson, “The Anglican Setting of Richard Crashaw’s Devotional Verse,” The Ben Jonson Journal 8 (2001): 259–76. This complicates Gary Kuchar’s assertion that “‘The Weeper’ is a patient exploration of the kind of saturated phenomenon that Southwell’s St. Peter experiences before Christ.” It may be that, but Crashaw opens up other possibilities of interpretation through his ambiguity. Poetry of Religious Sorrow, 78; Linda L. Jacobs, “The Image of Mary Magdalene in Seventeenth-Century Poetry,” Publications of the Mississippi Philological Association (1987), 63. 111

112 References to Crashaw’s longer poems are cited by stanza number as they are given in the Williams edition, mostly taken from the 1652 edition of Steps to the Temple. His epigrams are cited by poem and line number.

For a traditional study of Crashaw’s baroque characteristics, see Austin Warren, Richard Crashaw: A Study in Baroque Sensibility (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1939). 113

The opening stanza of Beaumont’s poem introduces love, not repentance—“Forbid her not, nor ask a reason why. / She is in Love / And means to prove / The Sacred Boldnes of Love’s Mysterie”—and toward the end the poet praises her immoderate love—“Courage Lovers: Jesus will allow / Your Noble Passion / Immoderation, / Who was excessive in His Love to you.” 114


model for all Christians who are called to respond to the superabundance of Christ’s passionate love.115 In “The Weeper,” Crashaw distances himself from the penitential tradition by almost entirely obscuring any specific indications of which phase of the Magdalene hagiography he is eulogizing. The weeper could be crying tears at the home of the Pharisee in Luke 7, at the death of Lazarus in John 11, or at the sepulcher in John 20. The most obvious connection to the penitential sinner is the final couplet in which her tears “goe to meet / A worthy object, our Lord’s Feet” (XXXI), but rather than specifying a scene from the Magdalene biography this statement merges all three, for the Magdalene weeps at Jesus’s feet in all three scenes.116 The only specific reference to the penitential sinner in the home of Simon the Pharisee, added in the 1652 version, describes the “two faithfull fountaines” of her eyes that follow Christ “where’re he strayes, / Among the Galilean mountaines, / Or more unwellcome wayes,” asking rhetorically “What Prince’s wanton’st pride e’re could / Wash with Sylver, wipe with Gold” (XIX– XX). While the washing with silver and wiping with gold refers to the bath of tears and the towel of (iconically blond) hair in Luke, they do not imply that the event is occurring at that moment.117 On the contrary, the fact that the faithful fountains of her eyes are

As Sarah McNamer asserts in her study on the development of medieval compassion, “to perform compassion…is to feel like a woman.” Affective Meditation, 3. 115

Connecting the Easter Magdalene to both tears and Jesus’s feet requires some merging of the gospel narratives, as we have already seen both Catholic and Protestant authors doing liberally. In Mark and Luke the women are going to the tomb specifically to anoint Jesus’s body (and thus his feet); in John the Magdalene lingers weeping by the empty tomb and encounters Jesus who tells her not to hold onto him; in Matthew the resurrected Jesus appears to the women who respond by grabbing hold of his feet. 116

For the observation of the significance of this line in connecting “The Weeper” of 1652 to the sinful woman in Luke 7, I am indebted to Jacob Riyeff’s essay “Reaffirming the Penitential Tradition: Richard Crashaw’s Second Weeper,” currently submitted for publication. 117


following him wherever he goes refers to the explicit reference to the Magdalene in Luke 8, after the event in the home of Simon the Pharisee, when Jesus “went throughout euery city and village preaching” followed by the twelve disciples and a handful of women including Mary Magdalene.118 Furthermore, the “more unwellcome wayes” can refer to the passion, of which Matthew, Mark, and John include the Magdalene as a spectator, or to his tomb, where all four gospels place the Magdalene on Easter morning. Crashaw creates a calculated ambiguity that allows “The Weeper” to praise the tears of the Magdalene as a whole, not specifically her tears of repentance. In the absence of specific references to sin and penitence, “The Weeper” is a eulogy to tears of love, from the love that Christ acknowledged of the sinful woman in Luke 7 all the way to the love that kept the Magdalene weeping by the tomb after the disciples left in John 20.119 Crashaw piles conceit upon conceit as he praises the beauty of her eyes—the “sister springs,” “thawing crystall” (I), “Heavens of ever-falling starres” (II)—and the “milky rivers” of tears they produce that fall upwards (IV).120 These tears are breakfast for Cherubs (V), water for divinity, and wine for angels (XII). They are indeed tears of sorrow, of “Sweetnesse so sad, sadnesse so sweet” (VI), but they are also “Balsom…for their own griefe” (X), a paradox that produces a “sweet Contest; of woes / With loves, of teares with smiles disputing” (XVI). In a conceit that is both Petrarchan

In Crashaw’s epigram “Mat. 28. Come see the place where the Lord lay,” the Magdalene asks the angel to show her “Which way my poore Tears to himselfe may goe” (49.2). It is always her tears that pursue him. 118

Even in the medieval hymns that emphasized the Magdalene as the Peccatrix, her love was always a point of emphasis. See Szövérffy, “Peccatrix,” 116. 119

120 Mario Praz connects these and similar images to continental baroque poems. The Flaming Heart: Essays on Crashaw, Machiavelli, and Other Studies in the Relations between Italian and English Literature from Chaucer to T. S. Eliot (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1958), 218–27.


and strongly Southwellian, Crashaw describes the tears as “fair Flouds” that are paradoxically “Friends with the bosom fires that fill thee,” paradoxical forces of floods and fires that are “Mixt and made friends by loue’s sweet powres” (XVII). Like the Christ child in “The Burning Babe,” the Magdalene’s tears emerge from the burning love within her bosom, and thus they pour lavishly. Later Crashaw calls her a “pretious Prodigall” and a “Fair spend-thrift of thy self,” because her “measure / (Mercilesse love!) is all” (XXII). With no references to sin and compunction, the Magdalene in her complete biography becomes an exquisitely beautiful model for insatiably consuming love. When Crashaw’s Magdalene takes her part in the poetry of tears not as a penitent but as a lover, her tears are comparable to the tears of the other Mary and of Christ, a sorrow not out of remorse but of reflexive love. Crashaw often compares Christ’s wounds to tears, especially in his epigram “On the wounds of our crucified Lord” when he calls the wounds “a blood-shot eye!” that weeps “Ruby-Teares / Which thou in Pearles did’st lend” (45.7, 19, 20), reminiscent of the “proudest pearles” the weeper gives to Queen Sorrow (VII). Again, in “Upon the bleeding crucifix a song,” the poet compares Christ’s wounds to tears, asking “What need thy fair head bear a part / In showres, as if thine eyes had none?” These showers are likewise linked to fires in his heart as they “help to drown thy heart, / That strives in torrents of it’s own” (II). Crashaw’s free translation and expansion of the Latin hymn Vexilla Regis likewise anatomizes Christ’s love that pours from his wounds, diverging from the Latin original does not; for Crashaw, Christ’s wounds are “streames of life, from that full nest / Of loues, thy lord’s too liberall brest,” reminiscent of the Magdalene’s spend-thrift tears, and he “transfer’d [the] smart” of the languishing soul “to his own heart” in an almost maternal fashion (II). Christ’s love is 264

“greedy of such sad gain,” and thus the nails and spear deliver only “wounds of love” (III) and the cross becomes a “Larg throne of love” (V).121 Even death itself proves to be “weigh’d more light then love” (VI), and in the final encomium the poet praises “The Lamb whom his own love hath slain” (VIII). The rich conceits that praise the Magdalene’s loving tears are beautiful precisely because they imitate the love of Christ’s wounds. In fact, when the Magdalene’s tears are understood not as penitence but as the ultimate response of love that reflects the anguish of Christ’s passion, her complaint is the culmination of the medieval planctus Mariae, a full participation in the mutual sufferings of mother and son open to all human readers. In “Sancta Maria Dolorum,” Crashaw’s freely expanded translation or “Patheticall descant upon the devout Plainsong” of the Latin hymn Stabat Mater Dolorosa, this participation is explicit. From the first stanza the Virgin is depicted in her compassion, as “Each wound of His, from every Part” are “more at home in her owne heart” (I). Mother and son share “a faithfull, mutuall, floud” as “Her eyes bleed Teares, his wounds weep Blood” (II), and with uncomfortably carnal imagery the two “Discourse alternate wounds to one another.” Crashaw uses the image of Simeon’s prophecy of a sword piercing Mary’s soul to an uncomfortably bodily, almost phallic, extreme. His Nailes write swords in her, which soon her heart Payes back, with more then their own smart; Her Swords, still growing with his pain, Turn Speares, and straight come home again. (III)

121 In another epigram, “In Cicatrices Domini Jesu,” Crashaw follows this imagery by calling the wounds of the resurrected Christ “Mighty love’s Artillery”; the wounds are “passive weapons…That made great Love a man of warre” (50.2, 5, 6).


In their grief, the mother and son mutually penetrate each other with grief, with emotional and physical wounds, and her maternal relationship is completed as Christ reenters her bosom with pain. Despite the Virgin’s unique relationship to Christ as his mother, however, the poet is emboldened to recline his heart in her “noblest nest / Both of love’s fires and flouds” where he will doubtless prove the “Soft subject for the siege of love” (V). Again, as in “The Weeper,” there is no discussion of sin, only of the consuming passion of love that expresses itself in floods of tears, tears that are a direct imitation of the son’s wounds. The poet asks the Mother of Sorrows to “teach those wounds to bleed / In me” in order that he may “read / This book of loves, thus writ / In lines of death” and thus his “life may coppy it” (VI), when his breast catches “the kisse of some kind dart, / Though as at second hand, from either heart” (VII). The Virgin’s participation in Christ’s passion allows the poet likewise to participate, imitating the passions of her tears since he cannot imitate his wounds. Ultimately, this participation is what the Magdalene’s complaint provides, a human participation in Christ’s passion made mutual by her femininity. She models a soul who, as the poet says, may “deferr / To bleed with him” but will “fail not to weep with her” (IX). With the eroticism of the medieval tradition of the Song of Songs as a foundation, the poet asks the Virgin to “teach mine too the art / To study him so, till we mix / Wounds; and become one crucifix” (X), a carnal image of love’s consummation with strong sexual undertones.122 The poet furthermore hearkens to familiar motifs in medieval sacred art when he asks to “suck the wine / So long of this chast vine,” an

122 For the medieval exegetical and literary tradition of the Song of Songs, see Astell, Song of Songs; see also Warner, Alone of All Her Sex, 121–33.


image that is both Eucharistic and maternal.123 Through Christ’s participation in human passion, human passion participates in Christ, a reciprocal relationship wherein the human sucks from Christ as he once sucked from his mother, wherein Christ penetrates the human heart as he once did the womb of his mother. The Magdalene’s complaint in its excessive femininity is the path all Christians must follow into the superabundant passionate love of Christ, distinctly feminine but not as unattainable as the Virgin, as Christine Peters argues.124 The Magdalene, like the Canaanite woman in Crashaw’s epigram, exhibits in her relentless passion a faith that is “more than grammatically feminine” (183.4). Thus while the Marian controversies of the sixteenth century closed off some expressions of feminine devotion from cross-confessional discourse, a seeming masculinization of piety, they surprisingly opened up others. As the Magdalene became the most iconized figure for imaginative entries into the passions of a female lover of Christ, she opened a discourse between poets as individuals, not as adherents to particular confessions. In the context of devotional complaint, the Magdalene was the culmination of a discourse about human passion that intrigued early modern poets as they imagined

123 Scholars have often highlighted sexual undertones in this image when it appears in Crashaw’s most infamous epigram, “Luke 11. Blessed be the paps which Thou hast sucked”: “Hee’l have his Teat e’re long (a bloody one) / The Mother then must suck the Son” (17.3–4). William Empson asserted the potential perverted imagery “in the notion of sucking a long bloody teat which is also a deep wound,” but the image remains both uncomfortable and traditional, and Maureen Sabine’s interpretation is much more immediate: “that Christ nourishes man in the Eucharistic Sacrifice not only out of divine obedience to his Father, but in human emulation of his mother.” R. V. Young allows for both the shock and orthodoxy when he explains, “The grotesque wit of ‘Tabled at thy Teates’ and the overt sensuality of the mother sucking the Son are a deliberate and pointed means of stressing the radical and shocking transformation of every aspect of day-to-day life by the fact of the Incarnation.” Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity, 280; Sabine, Feminine Engendered Faith, xv; Young, Richard Crashaw and the Spanish Golden Age (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982), 25. 124

Peters, Patterns of Piety, 237.


passion as a point of access to Christ. Could complaint be a place of redemption even when it left the complainant in suspense, even when it did not bring the immediate consolation of justification, even when it came from the mouths of sinners, even when it was strangely analogous to but different from Christ’s, even when it did not emerge from a sorrow from sin, even when it was seemingly excessive, even when it was downright feminine? The fact that early modern poets freely explored these questions is telling in and of itself: clearly they allowed passions into the realm of mystery rather than relegating them only to a fixed systematic framework that could be exhausted in a careful doctrinal or philosophical treatise. The fact that this dialogue remained inclusive and tailored to individual poets is even more telling: clearly they were not attempting to find consensus. In an intense period of life-and-death theological controversy, the mutual exploration of devotional complaint provided a place of dialogue about matters fundamental to the human soul’s relationship to Christ. In devotional complaint, battle-weary English poets found solace in suspension.



Why shouldst Thou forget us eternally? Or leave us thus long in this misery? Restore us, Lord, to Thee, that so we may Return, and as of old, renew our day. For oughtest Thou, O Lord, despise us thus, And to be utterly enraged at us? John Donne, “The Lamentations of Jeremy” (385–90) John Donne’s verse translation of the book of Lamentations, the Hebrew poem that was commonly understood in the early modern period as the biblical model of the complaint mode, ends with an unsettling hint of accusation.1 The prophet Jeremiah (or Jeremy) asks rhetorically, “oughest Thou, O Lord, despise us thus, / And to be utterly enraged at us?” On the one hand, the question is a fair translation of Donne’s selfdeclared source for the poem, the Latin of Immanuel Tremellius. Tremellius concludes the biblical poem by asking Nam an omnino sperneres nos, sceres contra nos admodum?—a fairly ambiguous subjunctive that could be translated a number of ways. Donne’s decision to use obligation, thus questioning the aptness of the Lord’s seeming cruelty, is especially telling in light of the fact that it is peculiar to the Tremellius Latin. Donne is after all not a faithful adherent to Tremellius whom he only claims to follow “for the most part,” and

1 For the early modern references to Lamentations as a biblical complaint, see Barbara Lewalski, Milton’s Brief Epic: The Genre, Meaning, and Art of Paradise Regained (Providence: Brown University Press, 1966).


in many other places he veers in favor of other translations, both Protestant and Catholic.2 In the Geneva, Vulgate, Douay-Rheims, and Authorized Version, the prophet ends in the indicative, stating matter-of-factly that “thou hast vtterly reiected vs: thou art exceedingly angry against vs” (Lam. 5:22). In fact, the Geneva commentators use the plea for restoration as an indicator of the Calvinist doctrine that “it is not in mans power to turne to God, but is onely his worke to conuert vs, and thus God worketh in vs, before wee can turne to him.” Yet while picking-and-choosing between different translations in the rest of the complaint, Donne preferred the subjunctive of his stated source and Englished it with accusation. The suggestion is not only that God might be unjust, but that his creature could point out such unbecoming qualities. Donne ends nearly four hundred lines of biblical verse complaint with a potentially audacious question that casts suspicion upon God’s severity of justice even when, as in the case of Lamentations, it is directed toward sin. The question is left suspended, and the reader never hears a response. In this case, it is God who is the intended recipient, whom the poem’s affective qualities are (contra the Geneva commentary) an assertive effort to move. Appropriately so. Donne was after all writing a devotional complaint, characteristically audacious, pushy, passionate, and suspended. This study has shown that complaint was not only a popular lyric mode but also an increasingly appealing devotional voice for English poets, one that embraced suspension, eschewed consolation,

For discussions of Donne’s sources for his verse translation, see Hilaire Kallendorf, “Teras in the Desert: Baroque Adaptations of the Book of Lamentations by John Donne and Francisco de Quevedo,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 39 (2009), 31–42; Ted-Larry Pebworth, “John Donne’s ‘Lamentations’ and Christopher Fetherstone’s Lamentations…in prose and meeter (1587),” in Wrestling with God: Literature and Theology in the English Renaissance, ed. Mary Ellen Henley and W. Speed Hill (Vancouver: Henley, 2001), 85–98; Graham Roebuck, “Donne’s Lamentations of Jeremy Reconsidered,” John Donne Journal 10 (1991), 37–44. 2


and poured out the full fury of human passions into poetic prayer. In the example of Donne and the other poets we have seen, this devotional impulse could be downright biblical; but as the Geneva commentators demonstrate, even biblical passionate piety could be alternatively moderated behind a theological impulse to adapt passion into a more neatly defined doctrinal position. Devotional complaint resists that neatness and incites imaginative exploration into places where the doctrinal solutions do not suffice. What if, after all, we know it is in God’s power to convert us, and yet from all appearances he has despised and rejected us, despite our God-given desire to convert? Perhaps we should follow the suffering servant who was despised and rejected and yet opened not his mouth…but what if he did open his mouth? What if Christ’s words on the cross exhibit the human passions we feel, and what if our passion can follow him? English poets, both Catholic and Protestant, seem to have imagined the possibility. This study began as an attempt to follow a particular strand of a poetic mode in the early modern period. In doing so, it has revealed the limitations of genre theory and the erratic nature of the initial strand it sought to follow. In the process, it has revealed many somewhat revisionist surprises: Spenser was more comfortable with following a Catholic poet’s suspension than he was a Protestant poet’s triumphalism; Southwell was less interested in the baroque penitential poetry with which he is associated than his Protestant imitators were; many religious early modern English tears poets were more interested in erotics than in penitence; poets were more willing to explore Christ as a pitiful figure than theologians were; Mary Magdalene was not as much a penitential figure for early modern poets as she was an abandoned lover; poets were willing to admire and seek to imitate feminine passion, even as it made them uncomfortable. Even if these claims seem revisionist, they do not contradict prevailing assumptions about early 271

modern doctrinal controversy and the theology of the passions; rather, they are more interesting because they are often in tension with the poet’s own doctrinal stance. Furthermore, even in light of that tension, this study does not argue for a renegade strain in English intellectual and theological culture that countered ecclesial or social norms as much as it does for a culture of discourse. Passions were not clearly defined, and this amorphousness allowed for a surprising degree of theological conversation among poets who may otherwise seem doctrinally opposed. In that way, the pervasiveness of early modern devotional complaint reveals the lengths to which poets, caught up in their own political and religious uncertainties, were willing to stretch imaginatively even as they stayed within their own doctrinal orthodoxies. Since Southwell is a keystone of this movement, he is an appropriate figure with which to end this study. The Ignatian dictum that used all things for the greater glory of God, especially the aesthetics of the country he secretly infiltrated in anticipation of martyrdom, both triggered this movement and set its tone. Human agony, anger, indignation, and sorrow were welcome to navigate their place in devotion in hopes that they could draw the soul to the noblest passion of love. In that context, Southwell mostly set aside doctrinal controversy in favor of suspension, trusting that the soul that was affectively provoked would find its way to its source. Because he was not afraid of suspension, Southwell could even entertain Protestant suspicions of the Virgin Mary’s sinlessness by writing a complaint from the perspective of her betrothed Joseph who once had good reason to doubt her purity. “Josephes Amazement” shows Christ’s soon-to-be foster father “wrought with divers fittes of feare and love” (5) when he discovers the pregnancy of his beloved, and the poem never gives the pitiful lover the consolation of the angel’s message in Matthew 1. Instead, it provides 84 lines of the wretched man “warring 272

with himselfe” (35) as he refuses to condemn her, resolves to leave her, but ultimately cannot go—after all, “who can fly from that his harte doth feele” (73)? The reader is meant to feel the drama of the scene, even while knowing as the Joseph of the poem never does that Mary’s virginity is unstained, because the reader must ultimately make a choice to face or flee uncertainty. The poem ends with the speaker in haunting “amazement”: Yett still I tredd a maze of doubtfull end I goe I come she drawes she drives away She woundes she heales she doth both marr and mend She makes me seeke and shunn depart and stay She is a frende to love a foe to lothe And in suspence I hange betwene them both (79–84) Because complaint operated on this “suspence,” it invited conversation. In its maze it held together passion and piety, doubt and devotion, hatred and love, rage and despair, agency and helplessness, masculinity and femininity. For this reason, it also held together Catholic and Protestant devotion, and in suspense the poets hung between them both.



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