Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Richard Crashaw's Hymn to "The Name and Honour" of St. Teresa of Avila

As today is her feast, it seems appropriate to post Richard Crashaw's poetic tribute to St. Teresa of Avila. As Robert T. Petersson notes in his book, The Art of Ecstasy: Teresa, Bernini, and Crashaw, St. Teresa was one of many leaders of the Counter Reformation in Spain. Petersson states that Spanish reformers led the way, in fact, from St. Ignatius of Loyola to St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross, in the efforts to renew and revive the Catholic Church after the Protestant Reformation.

LOVE, thou are absolute, sole Lord
Of life and death. To prove the word,
We'll now appeal to none of all
Those thy old soldiers, great and tall,
Ripe men of martyrdom, that could reach down
With strong arms their triumphant crown:
Such as could with lusty breath
Speak loud, unto the face of death,
Their great Lord's glorious name; to none
Of those whose spacious bosoms spread a throne
For love at large to fill. Spare blood and sweat:
We'll see Him take a private seat,
And make His mansion in the mild
And milky soul of a soft child.
Scarce has she learnt to lisp a name
Of martyr, yet she thinks it shame
Life should so long play with that breath
Which spent can buy so brave a death.
She never undertook to know
What death with love should have to do.
Nor has she e'er yet understood
Why, to show love, she should shed blood;
Yet, though she cannot tell you why,
She can love, and she can die.
Scarce has she blood enough to make
A guilty sword blush for her sake;
Yet has a heart dares hope to prove
How much less strong is death than love....

Since 'tis not to be had at home,
She'll travel for a martyrdom.
No home for her, confesses she,
But where she may a martyr be.
She'll to the Moors, and trade with them
For this unvalued diadem;
She offers them her dearest breath,
With Christ's name in 't, in charge for death:
She'll bargain with them, and will give
Them God, and teach them how to live
In Him; or, if they this deny,
For Him she'll teach them how to die.
So shall she leave amongst them sown
Her Lord's blood, or at least her own.

Farewell then, all the world, adieu!
Teresa is no more for you.
Farewell all pleasures, sports, and joys,
Never till now esteemed toys!

Farewell whatever dear may be--
Mother's arms, or father's knee!
Farewell house, and farewell home!
She 's for the Moors and Martyrdom.

Sweet, not so fast; lo! thy fair spouse,
Whom thou seek'st with so swift vows,
Calls thee back, and bids thee come
T' embrace a milder martyrdom....

O how oft shalt thou complain
Of a sweet and subtle pain!
Of intolerable joys!
Of a death, in which who dies
Loves his death, and dies again,
And would for ever so be slain;
And lives and dies, and knows not why
To live, but that he still may die!
How kindly will thy gentle heart
Kiss the sweetly-killing dart!
And close in his embraces keep
Those delicious wounds, that weep
Balsam, to heal themselves with thus,
When these thy deaths, so numerous,
Shall all at once die into one,
And melt thy soul's sweet mansion;
Like a soft lump of incense, hasted
By too hot a fire, and wasted
Into perfuming clouds, so fast
Shalt thou exhale to heaven at last
In a resolving sigh, and then,--
O what? Ask not the tongues of men.

Read the rest here.

Richard Crashaw was a Catholic convert from Anglicanism at a dangerous time--during the English Civil War. After being born the son of a most anti-Catholic, Puritan, father, William Crashaw, he had attended Pembroke College at Cambridge, a High-Church Anglican college and been a fellow at Peterhouse College, but was too Catholic for that oldest of Cambridge colleges. He fled to the Continent in 1644 and, destitute, was introduced to Queen Henrietta Maria in exile at St. Germain-en-Laye by a friend Abraham Cowley. From St. Germain he went to Rome and died soon after becoming sub-canon the Cathedral of Santa Casa in Loretto. He is  not only one of the Metaphysical Poets, but he is a Baroque poet. The St. Austin Review featured Crashaw in the September/October 2013 issue as "English Poet; Catholic Exile"; the cover is pictured above.

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