Wednesday, February 21, 2007

This Little Babe

Robert Southwell (c.1561-96) wrote this magnificent Christmas poem that can be sung to the tune DAS NEUGEBORNE KINDELEIN (Service Book & Hymnal No. 274). Southwell, a Jesuit priest and Roman Catholic martyr-saint, couldn't be farther from the orthodox Lutheran Pastor Petursson whose hymns I have been posting. Nevertheless, I've always been deeply moved by this text, which Benjamin Britten included in his Ceremony of Carols.

This little Babe so few days old
Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at His presence quake,
Though He Himself for cold do shake;
For in this week unarmèd wise
The gates of hell He will surprise.

With tears He fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns Cold and Need,
And feeble Flesh his warrior’s steed.

His camp is pitchèd in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, haystalks his stakes;
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound,
The angels’ trumps alarum sound.

My soul, with Christ join thou in fight;
Stick to the tents that he hath pight.
Within his crib is surest ward;
This little Babe will be thy Guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly Boy.

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