[K:NWTS 23/3 (Dec 2008) 51-54]

A Hymn of Heavenly Love

Edmund Spenser[1]

But man forgetful of his maker’s grace,
No less than angels, whom he did ensue,
Fell from the hope of promised heavenly place,
Into the mouth of death, to sinners due,
And all his offspring into thralldom threw:
Where they forever should in bonds remain,
Of never dead, yet ever dying pain.

Till that great Lord of Love, which him at first
Made of mere love, and after liked well,
Seeing him lie like creature long accurst,
In that deep horror of despaired Hell,
Him wretch in doole[2] would let no longer dwell,
But cast out of that bondage to redeem,
And pay the price, all were his debt extreme.

Out of the bosom of eternal bliss,
In which he reigned with his glorious sire,
He down descended, like a most demisse[3]
And abject thrall, in fleshes frail attire,
That he for him might pay sin’s deadly hire,
And him restore unto that happy state,
In which he stood before his hapless fate.

In flesh at first the guilt committed was,
Therefore in flesh it must be satisfied:
Nor spirit, nor angel, though they man surpass,
Could make amends to God for man’s misguide,
But only man himself, who self did slide.
So taking flesh of sacred virgin’s womb,
For man’s dear sake he did a man become.

And that most blessed body, which was born
Without all blemish or reproachful blame,
He freely gave to be both rent and torn
Of cruel hands, who with despiteful shame
Reviling him, that them most vile became,
At length him nailed on a gallow tree,
And slew the just, by most unjust decree.

O blessed well of love, O flower of grace,
O glorious Morning star, O lamp of light,
Most lively image of thy Father’s face,
Eternal King of glory, Lord of might,
Meek lamb of God before all worlds behight[4],
How can we thee requite for all this good?
Or what can prize that thy most precious blood?

Begin from first, where he encradled was
In simple crèche, wrapt in a wad of hay,
Between the toilful ox and humble ass,
And in what rags, and in how base array,
The glory of our heavenly riches lay,
When him the silly shepherds came to see,
Whom greatest princes sought on lowest knee.

With all thy heart, with all thy soul and mind,
Thou must him love, and his behests embrace;
All other loves, with which the world doth blind
Weak fancies, and stir up affections base,
Thou must renounce, and utterly displace,
And give thyself unto him full and free,
That full and freely gave himself to thee.

[1]  Edmund Spenser (ca.1552-1599), justly famous for his great spiritual allegory, The Faerie Queene, was a Protestant poet with Reformed or Calvinistic inclinations. The Faerie Queene is the allegory of the Christian’s spiritual life in the face of temptations such as Error’s Wood, the false Lady Una (Duessa), the counterfeit monk (Archimago), the giant Orgoglio’s prison-tower and other adventures representing the (Protestant) Christian believer’s encounter with deceit and temptation, i.e., Roman Catholicism, Islam, magic and superstition, lechery, etc. The excerpt above is from one of his Four Hymns (1596) which include: “A Hymn in Honor of Love,” “A Hymn in Honor of Beauty” and “A Hymn in Honor of Heavenly Beauty”—powerful expressions of eternal beauty and profound love. His wedding poem (Epithalamion) written for his bride, Elizabeth Boyle, is exquisite and may be recommended to all Christian husbands and wives. The spelling in the selection above has been modernized for greater ease of understanding.

[2]  Meaning grief or sorrow.

[3]  Submissive or base.

[4]  Ordained.