Marie Magdalen’s complaint at Christ’s death

Sith my life from life is parted:
Death come take thy portion.
Who survives, when life is murdred,
Lives by meere extortion.
All that live, and not in God:
Couch their life in deaths abod.

Seely starres must needes leave shining,
When the sunne is shaddowed.
Borrowed streames refraine their running,
When head springs are hindered.
One that lives by others breath,
Dieth also by his death.

O true life, sith thou hast left me,
Mortall life is tedious.
Death it is to live without thee,
Death, of all most odious.
Turne againe or take me to thee,
Let me die or live thou in mee.

Where the truth once was, and is not,
Shaddowes are but vanitie:
Shewing want, that helpe they cannot:
Signes, not salves of miserie.
Paynted meate no hunger feedes,
Dying life each death exceedes.

With my love, my life was nestled
In the sonne of happinesse:
From my love, my life is wrested
To a world of heavinesse.
O, let love my life remove,
Sith I live not where I love.

O my soule, what did unloose thee
From thy sweete captivitie?
God, not I, did still possesse thee:
His, not mine, thy libertie.
O, too happie thrall thou wart,
When thy prison, was his hart.

Spitefull speare, that breakst this prison,
Seate of all felicitie,
Working thus, with double treason,
Loves and lifes deliverie:
Though my life thou drav’st away,
Maugre thee my love shall stay.

Robert Southwell (1561?-1595)

Image: ‘Mary Magdalene’, by Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys; ca. 1860


  1. Check out what the Elizabethan composer Thomas Morley does with the poem when he turns bits of it into a seemingly secular love song, “With my love my life was nestled.”
    Morley was tortured for his Catholicism and ended up informing on other Catholics. One wonders what he was thinking when he set Southwell’s lines to music. A private love song to the martyred Jesuit? A secret message for his fellow Catholics? It’s a beautiful song, by the way.


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