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LATIMER AND RIDLEY, BURNED AT THE STAKE IN OXFORD, 1555, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: Tis good to sing of champions old
Last Line: The word of god, be ours!
Alternate Author Name(s): Bon Gaultier (with Theodore Martin)
Subject(s): Capital Punishment; Death; Freedom; Heresy; Religious Discrimination; Singing & Singers; Hanging; Executions; Death Penalty; Dead, The; Liberty; Heretics; Religious Conflict; Songs


'TIS good to sing of champions old
The honour and renown;
To tell how truth and loyalty
Have saved an earthly crown.
But shame to us, if on the day
When higher themes are given --
When man's device and man's decree
Usurp the word of Heaven --
We dare forget the nobler names
Of those who vanquished death,
To keep unstained, from sire to son,
Our freedom and our faith!


We bend the knee and bow the head
Upon the Christmas morn,
In token that, for sinful men,
The Saviour, Christ, was born.
Nor less, unto the faithful heart,
That time must hallowed be,
On which our Lord and Master died
In anguish on the tree;
And Easter brings its holy hymn,
Its triumph o'er the grave,
When He, the dead, arose in might,
Omnipotent to save.


We worship as our fathers did,
In this our English home,
Not asking grace from mortal man
Nor craving leave from Rome.
Once more the warning note is heard,
The hour of strife is near --
What seeks he, with his mitred pomp,
That rank Italian, here?
What sought they in the former days,
When last that mission came?
The will, the craft, the creed of Rome
Remain for aye the same!


Woe, woe to those who dared to dream
That England might be free;
That Papal power and Papal rule
Were banished o'er the sea;
That he who sate in Peter's chair,
Had lost the will to harm,
Was powerless as a withered crone
Who works by spell and charm!
Woe, woe to those who dared deny
The Roman Pontiff's sway!
His red right arm is bared in wrath,
To smite, and burn, and slay!


Light up, light up the ready fires!
Sound trumpet, fife, and drum;
Give welcome meet to him who brings
The sovereign hests of Rome.
No humble barefoot messenger --
No sandalled monk is he;
A stately priest -- a Cardinal --
Proclaims the Pope's decree.
And see! upon her royal knees
The Queen of England falls,
In homage to a mightier Prince,
Within her fathers' halls!


'Tis done. Fair England! bow thy head,
And mourn thy grievous sin!
What though the Universal Church
Will gladly let thee in?
The stain is still upon thy brow,
The guilt is on thy hand;
For thou hast dared to worship God,
Against the Pope's command.
And thou hast scoffed at saint and shrine,
Denied the Queen of Heaven,
And opened up with impious hands
The Holy Book unshriven.


For this, and for thy stubborn will
In daring to be free,
A fearful penance must be done
Ere guilt shall pass from thee.
The prophets of the new-born faith,
The leaders of the blind --
Arise, and take them in the midst --
Leave not a man behind!
In London's streets and Oxford's courts
A solemn fast proclaim,
And let the sins of England's Church
Be purged away by flame!


In order long, the monkish throng
Wind through the Oxford street,
With up-drawn cowls, and folded hands,
And slow and noiseless feet.
Before their train the Crucifix
Is borne in state on high,
And banners with the Agnus wave,
And crosiers glitter by:
With spangled image, star-becrowned,
And gilded pyx they come,
To lay once more on English necks
The hateful yoke of Rome.


The mail-clad vassals of the Church
With men-at-arms are there,
And England's banner overhead
Floats proudly in the air.
And England's bishops walk beneath --
Ah me! that sight of woe!
An old, old man, with tottering limbs
And hair as white as snow.
Another, yet in manhood's prime,
The blameless and the brave --
And must they pass, O cruel Rome,
To yonder hideous grave?


'Ay -- for the Church reclaims her own;
To her all power is given --
The faggot and the sword on earth --
The keys of hell and heaven.
To sweep the heretics away,
'Tis thus the Church commands --
What means that wailing in the crowd?
Why wring they so their hands?
Why do the idle women shriek --
The men, why frown they so?
Lift up the Host, and let them kneel,
As onwards still we go.'


The Host was raised -- they knelt not yet --
Nor English knee was bowed,
Till Latimer and Ridley came,
Each in his penance-shroud.
Then bent the throng on either side,
Then knelt both sire and dame,
And thousand voices, choked with sobs,
Invoked the martyr's name.
No chaunted hymn could drown the cry,
No tramp, nor clash of steel --
O England! in that piteous hour,
Was this thy sole appeal?


What more? That cry arose on high;
'Twas heard, where all is calm,
By Him who, for the martyr's pang,
Vouchsafes the martyr's palm;
By Him who needs no human arm
To work his righteous will: --
'The Lord is in his holy place,
Let all the earth be still.'
They said it -- they who gave the doom,
In that most awful name --
And if they spoke in blasphemy,
So shall they die in shame!


To death -- to death! The stake is near,
The faggots piled around;
The men-at-arms have made their ring,
The spearmen take their ground;
The torches, reeking in the sun,
Send up their heavy fume;
And by the pile the torturer
Is waiting for the doom.
With earnest eye and steadfast step,
Approach the martyr twain --
'Our cross!' they said -- they kissed the stake,
And bowed them to the chain.


Short be the pang! -- Not yet, not yet!
The Tempter lingers near --
Rome parts not with her victims so;
A Priest is at their ear.
'Life -- life, and pardon! say the word,
Why still so stubborn be?
Do homage to our Lord the Pope --
One word, and you are free!
O brothers! yield ye even now --
Speak but a single name --
Salvation lies not but with Rome;
Why die in raging flame?'


Then out spoke aged Latimer: --
'I tarry by the stake,
Not trusting to my own weak heart,
But for the Saviour's sake.
Why speak of life or death to me,
Whose days are but a span?
Our crown is yonder -- Ridley -- see!
Be strong, and play the man.
God helping, such a torch this day
We'll light on English land.
That Rome and all her Cardinals
Shall never quench the brand!'


They died. O ask not how they died!
May never witness tell,
That once again on English ground
Was wrought that deed of hell!
The Consul, mad for Christian blood,
Even in his deadliest rage,
Was human when he opened up
The famished lion's cage --
More human far than they of Rome,
Who claimed the Christian name,
When those, the ministers of Christ,
Were writhing in the flame!


Harlot of Rome! and dost thou come
With bland demeanour now?
The bridal-smile upon thy lips,
The flush upon thy brow --
The cup of sorcery in thy hand,
Still in the same array,
As when our fathers in their wrath
Dashed it and thee away?
No! by the ashes of the saints,
Who died beneath thy hand,
Thou shalt not dare to claim as thine
One foot of English land!


The echo of thy tread shall make
The light still higher burn --
A blaze shall rise from Cranmer's grave
And martyred Ridley's urn!
A blaze which they who own thy power
Shall stand aghast to see,
A blaze that in your infamy
Shall show both them and thee!
Yes! send thy Cardinals again --
Once more array thy powers --
Their watchword is, The Pope of Rome --
The Word of God, be ours!

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