Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AN EPISTLE, by WILLIAM BROWNE (1591-1643)

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AN EPISTLE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Palmes and my friend, this night of hallantide
Last Line: Although their church err not, their steeple may.
Alternate Author Name(s): Browne, William Of Tavistock

Occasioned by the most intolerable jangling of the Papists' bells on All
Saints' Night, the eve of All Souls' Day, being then used to be rung all night
(and all as if the town were on fire) for the souls of those in Purgatory.


PALMES and my friend, this night of Hallantide,
Left all alone, and no way occupied:
Not to be idle, though I idle be
In writing verse, I send these lines to thee:
Ask me not how I can be left alone,
For all are here so in devotion,
So earnest in their prayers for the dead,
And with their De profundis so far led,
And so transported, poor night-seeing fowls,
In their oraisons for all Christian souls,
That knowing me for one but yesterday,
Maybe they dreamt me dead, and for me pray.
This may conjectur'd be the reason why
I have this night with me no company,
I mean of that religion; for indeed
But to consort with one that says his creed
In his own mother-tongue, this day for them
Were such a crime, that nor Jerusalem,
Not yet Rome's voyage, for which I am sorry,
Could free these friends of mine from purgatory.
And had I gone to visit them maybeThey at my entrance might have taken me,
If that I spoke in English, for some one
Of their good friends, new come from Phlegethon;
And so had put them to the pains to woo
My friend friar Guy and Bonaventure too
To publish such a miracle of theirs
By ringing all the bells about mine ears.
But peace be to their bells, say I, as is
Their prayer every day pax defunctis;
For I am sure all this long night to hear
Such a charavary, that if there were
All the Tom Tinkers since the world began,
Inhabiting from Thule to Magellan;
And those that beat their kettles, when the moon
Dark'ning the sun, brings on the night ere noon:
I think all those together would not make
Such a curs'd noise as these for all souls' sake.
Honest John Helmes, now by my troth I wish,
Although my popish hostess hath with fish
Fed me three days, that thou wert here with speed,
And some more of thy crew, not without need,
To teach their bells some rhyme or tune in swinging,
For sure they have no reason in their ringing.
For mine own part, hearing so strange a coil,
Such discord, such debate, and such turmoil,
In a high steeple, when I first came hither,
And had small language, I did doubt me whether
Some had the Tow'r of Babel new begun,
And God had plagued them with confusion:
For which I was not sorry, for I thought
To catch some tongue among them, and for nought.
But being much deceiv'd, good Lord! quoth I,
What pagan noise is this? One that stood by,
Swore I did wrong them, for he me advis'd
The bells upon his knowledge were baptiz'd.
My friend, quoth I, y'are more to blame by far,
To see poor Christian creatures so at jar,
And seek not to accord them; as for me,
Although they not of my acquaintance be,
Nor though we never have shock hands as yet,
Out of my love to peace, not out of debt,
See there's eight soulz, or ten, it makes not whether;
Get them some wine and see them drink together:
Or if the sexton cannot bring them to it,
As he will sure have much ado to do it;
Tell him he shall be thank'd, if so he strives
With special care to take away their knives;
And for their cause of stir that he record it,
Until a gen'ral Council do accord it.
Till when, I'll hold, whate'er the Jesuits say:
Although their Church err not, their steeple may.

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