The Catholic Culture Podcast: Ep. 69 – Poetry of the English Martyrs

Mar 6, 2020

In 1581, a young Englishman named Henry Walpole attended the
execution of the Jesuit Edmund Campion. As Campion was hung, drawn
and quartered, Walpole stood close enough to be spattered with his
holy blood. Though Campion’s fame in England was already great,
Walpole would amplify it further with a splendid, lengthy poem,
which became enormously popular among English Catholics—so popular
that the man who printed the book had his ears cut off as

In his poem Walpole wrote:

We cannot fear a mortal torment, we,

This martyr’s blood hath moistened all our hearts,

Whose parted quarters when we chance to see

We learn to play the constant Christian’s parts.

This was more than wordplay: Two years after Campion’s death,
Walpole became a priest, and was himself hung for the faith in

St. Henry Walpole was not the only martyr who wrote poems. The
16th and 17th centuries produced a number of men whose courageous
faith was accompanied by prodigious learning and literary talent.
St. Thomas More wrote poems while languishing in the Tower of
London. Another Jesuit martyr, St. Robert Southwell, powerfully
influenced the later movement of “metaphysical poetry”, including
the greatest Protestant poets of succeeding centuries—such as
George Herbert and John Donne.

The poetry of the English martyrs has been collected in an
anthology called Lyra Martyrum. Benedict Whalen, the
editor of the second edition, joins Thomas to discuss these
authors, with Catholic Culture Audiobooks’ James T. Majewski
performing several of their works.


[2:08] The historical/literary/educational circumstances that
gave us a period of martyr-poets

[7:23] Their influence as poets in the succeeding centuries

[10:26] St. Robert Southwell’s Prefatory Epistle on the purpose
of poetry

[12:58] All the poets in the first edition of the anthology have
since been beatified or canonized

[14:29] The martyrdoms of the Jesuit Saints Edmund Campion and
Henry Walpole

[17:43] St. Henry Walpole, “Upon the Martyrdom of M. Edmund

[30:23] The tradition of meditating on the Four Last Things

[33:08] St. Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, “Meditation upon

[37:43] St. Thomas More’s early poems written for courtly

[40:11] More’s poems written in the Tower of London: “Lewis the
Lost Lover” and “Davy the Dicer”

[44:17] The theme of Fortune in medieval and Renaissance
philosophy and poetry

[47:12] The influence of Latin classics on English verse

[49:16] More’s influence on English prose

[51:29] The life and work of St. Robert Southwell

[54:36] St. Robert Southwell, “The Burning Babe”

[59:39] “A Child My Choice”

[1:05:27] Southwell’s conceptual and sonic density: excerpts
from “The Nativity of Christ” and “Look Home”

[1:09:13] “I Die Alive”

[1:12:52] “Mary Magdalen’s Complaint at Christ’s Death”

[1:16:30] The remarkable story of St. Robert Southwell’s

[1:26:10] The appendix of this edition of Lyra


Lyra Martyrum

Benedict Whalen

Catholic Culture Audiobooks

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