Scorn Not the Least, Robert Southwell

edited by Greta Powers

Saint Robert Southwell, an ordained Jesuit priest and martyr, authored a number of devotional works, including Saint Peter's Complaint, a larger work found in the same volume as Scorn Not The Least. Scorn not the least is of interest because it differs so greatly from Southwell's usual style and religious subject matter, using naturalistic means to present a political statement. The first published edition of Saint Peter's Complaint, With other Poems (1595) is the source for this modernized version. There is also a manuscript located at Stonyhurst College, Lancastershire. More information about the manuscript is available in The Complete Poems of Robert Southwell edited by Rev. Alexander B. Grosart (1872). There are two typographical errors in the 1595 edition. The first is a turned type error in line (the word "tench" appears a "teutch"); the second occurs in line 18, where the letters "t" and "s" are exchanged. The 1595 line reads "Gave also lowly mushrumpt leave so grow", but clearly it should read "Gave also lowly mushrumps leave to grow."
Where wards are weak and foes encount'ring strong,
Where mightier do assault than do defend,
The feebler part puts up enforced wrong,
And silent sees, that speech could not amend.
Yet higher powers must think, though they repine	5
When sun is set, the little stars will shine.

While Pike doth range, the silly tench doth fly,
And crouch in privy creeks, with smaller fish.
Yet Pikes are caught when little fish go by.
These fleet a float; while those do fill the dish.	10
There is a time even for the worms to creep:
And suck the dew while all their foes do sleep.

The Merlin cannot ever soar on high,
Nor greedy Greyhound still pursue the chase;
The tender Lark will find a time to fly,		15
And fearful hare to run a quiet race.
He that high growth on Cedars did bestow;
Gave also lowly mushrumps leave to grow.

In Aman's pomp poor Mardocheus wept,
Yet God did turn his fate upon his foe.			20
The Lazar pined, while Dives feast was kept,
Yet he, to heaven, to hell, did Dives go.
We trample the grass, and prize the flowers of May.
Yet grass is green when flowers do fade away.

1. wards] defenses (the line seems to mean "Where strong foes encounter weak defenses").
3. puts up] puts up with, endures.
4. silent] silently; that] what, that which.
5. repine] fret; ("They" refers to the little stars from the next line).
7. silly] naive; tench] small carp-like fish; fly] flee, run away.
8. privy] private, secret, obscure.
13. merlin] type of falcon; ever] always.
14. still] continually.
18. mushrumps] mushrooms.
19. Aman...Mardocheus] Haman... Mordechai (see Estherch. 6).
21. Lazar...Dives] Lazarus (a beggar and leper) suffered while Dives (a rich man) feasted (Luke 16:20-24).

Return to
Author Index
Title Index
Index of First Lines