Henry Constable (1562-1613)

Read a brief biography and overview of Constable's work.

From Diana (1592, 1594)

From Diana (1594), of questionable authorship

Spiritual Sonnets: To the honour of God and his Saints (1594)commentary

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From Diana

To His Absent Diana

Severed from sweet Content, my life's sole light;
Banished by overweening wit from my desire:
This poor acceptance only I require,
That though my fault have forced me from thy sight;
Yet that thou wouldst (my sorrows to requite)
Review these Sonnets, pictures of thy praise;
Wherein each woe thy wondrous worth doth raise,
Though first thy worth bereft me of delight.
See them forsaken: for I them forsooke,
Forsaken first of thee, next of my sense;
And when thou deignst on their black tears to look
Shed not one tear my tears to recompense:
But joy in this (though Fates 'gainst me repine)
My verse still lives, to witness thee divine.

Of the Conspiracy of His Lady's Eyes and His Own to Engender Love

Thine eye the glass where I behold my heart
Mine eye the window through the which thine eye
May see my heart and there thyself espy
In bloody colours how thou painted art.

Thine eye the pile is of a murdering dart,
Mine eye the sight thou tak'st thy level by
To hit my heart and never shoot'st awry;
Mine eye thus helps thine eye to work my smart.

Thyne eye a fire is both in heat and light
Mine eye of tears a river doth become.
O that the water of mine eye had might
To quench the flames that from thyne eye do come
Or that the fire that's kindled by thine eye
The flowing streams of mine eye doth make dry.

Of the Sudden Surprising of His Heart, and How Unawares He Was Caught

Delight in your bright eyes my death did breed
As light and glittering weapons babes allure
To play with fire and sword and so procure
Them to be burnt and hurt ere they take heed.

Thy beauty so hath made me burn and bleed
Yet shall my ashes and my blood assure
Thy beauty's fame forever to endure
For thy fame's life from my death doth proceed.

Because my heart to ashes burnèd giveth
Life to thy fame thou right a Phoenix art
And like a Pelican thy beauty liveth
By sucking blood out of my breast and heart.
Loe why with wonder we may thee compare
Unto the Pelican and Phoenix rare.

An Excuse to His Mistress for Resolving to Love so Worthy a Creature

Blame not my heart for flying up so high
Since thou art cause that it this flight begun
For earthly vapors drawn up by the sun
Comets become and night-suns in the sky.

My humble heart so with thy heavenly eye
Drawn up aloft all low desires doth shun
Raise thou me up as thou my heart hast done
So during night in heaven remain may I.

Blame not, I say again, my high desire
Since of us both the cause thereof depends.
In thee doth shine, in me doth burn a fire.
Fire draws up others and itself ascends.
Thine eye a fire and so draws up my love,
My love a fire and so ascends above.

Of Her Excellency Both in Singing and Instruments

Not that thy hand is soft, is sweet, is white,
Thy lips sweet roses, breast sweet lily is,
That love esteems these three the chiefest bliss
Which nature ever made for lips' delight.

But when these three to show their heavenly might
Such wonders do, devotion then for this
Commandeth us, with humble zeal to kiss
Such things as work miracles in our sight.

A lute of senseless wood by nature dumb
Touched by thy hand doth speak divinely well
And from thy lips and breast sweet tunes do come
To my daed heart the which new life do give
Of greater wonders heard we never tell
Than for the dumb to speak, the dead to live.

Of His Mistress upon Occasion of Her Walking in a Garden

My Lady's presence makes the roses red
Because to see her lips they blush for shame.
The lilies' leaves for envy pale became
And her white hands in them this envy bred.
The marigold abroad the leaves did spread
Because the sun's and her power is the same
The violet of purple colour came
Dyed with the blood she made my heart to shed.

In brief, all flowers from her their virtue take
From her sweet breath their sweet smells do proceed
The living heat which her eyebeams do make
Warmeth the ground and quickneth the seed.
The rain wherewith she watereth these flowers
Falls from mine eyes which she dissolves in showers.

(Compare Shakespeare's Sonnet 99.)

To the Princess of Orange

If nature for her works proud ever were
It was for this that she created you.
Your sacred head which wisdom doth indue,
Is only fit a diadem to wear.

Your lily hand which fairer doth appear
Than ever eye beheld in shape and hue
Unto no other use by right is due,
Except it be a scepter for to bear.

Your cherry lips by nature framèd be
Hearts to comand: your eye is only fit
With his wise looks kingdoms to oversee.

O happy land whose sovereign thou hadst been:
But God on earth full bliss will not permit,
And this is only cause your are no Queen.

"Mine eye with all the deadly sins is fraught"

Mine eye with all the deadly sins is fraught.
First proud, since it presumed to look so high;
A watchman being made stood gazing by,
And idle, took no heed till I was caught;

And envious bears envy that my thought
Should in his absence be to her so nigh;
To kill my heart, mine eye let in her eye,
And so consent gave to a murder wrought;

And covetous, it never would remove
From her fair hair, gold so doth please his sight;
Unchaste, a bawd between my heart and love;
A glutton eye, with tears drunk every night:
These sins procuréd have a goddess' ire,
Wherefore my heart is damned in love's sweet fire.

"Dear to my soul, then leave me not forsaken"

Dear to my soul, then leave me not forsaken!
Fly not, my heart within thy bosom sleepeth.
Even from myself and sense I have betaken
Me unto thee for whom my spirit weepeth,
And on the shore of that salt teary sea,
Couched in a bed of unseen seeming pleasure,
Where in imaginary thoughts thy fair self lay;
But being waked, robbed of my life's best treasure,
I call the heavens, air, earth, and seas to hear
My love, my truth, and black disdained estate;
Beating the rocks with bellowings of despair,
Which still with plaints my words reverberate;
Sighing, Alas, what shall become of me?
Whilst Echo cries, What shall become of me?

"Whilst Echo cries, What shall become of me?"

Whilst Echo cries, What shall become of me?
And desolate, my desolations pity,
Thou in thy beauty's carrack sit'st to see
My tragic downfall, and my funeral ditty.
No timbrel, but my heart thou play'st upon,
Whose strings are stretched unto the highest key;
The diapason, love; love is the unison;
In love my life and labors waste away.
Only regardless to the world thou leav'st me,
Whilst slain hopes, turning from the feast of sorrow
Unto despair, their king which ne'er deceives me,
Captives my heart, whose black night hates the morrow;
And he in ruth of my distressed cry
Plants me a weeping star within my eye.

"Fair grace of graces, muse of muses all"

Fair grace of graces, muse of muses all,
Thou paradise, thou only heaven I know,
What influence hath bred my hateful woe,
That I from thee and them am forced to fall?
Thou fall'n from me, from thee I never shall;
Although my fortunes thou hast brought so low,
Yet shall my faith and service with thee go,
For live I do on heaven and thee to call.
Banished all grace, no graces with me dwell;
Compelled to muse, my muses from me fly;
Excluded heaven, what can remain but hell?
Exiled from paradise, in hate I lie
Cursing my stars; albeit I find it true,
I lost all these when I lost love and you.

"To live in hell and heaven to behold"

To live in hell and heaven to behold;
To welcome life and die a living death;
To sweat with heat, and yet be freezing cold;
To grasp at stars and lie the earth beneath;
To tread a maze that never shall have end;
To burn in sighs and starve in daily tears;
To climb a hill and never to descend;
Giants to kill, and quake at childish fears;
To pine for food, and watch th' Hesperian tree;
To thirst for drink, and nectar still to draw;
To live accursed, whom men hold blest to be,
And weep those wrongs which never creature saw:
If this be love, if love in these be founded,
My heart is love, for these in it are grounded.

(Compare Wyatt's "If amorous faith in heart unfeigned" and Daniel's "If this be love, to draw a weary breath".)

Spiritual Sonnets

To God the Father

Great God: within whose simple essence, we
Nothing but that which is thyself can find:
When on thyself thou did'st reflect thy mind
Thy thought was God, which took the form of thee:
And when this God thus born, thou lov'st, & he
Loved thee again, with passion of like kind,
(As lovers' sighs, which meet, become one wind)
Both breathed one spright of equal deity.
Eternal father, whence these two do come
And wil'st the tItle of my father have,
As heavenly knowledge in my mind engrave,
That it thy son's true Image may become:
And sence my heart with sighs of holy Love,
That it the temple of the Spright may prove.

To God the Son

Great Prince of heaven begotten of that king,
Who rules the kingdom that himself did make:
And of that virgin Queen man's shape did take
Which from King David's royal stock did spring:
No marvel though thy birth made Angels sing:
And Angels' ditties shepherd's pipes awake:
And kings like shepherds, humbled for thy sake,
Kneel at thy feet & gifts of homage bring:
For heaven & earth, the high & low estate
As partners of thy birth make equal claim.
Angels, because in heaven God thee begat,
Shepherds & kings, because thy mother came
From princely race & yet by poverty
Made glory shine in her humility.

To God the Holy Ghost

Eternal spright: which art in heaven the Love
With which God and his son each other kiss:
And who, to show who God's beloved is,
The shape, and wings, took'st of a loving dove:
When Christ ascending sent thee from above
In fiery tongues, thou cam'st down unto his
That skill in uttering heavenly mysteries
By heat of zeal, both faith & love might move:
True God of Love: from whom all true love springs,
Bestow upon my Love thy wings & fire
My soul a spirit is and with thy wings
May like an Angel fly from earth's desire:
And with thy fire a hart inflamed may bear,
And in thy sight a Seraphim appear.

To the Blessed Sacrament

When thee (O holy sacrificèd Lamb)
In severed signs I white & liquid see:
As on thy body slain I think on thee,
Which pale by shedding of thy blood became.
And when again I do behold the same
Veiled in white to be received of me:
Thou seemest in thy syndon wrapped to be
Like to a corpse, whose monument I am.
Buried in me, unto my soul appear
Prisoned in earth & banished from thy sight,
Like our forefathers, who in Limbo were.
Clear thou my thoughts, as thou did'st give the light:
And as thou others freed from purging fire
Quench in my heart the flames of bad desire.

To Our Blessed Lady

In that (O Queen of queens) thy birth was free
From guilt, which others doth of grace bereave
When in their mothers' womb they life receive:
God as his sole-borne daughter lovèd thee.
To match thee like thy birth's nobility,
He thee his spirit for thy spouse did leave:
Of whom thou did'st his only son conceive,
And so was linked to all the trinity.
Cease then, O Queens who earthly crowns do wear
To glory in the pomp of worldly things:
If men such high respect unto you bear
Which daughters, wives, & mothers are of kings;
What honour should unto that Queen be done
Who had your God for father, spouse, & son.

To St. Michael the Archangel

When as the prince of Angels puffed with pride
Stirred his seditious spirits to rebel:
God chose for chief his Champion Michael:
And gave him charge the host of heaven to guide.
And when the Angels of the Rebels' side
Vanquished in battle from their glory fell,
The pride of heaven became the Drake of hell,
And in the dungeon of despair was tied.
This Dragon since let loose God's Church assailed,
And she by help of Michael's sword prevailed.
Who ever tried adventures like this knight?
Which general of heaven, hell overthrew;
For such a Lady as God's spouse did fight:
And such a monster as the Devil subdue.

To St. John Baptist

As Anne long barren, Mother did become
of him, who last was Judge in Israel:
Thou last of prophets borne like Samuel
Did'st from a womb past hope of issue come.
His mother silent spake: thy father dumb
Recovering speech, God's wonder did foretell:
He after death a prophet was in hell:
And thou unborn within thy mother's womb:
He did annoint the king, whom God did take
From charge of sheep, to rule his chosen land:
But that high king who heaven & earth did make
Received a holier liquor from thy hand,
When God his flock in human shape did feed,
As Israel's king kept his in shepherd's weed.

To St. Peter and St. Paul

He that for fear his master did deny,
And at a maiden's voice amazèd stood,
The mightiest Monarch of the earth withstood:
And on his master's Cross rejoyced to die.
He whose blind zeal did rage with Cruelty:
And helped to shed the first of Martyr's blood,
By light from heaven his blindness understood
And with the chief Apostle, slain doth lie.
O three times happy two: O golden pair
Who with your blood, did lay the Church's ground,
Within the fatal town, which twins did found.
And settled there the Hebrew fishers chair,
Where first the Latin shepherd raised his throne,
And since the world & Church were ruled by one.

To St. Mary Magdalen

For few nights' solace in delicious bed,
Where heat of lust did kindle flames of hell:
Thou nak'd on naked rock in desert cell
Lay thirty years, and tears of grief did shed.
But for that time, thy heart there sorrowed,
Thou now in heaven eternally dost dwell,
And for each tear, which from thine eyes then fell,
A sea of pleasure now is rendered.
If short delights entice my heart to stray,
Let me by thy long penance learn to know
How dear I should for trifling pleasures pay:
And if I virtue's rough beginning shun,
Let thy eternal joys unto me show
What high Reward by little pain is won.

To St. Katherine

Because thou wast the daughter of a king,
Whose beauty did all nature's works exceed,
And wisdom, wonder to the world did breed,
A Muse might raise itself on Cupid's wing.
But since these graces which from Nature spring
Were graced by those which from grace did proceed,
And glory hath deserved; my muse doth need
An Angel's feathers when thy praise I sing.
For all in thee became Angelical:
An Angel's face, had Angel's purity:
And thou an Angel's tongue did'st speak withal.
Loe why thy soul set free by Martyrdom,
Was crowned by God in Angels' company,
And Angels' hands thy body did entomb.

To St. Margaret

Fair Amazon of heaven: who took'st in hand
St. Michael & St. George to imitate:
And for a tyrant's Love transformed to hate,
Wast for thy lily faith retained in band:
Alone on foot & with thy naked hand
Thou did'st like Michael & his host: & that
For which on horse armed George we celebrate:
Whilst thou, like them, a dragon did'st withstand.
Behold my soul shut in my body's jail,
The which the Drake of hell gapes to devour;
Teach me (o virgin) how thou did'st prevail:
Virginity thou saiest was all thy Aid:
Give me then purity instead of power,
And let my soul, made chaste, pass for a Maid.

To Our Blessed Lady

Sovereign of Queens: If vain Ambition move
My heart to seek an earthly prince's grace:
Show me thy son in his imperial place,
Whose servants reign, our kings & queens above.
And if alluring passions I do prove,
By pleasing sighs: show me thy lovely face:
Whose beams the Angels' beauty do deface:
And even inflame the Seraphims with love.
So by Ambition I shall humble be:
When in the presence of the highest king
I serve all his, that he may honour me.
And love, my heart to chaste desires shall bring,
When fairest Queen looks on me from her throne
And jealous bids me love but her alone.

To Our Blessed Lady

Why should I any love O queene but thee?
If favour past a thankful love should breed?
Thy womb did bear, thy breast my saviour feed;
And thou did'st never cease to succour me.
If Love do follow worth and dignity?
Thou all in thy perfections dost exceed:
If Love be led by hope of future meed?
What pleasure more than thee in heaven to see?
And earthly sight doth only please the eye
And breeds desire, but doth not satisfy:
Thy sight gives us possession of all joy,
And with such full delights each sense shall fill,
As heart shall wish but for to see thee still,
And ever seeing, ever shall enjoy.

To Our Blessed Lady

Sweet Queen: although thy beauty raise up me
From sight of baser beauties here below:
Yet let me not rest there: but higher go
To him, who took his shape from God & thee.
And if thy form in him more fair I see,
What pleasure from his deity shall flow,
By whose fair beams his beauty shineth so
When I shall it behold eternally.
Then shall my love of pleasure have his fill,
When beauty's self in whom all pleasure is,
Shall my enamored soul embrace & kiss:
And shall new loves & new delights distill,
Which from my soul shall gush into my heart
And through my body flow to every part.

To St. Mary Magdalen

Blessed Offender: who thyself hast tried
How far a sinner differs from a Saint
Join thy wet eyes, with tears of my complaint,
While I sigh for that grave, for which thou cried.
No longer let my sinful soul abide
In fever of thy first desires faint:
But let that love which last thy heart did taint
With pangs of thy repentance pierce my side.
So shall my soul no foolish virgin be
With empty lamp: but like a Magdalen, bear
For ointment box a breast with oil of grace:
And so the zeal, which then shall burn in me,
May make my heart like to a lamp appear
And in my spouse's palace give me place.

To St. Mary Magdalen

Such as retired from sight of men, like thee
By penance seek the joys of heaven to win;
In deserts make their paradise begin:
And even among wild beasts do Angels see.
In such a place my soul doth seem to be
When in my body she laments her sin:
And none but brutal passions finds therein,
Except they be sent down from heaven to mee.
Yet if those graces God to me impart,
Which he inspired thy blessed breast withal;
I may find heaven in my retired heart:
And if thou change the object of my love,
The winged affection which men Cupid call
May get his sight & like an Angel prove.

To St. Mary Magdalen

Sweet Saint: Thou better canst declare to me,
What pleasure is obtained by heavenly love
Than they which other loves did never prove:
Or which in sex are differing from thee:
For like a woman spouse my soul shall be,
Whom sinful passions once to lust did move,
And since betrothèd to God's son above,
Should be enamored with his deity.
My body is the garment of my spright
While as the daytime of my life doth last:
When death shall bring the night of my delight
My soul unclothed shall rest from labors past:
And claspèd in the arms of God, enjoy
By sweet conjunction, everlasting joy.

Glossed Words (Click on title to return to poem.)

To the Blessed Sacrament

syndon, shroud.