Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Spotted Teeth and Lepers Cleansed

John Collop wrote in the mid 1600's what I think to be one of the greatest prayer poems outside of the Bible. Its halting, jumping, eager rush and fearful stop perfectly reflect the tears with which he calls out to his God.

The tone, intimacy and vehemence, and the writhing/evolving pace of the poem put one in mind of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Francis Thompson, but it is almost certain that neither of them ever read him (very unlikely they read each other either, although it is slightly possible that Hopkins late in his life may have read some Thompson). Collop simply wasn't known during their lifetimes. In fact he wasn't known in his own lifetime.

He was a doctor and many of his poems are medical lessons set to verse. Rather dull! Others are a mockery of the fashion of writing poems in praise of beautiful women; ie, "There is a garden in your face where roses and white lillies grow. . ."


The wiseman Teeth call'd flocks of sheep;
Sure Jacob's speckled flocks here keep.
Where teeth are checker'd black and white,
Nay gilt too to inrich delight:
Her mouth ope, you at Chesse may play,
With teeth resembling night and day.
Each fondling reach will praise what's white;
Is there in Choak such strange delight?
Give me the mouth like th' Temple floor,
With speckled Marble paved o're,
Or oh more rich in gold thus set,
A row of pearl then one of jet.

Still other of Collop's poems are diatribes against the state of politics or the state of the Church. These are really a mixed bag, sometimes pointed and sharp, witty jabs with his pen, sometimes they descend into what seems to be juvenile name calling.

But in his personal religious verse he shines.


Hear, Lord, hear
The rhetoric of a tear.
Hear, hear my breast;
While I knock there, Lord, take no rest.

Open! ah, open wide!
Thou art the door, Lord! Open! hide
My sin; a spear once entered at thy side.

See! ah, see
A Naaman's leprosy!
Yet here appears
A cleansing Jordan in my tears.

Lord, let the faithless see
Miracles ceased, revive in me.
The leper cleansed, blind healed, dead raised by thee.

Whither! ah, whither shall I fly?
To heaven? my sins, ah, sins there cry!
Yet mercy, Lord, O mercy! hear
Th'attoning incense of my prayer.
A broken heart thou'lt not despise.
See! see a contrite's sacrifice!

Keep, keep, vials of wrath, keep still!
I'll vials, Lord, of odors fill:
Of prayers, sighs, groans, and tears a shower;
I'll 'noint, wash, wipe, kiss, wash, wipe, weep.
My tears, Lord, in thy bottle keep,
Lest flames of lust, and fond desire,
Kindle fresh fuel for thine ire,
Which tears must quench; like Magdalene
I'll wash thee, Lord, till I be clean.

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