Sunday Sonnet.

I am repeating this sonnet sequence, in part because it is reformed, in part because it is in English, and in part because it predates Shakespeare, and finally, because Tudor women were tough.

These are the biographical facts of Anne Locke’s life: she was the daughter of Steven Vaughan, who was in Henry VIII’s service shortly before the English Reformation. Vaughan fully supported the Protestant Reformation – probably a bit too enthusiastically, given that the 1530s was a time when overzealous reformers could come to a sticky end as easily as ardent Catholics. His daughter, Anne, was born in around 1530 and inherited her father’s reforming zeal. When Anne grew up she married Henry Locke, who shared the Vaughan family’s passion for Protestant reform. In 1553, the Scottish reformer John Knox stayed with the Lockes, until the accession of Catholic Bloody Mary sent him into self-exile on the Continent. Anne and her husband joined Knox in Switzerland in 1557, taking their two young children with them. Their daughter died four days after they arrived in Geneva. The Lockes didn’t stay long in Switzerland, and following the death of Mary I a year later, they returned to England. But Locke stayed in touch with Knox: Robert Louis Stevenson even argued that Anne Locke was the woman Knox loved more than any other. (We don’t know when Locke died – some time after 1590 is the best guess.)
Although she had not received a formal education – English schools were still all-male affairs – Locke had been taught the essentials, and could read and write well in several languages. This led to her translating some of the sermons of another Protestant Reformer, John Calvin, which were published in 1560.
But what’s particularly interesting is the sequence of 26 sonnets which she included in the book of sermons. Titled A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner: Written in Maner of A Paraphrase upon the 51. Psalme of David, it’s the first sonnet sequence written in English, published over twenty years before Sir Philip Sidney wrote his Astrophil and Stella and over thirty years before Shakespeare began his sonnets.
Locke’s authorship of the sonnets only became widely accepted by scholars recently, and for a long time the general view was that Knox had written them. Locke helped to fan the flames of speculation, claiming in her preface to the sonnets that they were the work of a ‘friend’ and she was merely including them in her volume. But the work appears to have been all Locke’s, although, as the full title of the sequence suggests, the poems are a paraphrase of the sentiments expressed in the 51st Psalm.

The author is correct about the sequence being a paraphrase, and I am attaching a modern translation of the verse for this week’s paraphrase(unlike the Lumnarium edition, which refers to a translation of that time)

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.

Psalm 51;2, NASB

Here is the Sonnet. Read it out loud and the spelling will become clear; this is well before dictionaries and regularization of spelling.

My many sinnes in nomber are encreast,
With weight wherof in sea of depe despeire
My sinking soule is now so sore opprest,
That now in peril and in present fere,


I crye: susteine me, Lord, and Lord I pray,
With endlesse nomber of thy mercies take
The endlesse nomber of my sinnes away.
So by thy mercie, for thy mercies sake,


Rue on me, Lord, releue me with thy grace.
My sinne is cause that I so nede to haue
Thy mercies ayde in my so woefull case:
My synne is cause that scarce I dare to craue


Thy mercie manyfolde, which onely may
Releue my soule, and take my sinnes away.

Anne Locke, Meditations of a Penitent Sinner, Sonnet 2.

Sunday Sonnet

Two blogs ago I went through Anne Locke’s sonnets, and translated them. Not going to do that again: this is Elizabethan English, and a meditation on Psalm 51. To make it easier, I’m attaching the verse from a modern, accurate translation.

Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.

Psalm 51:1, NASB

This is the first sonnet: there is one for each verse. Read them out loud, remembering that for Locke there was no standard spelling, the letters v, j and w were being experimented with, and she’s writing in early Scots English.

This is the first of Anne Locke’s poems, unedited and unmodified.

Doctor’s Point, Waitati.

Haue mercy, God, for thy great mercies sake.
O God: my God, vnto my shame I say,
Beynge fled from thee, so as I dred to take
Thy name in wretched mouth, and feare to pray
Or aske the mercy that I haue abusde.
But, God of mercy, let me come to thee:
Not for iustice, that iustly am accusde:
Which selfe word Iustice so amaseth me,
That scarce I dare thy mercy sound againe.
But mercie, Lord, yet suffer me to craue.
Mercie is thine: Let me not crye in vaine,
Thy great mercie for my great fault to haue.
Haue mercie, God, pitie my penitence
With greater mercie than my great offence.

Anne Locke, Confessions of a Penitent Sinner, Sonnet 1.

Over this week, one of those men of my generation, who by the grace of God returned to God, died. He is mourned by his friends. His meditations, knowing he was about to die, is not about him. It is about God, and how he also was left outside the people, feeling bereft. How living through this implies we are chosen, for we share in his sufferings.

Footprints, Doctor’s Point

We must ask ourselves what were Christ’s sufferings? The reproach of his people, the betrayal by his children, public humiliation, torture, and death on the cross. certainly. But what was the greatest source of his suffering? The agony that finally caused the human nature in Jesus to cry out ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” I believe Christ’s greatest suffering was the moment when, he who had from eternity past, always enjoyed perfect unity with the Father, for the first, and only time ever, was separated from the presence of God. Hell by definition, is the separation from God’s presence, from the light of his glory,cast  into the outer darkness….alone.
So my friends, in your darkest hour of need, when all seems lost, and you feel God has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to your plight, take heart in knowing that in this time, you are indeed sharing in the sufferings of Christ. You have been counted worthy to do so. It’s in these times that your desire for God is proved true or not. When nothing but God’s presence will comfort you. This is how we know that we belong to Jesus. That there is purpose to our suffering, and that purpose is to glorify God. So the purpose is to learn to endure, persevere, and strengthen your faith. Now it’s time to get on your feet, take up your cross, and approach humbly before God’s throne of grace. There, lay down your life at the feet of our Lord, put your faith and trust in Christ and say, “Father,not my will, but yours be done.” This is saving faith, this is a sacrifice that is pleasing to God.
God willing, in the future perhaps I will have the opportunity to write another article, but if not, then my friends I leave you with these last words.

Patrick Czyzewski, The Winged Hussar

We are saved not by what we have done. We are saved despite what we have done. God’s mercy is greater than the evil we have done or the hatred we have in him. But accepting this comes with a cost. The world will hate us, and we are not immune from the ailments that afflict a fallen humanity.

Locke knew this. As did the winged hussar, Patrick. May we also know that our God is greater than any circumstance we find ourselves in.