Monday, February 18, 2013

Mary Sidney Herbert

Mary Sidney Herbert (1561—1621) the Countess of Pembroke, is one of the first English women to be acknowledged as a significant writer. She was influential in many aspects of the society of her day. She established “The Wilton Circle” — a literary group which included Edmund Spenser and her brother, Sir Philip Sidney. She was also accomplished as a poet and theologian.

Her brother had been working on a verse translation of the Psalms at the time of his death (1586) — having completed the first 43 Psalms. Mary continued the project, translating Psalms 44 to 150. Her Psalm translations became very influential on the subsequent generation of British poets — particularly on John Donne and George Herbert.

In 1601, King James I visited her at Wilton, where he was entertained by Shakespeare’s company The King’s Men. Shakespeare’s first folio (1623) was dedicated to two of her sons.

Psalm 52

Tyrant, why swell'st thou thus,
------Of mischief vaunting?
Since help from God to us
------Is never wanting.

Lewd lies thy tongue contrives,
------Loud lies it soundeth;
Sharper than sharpest knives
------With lies it woundeth.

Falsehood thy wit approves,
------All truth rejected:
Thy will all vices loves,
------Virtue neglected.

Not words from cursed thee,
------But gulfs are poured;
Gulfs wherein daily be
------Good men devoured.

Think'st thou to bear it so?
------God shall displace thee;
God shall thee overthrow,
------Crush thee, deface thee.

The just shall fearing see
------These fearful chances,
And laughing shoot at thee
------With scornful glances.

Lo, lo, the wretched wight,
------Who God disdaining,
His mischief made his might,
------His guard his gaining.

I as an olive tree
------Still green shall flourish:
God's house the soil shall be
------My roots to nourish.

My trust in his true love
------Truly attending,
Shall never thence remove,
------Never see ending.

Thee will I honour still,
------Lord, for this justice;
There fix my hopes I will
------Where thy saints' trust is.

Thy saints trust in thy name,
------Therein they joy them:
Protected by the same,
------Naught can annoy them.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: