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ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Brides Ornaments: Meditat. V. Of Prayer.

The Brides Ornaments, viz. Five Meditiations, Morall and Divine. [Books III and IV.]

Robert Aylett


Robert Aylett anatomizes devotion, and gives examples of the efficacy of prayer.

Noam Flinker: "His poetic achievement is thin and mediocre at best. Spenserian in its form and ideas but Miltonic in its Protestant ethos, his verse provides undistinguished examples of seventeenth-century imitation" Spenser Encyclopedia (1990) 77.



As wise experienc'd, valiant Generall,
When's Souldier armed is from Foot to Head,
And hath at hand his Shield and Sword, and all
His Armour, with his Belt fast buckeled;
Yet him into the Battell will not lead,
Till he be taught his Sword aright to wield,
To take Advantages, if offered,
And to defend his Body with his Shield:
Then him thus taught and train'd he leads into the Field.

So wee, that in these spirituall Battells fight,
Not with frail Flesh, but Principality's;
And powers of exceeding force and might,
Besides their treason, plots, and policies,
Must first be taught in Armes to exercise;
That all in complete Armour ordered
And taught how to assault our enemy's,
They with our Sword may be discomfited,
And we from Hell and Bondage safe delivered,

I of this Military Art doe know
No Tutor like to holy supplication;
Prayer who use of all our Armes doth show,
The Serjeant Major of our Militation:
Divinest Prayer, holy Meditation,
Whereby with God we have sweet conference
About the Mysteries of Mans Salvation;
And call the Angells downe for our defence
'Gainst Flesh's, Worlds and Devils hostile violence.

Prayer, who though her knees bow in the dust,
Yet are her upper parts above the sky;
And do into th' Almighty's presence thrust,
To crave of all we want a new supply:
Which like to clouds of incense up doe fly,
If offered by his Sonnes sweet mediation;
Whose just requests, no Father, can deny:
Oh offer mine then, That this Meditation
May be directed by thy Spirits illumination.

True Prayer is the opening the desire
Ev'n of our Heart and Soule to God aright;
Them powring out to him, that doth require
We should lay open all before his sight:
The Sacrifice wherein he doth delight,
A sure defence to him that right doth pray;
The Scourge, wherewith we Sin and Satan smite,
And powers all and policies gainsay,
Our surest Refuge in each dangerous Affray.

For Christian souldier never kneeleth downe,
And lifts his heart up towards Heav'n to pray,
But all his Foes spirituall, him arowne
Assault and labour him herein to stay:
Then is it time for him about to lay,
With his sharp Sword to put them all to flight,
And for to arme each part lest they him slay,
With Greaves, Belt, Brestplate, Shield and Helmet bright,
In Faith, Hope, Patience, Truth and Righteousnesse to fight.

By Rules of Art, I Prayer may divide
To these two Heads, Thanksgiving, Invocation;
The second I in three doe subdivide,
Petition, Intercession, Deprecation;
First seekes Gods Glory and our owne Salvation;
The second doth for others make petition,
(So Christ doth intercede by mediation)
By last we do entreat for sins remission,
And be deliver'd from all ill, and superstition.

But as the Souldier, be he ne're so strong,
Well arm'd, and skil'd in points of Schoole-defence,
If that his spirit faint is laid along:
So if we in our Armes have confidence,
And not relye on Gods sole Providence;
His Spirit which helpeth our infirmities,
And doth instruct to pray with reverence,
Sending up heart and soul by sighs and cry's,
For all our Armes and strength our Foes will us surprise

For Spirit is the cause efficient,
Of all our prayers that to Heav'n ascend;
Though Faith be the Internall Instrument,
By which we all things aske, doe apprehend:
With Faith and Spirit, Prayer Heav'n doth rend,
And whatsoever shee in Christ his Name
Doth aske, the Father downe to us will send:
This Pagans saw (though otherwise too blame)
That Christians nothing beg, but they obtaine the same.

All Blessings spirituall, and temporall
Publike and private, for our selves and Friends;
All that in this life, or a better fall
To us almighty God for Prayer sends:
When Heav'n is shut up that no dew descends,
If we forsake our sins, and pray for raine,
The Heav'n on us abundant showers spends:
Though Foes us captive from our City's traine,
Yet Prayer makes us Free, and brings us home againe.

If Dearth, Drowth, Pestilence be in the Land,
Or City's be besieg'd by enemies,
Then if the cause thereof, we understand
Our sins, And seeke by Prayer remedy,
God will be mercifull accordingly:
Yea, if a Stranger, of an Heathen Nation,
Doe call on God by Prayer heartily;
And of his life do seeke a Reformation,
His Prayer shall be heard, by Christ his mediation.

Thus Prayer is for all things profitable,
If her true object she do never misse;
One God, who gracious, willing is and able,
And of our Heart the only Searcher is:
All things that are in Heav'n and Earth are his,
We must, no person in the Deity
Omit, when as we pray to him for Blisse:
All works externall, in the Trinity
Are one, though their internall have variety.

Divinest Pater-noster! whose one Word,
In it more heav'nly matter doth containe;
Then one whole hours babling can afford,
Suddaine abortives of an idle braine:
With tedious turnings, repetitions vaine;
Out tumbling all that in their stomack lies,
Which often goe beyond this Prayers straine,
As if they were more fervent or more wise,
Then he that for our patterne did it first devise.

Pure Prayer made by serious meditation,
Or by this holy patterne rightly pend;
Brief spirituall, sublime ejaculation,
With fervent Fury doth to Heav'n ascend,
And to the mark like swiftest arrow tend:
God is in Heav'n, thou kneelest on the ground,
To him therefore no rash petitions send;
Therein let matter more then words abound,
And inward sighs and groanes, then outward plaints and sound.

But Prayer; though by thy two mighty wings
Of Love, and Meeknesse, thou to Heav'n canst sore,
And come in presence of the King of Kings,
By pard'ning wrongs, and giving to the poore;
Presume not on thy merits ere the more
That Brightnesse who doth sit upon the Throne,
Angells not able are to stand before;
Alas how dar'st thou them there stand alone,
Without the mediation of the Holy One?

Like birdlime merits, so thy wings besmeare,
That thou not able art to take thy flight
Above the Firmament, or to come neere
That ever-shining Lamp of Heav'nly Light;
Which ought thy Prayers to direct aright
In Knowledge, Meeknesse, and Humility,
By which we feele and have an inward sight
Of our unworthinesse and misery,
And seeke else where, for worth and true felicity.

Ev'n to that lively Fountaine of the Lamb,
Which is a deepe Well, wondrously profound,
From which, by Prayer, breaking up the dam,
We draw up waters which doe there abound:
The depth of this rich Well, no Grace can sound,
But fervent Prayer, whenas She doth desire
To coole her thirst with waters therein sound,
Wherewith if once we coole our thirst, like Fire,
The more we drinke thereof, the hotter's our desire.

An Oxes lowing, barking of a Dog,
Grunting of Swine, doth more the Lord delight;
Then Prayers which the world and Flesh so clog,
They come not from us with an Heart and Sprite,
And as no salve or medicine hath might,
To heale the wound which Iron doth containe:
So Prayer never profiteth that wight,
In whom Hypocrisie or guile remaine;
For these still fester deeper to the Patients paine.

God is our Soules Physician, and know's best
What for her sicknesse is best remedy;
And therefore when we needfull things request
Of him for this our lives necessity,
He, better then his Patient, can descry
What is most fit to keepe him from the grave,
And cure him of his spirituall malady,
Wherefore when we receive not what we crave,
We know Christ better know's, then we what need we have.

Gods Word's the Sword, whereby our Lord doth sway
And rules his Church here as he is a King,
As Priest, he offers praises, and doth pray;
As Prophet he glad tidings us doth bring,
Most wisely teaching and admonishing:
Thus Aaron-like to God he doth present
Our prayers, praises, tythes and offering,
(For Aarons Office Christs did represent)
And makes them give to God an acceptable sent.

Prayer is mans best fence, the Angells joy,
The devils torture, Gods sweet sacrifice,
We by her meanes all blessings here enjoy,
By prayer we obtaine here to be wise;
By prayer with th' Almighty we advise,
By reading he doth answere us again;
But our Lip-labour he doth all despise,
Ah what doe then those simple people gain?
Which in a tongue unknown doe mutter praiers vain?

Oh! when the Spirit with understanding pray's,
And ev'n the Heart with sighs and groanes up sends
To him that willing, able is alway's
Us from Hell, Death and danger to defend:
Then, as a Bullet doth the welkin rend,
Blowne with the force of Powder and of Fire;
So doe our Prayers up to Heav'n ascend,
By Zeale and Force of spirituall desire,
Where they of God obtaine all things they can require.

Moses gainst Amalec doth more prevaile
By Prayer, and by holding up his hands,
Then mighty Josuah, though he doth assaile
Them with his strong and most selected bands:
At Josuahs short sweet prayer the Sun still stands,
Till he's avenged of his enemy's;
Elisha all the Host of God commands
Him to relieve in his necessities,
Ev'n Fiery Horse and Charrets keep him where he lies.

Prayer is able by plaine strength to wring
From hand-breadth Cloud, an Ocean of Raine;
And Captives out of Babylon to bring,
To worship in Hierusalem againe.
The Angell striv'd with Jacob but in vaine;
Without a Blessing he will not unloose;
Zenacharibs whole Host was spoyl'd and slaine,
By Hezekias Prayer: when we close
With God by Prayer, we our holds must never loose.

The Rams-horns, Trumpets, which seven Priests did blow,
Most lively doe strong Prayer represent;
Which with the peoples shout did overthrow
Proud wals of Jericho, to astonishment
Of all the wicked, that therein are pent:
This was the Musick Aarons sonnes did sound
With Trumpets, when to warre the people went;
When Daniel in Lyons Den was found,
True Prayer from their jawes him kept both safe and sound.

Tis not our words God lookes on, but the mind;
Not to the place, but to the true intent,
In dungeon Jeremy did comfort find;
And Job upon the dunghill takes content;
Three Children in the fiery Fornace pent,
Are heard, when Praises they to God doe sing:
The Thiefe from Crosse as gratefull Prayers sent,
As from his Temple Solomon the King,
The Hermits Cell may oft as loud as Steeple ring.

Not that from publike prayer I purloine,
Of which Gods house hath her denomination;
Where Priests and peoples hearts and voices joyn,
To teare the skies with cries and supplication:
Oh Force united of a Congregation!
In Gods owne house of Prayer gathered,
For Praise, Petition, or for Deprecation,
God nought denyeth so petitioned,
And wee thus from all evil are delivered.

When Peter slept with chaines in prison bound,
On each side Souldiers, Keepers at the doore,
The Church doth pray, though hee sleepe fast and sound,
And God him loosed from his chaines therefore:
And when the Angell lighteth him before,
The Iron Gate opes of his own accord:
Pauls, Davids, Samuells, a thousand more
Of Prayers, you may finde upon record,
All which may seem to bind to th' Peace our angry Lord.

I all conclude with his most heav'nly one,
Who did in day's of his Humility,
With loudest cries in spirit sigh and groane,
For Freedom of that dire calamity,
Which came on him for our Iniquitie:
And though he Legions could of Angells call,
To save him from inhumane cruelty,
Yet Lamb-like did before his Shearer fall,
Submitting to his Fathers will and pleasure all.

Without us, God will nothing for us doe,
We therefore must prepare to fight alway;
And without God we cannot stand nor goe,
And therefore must be alwaies swift to pray;
If these so pray'd when Foes did them assay,
When Flesh and Bloud with Flesh and Bloud did fight;
What shall we in this dangerous great affray,
When we encounter with spirituall might,
Which in his Agony did Christ our Head affright.

But ah! we at our first conversion pray
Most fervently oft for the novelty,
But after negligent, cold sleeping say
Our Pater-noster in security:
Thou sleep'st secure, but ah! thine Enemy
Doth watch thee then ev'n napping to surprise,
We then to God with all our hearts doe cry,
When as no thoughts withdraw us otherwise;
Alas! but few or none pray often in this wise.

Oh! that a man of base and filthy mold,
Should dare fall downe before Gods glorious Throne,
His wants and imperfections to unfold,
And have his heart like Nabals dead as stone;
When Angells that come neere that Holy One,
Are faine their face to cover with their wings;
So bright his glorious Majesty hath showne,
Who is the Lord of Lords, and King of Kings,
The searcher of our reines and tryer of all things.

When I no longer able am to fight,
Like Moses let me lift up hands and pray
Against the invisible Amalekite,
That spiritually doth seeke my soul to slay:
When I with Faith, two words, Our Father, say;
I pardon beg for Sin, Freedome from paine;
Gods Heyre and Sonne, Christs Brother, I that day
Am made, and gifts of Holy Ghost do gaine,
Then let me never mumble over words in vaine.

But I confesse, though I doe often prove,
There is no comfort like this one, to pray,
That is bestow'd on man from Heav'n above,
Yet finde I Satan prest and busie ay,
Mee in this holy duty to assay,
By wandring Thoughts, and vaine imaginations,
Which oft do leade my Mind so far astray,
I am bereav'd of Heav'nly cogitations,
And change for idle fancy's, holy meditations.

But Prayer doth so please my Muses straine,
That I omitted have of Praise to sing,
The Sacrifice we offer here againe,
For all the Bounty of our heav'nly King:
I liken her to Prayers either wing,
Forgiving wrongs, and Almes unto the poore
Our holy lively spirituall Offering,
Of Body, Soule, Heart, Tongue, and all our store,
With true Obedience to God for evermore.

Whilst here of Benefits no end we finde,
How should we ever make an end of praise;
Oh happy Bands! that us for ever binde,
Ev'n when our Soules and Body's Christ shall raise,
Our praise shall be eternall like our day's:
He that his time in praise and hymns would spend,
I him refer to Davids heav'nly Layes,
Divinely by the holy Spirit, pend,
My Muse now out of Breath, cannot this Mount ascend.

Oh let my voyce and heart together joyne!
God of the lips accepts not, but the heart;
Grant that my life in Holinesse may shine,
That Conscience may ever beare a part;
Presumptuous man! that dar'st thy Maker thwart,
To pour out fond petitions base and vaine,
When thou consid'rest before whom thou art,
Him that doth all leud lying lips disdaine,
And Hypocrites rewardeth with infernall paine.

If prayer be right, pure, sincere and meek;
It never empty shall returne again;
For God will either grant us what we seeke,
Or give us that shall be our greater gaine:
Mine heart, mine heart Lord! doth rejoyce amaine,
Ay in thine House of Prayer to abide;
Where Swallow's build, and Sparrow's are full faine
To lay their young ones by thine Altars side:
Me never let the Spirit of Prayer be deni'd!

But since I ought to pray continually,
How should my Pen of Prayer make an end;
My Saviour praying on the Crosse did dye;
With Prayer Steven his Soule to Heav'n did send,
But I began with Prayer, let mee end
With Praises to the Horne of my Salvation,
Who sure I hope his blessed Spirit did send,
To guide mee in this holy Meditation,
Which fills my Tongue with Praise, and Heart with Admiration.

[pp. 95-105]