Sonnet for National Poetry Day

Today is National Poetry Day, and what better way to celebrate than with a sonnet?

The popular image of the Calvinism of the Scottish Reformation is that it was a dour religion with no time for art. So you may be surprised to hear that this sonnet can be found in nothing less than the Church of Scotland’s official prayer book – the Book of Common Order.

The Book of Common Order, or Knox’s Liturgy, was written by Knox for the English Congregation at Frankfurt in Germany; he had derived much of it from Calvin, who approved it. When a number of families left Frankfurt for Geneva in 1555 after a quarrel, they adopted it as their prayer book too. It was published in Geneva in 1556.
The Scots also adopted this order of service for their new Presbyterian kirk, and Robert Lekpreuik published several editions in Edinburgh in the 1560s. The edition we are showing in our display was published in 1565 with a new title page, additional prayers and the metrical psalms, complete with tunes: The forme of prayers and ministration of the sacraments &c. vsed in the English Church at Geneua, approued & receiued by the churche of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1565. (Edinburgh: Robert Lekpreuik, 1565, H.29.d.5c)

The last thing I was expecting to find when I opened this book was a sonnet – and one dedicated to the Church of Scotland itself. It was written by William Stewart, Ross Herald.

Thou Litle Church, To Whom Christ Hath Restorde
The Cleare Lost Light Of His Evangel Pure :
Thy God Doth With All Diligence Procure
That With His Worde, Thou Maist Be Stil Decorde.

Thogh Thou Have Long His Wholesome Trueth Abhorde,
Yet His Great Mercies Did Thy Blindnes Cure,
Submitting Thee Unto The Careful Cure
Of Suche Pastours, As Truely Teache His Worde.

Out Of Whose Hands, (with Great Thanks,) Now Receive
All David’s Psalmes Set Foorth In Pleasant Verse :
A Greater Gift Of Them Thou Couldst Not Crave,
Whose Endles Frute My Pen Can Not Rehearse :
For Here Thou Hast, For Everie Accident
That May Occurre, A Doctrine Pertinent.

The author of this sonnet went in a few short years from being a champion of the religious establishment to quite the opposite, if the account of his death is to be believed: he was burned at St Andrews in 1569 for ’sorcery and necromancy’.

You can find more modern Scottish poetry for National Poetry Day in this special web feature on the NLS website – and see also our Modern Scottish Collections blog