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Reading Evelyn Waugh’s biography of St. Edmund Campion recently put me in mind to resample Playing Elizabeth’s Tune, a Beeb documentary featuring the sacred musick of William Byrd, a staunch Catholic who nonetheless thrived during Elizabeth’s reign because she trusted his loyalty and loved his musick.

What I hadn’t known before I put these two pieces together was that Byrd actually set to musick a poem lamenting the martyrdom and execution of Campion (and other priests) under Elizabeth’s reign, called “Why Do I Use My Paper, Ink and Pen.”  Here it is:

Why do I use my paper, ink and pen,
And call my wits to counsel what to say?
Such memories were made for mortal men;
I speak of Saints whose names cannot decay.
An Angel’s trump were fitter for to sound
Their glorious death if such on earth were found

That store of such were once on earth pursued,
The histories of ancient times record,
Whose constancy great tyrants’ rage subdued
Through patient death, professing Christ the Lord:
As his Apostles perfect witness bare,
With many more that blessed Martyrs were.

Whose patience rare and most courageous mind,
With fame renowned perpetual shall endure,
By whose examples we may rightly find,
Of holy life and death a pattern pure.
That we therefore their virtues may embrase
Pray we to Christ to guide us with his grace.

The criticism is seemingly subtle, but the point would have been got instantly by anyone at the time.  I marvel that Byrd felt secure enough in his patronage to take such a bold step.

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