Heaven’s praises or sad complaint?

Reading for my dissertation, I came across this work by Francis Quarles. The stanza that especially stood out to me speaks about sigh and complaints that replace praise to God. Quarles says, “The afflicted captive, that can find no peace: Thus am I cooped within this fleshly Cage, I wear my youth, and waste my weary age, Spending that breath which was ordained to chant Heaven’s praises forth, in sighs and sad complaint.” Many times I only see the things that are broken or fallen in this world instead of looking for the things that remind me of God’s continued attention and care toward those that bear his image.

Book of the Fifth, Emblem Ten
Francis Quarles

MY soul is like a bird, my flesh the cage,
Wherein she wears her weary pilgrimage
Of hours, as few as evil, daily fed
With sacred wine and sacramental bread;
The keys that lock her in and let her out,
Are birth and death; ‘twixt both she hops about
From perch to perch, from sense to reason;
then From higher reason down to sense again:
From sense she climbs to faith; where for a season
She sits and sings; then down again to reason:
From reason back to faith, and straight from thence
She rudely flutters to the perch of sense:
From sense to hope; then hops from hope to doubt,
From doubt to dull despair; there seeks about
For desperate freedom, and at every grate
She wildly thrusts, and begs the untimely date
Of unexpired thraldom, to release
The afflicted captive, that can find no peace.
Thus am I cooped; within this fleshly cage
I wear my youth, and waste my weary age;
Spending that breath, which was ordained to chant
Heav’n’s praises forth, in sighs and sad complaint:
Whilst happier birds can spread their nimble wing
From shrubs to cedars, and there chirp and sing,
In choice of raptures, the harmonious story
Of man’s redemption, and his Maker’s glory:
You glorious martyrs, you illustrious stoops,
That once were cloistered in your fleshly coops
As fast as I, what rhetoric had your tongues?
What dexterous art had your elegiac songs?
What Paul-like power had your admired devotion?
What shackle-breaking faith infused such motion
To your strong prayer, that could obtain the boon
To be enlarged; to be encaged so soon?
Whilst I, poor I, can sing my daily tears,
Grown old in bondage, and can find no ears;
You great partakers of eternal glory,
That with your Heav’n-prevailing oratory
Released your souls from your terrestrial cage,
Permit the passion of my holy rage
To recommend my sorrows, dearly known
To you, in days of old, and once your own,
To your best thoughts, (but oh ‘t doth not befit ye
To move your prayers; you love joy, not pity;
Great LORD of souls, to whom should prisoners fly
But thee? thou hast a cage as well as I;
And, for my sake, thy pleasure was to know
The sorrows that it brought, and feltest them too
O let me free, and I will spend those days,
Which now I waste in begging, in thy praise.[1]


[1] Quarles, Francis, 1592-1644; Rogers, W. Harry (William Harry), 1825-1873; Bennett, Charles H. (Charles Henry), 1829-1867. Quarles’ emblems (Kindle Locations 3435-3465). London : James Nisbet and Co.


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