“Several of the sonnets from Anne Locke’s A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner” by Anne Lock. Wikimedia Commons.
by Lucas Chapman
Published in 1560, “A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner” is the first sonnet cycle to be written in the English language. Penned by Anne Vaughn Locke Derring Prowse, “A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner” was appended to four sermons by John Calvin. Locke had translated these sermons from French and compiled into a book titled Sermons of John Calvin, upon the songe that Ezechias made after he had been sicke, and afflicted by the hand of God. In some later versions of the book, Psalm 51 was printed alongside the cycle, the verses lining up with their corresponding sonnets.
The sonnet cycle contains two sequences, “The Preface, Expressing the Passioned Minde of the Penitent Sinner” and “A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner Upon The 51 Psalme.” The “Preface” sequence contains five sonnets introducing the author as a penitent sinner. The “51 Psalme” sequence contains 21 sonnets and paraphrases Psalm 51, one sonnet for each of the 19 verses plus one additional sonnet given to verses one and four. All sonnets in the cycle follow the ABAB CDCD EFEF GG pattern, later to be known as the “Shakespearean sonnet” form.
Born sometime around 1530, Anne was the daughter of Stephen Vaughan, a “merchant adventurer” who would go on to serve Oliver Cromwell (Dale). From a young age, Anne was put under the tutelage of a Master Cob. Cob was notable both for his learning and for being put on trial at least three times as a religious dissident. Anne was fluent in English, French, and Latin, and was most likely fluent in Greek and Italian as well. Anne and her family had been part of Henry VIII’s court and were staunch and well-connected Protestants that were compelled into exile with the reign of Mary Tudor (Mary I) and the persecution of Protestants which would earn the Queen the nickname “Bloody Mary.”
Historical and Literary Context
After Mary’s ascension, Anne, along with many other Protestant aristocrats, found herself living in exile in Geneva. It is here that she would experience the trauma of losing her infant girl, Anne, four days after her arrival (Kastan). In 1559, Anne was finally able to return to England after Queen Elizabeth I succeeded Mary Tudor; one year later, Anne would publish Sermons of John Calvin.
Anne would produce two other works; her second work would be a four-line Latin poem included in the Giardino cosmografico coltivato (1572). The coltivato was an Italian encyclopedia partly created to assist her second husband’s (Edward Dering) reputation with the queen after he warned her not to become like “an untamed and unruly heifer” in one of his sermons.
Anne’s third work was another translation, this time Jean Taffin’s Of the Markes of the Children of God. There is much speculation over why she chose to translate the Children of God sermon over any others. Many point to the persecution of Calvinist leaders taking place all across Europe at the time; the sermon is said to be both comforting to Puritans and rebuking towards the established Church.
Although most of the original readers of Sermons of John Calvin knew it was penned by Anne’s hand when they read it, the authorship of Sermons, along with Meditations of a Penitent Sinner, was unknown until relatively recently. The cause of this is twofold. One issue arose from the fact that Anne only signed the work with her initials “A.L..” Anne probably did this to protect her identity both as a woman and a Protestant; there were still many that held ill will towards the sect. The second issue comes from the fact that Anne married three times in her lifetime, and would publish her Latin poem as Anne Dering and Children of God as Anne Prowse.
Kastan, Scott. The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, Volume 1. New Oxford University Press, 2006. pp. 320 books.google.com/books?id=DlMUSz-hiuEC&lpg=RA2-PA323&dq=anne%20locke%20latin%20poem&pg=RA2-PA320#v=onepage&q&f=false.. 5 May 2020. Accessed 13 May 2020.
Dale, M.K. “VAUGHAN, Stephen (by 1502-49), of St. Mary-le-Bow, London”. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, 1982 www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/vaughan-stephen-1502-49. Accessed 13 May 2020. 5 May 2020.
- Given that “Meditation” was published in the back of a book of translations of John Calvin, how do you think Anne Locke would feel now that her work has attained the level of notoriety it has?
- Do you think Locke was truly the first to write a sonnet cycle in English? If so, do you think she knew that she was doing it?
- How would the strong mood of guilt, sorrow, and penitence have resonated with its audience of 16th century Calvinists? How would it resonate with a modern audience? How did it resonate with you?
- A New Yorker article by Jamie Quatro on Anne Lock titled, “The Hidden Life of a Forgotten Sixteenth Century Poet.”
- An essay by Deirdre Serjeantson from the University of Essex on “The Problem of Ascription” in Anne Locke’s “Meditation of a Penitent Sinner”.
- A video clip on Calvinism as part of Oxford University’s “Very Short Introduction” video series featuring Jon Balserak
Reading: A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner
The Preface, Expressing the Passioned Minde of the Penitent Sinner
(1) The hainous gylt of my forsaken ghost
So threates, alas, vnto my febled sprite
Deserued death, and (that me greueth most)
Still stand so fixt before my daseld sight
The lothesome filthe of my disteined life,
The mighty wrath of myne offended Lorde,
My Lord whos wrath is sharper than the knife,
And deper woundes than doble edged sworde,
That as the dimmed and fordulled eyen
Full fraught with teares & more & more opprest
With growing streames of the distilled bryne
Sent from the fornace of a grefefull brest,
Can not enioy the comfort of the light,
Nor finde the waye wherin to walke aright:
(15) So I blinde wretch, whome Gods enflamed tre
with pearcing stroke hath throwne vnto ye groūd,
Amidde my sinnes still groueling in the myre,
Finde not the way that other oft haue found,
Whome cherefull glimse of gods abounding grace
Hath oft releued and oft with shyning light
Hath brought to ioy out of the vgglye place,
Where I in darke of euerlasting night
Bewayle my woefull and vnhappy case,
And fret my dyeng soule with gnawing paine.
Yet blinde, alas, I groape about for grace.
While blinde for grace I groape about in vaine,
My fainting breath I gather vp and straine,
Mercie, mercie to crye and crye againe.
(29) But mercy while I sound with shreking crye
For graūt of grace and pardon while I pray,
Euen then despeir before my ruthefull eye
Spredes forth my sinne & shame, & semes to saye
In vaine thou brayest forth thy bootlesse noyse
To him for mercy, O refused wight,
That heares not the forsaken sinners voice.
Thy reprobate and foreordeined sprite,
For damned vessell of his heauie wrath,
(As selfe witnes of thy beknowyng hart.
And secrete gilt of thine owne conscience saith)
Of his swete promises can claime no part:
But thee, caytif, deserued curse doeth draw
To hell, by iustice, for offended law.
(43) This horror whē my trēbling soule doth heare,
When markes and tokens of the reprobate,
My growing sinnes, of grace my senslesse cheare▪
Enforce the profe of euerlastyng hate,
That I conceiue the heauens king to beare
Against my sinfull and forsaken ghost:
As in the throte of hell, I quake for feare,
And then in present perill to be lost
(Although by conscience wanteth to replye,
But with remorse enforcing myne offence,
Doth argue vaine my not auailyng crye)
With woefull sighes and bitter penitence
To him from whom the endlesse mercy flowes
I cry for mercy to releue my woes.
(57) And then not daring with presuming eye
Once to beholde the angry heauens face,
From troubled sprite. I send confused crye,
To craue the crummes of all sufficing grace.
With foltring knee I fallyng to the ground,
Bendyng my yelding handes to heauens throne,
Poure forth my piteous plaint wt woefull sound,
With smoking sighes, & oft repeted grone,
Before the Lord, the Lord, whom synner I,
I cursed wretch, I haue offended so,
That dredyng, in his wrekefull wrath to dye,
And damned downe to depth of hell to go,
Thus tost with panges and passions of despeir,
(70) Thus craue I mercy with repentant chere.
A Meditation of a Pentitent Sinner upon the 51 Psalme
(71) Haue mercy, God, for thy great mercies sake. 1. Have mercy upon me, O God,
O God: my God, vnto my shame I say, according to thy lovingkindness:
Beynge fled from thee, so as I dred to take according unto the multitude of
Thy name in wretched mouth, and feare to pray thy tender mercies blot out my
Or aske the mercy that I haue abusde. transgressions.
But, God of mercy, let me come to thee:
Not for iustice, that iustly am accusde:
Which selfe word Iustice so amaseth me,
That scarce I dare thy mercy sound againe.
But mercie, Lord, yet suffer me to craue.
Mercie is thine: Let me not crye in vaine,
Thy great mercie for my great fault to haue.
Haue mercie, God, pitie my penitence
With greater mercie than my great offence.
(85) My many sinnes in nomber are encreast,
With weight wherof in sea of depe despeire
My sinking soule is now so sore opprest,
That now in peril and in present fere,
I crye: susteine me, Lord, and Lord I pray▪
With endlesse nomber of thy mercies take
The endlesse nomber of my sinnes away.
So by thy mercie, for thy mercies sake,
Rue on me, Lord, releue me with thy grace.
My sinne is cause that I so nede to haue
Thy mercies ayde in my so woefull case:
My synne is cause that scarce I dare to craue
Thy mercie manyfolde, whiche onely may
Releue my soule, and take my sinnes away.
(99) So soule is sinne and lothesome in thy sighte, 2. Wash me throughly from
So foule with sinne I see my selfe to be, mine iniquity, and cleanse me
That till from sinne I may be washed white, from my sin.
So foule I dare not, Lord, approche to thee.
Ofte hath thy mercie washed me before,
Thou madest me cleane: but I am foule againe.
Yet washe me Lord againe, and washe me more.
Washe me, O Lord, and do away the staine
Of vggly sinnes that in my soule appere.
Let flow thy plētuous streames of clensing grace.
Washe me againe, yea washe me euery where,
Bothe leprous bodie and defiled face.
Yea washe me all, for I am all vncleane.
And from my sin, Lord, cleanse me ones againe.
(113) Haue mercie, Lord, haue mercie:* for I know 3. For I acknowledge my
How muche I nede thy mercie in this case. transgressions: and my sin is
The horror of my gilt doth dayly growe, ever before me.
And growing weares my feble hope of grace.
I fele and suffer in my thralled brest
Secret remorse and gnawing of my hart.
I fele my sinne, my sinne that hath opprest
My soule with sorrow and surmounting smart.
Drawe me to mercie: for so oft as I
Presume to mercy to direct my sight,
My Chaos and my heape of sinne doth lie,
Betwene me and thy mercies shining light.
What euer way I gaze about for grace,
My filth and fault are euer in my face.
(127) Graunt thou me mercy, Lord: thee thee alone 4. Against thee, thee only, have
I haue offended, and offendyng thee, I sinned, and done this evil in
For mercy loe, how I do lye and grone. thy sight: that thou mightest be
Thou with allpearcing eye beheldest me, justified when thou speakest,
Without regard that sinned in thy sight. and be clear when thou judgest.
Beholde againe, how now my spirite it rues,
And wailes the tyme, when I with foule delight
Thy swete forbearing mercy did abuse.
My cruell conscience with sharpned knife
Doth splat my ripped hert, and layes abrode
The loth•some secretes of my filthy life,
And spredes them forth before the face of God.
Whō shame frō dede shamelesse cold not restrain,
Shame for my dede is added to my paine.
(141) But therey Lord, O Lord some pitie take,
*Withdraw my soule from the deserued hell
O Lord of glory, for thy glories sake:
That I may saued of thy mercy tell,
And shew how thou, which mercy hast behight
To sighyng sinners, that haue broke thy lawes,
Performest mercy: so as in the sight
Of them that iudge the iustice of thy cause
Thou onely iust be demed, and no moe,
The worldes vniustice wholy to confound:
That damning me to depth of during woe
Iust in thy iudgement shouldest thou be found:
And from deserued •la•es releuyng me
Iust in thy mercy mayst thou also be.
(155) For lo, in sinne, Lord, I begotten was,* 5. Behold, I was shapen in
With sede and shape my sinne I toke also, iniquity; and in sin did my
Sinne is my nature and my kinde alas, mother conceive me.
In sinne my mother me conceiued: Lo
I am but sinne, and sinfull ought to dye,
Dye in his wrath that hath forbydden sinne.
Such bloome and frute loe sinne doth multiplie,
Such was my roote, such is my iuyse within.
I plead not this as to excuse my blame,
On kynde or parentes myne owne gilt to lay:
But by disclosing of my sinne, my shame,
And nede of helpe, the plainer to displaye
Thy mightie mercy, if with plenteous grace
My plenteous sinnes it please thee to deface.
(169) Thou louest simple sooth, not hidden face 6. Behold, thou desirest truth in
With trutheles visour of deceiuing showe. the inward parts: and in the
Lo simplie, Lord, I do confesse my case, hidden part thou shalt make me
And simplie craue thy mercy in my woe. to know wisdom.
This secrete wisedom hast thou graunted me,
To se my sinnes, & whence my sinnes do growe:
This hidden knowledge haue I learnd of thee,
To fele my sinnes, and howe my sinnes do flowe
With such excesse, that with vnfained hert,
Dreding to drowne, my Lorde, lo howe I flee,
Simply with teares bewailyng my desert,
Releued simply by thy hand to be.
Thou louest truth, thou taughtest me the same.
Helpe, Lord of truth, for glory of thy name.
(183) With swete Hysope besprinkle thou my sprite: 7. Purge me with hyssop, and I
Not such hysope, nor so besprinkle me, shall be clean: wash me, and I
As law vnperfect shade of perfect light shall be whiter than snow.
Did vse as an apointed signe to be
Foreshewing figure of thy grace behight.
With death and bloodshed of thine only sonne▪
The swete hysope, cleanse me defyled wyght.
Sprinkle my soule. And when thou so haste done,
Bedeawd with droppes of mercy and of grace▪
I shalbe cleane as cleansed of my synne.
Ah wash me, Lord: for I am foule alas:
That only canst, Lord, wash me well within,
Wash me, O Lord: when I am washed soe,
I shalbe whiter than the whitest snowe.
(197) Long haue I heard, & yet I heare the soundes 8. Make me to hear joy and
Of dredfull threates and thonders of the law, gladness; that the bones which
Which Eccho of my gylty minde resoundes, thou hast broken may rejoice.
And with redoubled horror doth so draw
My listening soule from mercies gentle voice,
That louder, Lorde, I am constraynde to call:
Lorde, pearce myne eares, & make me to reioyse▪
When I shall heare, and when thy mercy shall
Sounde in my hart the gospell of thy grace.
Then shalt thou geue my hearing ioy againe,
The ioy that onely may releue my case.
And then my broosed bones, that thou with paine
Hast made to weake my febled corps to beare,
Shall leape for ioy, to shewe myne inward chere.
(211) Loke on me, Lord: though trēbling I beknowe, 9. Hide thy face from my sins,
That sight of sinne so sore offendeth thee, and blot out all mine iniquities.
That seing sinne, how it doth ouerflowe
My whelmed soule, thou canst not loke on me,
But with disdaine, with horror and despite.
Loke on me, Lord: but loke not on my sinne.
Not that I hope to hyde it from thy sight,
Which seest me all without and eke within.
But so remoue it from thy wrathfull eye,
And from the iustice of thyne angry face,
That thou impute it not. Looke not how I
Am foule by sinne: but make me by thy grace
Pure in thy mercies sight, and, Lord, I pray
That hatest sinne, wipe all my sinnes away.
(225) Sinne and despeir haue so possest my hart, 10. Create in me a clean heart,
And hold my captiue soule in such restraint, O God; and renew a right spirit
As of thy mercies I can fele no part, within me.
But still in languor do I lye and faint.
Create a new pure hart within my brest:
Myne old can hold no liquour of thy grace.
My feble faith with heauy lode opprest
Staggring doth scarcely creepe a reeling pace,
And fallen it is to faint to rise againe.
Renew, O Lord, in me a constant sprite,
That stayde with mercy may my soule susteine
A sprite so setled and so firmely pight
Within my bowells, that it neuer moue,
But still vphold thassurance of thy loue.
(239) Loe prostrate, Lorde, before thy face I lye, 11. Cast me not away from thy
With sighes depe drawne depe sorow to expresse presence; and take not thy holy
O Lord of mercie, mercie do I crye: spirit from me.
Dryue me not from thy face in my distresse,
Thy face of mercie and of swete relefe,
The face that fedes angels with onely sight,
The face of comfort in extremest grefe.
Take not away the succour of thy sprite,
Thy holy sprite, which is myne onely stay,
The stay that when despeir assaileth me,
In faintest hope yet moueth me to pray,
To pray for mercy, and to pray to thee.
Lord, cast me not from presence of thy face,
Nor take from me the spirite of thy grace.
(253) *But render me my wonted ioyes againe, 12. Restore unto me the joy of
Which sinne hath rest, and planted in theyr place thy salvation; and uphold me
Doubt of thy mercy ground of all my paine. with thy free spirit.
The tast, that thy loue whilome did embrace
My chearfull soule, the signes that dyd assure
My felyng ghost of fauor in thy sight,
Are fled from me, and wretched I endure
Senslesse of grace the absence of thy sprite.
Restore my ioyes, and make me fele againe
The swete retorne of grace that I haue lost,
That I may hope I pray not all in vayne.
With thy free sprite confirme my feble ghost.
To hold my faith from ruine and decay
With fast affiance and assured stay.
(267) *Lord, of thy mercy if thou me withdraw 13. Then will I teach
From gaping throte of depe deuouring hell, transgressors thy ways; and
Loe, I shall preach the iustice of thy law: sinners shall be converted unto
By mercy saued, thy mercy shall I tell. thee.
The wicked I wyll teache thyne only way,
Thy wayes to take, and mans deuise to flee,
And suche as lewd de•ight hath ledde astray,
To rue theyr errour and returne to thee.
So shall the profe of myne example preache
The bitter frute of lust and foule delight:
So shall my pardon by thy mercy teache
The way to finde swete mercy in thy sight.
Hyue mercy, Lorde, in me example make
Of lawe and mercy, for thy mercies sake.
(281) O God, God of my health, my sauing God, 14. Deliver me from
Haue mercy Lord, and shew thy might to saue, bloodguiltiness, O God, thou
Assoile me, God, from gilt of giltlesse blod, God of my salvation: and my
And cke from sinne that I ingrow•ng haue tongue shall sing aloud of thy
By fleshe and bloud and by corrupted kinde. righteousness.
Vpon my bloud and soule extende not, Lorde,
Vengeance for bloud, but mercy let me finde,
And strike me not with thy reuengyng sworde.
So, Lord, my ioying tong shall talke thy praise,
Thy name my mouth shall vtter in delight,
My voice shall sounde thy iustice, and thy waies,
Thy waies to iustifie thy sinfull wight.
God of my health, from bloud I saued so
Shall spred thy prayse for all the world to know.
(295) Lo straining crampe of colde despeir againe 15. O Lord, open thou my lips;
In feble brest doth pinche my pinyng hart, and my mouth shall shew forth
So as in greatest nede to cry and plaine thy praise.
My speache doth faile to vtter thee my smart.
Refreshe my yeldyng hert, with warming grace,
And loose my speche, and make me call to thee.
Lord open thou my lippes to shewe my case,
My Lord, for mercy Loe to thee I flee.
I can not pray without thy mouyng ayde,
Ne can I ryse, ne can I stande alone.
Lord, make me pray, & graūt whē I haue praide.
Lord loose my lippes, I may expresse my mone
And findyng grace with open mouth I may
Thy mercies praise, and holy name display.
(309) Thy mercies praise, instede of sacrifice, 16. For thou desirest not
With thankfull minde so shall I yeld to thee. sacrifice; else would I give it:
For if it were delitefull in thine eyes, thou delightest not in burnt
Or hereby mought thy wrath appeased be offering.
Of cattell slayne and burnt with sacred flame
Vp to the heauen the vaprie smoke to send:
Of gyltlesse beastes, to purge my gilt and blame,
On altars broylde the sauour shold ascend,
To pease thy wrath. But thy swete sonne alone,
With one sufficing sacrifice for all
Appeaseth thee, and maketh the at one
With sinfull man, and hath repaird our fall.
That sacred hoste is euer in thine eyes.
The praise of that I yeld for sacrifice.
(323) I yeld my self, I offer vp my ghoste, 17. The sacrifices of God are a
My slayne delightes, my dyeng hart to thee. broken spirit: a broken and a
To God a trobled sprite is pleasing hoste. contrite heart, O God, thou wilt
My trobled sprite doth drede like him to be, not despise.
In whome tastlesse languor with lingring pain
Hath febled so the starued appetite,
That foode to late is offred all in vaine,
To holde in fainting corps the fleing sprite.
My pining soule for famine of thy grace
So feares alas the faintnesse of my faithe.
I offre vp my trobled sprite: alas,
My trobled sprite refuse not in thy wrathe.
Such offring likes thee, ne wilt thou despise
The broken humbled hart in angry wise.
(337) Shew mercie, Lord, not vnto me alone: 18. Do good in thy good
But stretch thy fauor and thy pleased will, pleasure unto Zion: build thou
To sprede thy bountie and thy grace vpon the walls of Jerusalem.
Sion, for Sion is thy holly hyll:
That thy Hierusalem with mighty wall
May be enclosed vnder thy defense.
And bylded so that it may neuer fall
By myning fraude or mighty violence.
Defend thy chirch, Lord, and aduaunce it soe,
So in despite of tyrannie to stand,
That trēbling at thy power the world may know
It is vpholden by thy mighty hand:
That Sion and Hierusalem may be
A safe abode for them that honor thee.
(351) Then on thy hill, and in thy walled towne, 19. Then shalt thou be pleased
Thou shalt receaue the pleasing sacrifice. with the sacrifices of
The brute shall of thy praised name resoune righteousness, with burnt
In thankfull mouthes, and then with gentle eyes offering and whole burnt
Thou shalt behold vpon thine altar lye offering: then shall they offer
Many a yelden host of humbled hart, bullocks upon thine altar.
And round about then shall thy people crye:
We praise thee, God our God: thou onely art
The God of might, of mercie, and of grace.
That I then, Lorde, may also honor thee.
Releue my sorow, and my sinnes deface:
Be, Lord of mercie, mercifull to me:
Restore my feling of thy grace againe:
(364) Assure my soule, I craue it not in vaine.
Lock, Anne. Sermons of Iohn Caluin, vpon the songe that Ezechias made after he had bene sicke and afflicted by the hand of God. Early English Books Online, University of Michigan, n.d, and is licensed under CC0 1.0 Public Domain Dedication.