“Whom grace made children, sin hath now made slaves”
William Drummond (13 December 1585 – 4 December 1649) was a Scottish poet, son of the first laird of Hawthornden in Midlothian, John Drummond and Susannah Fowler, sister of a poet and courtier to James VI of Scotland (who became James I of England), William Fowler. William Drummond studied law in France, but the death of his Father and inheritance of the title liberated him at the age of 24 to focus on his love of philosophy and poetry. His mystic vision yearned for primeval simplicity, a return to a state of innocence prior to the discovery of gold and the invention of sin.
From ‘Urania: Spiritual Poems’ section of The poems of William Drummond of Hawthornden, published 1890s:
IF with such passing beauty, choice delights,
The architect of this great round did frame This palace visible, which world we name, Yet silly mansion but of mortal wights; How many wonders, what amazing lights, Must that triumphing seat of glory claim, Which doth transcend all this great All’s high heights,
Of whose bright sun ours here is but a beam!
O blest abode! O happy dwelling-place
Where visibly th’ Invisible doth reign! Blest people, who do see true beauty’s face, With whose dark shadows he but earth doth deign, All joy is but annoy, all concord strife, Match’d with your endless bliss and happy life.
LOVE which is here a care.
That wit and will doth mar,
Uncertain truce, and a most certain war; A shrill tempestuous wind, Which doth disturb the mind, And, like wild waves, our designs all commove; Among those sprights above Which see their Maker’s face, It a contentment is, a quiet peace,
A pleasure void of grief, a constant rest,
Eternal joy which nothing can molest.
WHAT hapless hap had I now to be born In these unhappy times, and dying days, Of this else-doating world, when good decays, Love is quench’d forth, and virtue held a scorn; When such are only priz’d, by wretched ways Who with a golden fleece them can adorn, When avarice and lust are counted praise, And noble minds live orphan-like forlorn?
Why was not I into that golden age,
When gold yet was not known, and those black arts, By which base mortals vilely play their parts, And stain with horrid acts earth’s stately stage? Then to have been, heaven! it had been my bliss; But bless me now, and take me soon from this.
THRICE happy he, who by some shady grove, Far from the clamorous world doth live his own, Though solitare, yet who is not alone, But doth converse with that eternal love. O how more sweet is birds’ harmonious moan, Or the soft sobbings of the widow’d dove, Than those smooth whisp’rings near a prince’s throne, Which good make doubtful, do the evil approve! O how more sweet is zephyr’s wholesome breath, And sighs perfum’d, which do the flowers unfold, Than that applause vain honour doth bequeath! How sweet are streams to poison drunk in gold! The world is full of horrors, falsehoods, slights; Woods’ silent shades have only true lights.
WHY, worldlings, do ye trust frail honour’s dreams, And lean to gilded glories which decay? Why do ye toil to registrate your names In icy columns, which soon melt away? True honour is not here; that place it claims, Where black-brow’d night doth not exile the day, Nor no far-shining lamp dives in the sea, But an eternal sun spreads lasting beams.
William Drummond had a very frank and affectionate correspondence with prominent poet Michael Drayton (1563-1631):
“My dear noble Drummond,” wrote Drayton in a letter dated London, November 9, 1618, “your letters were as welcome to me as if they had come from my mistress; which I think is one of the fairest and worthiest living” [the good Drayton was then fifty-five years old]. “Little did of yours, you think how oft that noble friend Sir William Alexander (that man of men), and I have remembered you before we trafficked in friendship. Love me as much as you can, and so I will you: I can never hear of you too oft, and I will ever mention you with much respect of your deserved worth.” “Joseph Davis is in love with you,” he adds in a postscript. Drummond, not to be outdone in politeness, replies on the 20th of December: “If my letters were so welcome to you, what may you think yours were to me, which must be so much more welcome in that the conquest I make is more than that of yours? They who by some strange means have had conference with some of the old heroes, can only judge that delight I had in reading them; for they were to me as if they had come from Virgil, Ovid, or the Father of our sonnets, Petrarch.”
From The poems of William Drummond of Hawthornden, published 1890s
The Urania poems were included in a collection published in 1623 called Flowers of Sion. They reveal his repugnance of the harsh bigotry found in Scottish Calvinism. “He was no lover of priestcraft,” says the editor of the 1890s book. “The reader will not fail to be struck by the freedom from narrow dogma which characterises Flowers of Sion especially if he regard the time and place its production. It appeals, upon the whole, to Christians of all shades of opinion; more particularly, perhaps, to Christians of a meta- physical turn; and much of it should appeal to non-Christians also. It treats of the sublimest themes – divine love and mercy, the beauty of virtue, the vanity of earthly things, the exaltation of the soul to God. One theme there is which, more than all the rest, kindles the poet’s enthusiasm; and a considerable portion of the book is, in fact, a sermon, in sweet and fervid verse, upon the text, ‘God is Love.'”
In the 19th century Uranian would become the name chosen by poets and philosophers seeking to give same sex love and gender fluidity a noble and mythical history, relating to Aphrodite Urania, the Goddess of same sex relationships.
In his work Cypress Grove Drummond muses on acceptance of death and the metaphysical nature of life. He is one of the first Europeans of modern times to envision the birth of Cosmic Consciousness:
“That time doth approach… in which the dead shall live, and the living be changed, and of all actions the guerdon is at hand: then shall there be an end without an end, time shall finish, and place shall be altered, motion yielding unto rest, and another world of an age eternal and unchangeable shall arise.”
This vision would be echoed in the mystical Uranian writings of Walt Whitman, Edward Carpenter, Richard Bucke, William James and others in the late 19th and early 20th century, all of whom saw same sex love as part of the natural divine order, and a doorway to mystical vision, known as ‘cosmic consciousness.’
“O love and pity! ill known of these times, O love and pity! careful of our bliss,
O goodness! with the heinous acts and crimes
Of this black age that almost vanquish’d is, Make this excessive ardour of thy love So warm our coldness, so our lives renew, That we from sin, sin may from us remove, Wit may our will, faith may our wit subdue.
Let thy pure love burn up all mortal lust, That band of ills which thralls our better part, And fondly makes us worship fleshly dust, Instead of thee, in temple of our heart.
Grant, when at last the spright shall leave tomb,
This loathsome shop of sin, and mansion blind, And (call’d) before thy royal seat doth come, It may a saviour, not a judge, thee find.