Pilgrim Queen

The Pilgrim Queen, was written in 1849 as a hymn for the Virgin Mary by Blessed John Henry Newman, after he had established the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England. Newman’s earlier poetry, before he converted to Catholicism, was written during the Oxford Movement, and is often complex and can be difficult to understand at first reading. The early poetry was written for a different purpose than his later poetry; these later poems he wrote expressly to be sung as hymns, with the intent that they be easy to understand, especially by children. These hymn poems are straightforward and exceedingly charming in their lyrical language. The Pilgrim Queen is a perfect example of Newman’s hymn poetry; the verses’ meanings need little explanation. The Pilgrim Queen can be sung to many hymn tunes since the syllable count in each line is regular. This Newman hymn is appropriate for the week in which we have just celebrated the Queenship of Mary.

In the poem, we find Mary waiting, when Jesus is discovered missing from the tomb. Notice the striking imagery used throughout. For example, Christ’s tomb is both “planted deep” and “raised high.” This tomb is called a “palace of ice” for when Christ was gone for the hours until His resurrection, much like on Good Friday when the tabernacles are empty, and His palace (either the tomb or tabernacles) is without Him, who is all Light. When summer came (that is, His resurrection) the ice “melted” away.

 

The Pilgrim Queen (A Song.)

THERE sat a Lady

             all on the ground,

Rays of the morning

             circled her round,

Save thee, and hail to thee,

             Gracious and Fair,

In the chill twilight

             what wouldst thou there?

 

“Here I sit desolate,”

             sweetly said she,

“Though I’m a queen,

             and my name is Marie:

Robbers have rifled

             my garden and store,

Foes they have stolen

             my heir from my bower.

 

“They said they could keep Him

             far better than I,

In a palace all His,

             planted deep and raised high.

‘Twas a palace of ice,

             hard and cold as were they,

And when summer came,

             it all melted away.

 

“Next would they barter Him,

             Him the Supreme,

For the spice of the desert,

             and gold of the stream;

And me they bid wander

             in weeds and alone,

In this green merry land

             which once was my own.”

 

I look’d on that Lady,

             and out from her eyes

Came the deep glowing blue

             of Italy’s skies;

And she raised up her head

             and she smiled, as a Queen

On the day of her crowning,

             so bland and serene.

 

“A moment,” she said,

             “and the dead shall revive;

The giants are failing,

             the Saints are alive;

I am coming to rescue

             my home and my reign,

And Peter and Philip

             are close in my train.” (The Oratory.1849.)

 

The narrator of this poem who has come across our blessed Mother, recognizes her queenly appearance. Mary speaks to the narrator and gives him hope in his own resurrection, for she has been sent to rescue us. We, too, have recourse to her, like the narrator, since she has been crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth, as is told in the Book of Revelation. But do we remember to honor Mary as queen? By doing so we, too, may follow in her train with St. Peter and St. Philip Neri. Are we prepared for Christ to melt our hearts by the glory of His resurrection?

 

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