After Jesuit priest Robert Southwell's execution in February 1595, his letters and poems surged in popularity, and demand for his newly printed works quickly outstripped supply. Moeoniae, a collection of twenty-two poems ‘both Diuine and Wittie’ printed as an addendum to his popular Saint Peter's Complaint, had two editions in 1595 alone, and at least one more before the end of the century. Poem number 18 in Moeoniae, ‘Upon the Image of Death’, also appears in the seventeenth-century Waferer Commonplace Book (British Library Add. MS 52585) but only in one other manuscript collection with the rest of his poems. Modern Southwell editions have quarantined the poem under headings such as ‘Poem of Dubious Authorship’. And yet the poem, a meditative confession and plea for grace in the face of mortality, does display some elements of Southwell's style, and is particularly compelling if in fact it was written in the years Southwell struggled to provide spiritual guidance to his loyal congregation while evading capture and execution. This paper investigates the relationship between the commonplace book, the Moeoniae print editions, and the manuscript poetry collections from which ‘Upon the Image of Death’ is conspicuously absent, and offers a new annotated edition of the poem.
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