the air is thy register


The latest issue of The Library has an article by the CMT’s own Dunstan Roberts on the chained parish library of Chirbury in Shropshire. Now held at the Shropshire Archives, the library was left to the schoolboys and parishioners of Chirbury by the will of the vicar Edward Lewis, who died in 1677. It is particularly interesting for its preservation of several books belonging to the polymath Edward Herbert, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, including his annotated copy of Chaucer’s Workes (1598).

At the end of the article, Roberts draws attention to a different volume of Works, this time of the sixteenth-century divine Richard Greenham. The book (dating from 1605) has, inscribed on a flyleaf, a handwritten poem:

Misterious God thy thorough pearcinge eie
vieus our black deeds lockt in nights treasurie
the aire is thy register where wee
With our oane breath pen our owne historie
Our thoughts are Caracters to thee more cleer
th[a]n to mans opticke mountaines can appeare
Who then can scape when our deeds night displais,
Our words our breath, our thoughts our hart betraies?
Lord none except thy grace inspire vs soo
Our deeds, Words, thoughts onlie from thee may flow

Beatrix Herbert

Roberts identifies the likely author or scribe of the poem as Beatrice, Edward’s daughter. It’s a striking piece of writing in which the invisible and immaterial is cast as solid and massive in the eyes of God. And it appears to be otherwise unrecorded, itself ‘lockt in nights treasurie’ as a private act of devotion on the fringes of a cherished devotional book.

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