“Down In The Depth Of Mine Iniquity” by Fulke Greville

Baron Fulke Greville was one of the 1550s boys–one of those men born during the tumultuous period in the transition of the child king Edward VI to the prosecutor, Bloody Mary, to the stabilizing Queen Elizabeth. Born in that decade were people like Napier, Browne, Camden, Raleigh, Spenser, Marlowe, Hooker, Lyly, and Sidney–really the people who created the revolution of poetry and ideas in the late Elizabethan and early Jacobian period. It is the generation that produced Shakespeare and the King James Bible and, a little later, Donne and Milton. It is remembered as the Golden Age of English verse.

Fulke Greville is now all but lost to most of us. Perhaps the name “Fulke” is off-putting, but his verse isn’t especially accessible. The Digital Age is preserving and recovering lesser known Golden Age writers, but preserving them for a generation that has lost the art of reading poetry.

Still, there are some who walk among us. One is a colleague who is teaching Renaissance English Verse at the University of Prince Edward Island this fall. Gerald Wandio was actually my English Writing teacher, ever and anon ago. We are working together on a pilot classroom project and share a love of music.

OHEL-Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century-CS LewisGerald has recently pushed upon me the lost Fulke Greville. C.S. Lewis dedicates a section to Grevell, the first Lord Brooke, in his magnum opus, The Oxford History of English Literature’s English Literature in the Sixteen Century, Excluding Drama. Greville, Lewis argued, is doubly important to the historian. He was an interesting Golden Age poet, but he went on to create a new style (manner) that was neither of the two trends that followed: Metaphysical (Donne and Herbert and the gang) or Augustan (whose father is Alexander Pope).

Lewis goes on to give one of his startling and precise epitaphs. He writes:

But Greville has an interest quite apart from literary history. He wrote as he thought, and, being a man of his age, he thought chiefly about religion and government. Being a logical man, he connected his thoughts on the two subjects. What this led to he finally succeeded in expressing in four lines of such precision and such sombre melody that nothing can ever be added to them….

Oh wearisome Condition of Humanity!
Borne under one Law to another bound:
Vainely begot, and yet forbidden vanity,
Created sicke, commanded to be sound.

Gerald would have added “love and sex” to “religion and government,” but he was able to see some of the gems that Lewis saw and others have long since forgotten. I’ll have to talk to Gerald sometime about “oddes betweene the earth and skie”–Lewis’ idea that Greville thought that life in the world and belief in God were both in him and yet irreconcilable.

I wanted, though, to share with readers the poem that was recommended to me and which Gerald is assigning this semester. It is a stunner, containing within it the entire gospel story in one man’s chest. I suggested to Gerald that the second stanza, with the “-tion” endings, sounded like it would rap well. He wrote back and asked whether Greville was a Kanye or Eminem fan.

I’ll let you decide.

XCIX by Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, Chancellor of the Exchequer

Down in the depth of mine iniquity,
That ugly center of infernal spirits;
Where each sin feels her own deformity,
In those peculiar torments she inherits,
Depriv’d of human graces, and divine,
Even there appears this saving God of mine.

And in this fatal mirror of transgression,
Shows man as fruit of his degeneration,
The error’s ugly infinite impression,
Which bears the faithless down to desperation;
Depriv’d of human graces, and divine,
Even there appears this saving God of mine.

In power and truth, Almighty and eternal,
Which on the sin reflects strange desolation,
With glory scourging all the Sprites infernal,
And uncreated hell with unprivation;
Depriv’d of human graces, not divine,
Even there appears this saving God of mine.

For on this sp’ritual cross condemned lying,
To pains infernal by eternal doom,
I see my Saviour for the same sins dying,
And from that hell I fear’d, to free me, come;
Depriv’d of human graces, not divine,
Thus hath his death rais’d up this soul of mine

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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26 Responses to “Down In The Depth Of Mine Iniquity” by Fulke Greville

  1. mccooljc says:

    That was a very astute synopsis of the human condition. One question on the poem 99: he lost me on the next to last line of each stanza. What is he referring to that’s divine in the first 2 stanzas and then not divine in the last 2? I feel like I missed something in there….

    Liked by 1 person

    • I will have to check the original–I mistranscribed it once, and Gerald did too… The “fall” passages in vv. 1 & 2 show the loss of both humanity and divinity in the human condition. In v. 4 it makes sense to say “not divine” in that it is about Christ–he takes on the human indignity, but does not lose the divine reality. I suppose the “not divine” in v. 3 (which appears original) refers to the Sprites Infernal–demons have no human grace, and yet keep their immortal or angelic status.
      Does that make sense?


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Morris Croll, in his dissertation on Greville (scanned in Internet Archive), thinks this is one of his easier poems – whew! Grosart has a note to line 16 to compare the Prologue of his tragedy, Alaham (both in his vol. 3) – but that does not illuminate this question. Might what you say about v. 4 apply in v. 3, too: Christ takes on the indignity of bodily death and the separation of His Soul and Body? – for the imagery of v. 3 reminds me especially of the Harrowing of Hell (including traditional use of Psalm 24 (Vulgate 23): 7-10).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Seeing his name, my thoughts fly to his moving account of the death of his friend, Sir Philip Sidney, which I think we had anthologized, and lo, his Wikipedia article says, “Greville is best known by his biography of Sidney”!

    Was anything of his set to music, I wondered – and found various performances on YouTube of “Away with these self-loving lads” (Caelica LII) and “Who ever thinks or hopes of love” (Caelica V) both set by John Dowland, but none of “Selfe pitties teares” set by another of his contemporaries, Martin Peerson. There are a couple recent settings of poems of his, too – but neither of the ones I tired were rap!

    Internet Archive has scans of Grosart’s pioneering edition of his works, and Martha Foote Crow’s 1898 edition of Caelica. (By the way, in both of these, “Down in the depth of mine iniquity” is C rather than XCIX – is the latter the fruit of later scholarship?)


    • David, did you know of Greville before? I’m getting from this that you did.
      I’ve sent this link to Gerald Wandio, the Greville scholar, who would find some significance in all your great comments.
      Forgive my ignorance, but those songs are done of contemporaries of Greville, but not Greville, right? I quite enjoyed listening this morning.


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Yes, but I’m not sure what, if any of his poetry, I’d read – my vivid sense of him came from an excerpt from his Sidney biography read as an undergraduate – little did I then expect to be in Arnhem (where Sidney died of the wound he received at the battle of Zutphen) a couple times a month on the average for years on end!

        Dowland and Peerson were contemporaries, but I don’t know about their direct contacts if any, with Greville (in those days before modern copyright laws!) – that is, I haven’t tried to trace them. (Manuscripts of poems could get circulated easily among friends in those days.) And I don’t know if Greville wrote music himself (as many an accomplished nobleman did). Interestingly, Croll (p. 17) cites, as one rare piece of “exact evidence” in trying to date just when Greville wrote his poetry, that “the 52d Sonnet appeared in John Dowland’s First Book of Songs or Airs, 1597”. Croll wrote that in 1903, so I’m sure a lot of work has been done from the Greville end and the musicians’ end, and there are probably easy ways to look up who set what to music, but I’m not in easy reach of academic libraries and am not sure where to begin searching online. (Years ago, now, I went to a lovely course at Oxford on Elizabethan Song, where we sat around together in the professor’s office listening to recordings and discussing the songs!)

        I’m glad you enjoyed trying some – I’ve browsed around a bit on YouTube among the Dowland settings and there are such fascinating varieties of versions – with one voice and insrtuments, with several voice lines,…!


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