England's Antiphon

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O thou who sweetly bend'st my stubborn will, Who send'st thy stripes to teach and not to kill! Thy cheerful face from me no longer hide; Withdraw these clouds, the scourges of my pride; I sink to hell, if I be lower thrown: I see what man is, being left alone. My substance, which from nothing did begin, Is worse than nothing by the weight of sin: I see myself in such a wretched state As neither thoughts conceive, nor words relate. How great a distance parts us! for in thee Is endless good, and boundless ill in me. All creatures prove me abject, but how low Thou only know'st, and teachest me to know. To paint this baseness, nature is too base; This darkness yields not but to beams of grace. Where shall I then this piercing splendour find? Or found, how shall it guide me, being blind? Grace is a taste of bliss, a glorious gift, Which can the soul to heavenly comforts lift: It will not shine to me, whose mind is drowned In sorrows, and with worldly troubles bound; It will not deign within that house to dwell, Where dryness reigns, and proud distractions swell. Perhaps it sought me in those lightsome days Of my first fervour, when few winds did raise The waves, and ere they could full strength obtain, Some whispering gale straight charmed them down again; When all seemed calm, and yet the Virgin's child On my devotions in his manger smiled; While then I simply walked, nor heed could take Of complacence, that sly, deceitful snake; When yet I had not dangerously refused So many calls to virtue, nor abused The spring of life, which I so oft enjoyed, Nor made so many good intentions void, Deserving thus that grace should quite depart, And dreadful hardness should possess my heart: Yet in that state this only good I found,

That fewer spots did then my conscience wound;
Though who can censure whether, in those times, judg
The want of feeling seemed the want of crimes?
If solid virtues dwell not but in pain,
I will not wish that golden age again
Because it flowed with sensible delights

Of heavenly things: God hath created nights As well as days, to deck the varied globe; Grace comes as oft clad in the dusky robe Of desolation, as in white attire, Which better fits the bright celestial choir. Some in foul seasons perish through despair, But more through boldness when the days are fair. This then must be the medicine for my woes-- To yield to what my Saviour shall dispose; To glory in my baseness; to rejoice In mine afflictions; to obey his voice, As well when threatenings my defects reprove, As when I cherished am with words of love; To say to him, in every time and place, "Withdraw thy comforts, so thou leave thy grace."

Surely this is as genuine an utterance, whatever its merits as a poem--and those I judge not small--as ever flowed from Christian heart!

Chiefly for the sake of its beauty, I give the last passage of a poem written upon occasion of the feasts of the Annunciation and the Resurrection falling on the same day.

Let faithful souls this double feast attend In two processions. Let the first descend The temple's stairs, and with a downcast eye Upon the lowest pavement prostrate lie: In creeping violets, white lilies, shine Their humble thoughts and every pure design.

The other troop shall climb, with sacred heat,  
The rich degrees of Solomon's bright seat: steps

In glowing roses fervent zeal they bear, And in the azure flower-de-lis appear Celestial contemplations, which aspire Above the sky, up to the immortal choir.

William Drummond of Hawthornden, a Scotchman, born in 1585, may almost be looked upon as the harbinger of a fresh outburst of word-music. No doubt all the great poets have now and then broken forth in lyrical jubilation. Ponderous Ben Jonson himself, when he takes to song, will sing in the joy of the very sound; but great men have always so much graver work to do, that they comparatively seldom indulge in this kind of melody. Drummond excels in madrigals, or canzonets--baby-odes or songs--which have more of wing and less of thought than sonnets. Through the greater part of his verse we hear a certain muffled tone of the sweetest, like the music that ever threatens to break out clear from the brook, from the pines, from the rain-shower,--never does break out clear, but remains a suggested, etherially vanishing tone. His is a voix voilée, or veiled voice of song. It is true that in the time we are now approaching far more attention was paid not merely to the smoothness but to the melody of verse than any except the great masters had paid before; but some are at the door, who, not being great masters, yet do their inferior part nearly as well as they their higher, uttering a music of marvellous and individual sweetness, which no mere musical care could secure, but which springs essentially from music in the thought gathering to itself musical words in melodious division, and thus fashioning for itself a fitting body. The melody of their verse is all their own--as original as the greatest art-forms of the masters. Of Drummond, then, here are two sonnets on the Nativity; the first spoken by the angels, the second by the shepherds.

The Angels.

Run, shepherds, run where Bethlehem blest appears.

We bring the best of news; be not dismayed:

Saviour there is born more old than years, Amidst heaven's rolling height this earth who stayed. In a poor cottage inned, a virgin maid
weakling did him bear, who all upbears; There is he poorly swaddled, in manger laid,

To whom too narrow swaddlings are our spheres: Run, shepherds, run, and solemnize his birth.

This is that night--no, day, grown great with bliss, In which the power of Satan broken is:

In heaven be glory, peace unto the earth!

Thus singing, through the air the angels swam, And cope of stars re-echoëd the same.

The Shepherds.

than the fairest day, thrice fairer night! Night to best days, in which a sun doth rise Of which that golden eye which clears the skies

Is but a sparkling ray, a shadow-light!
And blessed ye, in silly pastors' sight, simple.
Mild creatures, in whose warm[88] crib now lies
That heaven-sent youngling, holy-maid-born wight,
Midst, end, beginning of our prophecies!
Blest cottage that hath flowers in winter spread!

Though withered--blessed grass, that hath the grace To deck and be a carpet to that place!

Thus sang, unto the sounds of oaten reed,

Before the babe, the shepherds bowed on knees; And springs ran nectar, honey dropped from trees.

No doubt there is a touch of the conventional in these. Especially in the close of the last there is an attempt to glorify the true by the homage of the false. But verses which make us feel the marvel afresh--the marvel visible and credible by the depth of its heart of glory--make us at the same time easily forget the discord in themselves.

The following, not a sonnet, although it looks like one, measuring the lawful fourteen lines, is the closing paragraph of a poem he calls A Hymn to the Fairest Fair.

O king, whose greatness none can comprehend, Whose boundless goodness doth to all extend! Light of all beauty! ocean without ground, That standing flowest, giving dost abound! Rich palace, and indweller ever blest, Never not working, ever yet in rest! What wit cannot conceive, words say of thee, Here, where, as in a mirror, we but see Shadows of shadows, atoms of thy might, Still owly-eyed while staring on thy light, Grant that, released from this earthly jail, And freed of clouds which here our knowledge veil, In heaven's high temples, where thy praises ring, I may in sweeter notes hear angels sing.

That is, "May I in heaven hear angels sing what wit cannot conceive here."

Drummond excels in nobility of speech, and especially in the fine line and phrase, so justly but disproportionately prized in the present day. I give an instance of each:

Here do seraphim
Burn with immortal love; there cherubim With other noble people of the light, As eaglets in the sun, delight their sight.

* * * * *

Like to a lightning through the welkin hurled, That scores with flames the way, and every eye With terror dazzles as it swimmeth by.

Here are six fine verses, in the heroic couplet, from An Hymn of the Resurrection.

So a small seed that in the earth lies hid And dies--reviving bursts her cloddy side; Adorned with yellow locks, of new is born, And doth become a mother great with corn; Of grains bring hundreds with it, which when old Enrich the furrows with a sea of gold.

But I must content myself now with a little madrigal, the only one fit for my purpose. Those which would best support what I have said of his music are not of the kind we want. Unfortunately, the end of this one is not equal to the beginning.

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