It was the winter wild
While the heaven-born child
- meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Nature, in awe to him,
Had doffed her gaudy trim,
With her great master so to sympathize:
It was no season then for her
To wanton with the sun, her lusty paramour.
Only with speeches fair
She woos the gentle air
To hide her guilty front with innocent snow;
And on her naked shame,
Pollute with sinful blame,
The saintly veil of maiden white to throw;
Confounded that her maker's eyes
Should look so near upon her foul deformities.
But he, her fears to cease,
Sent down the meek-eyed Peace.
She, crowned with olive green, came softly sliding
Down through the turning sphere,
His ready harbinger,
With turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing;
And waving wide her myrtle wand,
She strikes a universal peace through sea and land.
No war, or battle's sound,
Was heard the world around;
- idle spear and shield were high uphung;
The hookéd chariot stood
Unstained with hostile blood;
- trumpet spake not to the arméd throng;
And kings sat still with awful eye, awe-filled.
As if they surely knew their sovereign Lord was by.
But peaceful was the night
Wherein the Prince of Light
- reign of peace upon the earth began;
The winds, with wonder whist, silent.
Smoothly the water kissed,
Whispering new joys to the mild Oceän,
Who now hath quite forgot to rave,
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charméd wave.
The stars with deep amaze
Stand fixed in stedfast gaze,
Bending one way their precious influence;
And will not take their flight
For all the morning light,
Or Lucifer, that often warned them thence;
But in their glimmering orbs did glow
Until their Lord himself bespake, and bid them go.
And though the shady gloom
Had given day her room,
- sun himself withheld his wonted speed,
And hid his head for shame,
As his inferior flame
The new enlightened world no more should need:
He saw a greater sun appear
Than his bright throne or burning axle-tree could bear.
||The shepherds on the lawn,
Or e'er the point of dawn, ere ever.
Sat simply chatting in a rustic row:
Full little thought they than then.
That the mighty Pan
Was kindly come to live with them below;
Perhaps their loves, or else their sheep,
|Was all that did their silly thoughts so busy keep.
When such music sweet
Their hearts and ears did greet
As never was by mortal finger strook--
Divinely warbled voice
Answering the stringéd noise,
As all their souls in blissful rapture took:
The air, such pleasure loath to lose,
With thousand echoes still prolongs each heavenly close.
Nature, that heard such sound,
Beneath the hollow round
Of Cynthia's seat the airy region thrilling,
Now was almost won
To think her part was done,
And that her reign had here its last fulfilling:
She knew such harmony alone
Could hold all heaven and earth in happier union.
At last surrounds their sight
A globe of circular light,
That with long beams the shame-faced night arrayed;
The helméd cherubim
And sworded seraphim
Are seen in glittering ranks with wings displayed,
Harping in loud and solemn choir,
With unexpressive notes to heaven's new-born heir.
Such music, as 'tis said,
Before was never made,
- when of old the sons of morning sung,
While the Creator great
His constellations set,
And the well-balanced world on hinges hung,
And cast the dark foundations deep,
And bid the weltering waves their oozy channel keep.
Ring out, ye crystal spheres;
Once bless our human ears--
If ye have power to touch our senses so;
And let your silver chime
Move in melodious time;
And let the bass of heaven's deep organ blow;
And, with your ninefold harmony,
Make up full consort to the angelic symphony.
For if such holy song
Enwrap our fancy long,
Time will run back and fetch the age of gold;
And speckled vanity
Will sicken soon and die;
And leprous sin will melt from earthly mould;
And hell itself will pass away,
And leave her dolorous mansions to the peering day.
Yea, truth and justice then
Will down return to men,
Orbed in a rainbow; and, like glories wearing,
Mercy will sit between,
Throned in celestial sheen,
With radiant feet the tissued clouds down steering;
And heaven, as at some festival,
Will open wide the gates of her high palace-hall.
But wisest Fate says "No;
This must not yet be so."
- babe lies yet in smiling infancy,
That on the bitter cross
Must redeem our loss,
So both himself and us to glorify.
Yet first, to those y-chained in sleep,
The wakeful trump of doom must thunder through the deep,
With such a horrid clang
As on Mount Sinai rang,
While the red fire and smouldering clouds outbrake:
The agéd earth, aghast
With terror of that blast,
Shall from the surface to the centre shake,
When, at the world's last sessiön,
The dreadful Judge in middle air shall spread his throne.
And then at last our bliss
Full and perfect is:
- now begins; for from this happy day,
The old dragon, under ground
In straiter limits bound,
Not half so far casts his usurped sway;
And, wroth to see his kingdom fail,
Swinges the scaly horror of his folded tail.
The oracles are dumb:
No voice or hideous hum
Runs through the archéd roof in words deceiving;
Apollo from his shrine
Can no more divine,
With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving;
No nightly trance, or breathed spell,
Inspires the pale-eyed priest from the prophetic cell.
The lonely mountains o'er,
And the resounding shore,
A voice of weeping heard and loud lament;
From haunted spring and dale,
Edged with poplar pale,
The parting genius is with sighing sent;
With flower-inwoven tresses torn,
The nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.
In consecrated earth,
And on the holy hearth,
- Lars and Lemures moan with midnight plaint;
In urns and altars round,
A drear and dying sound
Affrights the flamens at their service quaint;
And the chill marble seems to sweat,
While each peculiar power foregoes his wonted seat.
Peor and Baälim
Forsake their temples dim,
||With that twice-battered god of Palestine;
And moonéd Ashtaroth, the Assyrian Venus.
Heaven's queen and mother both,
Now sits not girt with tapers' holy shine;
The Lybic Hammon shrinks his horn;
|In vain the Tyrian maids their wounded Thammuz mourn.
And sullen Moloch, fled,
Hath left in shadows dread
- burning idol, all of blackest hue:
In vain with cymbals' ring
They call the grisly king,
In dismal dance about the furnace blue.
The brutish gods of Nile as fast--
Isis and Orus and the dog Anubis--haste.
Nor is Osiris seen
In Memphian grove or green,
Trampling the unshowered grass with lowings loud;
Nor can he be at rest
Within his sacred chest;
Nought but profoundest hell can be his shroud;
In vain, with timbrelled anthems dark,
The sable-stoléd sorcerers bear his worshipped ark:
He feels, from Judah's land,
The dreaded infant's hand;
- rays of Bethlehem blind his dusky eyn.
Nor all the gods beside
Longer dare abide--
Not Typhon huge, ending in snaky twine:
Our babe, to show his Godhead true,
Can in his swaddling bands control the damnéd crew.
So, when the sun in bed,
Curtained with cloudy red,
Pillows his chin upon an orient wave,
The flocking shadows pale
Troop to the infernal jail--
Each fettered ghost slips to his several grave;
And the yellow-skirted fays
Fly after the night-steeds, leaving their moon-loved maze.
But see, the Virgin blest
Hath laid her babe to rest:
Time is our tedious song should here have ending;
Heaven's youngest-teemed star
Hath fixed her polished car,
Her sleeping Lord with handmaid lamp attending;
And all about the courtly stable
Bright-harnessed angels sit, in order serviceable.
If my reader should think some of the rhymes bad, and some of the words
oddly used, I would remind him that both pronunciations and meanings have
altered since: the probability is, that the older forms in both are the
better. Milton will not use a wrong word or a bad rhyme. With regard to
the form of the poem, let him observe the variety of length of line in
the stanza, and how skilfully the varied lines are associated--two of six
syllables and one of ten; then the same repeated; then one of eight and
one of twelve--no two, except of the shortest, coming together of the
same length. Its stanza is its own: I do not know another poem written in
the same; and its music is exquisite. The probability is that, if the
reader note any fact in the poem, however trifling it might seem to the
careless eye, it will repay him by unfolding both individual and related
beauty. Then let him ponder the pictures given: the sudden arraying of
the shame-faced night in long beams; the amazed kings silent on their
thrones; the birds brooding on the sea: he will find many such. Let him
consider the clear-cut epithets, so full of meaning. A true poet may be
at once known by the justice and force of the adjectives he uses,
especially when he compounds them,--that is, makes one out of two. Here
are some examples: meek-eyed Peace; pale-eyed priest; speckled vanity;
smouldering clouds; hideous hum; dismal dance; dusky eyne: there are
many such, each almost a poem in itself. The whole is a succession of
pictures set in the loveliest music for the utterance of grandest
No doubt there are in the poem instances of such faults in style as were
common in the age in which his verse was rooted: for my own part, I never
liked the first two stanzas of the hymn. But such instances are few;
while for a right feeling of the marvel of this poem and of the two
preceding it, we must remember that Milton was only twenty-one when he
Apparently to make one of a set with the Nativity, he began to write an
ode on the Passion, but, finding the subject "above the years he had
when he wrote it, and nothing satisfied with what was begun, left it
unfinished." The fragment is full of unworthy, though skilful, and, for
such, powerful conceits, but is especially interesting as showing how
even Milton, trying to write about what he felt, but without yet having
generated thoughts enow concerning the subject itself, could only fall
back on conventionalities. Happy the young poet the wisdom of whose
earliest years was such that he recognized his mistake almost at the
outset, and dropped the attempt! Amongst the stanzas there is, however,
one of exceeding loveliness:
He, sovereign priest, stooping his regal head,
That dropped with odorous oil down his fair eyes,
Poor fleshly tabernacle enteréd,
His starry front low-roofed beneath the skies.
Oh what a masque was there! what a disguise!
Yet more! the stroke of death he must abide;
Then lies him meekly down fast by his brethren's side.
In this it will be seen that he has left the jubilant measure of the
Hymn, and returned to the more stately and solemn rhyme-royal of its
overture, as more suited to his subject. Milton could not be wrong in his
music, even when he found the quarry of his thought too hard to work.