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Alexander Pope (1688–1744).  Complete Poetical Works.  1903.
 
Poems: 1708–12
Messiah
 
        
Written, according to Courthope, in. 1712.
  
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  In reading several passages of the prophet Isaiah, which foretell the coming of Christ, and the felicities attending it, I could not but observe a remarkable parity between many of the thoughts and those in the Pollio of Virgil. This will not seem surprising, when we reflect that the Eclogue was taken from a Sibylline prophecy on the same subject. One may judge that Virgil did not copy it line by line, but selected such ideas as best agreed with the nature of Pastoral Poetry, and disposed them in that manner which served most to beautify his piece. I have endeavoured the same in this imitation of him, though without admitting any thing of my own; since it was written with this particular view, that the reader, by comparing the several thoughts, might see how far the images and descriptions of the Prophet are superior to those of the Poet. But as I fear I have prejudiced them by my management, I shall subjoin the passages of Isaiah, and those of Virgil, under the same disadvantage of a literal translation.

YE Nymphs of Solyma! begin the song:
To heav’nly themes sublimer strains belong.
The mossy fountains, and the sylvan shades,
The dreams of Pindus, and th’ Aonian maids,
Delight no more—O Thou my voice inspire        5
Who touch’d Isaiah’s hallow’d lips with fire!
  Rapt into future times, the bard begun:
A virgin shall conceive, a virgin bear a son! 1
From Jesse’s 2 root behold a branch arise,
Whose sacred flower with fragrance fills the skies;        10
Th’ ethereal spirit o’er its leaves shall move,
And on its top descends the mystic dove.
Ye Heav’ns! 3 from high the dewy nectar pour,
And in soft silence shed the kindly shower!
The sick 4 and weak the healing plant shall aid,        15
From storms a shelter, and from heat a shade.
All crimes shall cease, and ancient fraud shall fail,
Returning Justice 5 lift aloft her scale;
Peace o’er the world her olive wand extend,
And white-robed Innocence from Heav’n descend.        20
Swift fly the years, and rise th’ expected morn!
O spring to light, auspicious babe! be born.
See Nature hastes her earliest wreaths to bring, 6
With all the incense of the breathing spring:
See lofty Lebanon 7 his head advance,        25
See nodding forests on the mountains dance:
See spicy clouds from lowly Saron rise,
And Carmel’s flow’ry top perfumes the skies!
Hark! a glad voice the lonely desert cheers; 8
Prepare the way! 9 a God, a God appears!        30
A God, a God! the vocal hills reply;
The Rocks proclaim th’ approaching Deity.
Lo, Earth receives him from the bending skies!
Sink down, ye Mountains, and, ye valleys, rise;
With heads declin’d, ye Cedars, homage pay;        35
Be smooth, ye Rocks; ye rapid floods, give way;
The Saviour comes, by ancient bards foretold!
Hear him, 10 ye deaf, and all ye blind, behold!
 
He from thick films shall purge the visual ray,
And on the sightless eyeball pour the day:        40
’T is he th’ obstructed paths of sound shall clear,
And bid new music charm th’ unfolding ear:
The dumb shall sing, the lame his crutch forego,
And leap exulting like the bounding roe.
No sigh, no murmur, the wide world shall hear,        45
From every face he wipes off every tear.
In 11 adamantine chains shall Death be bound,
And Hell’s grim tyrant feel th’ eternal wound.
As the good Shepherd 12 tends his fleecy care,
Seeks freshest pasture and the purest air,        50
Explores the lost, the wand’ring sheep directs,
By day o’ersees them, and by night protects;
The tender lambs he raises in his arms,
Feeds from his hand, and in his bosom warms;
Thus shall mankind his guardian care engage,        55
The promis’d Father 13 of the future age.
No more shall 14 nation against nation rise,
Nor ardent warriors meet with hateful eyes,
Nor fields with gleaming steel be cover’d o’er,
The brazen trumpets kindle rage no more;        60
But useless lances into scythes shall bend,
And the broad falchion in a ploughshare end.
Then palaces shall rise; the joyful 15 son
Shall finish what his short-lived sire begun;
Their vines a shadow to their race shall yield,        65
And the same hand that sow’d shall reap the field:
The swain in barren 16 deserts with surprise
See lilies spring, and sudden verdure rise; 17
And start, amidst the thirsty wilds, to hear
New falls of water murm’ring in his ear.        70
On rifted rocks, the dragon’s late abodes,
The green reed trembles, and the bulrush nods;
Waste 18 sandy valleys, once perplex’d with thorn,
The spiry fir and shapely box adorn;
To leafless shrubs the flow’ring palms succeed,        75
And od’rous myrtle to the noisome weed.
The lambs 19 with wolves shall graze the verdant mead,
And boys in flow’ry bands the tiger lead; 20
The steer and lion at one crib shall meet,
And harmless serpents 21 lick the pilgrim’s feet;        80
The smiling infant in his hand shall take
The crested basilisk and speckled snake,
Pleas’d, the green lustre of the scales survey,
And with their forky tongue shall innocently play.
Rise, crown’d with light, imperial Salem, 22 rise! 23        85
Exalt thy tow’ry head, and lift thy eyes!
See a long race 24 thy spacious courts adorn;
See future sons and daughters, yet unborn,
In crowding ranks on every side arise,
Demanding life, impatient for the skies!        90
See barb’rous nations 25 at thy gates attend,
Walk in thy light, and in thy temple bend!
See thy bright altars throng’d with prostrate kings,
And heap’d with products of Sabæan 26 springs;
For thee Idume’s spicy forests blow,        95
And seeds of gold in Ophir’s mountains glow;
See Heav’n its sparkling portals wide display,
And break upon thee in a flood of day!
No more the rising sun 27 shall gild the morn,
Nor ev’ning Cynthia fill her silver horn;        100
But lost, dissolv’d in thy superior rays,
One tide of glory, one unclouded blaze
O’erflow thy courts: the light himself shall shine
Reveal’d, and God’s eternal day be thine!
The seas 28 shall waste, the skies in smoke decay,        105
Rocks fall to dust, and mountains melt away;
But fix’d his word, his saving power remains;—
Thy realm for ever lasts, thy own Messiah reigns!
 
Note 1. Virg. Ecl. iv. ver. 6.

        ‘Jam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna;
Jam nova progenies eœlo demittitur alto.
Te duce, si qua manent sceleris vestigia nostri,
Irrita perpetua solvent formidine terras.…
Pacatumque reget patriis virtutibus orbem.’

  ‘Now the virgin returns, now the kingdom of Saturn returns, now a new progeny is sent down from high heaven. By means of thee, whatever relics of our crimes remain, shall be wiped away, and free the world from perpetual fears. He shall govern the earth in peace, with the virtues of his father.’

  Isaiah, ch. vii. ver. 14. ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.’ Chap. ix. ver. 6, 7. ‘Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given … the Prince of Peace: of the increase of his government, and of his peace, there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it, with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.’ [back]
Note 2. Isaiah, ch. xi. ver. 1. [back]
Note 3. Ch. xlv. ver. 8. [back]
Note 4. Ch. xxv. ver. 4. [back]
Note 5. Ch. ix. ver. 7. [back]
Note 6. Virg. Ecl. iv. ver. 18.

        ‘At tibi prima, puer, nullo munuscula cultu,
Errantes hederas passim cum baccare tellus,
Mixtaque ridenti colocasia fundet acantho—
Ipsa tibi blandos fundent cunabula flores.’

  ‘For thee, O child, shall the earth, without being tilled, produce her early offerings; winding ivy, mixed with baccar, and colocasia with smiling acanthus. Thy cradle shall pour forth pleasing flowers about thee.’

  Isaiah, ch. xxxv. ver. 1. ‘The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad … and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.’ Ch. lx. ver. 13. ‘The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir-tree, the pine-tree, and the box together to beautify the place of my sanctuary.’ [back]
Note 7. Isaiah, ch. xxxv. ver. 2. [back]
Note 8. Virg. Ecl. iv. ver. 48, Ecl. v. ver. 62.

        ‘Aggredere o magnos, aderit jam tempus, honores,
Cara deum soboles, magnum Jovis incrementum!
  
Ipsi lætitia voces ad sidera jactant
Intonsi montes, ipsæ jam carmina rupes,
Ipsa sonant arbusta, Deus, deus ille, Menalea!’

  ‘O come and receive the mighty honours: the time draws nigh, O beloved offspring of the Gods, O great increase of Jove! … The uncultivated mountains send shouts of joy to the stars, the very rocks sing in verse, the very shrubs cry out, A God, a God.’

  Isaiah, chap. xl. ver. 3, 4. ‘The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a high way for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.’ Chap. xliv. ver. 23. ‘Break forth into singing, ye mountains! O forest, and every tree therein! for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob.’ [back]
Note 9. Ch. xl. ver. 3, 4. [back]
Note 10. Isaiah, ch. xlii. ver. 18; ch. xxxv. ver. 5, 6. [back]
Note 11. Ch. xxv. ver. 8. [back]
Note 12. Ch. xl. ver. 11. [back]
Note 13. Ch. ix. ver. 6. [back]
Note 14. Isaiah, ch. ii. ver. 4. [back]
Note 15. Ch. lxv. ver. 21, 22. [back]
Note 16. Ch. xxxv. ver. 1, 7. [back]
Note 17. Virg. Ecl. iv. ver. 28.

        ‘Molli paulatim flavescet campus arista,
Incultisque rubens pendebit sentibus uva,
Et duræ quercus sudabunt roscida mella.’

  ‘The fields shall grow yellow with ripened ears, and the red grape shall hang upon the wild brambles, and the hard oaks shall distil honey like dew.’

  Isaiah, chap xxxv. ver. 7. ‘The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty and land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.’—Chap. lv . ver. 13. ‘Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree.’ [back]
Note 18. Isaiah, ch. xli. ver. 19, and ch. lv. ver. 13. [back]
Note 19. Ch. xi. ver. 6, 7, 8. [back]
Note 20. Virg. Ecl. iv. ver. 21.

        ‘Ipsæ lacte domum referent distenta capellæ
Ubere, nec magnos meturnt armental leones.…
Occidet et sepens, et fallax herba veneni
Occidet.’—

  ‘The goats shall bear to the fold their udders distneded with milk: nor shall the herds be afraid of the greatest lions. The serpent shall die, and the herb that conceals poison shall die.’

  Isaiah, chap. xi. ver. 6, &c. ’The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.—And the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.’ [back]
Note 21. Ch. lxv. ver. 25. [back]
Note 22. Isaiah, ch. lx. ver. 1. [back]
Note 23. The thoughts of Isaiah, which compose the latter part of the poem, are wonderfully elevated, and much above those general exclamations of Virgil, which make the loftiest parts of his Pollio.

        ‘Magnus ab integro sæclorum nascitur ordo
—toto surget gens aurea mundo!
—incipient magni procedere menses!
Aspice, venturo lætantur ut omnia sæclo!’ &c.

  The reader needs only to turn to the passages of Isaiah here cited. [back]
Note 24. Ch. lx. ver. 4. [back]
Note 25. Ch. lx. ver. 3. [back]
Note 26. Ch. lx. ver. 6. [back]
Note 27. Isaiah ch. lx. ver. 19, 20. [back]
Note 28. Ch. li. ver. 6, and ch. liv. ver. 10. [back]
 
 
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