Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Asia
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
 
Syria: Bethlehem
Hymn of the Nativity
John Milton (1608–1674)
 
(See full text.)

IT was the winter wild,
While the heaven-born child
  All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Nature, in awe to him,
Had doffed her gaudy trim,        5
  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 wooes the gentle air        10
  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        15
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,        20
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,        25
Was heard the world around:
  The idle spear and shield were high uphung;
The hookéd chariot stood
Unstained with hostile blood;
  The trumpet spake not to the armed throng;        30
And kings sat still with awful eye,
As if they surely knew their sovran Lord was by.
 
But peaceful was the night,
Wherein the Prince of light
  His reign of peace upon the earth began:        35
The winds, with wonder whist,
Smoothly the waters kist,
  Whispering new joys to the mild ocean,
Who now hath quite forgot to rave,
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.        40
 
The stars, with deep amaze,
Stand fixed in steadfast gaze.
  Bending one way their precious influence;
And will not take their flight,
For all the morning light,        45
  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,        50
  The 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        55
Than his bright throne, or burning axletree could bear.
 
The shepherds on the lawn,
Or e’er the point of dawn,
  Sat simply chatting in a rustic row;
Full little thought they then,        60
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        65
Their hearts and ears did greet,
  As never was by mortal finger strook;
Divinely warbled voice
Answering the stringed noise,
  As all their souls in blissful rapture took        70
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 aery region thrilling,        75
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.        80
 
At last surrounds their sight
A globe of circular light,
  That with long beams the shamefaced night arrayed;
The helmed Cherubim,
And sworded Seraphim,        85
  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 ’t is said,
Before was never made,        90
  But 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,        95
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        100
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.
*        *        *        *        *
 
 
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