Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Hymn on the Nativity
By John Milton (1608–1674)
        IT was the winter wild,
        While the heaven-born child
  All meanly wrapped 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 hookèd chariot stood,
        Unstained with hostile blood;
  The trumpet spake not to the armèd 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 kissed,
  Whispering new joys to the mild ocean,
      Who now hath quite forgot to rave,
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmèd 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 ere the point of dawn,
  Sat simply chatting in a rustic row;
        Full little thought they than        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 stringèd noise,
  As all their souls in blissful rapture took;        70
      The air, such pleasure loth 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,        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 helmèd cherubim
        And sworded seraphim        85
  Are seen in glittering ranks with wings displayed,
      Harping in loud and solemn quire,
With unexpressive notes, to heaven’s new-born Heir.
        Such music (as ’tis 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.
        For if such holy song        105
        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 mold;        110
      And hell itself will pass away,
And leave her dolorous mansions to the peering day.

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