On the Morning of Christ's Nativity

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This is the month, and this the happy morn, Wherein the Son of Heav'n's eternal King,Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born, Our great redemption from above did bring; For so the holy sages once did sing, That he our deadly forfeit should release, And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.

That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable, And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,Wherewith he wont at Heav'n's high council-table, To sit the midst of Trinal Unity, He laid aside, and here with us to be, Forsook the courts of everlasting day, And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.

Say Heav'nly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein Afford a present to the Infant God?Hast thou no verse, no hymn, or solemn strain, To welcome him to this his new abode, Now while the heav'n, by the Sun's team untrod, Hath took no print of the approaching light, And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?

See how from far upon the eastern road The star-led wizards haste with odours sweet:O run, prevent them with thy humble ode, And lay it lowly at his blessed feet; Have thou the honour first thy Lord to greet, And join thy voice unto the angel quire, From out his secret altar touch'd with hallow'd fire.

The Hymn

It was the winter wild,While the Heav'n-born child, All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;Nature in awe to himHad doff'd her gaudy trim, With her great Master so to sympathize:It was no season then for herTo wanton with the Sun, her lusty paramour.

Only with speeches fairShe 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 eyesShould look so near upon her foul deformities.

But he, her fears to cease,Sent down the meek-ey'd Peace: She, crown'd with olive green, came softly slidingDown 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 soundWas heard the world around; The idle spear and shield were high uphung;The hooked chariot stoodUnstain'd with hostile blood; The trumpet spake not to the armed throng;And kings sate still with awful eye,As if they surely knew their sovran Lord was by.

But peaceful was the nightWherein the Prince of Light His reign of peace upon the earth began: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.

The Stars with deep amazeStand fix'd in steadfast gaze, Bending one way their precious influence;And will not take their flight,For all the morning light, Or Lucifer that often warn'd them thence,But in their glimmering orbs did glow,Until their Lord himself bespake, and bid them go.

And though the shady gloomHad given day her room, The Sun himself withheld his wonted speed,And hid his head for shame,As his inferior flame The new-enlighten'd world no more should need:He saw a greater Sun appearThan his bright throne or burning axle-tree could bear.

The shepherds on the lawn,Or ere the point of dawn, Sate simply chatting in a rustic row;Full little thought they thanThat 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 sweetTheir hearts and ears did greet, As never was by mortal finger strook,Divinely warbled voiceAnswering the stringed noise, As all their souls in blissful rapture took:The air such pleasure loth to lose,With thousand echoes still prolongs each heav'nly close.

Nature, that heard such soundBeneath the hollow round Of Cynthia's seat, the Airy region thrilling,Now was almost wonTo think her part was done, And that her reign had here its last fulfilling:She knew such harmony aloneCould hold all heav'n and earth in happier union.

At last surrounds their sightA globe of circular light, That with long beams the shame-fac'd Night array'd;The helmed CherubimAnd sworded Seraphim Are seen in glittering ranks with wings display'd,Harping in loud and solemn quire,With unexpressive notes to Heav'n's new-born Heir.

Such music (as 'tis said)Before was never made, But when of old the sons of morning sung,While the Creator greatHis constellations set, And the well-balanc'd world on hinges hung,And cast the dark foundations deep,And bid the welt'ring 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 chimeMove in melodious time, And let the bass of Heav'n's deep organ blow;And with your ninefold harmonyMake up full consort to th'angelic symphony.

For if such holy songEnwrap our fancy long, Time will run back and fetch the age of gold,And speckl'd VanityWill 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 thenWill down return to men, Orb'd in a rainbow; and, like glories wearing,Mercy will sit between,Thron'd in celestial sheen, With radiant feet the tissu'd clouds down steering;And Heav'n, 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; The Babe lies yet in smiling infancy,That on the bitter crossMust redeem our loss, So both himself and us to glorify:Yet first to those ychain'd in sleep,The wakeful trump of doom must thunder through the deep,

With such a horrid clangAs on Mount Sinai rang While the red fire and smould'ring clouds outbrake:The aged Earth, aghastWith terror of that blast, Shall from the surface to the centre shake,When at the world's last session,The dreadful Judge in middle air shall spread his throne.

And then at last our blissFull and perfect is, But now begins; for from this happy dayTh'old Dragon under ground,In straiter limits bound, Not half so far casts his usurped sway,And, wrath 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 arched roof in words deceiving.Apollo from his shrineCan no more divine, With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.No nightly trance or breathed spellInspires the pale-ey'd 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 daleEdg'd with poplar pale, The parting Genius is with sighing sent;With flow'r-inwoven tresses tornThe Nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.

In consecrated earth,And on the holy hearth, The 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 forgoes his wonted seat.

Peor and Ba{:a}limForsake their temples dim, With that twice-batter'd god of Palestine;And mooned Ashtaroth,Heav'n's queen and mother both, Now sits not girt with tapers' holy shine;The Libyc Hammon shrinks his horn;In vain the Tyrian maids their wounded Thammuz mourn.

And sullen Moloch, fled,Hath left in shadows dread His burning idol all of blackest hue:In vain with cymbals' ringThey 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 seenIn Memphian grove or green, Trampling the unshower'd grass with lowings loud;Nor can he be at restWithin his sacred chest, Naught but profoundest Hell can be his shroud:In vain with timbrel'd anthems darkThe sable-stoled sorcerers bear his worshipp'd ark.

He feels from Juda's landThe dreaded Infant's hand, The rays of Bethlehem blind his dusky eyn;Nor all the gods besideLonger dare abide, Not Typhon huge ending in snaky twine:Our Babe, to show his Godhead true,Can in his swaddling bands control the damned crew.

So when the Sun in bed,Curtain'd with cloudy red, Pillows his chin upon an orient wave,The flocking shadows paleTroop to th'infernal jail, Each fetter'd ghost slips to his several grave,And the yellow-skirted faysFly after the night-steeds, leaving their moon-lov'd maze.

But see, the Virgin blestHath laid her Babe to rest: Time is our tedious song should here have ending.Heav'n's youngest-teemed star,Hath fix'd her polish'd car, Her sleeping Lord with handmaid lamp attending;And all about the courtly stable,Bright-harness'd Angels sit in order serviceable.

© John Milton