Milton: On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity

On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity

BY JOHN MILTON

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.

It was the winter wild,
While the Heav’n-born child,
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Nature in awe to him
Had doff’d 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-ey’d Peace:
She, crown’d 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;
The idle spear and shield were high uphung;
The hooked chariot stood
Unstain’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 night
Wherein 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 amaze
Stand 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 gloom
Had 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 appear
Than 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 than
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 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 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 heav’n and earth in happier union.

At last surrounds their sight
A globe of circular light,
That with long beams the shame-fac’d Night array’d;
The helmed Cherubim
And 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 great
His 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 chime
Move in melodious time,
And let the bass of Heav’n’s deep organ blow;
And with your ninefold harmony
Make up full consort to th’angelic symphony.

For if such holy song
Enwrap our fancy long,
Time will run back and fetch the age of gold,
And speckl’d 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,
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 cross
Must 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 clang
As on Mount Sinai rang
While the red fire and smould’ring clouds outbrake:
The aged Earth, aghast
With 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 bliss
Full and perfect is,
But now begins; for from this happy day
Th’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 shrine
Can no more divine,
With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.
No nightly trance or breathed spell
Inspires 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 dale
Edg’d with poplar pale,
The parting Genius is with sighing sent;
With flow’r-inwoven tresses torn
The 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}lim
Forsake 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’ 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 unshower’d grass with lowings loud;
Nor can he be at rest
Within his sacred chest,
Naught but profoundest Hell can be his shroud:
In vain with timbrel’d anthems dark
The sable-stoled sorcerers bear his worshipp’d ark.

He feels from Juda’s land
The dreaded Infant’s hand,
The 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 damned crew.

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

But see, the Virgin blest
Hath 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.

(Text thanks to: Poetry Foundation)

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Psychic Phenomena in the Old Testament (1922)

Here’s a book (published in the 1920s) called Psychic Phenomena in the Old Testament by Sarah A. Tooley. This short book summarizes stories in the Old Testament in which three sorts of phenomena occur: a) materializations; b) angels; c) visions.

Materializations feature divine messengers or guides who take human or material form. A captain of the Lord’s host comes to Joshua in material shape, for instance, to offer him divine strength before battle.  An angel guides Abraham’s servant to the woman (Rebekah) who is to be Isaac’s wife. The visions of prophets and the dreams of patriarchs (such as Joseph) are also recorded.

Altogether, sixteen biblical stories are recounted and discussed.  It is unclear to me why the term “psychic” is used of these phenomena rather than “mystical” or “visionary” or “revelatory” or some such neutral term. Nevertheless, the book assembles some nice OT passages, which illustrate a range of inspired and extraordinary events.

Here’s the pdf of the book for your interest. Psychic Phenomena in the OT book

Johnny Lovewisdom: the Fruitarian diet and the original gospel (Video Link, 1990s)

NOTE: I do not necessarily agree with the point of view expressed, here, in every particular. However, I am impressed by the idealism of this figure, who left what is familiar in order to establish a healthy and visionary way of life.

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Johnny Lovewisdom, a fruitarian, lived on what he considered the diet of paradise. This video (below) contains an interview with him in Ecuador in the 1990s.

Johnny Lovewisdom wrote on spiritual topics and provided esoteric interpretations of the gospels and the teachings of Jesus.

His fruitarian lifestyle, although very controversial, accords with the the ways of God, as Johnny sees it.

Here’s an interesting video interview with him. See link:

Johnny Lovewisdom Video

Silent Film (1903): Life and Passion of Jesus Christ : The Annunciation

This is an early (1903) silent film about the life of Christ.  The camera is stationary, which gives the impression of filmed theater, and the story is told in a series of scenes. I will here provide a description of the first scene of the movie, the annunciation. My remarks are borrowed from Catherine O’Brien’s analysis in the Celluloid Madonna.

In the annunciation scene, Mary is pictured holding a water jar, a detail suggestive of wells, which are symbolic places for betrothals in the Bible. The apocryphal Protevangelium of James depicts the annunciation to Mary in a domestic setting.  Mary meets the angel upon returning from a well.

Here, in this movie, the angel once he appears has a lily in his hand, a symbol of purity.  The angel fades in to make its presence felt and fades out to disappear. The angel hovers in mid-air. Mary bows to acknowledge the angel’s holiness. The angel moves lips and makes hand gestures to express the message that he carries from heaven. No fear or protest is indicated but rather devotion and acquiescence as Mary bows to receive the message and in assent.

As Mary rises and raises her arms to heaven, the gesture indicates that she is making herself a handmaid to the Lord in an historically significant act of volition.

The entire movie is visually quite fascinating. The absence of sound heightens the visual effects.

Question: What are the advantages of silent film, aesthetically, in portraying the life of Jesus?