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MESSIAH,

A SACRED ECLOGUE.

IN IMITATION OF VIRGIL'S POLLIO.

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[This poem was first published in the Spectator, May 14, 1712. Steele wrote to Pope—“I have turned to every verse and chapter, and think you have preserved the sublime heavenly spirit throughout the whole, especially at 'Hark, a glad voice;' and 'The lamb with wolves shall graze.' There is but one line which I think is below the original,

He wipes the tear for ever from our eyes.' You have expressed it with a good and pious but not so exalted and poetical a spirit as the prophet: The Lord God shall wipe away tears from off all faces. If you agree with me in this, alter it by way of paraphrase or otherwise, that when it comes into a volume it may be amended. Your poem is already better than the Pollio.” Steele was hypercritical, but Pope was then young; he was complaisant enough to alter the line (see versé 46), but unquestionably without improving the expression. The finest part of the poem is that at the conclusion, from the 85th verse, where the long race of sons and daughters unborn crowd forward in prophetic vision,

Demanding life, impatient for the skies." Pope has nowhere else a more striking figurative or sublime passage. His lips were truly touched with hallowed fire from the altar.

To the poem was prefixed the following advertisement:

"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 anything 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 heavenly themes sublimer strains belong.

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The mossy fountains, and the sylvan shades,
The dreams of Pindus and Aonian maids,
Delight no more—o thou my voice inspire
Who touch'd Isaiah's hallowed lips with fire!

Rapt into future times, the bard begun:
A Virgin shall conceive, a Virgin bear a Son!
From Jesse's2 root behold a Branch arise,
Whose sacred flower with fragrance fills the skies :
The ethereal spirit o'er its leaves shall move,
And on its top descends the mystic Dove.
Ye heavens !3 from high the dewy nectar pour,
And in soft silence shed the kindly shower !4
The5 sick and weak the healing plant shall aid,
From storms a shelter, and from heat a shade.
All crimes shall cease, and ancient fraud shall fail ;
Returning6 Justice lift aloft her scale ;
Peace o'er the world her olive wand extend,
And white-robed Innocence from heaven descend.
Swift fly the years, and rise the expected morn!
Oh spring to light, auspicious Babe, be born!
See Nature hastes7 her earliest wreaths to bring,
With all the incense of the breathing spring :

1 “A Virgin shall conceive.-All crimes shall cease,” &c.

“Jam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna;
Jam nova progenies cælo demittitur alto-
Te duce, si qua manent sceleris vestigia nostri,
Irrita perpetuâ solvent formidine terras-
Pacatumque reget patriis virtutibus orbem."

Virg. Ecl. iv. ver. 6. "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 reliques 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."

Isa.. ch. vii. ver. 14.-"Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son." Ch. 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 and to establish it, with judgment, and with justice, for ever and ever.” 2 Isa. ch. xi. ver. 1.

3 Ch. xlv. ver. 8. 4 [“ But shed from Nature like a kindly shower.”—Dryden's Don Sebast.] 5 Ch. xxv. ver. 4.

6 Ch. ix. ver. 7.

See lofty Lebanon 8 his head advance,
See nodding forests on the mountains dance :
See spicy clouds from lowly Saron rise,
And Carmel's flowery top perfumes the skies !
Hark! a glad voice9 the lonely desert cheers :-
“Prepare the way!10 a God, a God appears ;"
“A God, a God!" the vocal hills reply,
The rocks proclaim the approaching Deity.
Lo, earth receives him from the bending skies !
Sink down, ye mountains, and ye valleys, rise;
With heads declined, ye cedars, homage pay;
Be smooth, ye rocks; ye rapid floods, give way;
The Saviour comes ! by ancient bards foretold!
Hearll him, ye deaf, and all ye blind, behold!

7 "At tibi prima, puer, nullo munuscula cultu,

Errantes hederas passim cum baccare tellus,
Mixtaque ridenti colocasia fundet acantho-
Ipsa tibi blandos fundent cunabula flores."

Virg. Ecl. iv. ver. 18. “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.”

Isa. ch. xxxv. ver. 1.—“The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.” Ch. Ix. 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 thy sanctuary."

8 Isa. ch. xxxv. ver. 2. . 9 Virg. Ecl. iv. ver. 46.

“ Aggredere ô magnos, aderit jam tempus, honores,

Cara deûm soboles, magnum Jovis incrementum—" “Ipsi lætitiâ voces ad sidera jactant

Intonsi montes, ipsæ jam carmina rupes,

Ipsa sonant arbusta, Deus, deus ille Menalca!"-Ecl. iv. ver. 62. "Oh come and receive the mighty honours; the time draws nigh, O be loved 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!'”.

Isa. ch. 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.” Ch.iv. ver. 23.--" Break forth into singing, ye mountains ! O forest, and every tree therein! for the Lord hath redeemed Israel."

10 Isa. ch. xl. ver. 3, 4.

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He from thick films shall purge the visual ray,
And on the sightless eyeball pour the day:
'Tis 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,
From every face he wipes off every tear.
In 12 adamantine chains shall Death be bound,
And Hell's grim tyrant feel the eternal wound.
As the good shepherd 13 tends his fleecy care,
Seeks freshest pasture and the purest air,
Explores the lost, the wandering 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,
The promised 14 Father of the future age.
No more shall15 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 ;
But useless lances into scythes shall bend,
And the broad falchion in a ploughshare end.
Then palaces shall rise ; the joyful 16 son
Shall finish what his short-lived sire begun;
Their vines a shadow to their race shall yield,
And the same hand that sow'd, shall reap the field.
The swain in barren 17 deserts with surprise
See lilies spring, and sudden verdure rise ; 18

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11 Isa. ch. xliii. ver. 18; ch. xxxv. ver. 5, 6. 12 Ch. xxv. ver. 8.

18 Ch. xl. ver. 11. 14 Ch. ix. ver. 6.

15 Ch. ii. ver. 4. 16 Ch. lxv. ver. 21, 22.

17 Ch. xxxy, ver. 1, 7. 18 Virg. Ecl. iv. ver. 28.

“Molli paulatim flavescet campus aristâ,

Incultisque rubens pendebit sentibus uva,

Et duræ quercus sudabunt roscida mella” “The fields shall grow yellow with ripen’d ears, and the red grape shall hang upon the wild brambles, and the hard oaks shall distil honey like dew.”

Isa. ch. XXXV. ver. 7.—“The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water. In the habitation where dragons lay shall

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And start, amidst the thirsty wilds to hear
New falls of water murmuring in his ear.
On rifted rocks, the dragon's late abodes,
The green reed trembles, and the bulrush nods.
Waste sandy 19 valleys, once perplex'd with thorn,
The spiry fir and shapely box adorn ;
To leafless shrubs the flowering palms succeed,
And odorous myrtle to the noisome weed.
The lambs 20 with wolves shall graze the verdant mead, 21
And boys in flowery bands the tiger lead ; 22
The steer and lion at one crib shall meet,
And harmless 23 serpents lick the pilgrim's feet.

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The smiling infant in his hand shall take
The crested basilisk and speckled snake,
Pleased the green lustre of the scales survey,
And with their forky tongue shall innocently play.
Rise, crown'd with light, imperial 24 Salem, rise! 25

Exalt thy towery head, and lift thy eyes ! be grass, and reeds, and rushes." Ch. lv. ver. 13.—“Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree, and instead of the briar shall come up the myrtletree.”

19 Isa. ch. xli. ver. 19, and ch. lv. ver. 13. 90 Ch. xi. ver. 68.
21 ["Are wolves graminivorous animals ?”—MS. note by Steevens.]
22 Virg. Ecl. iv. ver. 21.-

“Ipsæ lacte domum referent distenta capellæ
Ubera, nec magnos metuent armenta leones-
Occidet et serpens, et fallax herba veneni

Occidet."“The goats shall bear to the fold their udders distended with milk: nor shall the herds be afraid of the greatest lions. The serpent shall die, and the herb that conceals poison shall die.”

Isa. ch. xi. ver. 16, &c.—“The wolf 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 den of the cockatrice." 23 Isa. ch. lxv. ver. 25.

24 Ch. lx. ver. 1. 25 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 lætentur ut omnia seclo!” &c.
The reader needs only to turn to the passages of Isaiah here cited.

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