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characteristic note of the great poetry of the years to come. Among these youthful efforts one stands out supreme-the noble ode "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity." Written in 1629, when Milton was only twenty-one, this has been placed by some of our critics among the very fitxest odes in the language. The implied praise is, think, excessive. Perfect the piece certainly is not. It is rugged in metre and unequal in style; it is also now and then marred by conceits; for example, the conception with which the hymn begins, of Nature doffing "her gaudy trirn" out of sympathy with "her great Master" in the hour of His lowly birth, jars upon us as too fantastic and unreal for so lofty a theme. But, all deductions made, it is still a great poem, vigorous in thought and language, often indeed splendid in diction, and occasionally even rising into that grand manner which was to be one of the outstanding qualities of Milton's mature work. The easy assurance with which the young poet handles the learning with which he enriches his subject also calls for remark, for this too is characteristically Miltonic. Nor must the reader fail to appreciate the skill with which the materials are arranged, and much that lies outside the immediate topic is brought into the framework. We have first the simple details of the Saviour's birth, the setting of the scene, the song of the angels to the listening shepherds, and the promise which it seems to bring of the speedy coming of the Golden Age to men; then, by an abrupt but singularly
effective transition, the poet passes directly to a prophetic vision of that dread Judgment Day through which alone God's purposes are to be consummated; after which he goes back to describe the instant overthrow of the pagan gods and their oracles, returning suddenly at the end to the lowly manger where the Virgin Mother is laying her Babe to rest, and thus closing upon the note with which he had opened the note of calm and peace. There is nothing of mere happy accident about this plan. Milton evidently thought out his poem as an organic whole; the different parts of it arise out of and support one another; and the contrast provided by variety in details and tones is attained without sacrifice of essential unity. We thus learn that already Milton was a conscientious and painstaking poetic artist.
ON THE MORNING OF CHRIST'S
This is the month, and this the happy morn,
That He our deadly forfeit should release,
That glorious Form, that Light unsuff'rable,
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
Hast thou no verse, no hymn or solemn strain,
Now while the heav'n, by the Sun's team untrod,
See, how from far, upon the eastern road,
Have thou the honour first thy Lord to greet,
And join thy voice unto the Angel quire, From out His secret altar touched with hallowed fire.
It was the winter wild,
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies:
Had doffed 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
To hide her guilty front with innocent snow :
The saintly veil of maiden white to throw ;
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,
His ready harbinger,
With turtle wing the am'rous 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 up hung; The hooked chariot stood
Unstained with hostile blood;
The trumpet spake not to the armèd throng; And kings sat still with awful eye,
As if they surely knew their sovran Lord was by.
But peaceful was the night,
His reign of peace upon the Earth began:
The winds with wonder whist,
Smoothly the waters kissed,
Whisp'ring new joys to the mild ocean,
Who now hath quite forgot to rave,
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmèd
The stars, with deep amaze,
Bending one way their precious influence; And will not take their flight,
For all the morning light,
Or Lucifer that often warned them thence; But in their glimm'ring 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 enlightened world no more should need ; He saw a Greater Sun appear
Than his bright throne, or burning axletree, could bear.
The shepherds on the lawn,
Sat simply chatting in a rustic row;
Full little thought they then,
That the mighty Pan1
In Greek mythology, the great god of shepherds and their flocks. The curious identification of Pan with the Good Shepherd is thus explained. See John x. a.