On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity

John Milton

 
I
This is the month, and this the happy morn,  
Wherein the Son of Heaven’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.  
  
II
That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,  
And that far-beaming blaze of majesty,  
Wherewith he wont at Heaven’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.  
  
III
Say, Heavenly 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 heaven, by the Sun’s team untrod,  
  Hath took no print of the approaching light,
And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?  
  
IV
See how from far upon the Eastern road  
The star-led Wisards haste with odours sweet!  
Oh! run; prevent them with thy humble ode,  
And lay it lowly at his blessèd feet;
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.  
The Hymn
I
    It was the winter wild,  
     While the heaven-born child
   All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;  
      Nature, in awe to him,  
      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.  
  
II
    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.  
  
III
    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 amorous clouds dividing;
And, waving wide her myrtle wand,  
She strikes a universal peace through sea and land.  
  
IV
    No war, or battail’s sound,  
    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;  
And Kings sat still with awful eye,  
As if they surely knew their sovran Lord was by.
  
V
    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 kissed,
  Whispering new joys to the mild Ocean,  
Who now hath quite forgot to rave,  
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.  
  
VI
    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,  
  Or Lucifer that often warned them thence;  
But in their glimmering orbs did glow,
Until their Lord himself bespake, and bid them go.  
  
VII
    And, though the shady gloom  
    Had given day her room,  
  The Sun himself withheld his wonted speed,  
    And hid his head of 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.  
  
VIII
    The Shepherds on the lawn,
    Or ere the point of dawn,  
  Sat 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.  
  
IX
    When such music sweet  
    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:  
The air, such pleasure loth to lose,  
With thousand echoes still prolongs each heavenly close.
  
X
    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 Heaven and Earth in happier union.  
  
XI
    At last surrounds their sight  
    A globe of circular light,  
  That with long beams the shamefaced Night arrayed;  
    The helmèd Cherubim  
    And sworded Seraphim  
  Are seen in glittering ranks with wings displayed,  
Harping in loud and solemn quire,     
With unexpressive notes, to Heaven’s newborn Heir.  
  
XII
    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-balanced World on hinges hung,  
And cast the dark foundations deep,  
And bid the weltering waves their oozy channel keep.  
  
XIII
    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 heaven’s deep organ blow;
And with your ninefold harmony  
Make up full consort of the angelic symphony.  
  
XIV
    For, if such holy song  
    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 mould;  
And Hell itself will pass away,  
And leave her dolorous mansions of the peering day.
  
XV
    Yes, Truth and Justice then  
    Will down return to men,  
  The enamelled arras of the rainbow wearing;  
    And Mercy set between,  
    Throned in celestial sheen,    
  With radiant feet the tissued clouds down steering;  
And Heaven, as at some festival,  
Will open wide the gates of her high palace-hall.  
  
XVI
    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 chained in sleep,  
The wakeful trump of doom must thunder through the deep,  
  
XVII
    With such a horrid clang  
    As on Mount Sinai rang,  
  While the red fire and smouldering 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 sessiön,  
The dreadful Judge in middle air shall spread his throne.  
  
XVIII
    And then at last our bliss
    Full and perfect is,  
  But now begins; for from this happy day  
    The Old Dragon under ground,  
    In straiter limits bound,  
  Not half so far casts his usurpèd sway,
And, wroth to see his Kingdom fail,  
Swindges the scaly horror of his folded tail.  
  
XIX
    The Oracles are dumb;  
    No voice or hideous hum  
  Runs through the archèd roof in words deceiving.
    Apollo from his shrine  
    Can no more divine,  
  Will hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.  
No nightly trance, or breathèd spell,  
Inspires the pale-eyed Priest from the prophetic cell.
  
XX
    The lonely mountains o’er,  
    And the resounding shore,  
  A voice of weeping heard and loud lament;  
    Edgèd with poplar pale,  
    From haunted spring, and dale     
  The parting Genius is with sighing sent;  
With flower-inwoven tresses torn  
The Nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.  
  
XXI
    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.  
  
XXII
    Peor and Baälim  
    Forsake their temples dim,  
  With that twice-battered god of Palestine;  
    And moonèd Ashtaroth,     
    Heaven’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.  
  
XXIII
    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.  
  
XXIV
    Nor is Osiris seen  
    In Memphian grove or green,  
  Trampling the unshowered grass with lowings loud;  
    Nor can he be at rest  
    Within his sacred chest;  
  Nought but profoundest Hell can be his shroud;  
In vain, with timbreled anthems dark,  
The sable-stolèd Sorcerers bear his worshiped ark.     
  
XXV
    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 damnèd crew.  
  
XXVI
    So, when the Sun in bed,  
    Curtained with cloudy red,
  Pillows his chin upon an orient wave,  
    The flocking shadows pale  
    Troop to the infernal jail,  
  Each fettered ghost slips to his several grave,  
And the yellow-skirted Fays
Fly after the night-steeds, leaving their moon-loved maze.  
  
XXVII
    But see! the Virgin blest  
    Hath laid her Babe to rest,  
  Time is our tedious song should here have ending:  
    Heaven’s youngest-teemèd star
    Hath fixed her polished car,  
  Her sleeping Lord with handmaid lamp attending;  
And all about the courtly stable  
Bright-harnessed Angels sit in order serviceable.
 

Poems by This Author

Paradise Lost, Book I, Lines 221-270 by John Milton
Is this the Region, this the Soil, the Clime
Paradise Lost, Book IV, Lines 639–652 by John Milton
With thee conversing I forget all time
Paradise Lost, Book IV, [The Argument] by John Milton
O for that warning voice, which he who saw
Paradise Lost, Book VI, Lines 801-866 by John Milton
Stand still in bright array, ye Saints; here stand
Lycidas by John Milton
Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more
On His Deceased Wife by John Milton
Me thought I saw my late espousèd Saint
On Shakespeare by John Milton
What needs my Shakespeare for his honour'd Bones
On Time by John Milton
Fly envious Time, till thou run out thy race
Song On May Morning by John Milton
Now the bright morning Star, Dayes harbinger
To the Same by John Milton
Cyriack, this three years’ day these eyes, though clear
When I Consider How My Light Is Spent by John Milton
When I consider how my light is spent,


Further Reading

Poems About Christmas
A Christmas Carol
by George Wither
A Christmas Carol
by Christina Rossetti
A Visit from St. Nicholas
by Clement Clark Moore
Christmas Away from Home
by Jane Kenyon
Christmas Bells
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Christmas Trees
by Robert Frost
Noël
by Anne Porter
Noël: Christmas Eve 1913
by Robert Bridges
Taking Down the Tree
by Jane Kenyon
The Mahogany Tree
by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Oxen
by Thomas Hardy
The Savior must have been a docile Gentleman (1487)
by Emily Dickinson
The Shivering Beggar
by Robert Graves
Toward the Winter Solstice
by Timothy Steele