Thursday, December 25, 2014

Richard Crashaw's Shepherd's Hymn

From Richard Crashaw's Steps to the Temple.

Chorus. Come, we shepherds whose blest sight 
Hath met Love's noon in Nature's night ; 
Come lift up our loftier song, 
And wake the sun that lies too long.

To all our world of well-stol'n joy 
He slept, and dreamt of no such thing, 
While we found out Heaven's fairer eye, 
And kissed the cradle of our King ;
Tell him he rises now too late 
To show us aught worth looking at.

Tell him we now can show him more 
Than he e'er show'd to mortal sight, 
Than he himself e'er saw before, 
Which to be seen needs not his light : 
Tell him, Tityrus, where th' hast been, 
Tell him, Thyrsis, what th' hast seen.

Tityrus. Gloomy night embraced the place 
Where the noble infant lay : 
The babe look'd up, and show'd His face ; 
In spite of darkness it was day. 
It was Thy day, sweet, and did rise, 
Not from the East, but from Thy eyes. 

Chorus. It was Thy day, sweet, &c.

Thrysis. Winter chid aloud, and sent The angry 
North to wage his wars : 
The North forgot his fierce intent, 
And left perfumes instead of scars. 
By those sweet eyes' persuasive powers, 
Where he meant frosts he scatter'd flowers. 

Chorus. By those sweet eyes', &c.

Both. We saw Thee in Thy balmy nest, 
Young dawn of our eternal day ; 
We saw Thine eyes break from the East, 
And chase the trembling shades away : 
We saw Thee, and we blest the sight, 
We saw Thee by Thine own sweet light.

Full Chorus. Welcome all wonders in one sight ! 
Eternity shut in a span ! 
Summer in winter ! day in night ! 
Heaven in earth ! and God in man ! 
Great little one, whose all-embracing birth 
Lifts earth to Heaven, stoops Heaven to earth !

Welcome, tho' nor to gold, nor silk, 
To more than Cæsar's birthright is : 
Twin sister seas of virgin's milk, 
With many a rarely-temper'd kiss, 
That breathes at once both maid and mother, 
Warms in the one, cools in the other.

She sings Thy tears asleep, and dips 
Her kisses in Thy weeping eye : 
She spreads the red leaves of Thy lips, 
That in their buds yet blushing lie. 
She 'gainst those mother diamonds tries 
The points of her young eagle's eyes.

Read the rest here. Crashaw's poem has been redacted into a Christmas carol, At the Nativity or Gloomy Night Embraced the Place. As befitting a man of classical university education, Crashaw uses names from ancient Latin and Greek bucolic poetry: Tityrus is the name of a shepherd poet in Virgil's Eclogues and Thrysis is the shepherd who tells the story of Daphnis in Theocritus' first Idyll.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the shepherds at the nativity in his homily for Midnight Mass in 2009:

The Lord is here. From this moment, God is truly “God with us”. No longer is he the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in creation and in our own consciousness. He has entered the world. He is close to us. The words of the risen Christ to his followers are addressed also to us: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). For you the Saviour is born: through the Gospel and those who proclaim it, God now reminds us of the message that the Angel announced to the shepherds. It is a message that cannot leave us indifferent. If it is true, it changes everything. If it is true, it also affects me. Like the shepherds, then, I too must say: Come on, I want to go to Bethlehem to see the Word that has occurred there. The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason. They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received. What is it that these first witnesses of God’s incarnation have to tell us?

The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch – they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people. . . .

Merry Christmas to All!

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