John Milton -“On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”

I’ve been dragging my feet to read John Milton, because I was really busy the past few days and also because, as I admitted, I am not that fond of his poetry. But finally I got round to chipping away at this rather imposing block of stone. “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” is the first major poem of the still very young Milton, heavily influenced, as the helpful footnotes inform us, by Spenser. The poem begins with a kind of poetic introduction, followed by “The Hymn”. The introduction is a little bit like the invocation in an epic poem: it informs us it is Christmas morning, the day when the Son of God laid away his heavenly glory and “light unsufferable” in order to assume “a darksome house of mortal clay”. So the poet invokes the heavenly muse, asking her whether it is not the right occasion to celebrate this momentous event. He encourages her to hurry before the Magi from the East arrive and precede them in order to have the honour of being the first to greet the Lord.

“The Hymn” begins with the description of Nature which, as if to honour her Maker, laid off her gaudy apparel of leaves, in sympathy with the naked babe. She only asks the air to cover her nakedness and her sin (because the original sin tainted Nature as well) with a white veil of snow. Bu God, in order to appease her fears sent down the “meek-eyed Peace”, clad in olive-green and preceded by a symbolic turtle-dove. The world, or rather this part of it which counted from Milton’s point view (the Roman Empire and its immediate neigbours) was then completely at peace, which could be attributed to Caesar Augustus’s policy, or to the special act of God, as Milton does. So the night when Christ is born is this night of absolute peace, as in the “Sleeping Beauty”: no noise of war, no trumpets, while kings sit on their thrones with their eyes filled with awe, as if they felt their Lord was coming. Only a gentle wind kisses the water of the ocean, “whispering new joys”, while the kingfishers sit in their nests drifting upon its surface (as the legend had them do).

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