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I. ,'.! ....
ERewhile of music, and ethereal mirth,"
* Paradise Recained was translated into French, and printed at Paris 1730. To which the translator hat added Lycidas, L'alleCro, Ii Penseroso, and this Ode On The Nativity. But the French have no conception of the nature and complexion of Milton's imagery.
A great critic, in speaking of Milton's smaller poems, passes over this Ode in silence, and observes " All that sliort compositions can com*' monly attain, is neatness and elegance." But Odes are short compositions, and they can often attain sublimity, which is even a characteristic of that species of poetry. We have the proof before us. He adds, " Milton never learned the art of doing little things with "grace." If by little things we are to understand Jhort poems, Milton had the art of giving them another fort of excellence.
1. Erewhile of mufic, and ethereal mirths Hence we may conjecture that this Ode was probably composed soon after that on the NatiVity. And this was perhaps a college exercise at Eailer, as (he last at Christmas.
4. My Muse with Angeli did divide to sing.] See Spenser, F. Q. iii. i. 40.
And all the while sweet music did Divide
As Horace, "Imbelli cithara carmina Divides." Od. i. Xv. 15. And
And all the while most heavenly melody
5. But headlong joy is ever on the wing.] An elegant and cxprefirVe line. But Drayton more poetically calls joy,
The swallow-winged Joy.
In wintry solstice like the sliorten'd light Soon swallow'd up in dark and long out-living night.
'II, For now to sorrow must I tune my song,
And set my harp to notes of saddest vroe,
Which on our dearest Lord did seise ere long, 10
Dangers, and snares, and wrongs, and worse than so,
Which he for us did freely undergo:
Most perfect Hero, try'd in heaviest plight
Of labours huge and hard, too hard for human wight!
III. He sov'ran Priest stooping his regal head, 15
That dropt with odorous oil down his fair eyes,
Poor fleshly tabernacle entered,
His starry front low-rooft beneath the skies j
O what a mask was there, what a disguise! 19
Yet more; the stroke of death he must abide,
Then lies him meekly down fast by his brethrens side.
These latest scenes confine my roving verse,
17. Poor firstly tabernacle entered.'] So in Parad. Rbo. B. iv. J98. —— Remote from heav'n, inflirin'd In Fleshly Tabernacle, and human form. See Note on Ii. Pens. r. 91. His
His godlike acts, and his temptations fierce,
Me softer airs befit, and softer strings Of lute, or viol still, more apt for mournful things. ■: . . y
Befriend me Night, best patroness of grief,
And work my flatter'd fancy to belief,
26. Loud o'er the rest Cremona*t trump. —] Our poet seems here to be of opinion, that Vida's Christiad was the finest Latin poem on a religious subject j but perhaps it is excelled by Sannazarius De Partu Vmcitus, a poem of more vigour and tire than this worjc of Vida. Dr. J. Warton.
28. Of lute, or vioi ftili. ] Gentle, not noisy, not loud, as is
the trumpet. It is applied to found in the fame fense, B. Kings, i. 19. 12. "A Still lmall voice." And in First P. Henr. V. A. iv. S.i. .
The hum of either army Stilly (bunds.
And in Ii Pens. V. 127.
Or ufher'd with a shower Still.
This is in opposition to winds piping Loud, in the verse before. It» application is not often to found. Hence still-born, of a child born dead.
30. Over the pole thy thickest mantle throw.'] So in Buckhurst's InDuction, as Mr. Bowie observes, It. iv.
Loe, tt.e Night with mistic Mantels spred. Again, st. xl.
Let the Nightes black mistye Maktils rise.
And letters where my tears have wafh'd a warmish
VI. See, fee the chariot, and those rushing wheels, That whirl'd the Prophet up at Chebar flood, My spirit some transporting Cherub feels, To bear me where the tow'rs of Salem stood, Once glorious tow'rs, now funk in guiltless blood$ There doth my foul in holy vision sit 41
In pensive trance, and anguish, and ecstatic fit.
That was the caiket of Heav'n's richest store,
My plaining verse as lively as before;
For sure so well instructed are my tears, That they would fitly fall in order'd characters. .
43. Mine eye hath sound that sad sepulchral reel,
That was the casket es Heav'n's richest store,
And here though grief my seeblr hands uplock,
Yet on the soften'd quarry would 1 score
My plaining verse.——] He seems to have been struck with' reading Sandys's description of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem; and to have catched sympathetically Sandys's sudden impulse to break forth into a devout song at the aweful and inspiring spectacle. "It is a "frozen zeal that will not be warmed with the sight thereof. And 44 oh, that 1 could rctaine the effects that it wrought with an unfaint44 ing perseverance! Who then did dictate this hymne to my re"deSlner, &c." Tratils, p. 167. edit. 1627. The first is, 1615.
O o VIII. Or
VIII. Or should I thence hurried on viewless wing, 50 Take up a weeping on the mountains wild, The gentle neighbourhood of grove and spring Would soon unbosom all their echoes mild, And I (for grief is easily beguil'd)
Might think th' infection of my sorrows loud Had got a race of mourners on some pregnant cloud.
This subject the Author finding to be above the years he had, when he wrote it, and nothing satisfied with what was begun, left it unfinished.
50. Hurried on viewless wing.'] See Com. V. 92. Hurried is used here in an acceptation less familiar than at present. And in other places. Parad. L. B. ii.937. Of Satan's flight.
——— Some tumultuous cloud
Again, ibid. 603. The fallen angels are to pine for ages in frost, "thence Hurried back to fire." And, B. v. 778.
All this haste
Of midnight march, and Hurried meeting here.
In all these passages it is applied to preternatural motion or imaginarybeings.
51. Take up a weeping on the mountains wild.] The expression is from Jeremiah, ix. 10. " For the mountains will I Take Up a Weeping ** and wailing, &c."