The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Why Doth The Sun Re-orient Take

For Christmas Day

Words: Hymnus VIII Kalendas Ianuarias, by Prudentius (384-413) from Cathemerinon

Translation: Why doth the sun re-orient take, R. Martin Pope

Source: The Hymns of Prudentius, Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, Project Gutenberg (2005)

Editor's Note:

Quid est, quod artum circulum (HYMNUS VIII. KALENDAS IANUARIAS, Hymns for the Christian's Day) is the opening line of the eleventh and next-to-last poem in the "Cathemerinon" of Prudentius (384-413) . This twelfth poem or hymn contains 29 iambic dimeter strophes, and an irregular selection from its 116 lines. The following text from the Project Gutenberg file with translation by R. Martin Pope. The twelfth and last poem in "Cathemerion" is the better known Hymn for the Epiphany (XII Hymnus Epiphaniae - Quicumque Christum quaeritis), from which four hymns were created for the Roman Breviary.


  Why doth the sun re-orient take
  A wider range, his limits break?
  Lo! Christ is born, and o'er earth's night
  Shineth from more to more the light!

  Too swiftly did the radiant day
  Her brief course run and pass away:
  She scarce her kindly torch had fired
  Ere slowly fading it expired.

  Now let the sky more brightly beam,
  The earth take up the joyous theme:
  The orb a broadening pathway gains
  And with its erstwhile splendour reigns.

  Sweet babe, of chastity the flower,
  A virgin's blest mysterious dower!
  Rise in Thy twofold nature's might:
  Rise, God and man to reunite!

  Though by the Father's will above
  Thou wert begot, the Son of Love,
  Yet in His bosom Thou didst dwell,
  Of Wisdom the eternal Well;

  Wisdom, whereby the heavens were made
  And light's foundations first were laid:
  Creative Word! all flows from Thee!
  The Word is God eternally.

  For though with process of the suns
  The ordered whole harmonious runs,
  Still the Artificer Divine
  Leaves not the Father's inmost shrine.

  The rolling wheels of Time had passed
  O'er their millennial journey vast,
  Before in judgment clad He came
  Unto the world long steeped in shame.

  The purblind souls of mortals crass
  Had trusted gods of stone and brass,
  To things of nought their worship paid
  And senseless blocks of wood obeyed.

  And thus employed, they fell below
  The sway of man's perfidious foe:
  Plunged in the smoky sheer abyss
  They sank bereft of their true bliss.

  But that sore plight of ruined man
  Christ's pity could not lightly scan:
  Nor let God's building nobly wrought
  Ingloriously be brought to nought.

  He wrapped Him in our fleshly guise,
  That from the tomb He might arise,
  And man released from death's grim snare
  Home to His Father's bosom bear.

  This is the day of Thy dear birth,
  The bridal of the heaven and earth,
  When the Creator breathed on Thee
  The breath of pure humanity.

  Ah! glorious Maid, dost thou not guess
  What guerdon thy chaste soul shall bless,
  How by thy ripening pangs is bought
  An honour greater than all thought?

  O what a load of joy untold
  Thy womb inviolate doth hold!
  Of thee a golden age is born,
  The brightness of the earth's new morn!

  Hearken! doth not the infant's wail
  The universal springtide hail?
  For now the world re-born lays by
  Its gloomy, frost-bound apathy.

  Methinks in all her rustic bowers
  The earth is spread with clustering flowers:
  Odours of nard and nectar sweet
  E'en o'er the sands of Syrtes fleet.

  All places rough and deserts wild
  Have felt from far Thy coming, Child:
  Rocks to Thy gentle empire bow
  And verdure clothes the mountain brow.

  Sweet honey from the boulder leaps:
  The sere and leafless oak-bough weeps
  A strange rich attar: tamarisks too
  Of balsam pure distil the dew.

  Blessed for ever, cradle dear,
  The lowly stall, the cavern drear!
  Men to this shrine, Eternal King,
  With dumb brutes adoration bring.

  The ox and ass in homage low
  Obedient to their Maker bow:
  Bows too the unlearn'd heartless crowd
  Whose minds the sensual feast doth cloud.

  Though, by the faithful Spirit impelled,
  Shepherds and brutes, unreasoning held,
  Yea, folk that did in darkness dwell
  Discern their God in His poor cell:

  Yet children of the sacred race
  Blindly abhor the Incarnate grace:
  By philtres you might deem them lulled
  Or by some bacchic phrenzy dulled.

  Why headlong thus to ruin stride?
  If aught of soundness in you bide,
  Behold in Him the Lord divine
  Of all your patriarchal line.

  Mark you the dim-lit cave, the Maid,
  The humble nurse, the cradle laid,
  The helpless infancy forlorn:
  Yet thus the Gentiles' King was born!

  Ah sinner, thou shalt one day see
  This Child in dreadful majesty,
  See Him in glorious clouds descend,
  While thou thy guilty heart shalt rend.

  Vain all thy tears, when loud shall sound
  The trump, when flames shall scorch the ground,
  When from its hinge the cloven world
  Is loosed, in horrid tumult hurled.

  Then throned on high, the Judge of all
  Shall mortals to their reckoning call:
  To these shall grant the prize of light,
  To those Gehenna's gloomy night.

  Then, Israel, shalt thou learn at length
  The Cross hath, as the lightning, strength:
  Doomed by thy wrath, He now is Lord,
  Whom Death once grasped but soon restored.

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