The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

On the Nativity of Christ

William Dunbar (1460 - 1522)

RORATE coeli desuper!
    Heavens, let loose your balmy showers!
For now is risen the bright day-star,
    Fro the rose Mary, flower of flowers:
    The clear Son, whom no cloud devours,
Surpassing Phebus in the East,
    Is coming from his heavenly tower:
    Et nobis Puer natus est.

Archangels, angels, and dominations,
    Thrones, potentates, and martyrs various,
And all ye heavenly operations,
    Star, planet, firmament, and sphere,
    Fire, earth, air, and water clear,
To Him give loving, most and least,
    That come in to so meek manner;
    Et nobis Puer natus est.

Sinners be glad, and penance do,
    And thank your Maker heartily;
For he that ye might not come to
    To you is coming full humbly
    Your souls with his blood to buy
And free you of the fiends arrest--
    And only of his own mercy;
    Pro nobis Puer natus est.

All clergy do to him incline,
    And bow unto that babe benign,
And do your observance divine
    To him that is of kings King:
    Incense his altar, read and sing
In holy church, with mind digest,
    Him honoring above all thing
    Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Celestial fouls in the air,
    Sing with your notes upon hight,
In firths and in forests fair
    Be mirthful now with all your might;
    For passed is your dismal night,
Aurora has the clouds pierced,
    The Son is risen with gladsome light,
    Et nobis Puer natus est.

Now spring up flours from the root,
    Revert you upward naturally,
In honor of the blessed fruit
    That rose up from the rose Mary;
    Lay out your leaves lustily,
From dead take life now at the least
    In worship of that Prince worthy
    Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Sing, heaven imperial, most of high!
    Regions of air make harmony!
All fish in fluid and fowl of flight
    Be mirthful and make melody!
    All Gloria in excelsis cry!
Heaven, earth, sea, man, bird, and beast,--
    He that is crowned above the sky
    Pro nobis Puer natus est!

Editor's Note:
This is my best take on this Middle English poem. Although I have encountered a good deal of Middle English in my readings I do not claim to be a scholar of Middle English. As such, I cannot claim that this is totally accurate. In at least one case (hight), I retained the original in order to keep the rhyme.

Much too late in my research on this poem I discovered the excellent notes by John Conlee, which I recommend.  See: William Dunbar: The Complete Works.

I came across this poem by accident. Originally, I was looking for the full poem of which I suspect this is an excerpt:

Whoever in earth heard so blythe a story,
    Or tidings of so great felicity?
And how the garthe of grace and glory,
For love and mercy hath ta'en humanity;
Maker of angels, man, earth, heaven and sea,
And to overcome our foe, and put to flight
Is coming of a babe, full of benignity,
Born of the glorious Virgin Mary bright.

This is from Christmas Carols Old And New. London: G. G. Harrap & Co., Ltd., circa 1918. This is #19 in the Sesame Booklets series from this publisher. The book is approximately 2 7/8" high by 3 7/8" wide.

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