The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Who Can Forget — Never To Be Forgot

Words: Giles Fletcher, 1588-1623

Source: Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), pp. 273-4.

1. Who can forget — never to be forgot —
    The time, that all the world in slumber lies,
When like the stars the singing angels shot
    To earth, and heaven awäked all his eyes,
To see another sun at midnight rise
    On earth? Was ever sight of pareil fame
    For God before, man like Himself did frame,
But God Himself now like a mortal was become.

2. A Child He was, and had not learnt to speak,
    That with His word the world before did make.
His mother's arms Him bore, He was so weak,
    That with one hand the vaults of heaven could shake.
See how small room my infant Lord doth take
    Whom all the world is not enough to hold,
    Who of His years, as of His age hath told?
Never such age so young, never a child so old.

3. And yet but newly He was infanted,
    And yet already He was sought to die;
Yet scarcely born, already banishëd.
    Not able yet to go, and forced to fly:
But scarcely fled away, when by and by,
    The tyran's1 sword with blood is all defiled,
    And Rachel, her sons, with fury wild,
Cries, "O thou cruel king, and O my sweetest child.!"

4. Egypt His nurse became, where Nilus springs,
    Who, straight to entertain the rising sun,
The hasty harvest in his bosom brings;2
    But now for drought the fields were all undone,
And now with waters all is overrun:
    So fast the Cynthian mountains poured their snow,
    When once they felt the sun so near them flow,
That Nilus Egypt lost, and to sea did grow.

5. The angels carolled loud their song of peace;
    The cursëd oracles were strucken dumb;
To see their Shepherds the poor shepherds press;
    To see their kneeling the kingly sophies3 come;
And them to guide unto his Master's home,
    A star comes dancing up the Orient,
    That springs for joy over the strawy tent,
Where gold to make their prince a crown, they all present.

Notes:

1. Tyrant. Return

2. Cf. Carnal and the Crane. Return

3. Wise men. Return

Note: Rickert does not explain the reference to "Nilus."  Perhaps this is Saint Nilus of the Sinai? (link opens in new window)

Also found in A. H. Bullen, A Christmas Garland (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885), pp.103-5. He notes at page 258 "These stanzas are taken from the speech of Mercy towards the close of “Christ’s Victorie in heaven,” the first part of “Christ’s Victorie and Triumph in Heaven, and Earth, over, and after Death,” first published in 1610. The poem is full of striking and magnificent imagery, expressed in richly-glowing jewelled stanzas. Milton was a close student of Giles Fletcher."

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