A Hymn Of The Nativity
Sung by the Shepherds
Words: Richard Crashaw
This poem has been adapted as a carol: "At The Nativity" (Gloomy Night Embraced The Place)
From Richard Crashaw's Steps to the Temple. The text of ed. 1648 is followed.
Source: A. H. Bullen, A Christmas Garland (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885)
Chorus. Come, we shepherds whose blest sight Hath met Love's noon in Nature's night ; Come lift up our loftier song, And wake the sun that lies too long.
To all our world of well-stol'n joy He slept, and dreamt of no such thing, While we found out Heaven's fairer eye, And kissed the cradle of our King ; Tell him he rises now too late To show us aught worth looking at.
Tell him we now can show him more Than he e'er show'd to mortal sight, Than he himself e'er saw before, Which to be seen needs not his light : Tell him, Tityrus, where th' hast been, Tell him, Thyrsis, what th' hast seen.
Tit. Gloomy night embraced the place Where the noble infant lay : The babe look'd up, and show'd His face ; In spite of darkness it was day. It was Thy day, sweet, and did rise, Not from the East, but from Thy eyes. Chorus. It was Thy day, sweet, &c.
Thrys. Winter chid aloud, and sent The angry North to wage his wars : The North forgot his fierce intent, And left perfumes instead of scars. By those sweet eyes' persuasive powers, Where he meant frosts he scatter'd flowers. Chorus. By those sweet eyes', &c.
Both. We saw Thee in Thy balmy nest, Young dawn of our eternal day ; We saw Thine eyes break from the East, And chase the trembling shades away : We saw Thee, and we blest the sight, We saw Thee by Thine own sweet light.
Tit. Poor world (said I) what wilt thou do To entertain this starry stranger ? Is this the best thou canst bestow— A cold and not too cleanly manger ? Contend, the powers of heaven and earth, To fit a bed for this huge birth. Chorus. Contend, the powers, &c.
Thyrs. Proud world (said I) cease your contest, And let the mighty babe alone, The phoenix builds the phoenix' nest, Love's architecture is His own. The babe, whose birth embraves this morn, Made His own bed ere He was born. Chorus. The babe whose birth, &c.
Tit. I saw the curl'd drops, soft and slow, Come hovering o'er the place's head ; Offe'ring their whitest sheets of snow, To furnish the fair infant's bed. Forbear, said I, be not too bold, Your fleece is white, but 'tis too cold. Chorus. Forbear (said I), &c.
Thyrs. I saw th' obsequious seraphim Their rosy fleece of fire bestow, For well they now can spare their wings, Since Heaven itself lies here below. Well done, said I ; but are you sure Your down, so warm, will pass for pure ? Chorus. Well done, said I, &c.
Tit. No, no, your King's not yet to seek Where to repose His royal head ; See, see how soon His new-bloom'd cheek 'Twixt mother's breasts is gone to bed. Sweet choice, said we, no way but so, Not to lie cold, yet sleep in snow ! Chorus. Sweet choice, said we, &c.
Both. We saw Thee in Thy balmy nest, Young dawn of our eternal day ; We saw Thine eyes break from the East, And chase the trembling shades away : We saw Thee, and we blest the sight, We saw Thee by Thine own sweet light. Chorus. Sweet choice, said we, &c.
Full Chorus. Welcome all wonders in one sight ! Eternity shut in a span ! Summer in winter ! day in night ! Heaven in earth ! and God in man ! Great little one, whose all-embracing birth Lifts earth to Heaven, stoops Heaven to earth !
Welcome, tho' nor to gold, nor silk, To more than Cæsar's birthright is : Twin sister seas of virgin's milk, With many a rarely-temper'd kiss, That breathes at once both maid and mother, Warms in the one, cools in the other.
She sings Thy tears asleep, and dips Her kisses in Thy weeping eye : She spreads the red leaves of Thy lips, That in their buds yet blushing lie. She 'gainst those mother diamonds tries The points of her young eagle's eyes.
Welcome—though not to those gay flies, Gilded i' the beams of earthly kings, Slippery souls in smiling eyes— But to poor shepherds, homespun things, Whose wealth's their flocks, whose wit's to be Well read in their simplicity.
Yet, when April's husband show'rs Shall bless the fruitful Maia's bed, We'll bring the first-born of her flowers, To kiss Thy feet, and crown Thy head. To Thee, dread Lamb ! whose love must keep The shepherds while they feed their sheep.
To Thee, meek Majesty, soft King
Of simple graces and sweet loves !
Each of us his lamb will bring,
Each his pair of silver doves !
At last, in fire of Thy fair eyes,
Ourselves become our own best sacrifice !
Note from Bullen:
"This poem strikingly exhibits Crashaw’s power and weakness. Thrice-refined golden speech, a subtle sense of melody, fervid richness of imagination, — these great gifts were marred by a constant indulgence in violent conceits, by diffuseness, and occasionally by studied harshness of phrase and rhythm. The second piece, “A Hymn For The Epiphany,” offends so outrageously by ill-timed conceits, that I have only printed the first part of it, although there are many fine lines in the latter part. Crashaw was driven from Cambridge at the time of the Civil Wars; escaped to France, embraced the Catholic faith, and afterwards became secretary to Cardinal Palotta at Rome. He died at Loretto in 1650 (at the age of thirty-seven); and it has been supposed that he was poisoned. His poems were published in 1646 under the title of “Steps to the Temple,” and 'The Delights of the Muses.'"
Also found in Henry Vizetelly, Christmas With The Poets (London: David Bogue, 1851):
Crashaw, the son of a clergyman of the Church of England, received his education at Cambridge; and, after taking his degree, became a fellow of Peterhouse College. Refusing, however, to subscribe to the parliamentary covenant, he was ejected from his fellowship, when he proceeded to France and embraced the Roman Catholic faith. His conversion probably arose from interested motives, as, having been commended to Henrietta Maria by his friend Cowley the poet, a canonry in the Church of Loretto was conferred on him. This dignity he only lived to enjoy for a short time, as he died of a fever in 1650, soon after his induction.
Other sites contain additional verses. See: A Hymn of the Nativity.