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George MacDonald.

England's antiphon online

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the universe. He uses the symbol often.

2 Consort is the right word scientifically. It means the fitting to-
gether of sounds according to their nature. Concert, however, is not
wrong. It is even more poetic than consort, for it means a striving
together, which is the idea of all peace : the strife is together, and not
of one against the other. All harmony is an ordered, a divine strife.
In the contest of music, every tone restrains its foot and bows its head
to the rest in holy dance.

' Symphony is here used for chorus, and quite correctly; (or symphony
is a voicing together. To this symphony of the angels the spheres and
the heavenly organ are the accompaniment.

* Die of the music

18



2o6 ENGLAND'S ANTIPHON,



With radiant feet the tissued clouds do^vn steering ;
And heaven, as at some festival,
Will open wide the gates of her high palace-hall.

But wisest Fate says " No ;
This must not yet be so."
The babe Hes yet in smiling infancy,
That on the bitter cross
Must redeem our loss.
So both himself and us to glorify.
Yet first, to those y-chained in sleep,
The wakeful trump of doom must thunder through the deep,

With such a horrid clang
As on Mount Sinai rang,
W^hile the red fire and smouldering clouds outbrake :
The aged earth, aghast
With terror of that blast,
Shall from the surface to the centre shake,
When, at the world's last session,
The dreadful Judge in middle air shall spread his throne.

And then at last our bliss
Full and perfect is :
But now begins ; for from this happy day,
The old dragon, under ground
In straiter limits bound.
Not half so far casts his usurped sway ;
And, wroth to see his kingdom fail,
Swingesi the scaly horror of his folded tail.'

The oracles are dumb : 3
No voice or hideous hum
Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving ;



1 Not merely swings, but lashes about.

2 Full of folds or coils.

3 The legend concerning this cessation of the oracles associates it
with the Crucifixion. Milton in The Nativity represents it as the con-
sequence of the very presence of the infant Saviour. War and lying
are banished together.



THE NATIVITY. 207



Apollo from his shrine
Can no more divine,
With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving ;
No nightly trance, or breathed spell,
Inspires the pale-eyed priest from the prophetic cell.

The lonely mountains o'er,
And the resounding shore,
A voice of weeping heard and loud lament ;
From haunted spring and dale,
Edged with poplar pale.
The parting genius 1 is with sighing sent ;
With flower-inwoven tresses torn,
The nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.

In consecrated earth,
And on the holy hearth,
The Lars and Lemures^ moan with midnight plaint ;
In urns and altars round,
A drear and dying sound
Affrights the flamens ^ at their service quaint ;
And the chill marble seems to sweat,
While each peculiar power foregoes his wonted seat.

Peor and Baalim
Forsake their temples dim.
With that twice-battered god of Palestine ;

And mooned Ashtaroth, the Assyrian Venus.

Heaven's queen and mother both,
Now sits not girt with tapers' holy shine ;
The Lybic Hammon shrinks his horn ; 4
In vain the Tyrian maids their wounded Thammuz^ mourn.

1 The genius is the local god, the god of the place as a place.

2 The Lars were the protecting spirits of the ancestors of the family ;
the Lemu7'es were evil spirits, spectres, or bad ghosts. But the notions
were somewhat indefinite.

3 Flavien was the word used for priest when the Romans spoke of
the priest of any particular divinity. Hence the peculiar power in the
last line of the stanza.

^ Jupiter Ammon, worshipped in Libya, in the north of Africa, under
the form of a goat. " He draws in his horn."
^ The Syrian Adonis.



2o8 ENGLAND'S ANTIPHON.



And sullen Moloch, fled,
Hath left in shadows dread
His burning idol, all of blackest hue :
In vain with cymbals' ring
They call the grisly i king,
In dismal dance about the furnace blue.
The brutish gods of Nile as fast —
Iris and Orus and the dog Anubis — haste.

Nor is Osiris 2 seen
In Memphian grove or green,
Trampling the unshowered ^ grass with lowings loud ;
Nor can he be at rest
Within his sacred chest ;
Nought but profoundest hell can be his shroud;
In vain, with timbrelled anthems dark,
The sable-stoled sorcerers bear his worshipped ark :

He feels, from Judah's land,
The dreaded infant's hand ;
The rays of Bethlehem blind his dusky eyn. "
Nor all the gods beside
Longer dare abide —
Not Typhon huge, ending in snaky twine :
Our babe, to show his Godhead true,
Can in his swaddling bands control the damned crew.

So, when the sun in bed,
Curtained with cloudy red,
' Pillows his chin upon an orient wave,
The flocking shadows pale
Troop to the infernal jail —
Each fettered ghost slips to his several grave ;
And the yellow-skirted fays
Fly after the night-steeds, leaving their moon-loved maze.



1 Frightful, horrible, as, a pisly bear.

2 Isis, Orus, Anubis, and Osiris, all Egyptian divinities — the last
ivorshipped in the form of a bull. ,

'* No rain falls in Eg}'pt.



PICTURES AND EPITHETS. 209

But see, the Virgin blest
Hath laid her babe to rest :
Time is our tedious song should here have ending ;
Heaven's youngest-teemed star ^
Hath fixed her polished car,
Her sleeping Lord with handmaid lamp attending ;
And all about the courtly stable
Bright-harnessed^ angels sit, in order serviceable. 3

If my reader should think some of the rhymes
bad, and some of the wordso ddly used, I would
remind him that both pronunciations and mean-
ings have altered since : the probability is, that the
older forms in both are the better. Milton will not
use a wrong word or a bad rhyme. With regard to
the form of the poem, let him observe the variety
of length of line in the stanza, and how skilfully the
varied lines are associated — two of six syllables and
one of ten ; then the same repeated ; then one of
eight and one of twelve — no tvA^o, except of the
shortest, coming together of the same length. Its
stanza is its own : I do not know another poem
written in the same ; and its music is exquisite. The
probability is that, if the reader note any fact in
the poem, however trifling it might seein to the
careless eye, it will repay him by unfolding both
individual and related beauty. Then let him ponder
the pictures given : the sudden arraying of the shame-
faced night in long beams ; the amazed kings silent
on their thrones ; the birds brooding on the sea : he
will find many such. Let him consider the clear-cut

^ Last-born : the star in the east. 2 Bright-armoured.

3 Ready for what service may arise.
S.L. IV. 18*



2IO ENGLAND'S ANTIPHON.

epithets, so full of meaning. A true poet may be at
once known by the justice and force of the adjectives
he uses, especially when he compounds them, — that
is, makes one out of two. Here are some examples :
meek-eyed Peace ; pale-eyed priest ; speckled vanity;
stnoulderiitg clouds; hideous hum; dismal dance;
dusky eyne : there are many such, each almost a
poem in itself. The whole is a succession of pictures
set in the loveliest music for the utterance of grandest
thoughts.

No doubt there are in the poem instances of such
faults in style as were common in the age in which his
verse was rooted : for my own part, I never liked the
first two stanzas of the hymn. But such instances
are few; while for a right feeling of the marvel of
this poem and of the two preceding it, we must
remember that Milton was only twenty-one when he
wrote them.

Apparently to make one of a set with the Nativity y
he began to write an ode on the Passion, but, finding
the subject "above the years he had when he wrote
it, and nothing satisfied with what was begun, left
it unfinished." The fragment is full of unworthy,
though skilful, and, for such, powerful conceits, but
is especially interesting as showing how even Milton,
trying to write about what he felt, but without yet
having generated thoughts enow concerning the sub-
ject itself, could only fall back on conventionalities.
Happy the young poet the wisdom of whose earliest
years was such that he recognized his mistake almost
at the outset, and dropped the attempt ! Amongst



THE PASSION. 21



the stanzas there is, however, one of exceeding love-
liness :

He, sovereign priest, stooping his regal head,

That dropped with o


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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldEngland's antiphon → online text (page 13 of 19)