Friday, 20 December 2013

The Nativity by Torquato Tasso

Nativity of Christ, Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome
I looked everywhere for this poem online but it seems to be only in a fragile pamphlet 1907; I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

I was very much struck with the mention of the study of nature. I enjoyed the allusions to truth and light, and the chasing away of pagan and pre Christian gods. But above all it was the 'flower of endless love' when all the imagery and 16th century language falls away, leaving nothing but warmth and sincerity. A stunning piece.

Poor penitent, my spirit, come
And gaze devoutly round thee on this shrine
Where the new Sixtus newly doth convene
Tall column, soaring arch and pictured dome :
Where the sun's rays benign
Welcome this happy day with gladsome mien :
This day is born, this day apparent, seen,
Who of himself and with His spirit made
This earth : the same
Whom Moses saw in flame:
Who smote the Egyptian when in pride arrayed ;
And traced the ocean path which Israel trod :
The God of Hosts, of spoil, of victory,
Who gives, and takes away :
Heaven's King, who rules on high,
Show to our eyes, His own Son, this day.

But why shown thus, and how
Divinity with human substance joined ;
And what was hidden, what made evident
To sight or reason he alone can know
Who the great work designed.
My thought soars not so high; though duly bent
In reverence, and awe, and long attent,
To study Nature and the works and ways,
So wondrous, that surround us : but no mind,
Whom earthly fetter bind,
Though led to truth, and swift to utter praise
Can pierce the crystal that enshrines above
The flower of endless Love ;
Or tell why, in a perverse and vile,
A semblance of that Flower should sometimes smile ;
Or how a Virgin bore a son
Or why a King so frail a form put on.

Here to my earnest thought,
Heaven opens, and the glory of that night
Renews itself in me. The skies are gay
With forms angelical, part overwrought
With radiance snowy white,
Beams of glad promise that outshine the day.

The rugged shepherds, by their flocks who stay,
Wake to the sight, and to the unwonted sound
Of Angel harps, that shake the midnight air.
There too the humble hostel hidden lies,
Remote from worldly eyes,
Of night in starry state the jealous care ;
Who gathers reverently her shadows round,
Within the Ox and Ass attend beside
The old man at the birth long prophesied :
Lo! in what poor estate
She dwells whom all so soon will venerate :
While the wonder of a virgin birth
Heaven's miracles excel not this on earth.

Yet more, clear to my eyes,
I see, or seem to see, in every sphere
Of Heaven and Earth His glory magnified ;
War's hideous rapine, lusts and cruelties,
Symbols and signs of fear
Trumpets and standards, engines gaping wide
With murder, now no more with us abide.
Nor betwixt men alone shall discord cease,
And Janus' fabled gates fast locked remain ;
But with this holy birth and glad beginning,
He who our grace in winning,
Has on Himself all sin and sorrow ta'en ;
And between God and Man in stable Peace.
Nor shall the old enemy disturb his reign
Who, at man's overthrow, gave presage sure
Our loss should not endure ;
And opens to our feet, where'er we dwell,
Steps up to Heaven - a pathway out from Hell.

Mute is Apollo now,
Silent in his cave, his spring ; the gods proved vain
Whose death erewhile he had in song foretold
Dodona's Oaks sigh to all winds that blow,
But answer not again ;
The spirit stilled that breathed therein of old,
Quenched by the doom our sacred books enfold :
Lies Ammon prone upon the billowy waste
Of Libyan plains where desert tempests sweep,
And sands more dread than waters surge around :
Her yoke of parts unbound,
Sad Dindymene may no longer keep
High festival, and antique honours tast ;
Her Corybants no more on Ida's steep
Or Phrygian mean, or top Cretan hill,
Lament in accents shrill :
Anubis barks not now, his temples bare
Nor bellows Apis at the altar stair.

That truth show dimly forth
In the first writings, a new light has been -
Light which is light of the Eternal Light.
Run all ye peoples, East, West, South, and North,
Follow this star serene
Which to the Master guides your wandering sight ;
Kneel with these kings, your gifts with theirs unite,
Kneel with them to your King, though death be nigh ;
Bring gold and frankincence, and let fragrant myrrh :
Watch with these shepherds ; let not theirs exceed
Your tardy heavenward speed :
Bring all that kindles mind with purest fire ;
Even with the angels in rejoicement vie!
Crowned, sit ye in their choir,
That earthly tongues, with theirs, a hymn of praise
And love and joy may raise :
For now, through God in man, to man, thus given,
Heaven stoops to Earth and Earth soars to Heaven.

Sixtus, if in thy thought
These scared images the spirit lift
To admiration of celestial things,
Haply the band that brings
This hymn in want of a more costly gift,
Some echoings of that early strain hath caught
Borne through the midnight air on Angel wings ;
Pearls I have none, nor frankincense, nor myrrh ;
Statues, nor gems - so lay this offering here.


Pel presepio di Nostre Signore
nella cappella di Sisto V in
S Maria Maggiore

ROME December 1588

Happy Christmas and more importantly, a peaceful New Near.

Remember it is serenity and love, not gifts and strife that are the true meaning of Christmas.

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