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Our kitchen-boy hath broke his box,*
Our honest neighbours come by flocks,
Now kings and queens poor sheep cotes have,
The honest now may play the knave,
Because they will be merry,
Then wherefore in these merry days
To make our mirth the fuller.
Bear witness we are merry.
George Wither will be remembered as the author of many tender and graceful poems, some few of which invariably find a place in every collection of early poetry. He was one of those uncompromising spirits, formed by and for the age in which they live. He supported the cause of the Parliament with his satiric pen and good broadsword. He sold his estate to raise a regiment, and was made a major-general by Cromwell in return. The Restoration stripped him of everything he possessed; still this was only a part of his misfortunes, for he was shortly afterwards imprisoned in the Tower on a charge of sedition, and, to increase his punishment, pens, ink, and paper were denied him. When he obtained his liberty is not known; he lived, however, to the good old age of seventy-nine, closing his troublous worldly career on May 2, 1667.
This alludes to the Christmas money-box, made of earthenware, which required to be broken to obtain possession of the money it held.
As on the night before this happy morn,
Where (in a stable) He was poorly born,
Whom nor the earth, nor heaven of heavens can hold :
This news at their return;
Yea, angels sung
That God with us was born;
And they made mirth because we should not mourn.
Their angel-carol sing we then,
To God on high all glory be,
For peace on earth bestoweth He,
This favour Christ vouchsafèd for our sake;
To buy us thrones, He in a manger lay;
Our weakness took, that we His strength might take;
Our flesh He wore,
Our sin to wear away;
Our curse He bore,
That we escape it may;
And wept for us, that we might sing for aye.
With angels therefore sing again,
ΗΥΜΝ ΤΟ THE NATIVITY.
It was the winter wild,
While the heaven-born child
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Had doffed her gaudy trim,
With her great Master so to sympathize :
It was no season then for her
To wanton with the sun, her lusty paramour.
Only with speeches fair
She woos the gentle air,
To hide her guilty front with innocent snow;
And on her naked shame,
Pollute with sinful blame,
The saintly veil of maiden white to throw ;
Should look so near upon her foul deformities.
But He, her fears to cease,
Sent down the meck-eyed Peace;
She, crowned with olive green, came softly sliding
His ready harbinger,
With turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing;
And, waving wide her myrtle wand,
She strikes a universal peace through sea and land.
The idle spear and shield were high up hung;
The hooked chariot stood
Unstained with hostile blood;
The trumpet spake not to the armed throng;
As if they surely knew their sovereign Lord was by.
But peaceful was the night,
Wherein the Prince of Light
His reign of peace upon the earth began:
Smoothly the waters kissed,
Whispering new joys to the mild ocean,
Who now hath quite forgot to rave,
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.
The stars, with deep amaze,
Stand fixed in steadfast gaze,
And will not take their flight,
For all the morning light,
Or Lucifer that often warned them thence;
But in their glimmering orbs did glow,
Until their Lord himself bespake, and bid them go.
And, though the shady gloom
Had given day her room,
The sun himself withheld his wonted speed,
And hid his head for shame,
As his inferior flame
The new enlightened world no more should need:
He saw a greater Sun appcar
Than his bright throne, or burning axletree, could bear.
HYMN TO THE NATIVITY.
The shepherds on the lawn,
Or ere the point of dawn,
Sat simply chatting in a rustic row:
Full little thought they then,
That the mighty Pan
Was kindly come to live with them below;
Was all that did their silly thoughts so busy keep.
When such music sweet
Their hearts and ears did greet, As never was by mortal finger strook; Divinely-warbled voice
Answering the stringed noise,
As all their souls in blissful rapture took:
The air, such pleasure loth to lose,
With thousand echoes still prolongs cach heavenly close.
Nature, that heard such sound,
Beneath the hollow round
Of Cynthia's seat, the airy region thrilling,
Now was almost won
To think her part was done,
And that her reign had here its last fulfilling ;
She knew such harmony alone
Could hold all heaven and earth in happier union.
At last surrounds their sight
A globe of circular light,
That with long beams the shame-faced night arrayed;
The helmed cherubim,
And sworded seraphim,
Are seen in glittering ranks with wings displayed,