« PreviousContinue »
used variations of it in his irregular metrical paraphrase of the ninetyseventh psalm. Say's tenth stanza, a very free rendering of “Zion heard and was glad,” is the one that owes most to the Nativity:
Thus, while Substantial Darkness shrouds
The Chamian Heaven in Solid Clouds,
In Goshen's favour'd Land
Thy Chosen Israel stand,
And wonder what Strange Night Usurps th' Ægyptian Day! 1 One anonymous eighteenth-century writer, besides copying whole lines from Milton's ode, adopted its stanza without change. His poem, The Abolition of Catholicism, “written on learning the arrival of the French at Rome in 1798,” has passages as flagrantly Miltonic
Long absent Justice then
Shall back return to men,
And Peace, with myrtle wand,
Shall take no fleeting stand,
And orb a rainbow through the azure sky,
In token that the tempest-clouds are now gone by: What seems to be a variation of the Nativity measure occurs in one of the splendid choruses of Shelley's Hellas (1822). The similarity is seen most clearly in these lines, the idea and cadence no less than the meter of which may be derived from Milton's poem:
So fleet, so faint, so fair,
The Powers of earth and air
Apollo, Pan, and Love,
And even Olympian Jove
The wanton Sun the slight-wrought Shroud removes,
T'embrace the naked Dame, whose fertile Womb
And is made big with the fair Spring to come (Poems, 1677, pp. 88–9; cf. Nativity, 32-42). This borrowing was called to my attention by Mr. B. C. Clough.
· Note also, in stanza vii, the meter and the reference to Dagon (cf. Nativity, 199), who is not mentioned in the psalm.
2 Mo. Mag., v. 368 (cf. Nativily, 141-3, 45-52). Compare also the first, second, and last stanzas with Nativity, 183, 189–96, 202, 214; and note “tears such as angels weep" (line 20, from P. L., i. 620).
Lines 229–34; cf. Nativity, 173–228, particularly 221-8.
None of the uncertainty that may be felt in regard to the source of Shelley's meter exists in the case of Jean Ingelow's Song for the Night of Christ's Resurrection (1867), for this is frankly labelled "a humble imitation” and is prefaced by a quotation from the Nativity. Moreover, Milton not only furnishes the stanza and suggests the subject and title, but contributes a simile as well as a few words and rimes. His influence is felt most strongly in these lines:
Or from the Morians' land
See worshipped Nilus bland,
To wet his ancient shrine
With waters held divine,
And list, ere darkness change to gray,
Old minstrel-throated Memnon chanting in the day. Austin Dobson's Miltonic Exercise, "written, by request, for the celebration at Christ's College, Cambridge, July 10, 1908,” was too obviously made to order to be significant, though it is interesting to see that Mr. Dobson employed the Collins-Warton adaptation of the Nativity meter. The most convincing tribute to the beauty of the original measure is to be found in the use of it by so great a master of prosody and so fertile an inventor of new verse-forms as Swinburne. In his famous Poems and Ballads (first series, 1866) are some two hundred lines, To Victor Hugo, which employ it but change the last line from hexameter to pentameter. Here is one of the many admirable stanzas:
Sunbeams and bays before
Our master's servants wore,
But far from these ere now
And watched with jealous brow
And only loosed on slaves and kings
The terror of the tempest of their wings. The excellence of this particular last line may seem to justify Swinburne's change, but a reading of the entire piece leads rather to the opposite conclusion; for he loses the crescendo at the close of the
1 Some of the words are "eyn" (line 105, cf. Nativity, 223), “curtained" (114, of the setting moon, cf. Nativity, 229–30, of the rising sun), "oceán,” riming with "began" (142, cf. Nativity, 66). The simile in next to the last stanza is like that in Milton's next to the last, besides beginning in the same way; and the first two lines of the last stanza of each poem have the same rimes, as well as similar ideas and phraseology.
· It is presumably by chance that the second stanza of Siegfried Sassoon's Before the Battle (Old Huntsman, N. Y., 1920, p. 75) is in the Nativity meter, with the seventh line omitted.
stanza, as well as the subtle “proportion of the rise in line-length from 6,10 to 8,12."1 The poet himself could not have been satisfied with his innovation, for when he returned to the stanza three years later, in his Eve of Revolution,” he kept Milton's final hexameter. In this poem, however, he introduced another change by prefixing eight pentameter lines riming a bab a b a b. Only a master is competent to criticize Swinburne's meters; but my own feeling is that the eight lines of uniform length which rime alternately do not combine happily with the eight of varying length — four of them very short
which rime irregularly. Most of the superb things in the poem, including the best of the twenty-seven stirring lines in praise of Milton, seem to me to be in the non-Miltonic meter. Swinburne, however, liked the stanza well enough to use it twice again, - in the long Song for the Centenary of Landor, and in the New-Year Ode to Victor Hugo, where the lines in the Nativity measure contain some excellent poetry
In his last book of poems, A Channel Passage, he tried still another variation, dropping the initial unaccented syllable in each of the first two lines and inserting after the fifth another line of three feet. But this experiment seems to have pleased him no better, for in the same volume he twice returned to the original stanza," which he had used three times previously. As might be expected, the poems he wrote in the measure or in variations of it are free from the stiffness that mars some of Milton's lines, but they tend to be wordy and invertebrate, to gain suppleness and fluidity by sacrificing the dignity, the concentrated power, and the sonorous splendor of the earlier master. Yet does not the fact that he made use of some form of the meter no fewer than eleven times, beginning with his first volume of poems and ending only with his last, – does not this fact
constitute a rare tribute from one of the greatest singers of a great century to the prosodic genius of a college youth and to the Christmas hymn he composed nearly two hundred and fifty winters before?
Saintsbury, English Prosody, ii. 210. * Written in 1869; published in Songs before Sunrise, 1871.
• See stanzas 14–16. These lines make it practically certain that Swinburne derived his stanza from Milton. I have to thank Mr. Herbert Cory, recently assistant-professor of English at the University of California, for calling my attention, nearly fifteen years ago, to the indebtedness of two of these poems to the Nativity ode.
• In High Oaks, and its continuation, Borking Hall.
• In Blessed among Women and Insurrection in Candia (Songs before Sunrise, 1871), and in the epodes in Birthday of Victor Hugo (Songs of the Springtides, 1880).
* See Bibl. III D, below.