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George Herbert, “Christmas” (I)

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George Herbert (1593-1633)

Christmas (I)

After all pleasures as I rid one day,
My horse and I, both tired, body and mind,
With full cry of affections, quite astray;
I took up the next inn I could find.

There when I came, whom found I but my dear,
My dearest Lord, expecting till the grief
Of pleasures brought me to Him, ready there
To be all passengers’ most sweet relief?

Oh Thou, whose glorious, yet contracted light,
Wrapt in night’s mantle, stole into a manger;
Since my dark soul and brutish is Thy right,
To man of all beasts be not Thou a stranger:

Furnish and deck my soul, that Thou mayst have
A better lodging, than a rack, or grave.

Image: Vintage Christmas Card

 

 

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Henry Vaughan, “The Nativity”

Nativity

Henry Vaughan (1621-95)

The Nativity

Peace? and to all the world? sure, One
And He the Prince of Peace, hath none.
He travels to be born, and then
Is born to travel more again.
Poor Galilee! thou canst not be
The place for His nativity.
His restless mother’s called away,
And not delivered till she pay.
A tax? ’tis so still! we can see
The church thrive in her misery;
And like her Head at Bethlem, rise
When she, oppressed with troubles, lies.
Rise? should all fall, we cannot be
In more extremities than He.
Great Type of passions! come what will,
Thy grief exceeds all copies still.
Thou cam’st from heaven to earth, that we
Might go from earth to heaven with Thee.
And though Thou foundest no welcome here,
Thou didst provide us mansions there.
A stable was Thy court, and when
Men turned to beasts, beasts would be men.
They were Thy courtiers, others none;
And their poor manger was Thy throne.
No swaddling silks Thy limbs did fold,
Though Thou couldst turn Thy rays to gold.
No rockers waited on Thy birth,
No cradles stirred, nor songs of mirth;
But her chaste lap and sacred breast
Which lodged Thee first did give Thee rest.
But stay: what light is that doth stream,
And drop here in a gilded beam?
It is Thy star runs page, and brings
Thy tributary Eastern kings.
Lord! grant some light to us, that we
May with them find the way to Thee.
Behold what mists eclipse the day:
How dark it is! shed down one ray
To guide us out of this sad night,
And say once more, “Let there be light.”

Photo: DF-09134 Nativity , May 18, 2006 Photo by Jaimie Trueblood/newline.wireimage.com To license this image (9139053), contact NewLine: U.S. +1-212-686-8900 / U.K. +44-207 659 2815 / Australia +61-2-8262-9222 / Japan: +81-3-5464-7020 +1 212-686-8901 (fax) info@wireimage.com (e-mail) NewLine.wireimage.com (web site)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Henry Vaughan, “The True Christmas”

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So stick up ivy and the bays,
And then restore the heathen ways.
Green will remind you of the spring,
Though this great day denies the thing.
And mortifies the earth and all
But your wild revels, and loose hall.
Could you wear flowers, and roses strow
Blushing upon your breasts’ warm snow,
That very dress your lightness will
Rebuke, and wither at the ill.
The brightness of this day we owe
Not unto music, masque, nor show:
Nor gallant furniture, nor plate;
But to the manger’s mean estate.
His life while here, as well as birth,
Was but a check to pomp and mirth;
And all man’s greatness you may see
Condemned by His humility.
Then leave your open house and noise,
To welcome Him with holy joys,
And the poor shepherd’s watchfulness:
Whom light and hymns from heaven did bless.
What you abound with, cast abroad
To those that want, and ease your load.
Who empties thus, will bring more in;
But riot is both loss and sin.
Dress finely what comes not in sight,
And then you keep your Christmas right.

HENRY VAUGHAN, “THE SHEPHERDS”

Henry Vaughan (1621-95)

The Shepherds

Sweet, harmless lives! (on whose holy leisure
Waits innocence and pleasure),
Whose leaders to those pastures, and clear springs,
Were patriarchs, saints, and kings,
How happened it that in the dead of night
You only saw true light,
While Palestine was fast asleep, and lay
Without one thought of day?
Was it because those first and blessed swains
Were pilgrims on those plains
When they received the promise, for which now
‘Twas there first shown to you?
‘Tis true, He loves that dust whereon they go
That serve Him here below,
And therefore might for memory of those
His love there first disclose;
But wretched Salem, once His love, must now
No voice, nor vision know,
Her stately piles with all their height and pride
Now languished and died,
And Bethlem’s humble cotes above them stepped
While all her seers slept;
Her cedar, fir, hewed stones and gold were all
Polluted through their fall,
And those once sacred mansions were now
Mere emptiness and show;
This made the angel call at reeds and thatch,
Yet where the shepherds watch,
And God’s own lodging (though He could not lack)
To be a common rack;
No costly pride, no soft-clothed luxury
In those thin cells could lie,
Each stirring wind and storm blew through their cots
Which never harbored plots,
Only content, and love, and humble joys
Lived there without all noise,
Perhaps some harmless cares for the next day
Did in their bosoms play,
As where to lead their sheep, what silent nook,
What springs or shades to look,
But that was all; and now with gladsome care
They for the town prepare,
They leave their flock, and in a busy talk
All towards Bethlem walk
To see their souls’ Great Shepherd, Who was come
To bring all stragglers home,
Where now they find Him out, and taught before
That Lamb of God adore,
That Lamb whose days great kings and prophets wished
And longed to see, but missed.
The first light they beheld was bright and gay
And turned their night to day,
But to this later light they saw in Him,
Their day was dark, and dim.

HENRY VAUGHAN, “CHRIST’S NATIVITY”

 

Over the next four days I am posting four Christmas poems by Henry Vaughan the English Metaphysical poet. These four poems especially provide moments for contemplation during this Advent Season.

Henry Vaughan (1621-95)

Christ’s Nativity

I

Awake, glad heart! Get up and sing,
It is the birthday of thy King,
Awake! Awake!
The sun doth shake
Light from his locks, and all the way
Breathing perfumes, doth spice the day.

Awake, awake! Hark, how the wood rings,
Winds whisper, and the busy springs
A consort make;
Awake, awake!
Man is their high-priest, and should rise
To offer up the sacrifice.

I would I were some bird or star,
Fluttering in woods, or lifted far
Above this inn
And road of sin!
Then either star, or bird, should be
Shining, or singing still to Thee.

I would I had in my best part
Fit rooms for Thee! Or that my heart
Were so clean as
Thy manger was!
But I am all filth, and obscene,
Yet if Thou wilt, Thou canst make clean.

Sweet Jesu! will then; Let no more
This leper haunt, and soil Thy door,
Curse him, ease him
O release him!
And let once more by mystic birth
The Lord of life be born in earth.

II

How kind is heaven to man! If here
One sinner doth amend
Straight there is joy, and every sphere
In music doth contend;
And shall we then no voices lift?
Are mercy, and salvation
Not worth our thanks? Is life a gift
Of no more acceptation?
Shall He that did come down from thence,
And here for us was slain,
Shall He be now cast off? No sense
Of all His woes remain?
Can neither Love, nor sufferings bind?
Are we all stone, and earth?
Neither His bloody passions mind,
Nor one day bless His birth?
Alas, my God! Thy birth now here
Must not be numbered in the year.

JOHN BEAUMONT: A METAPHYSICAL CHRISTMAS

 

The last several days I have been posting some of the great Christmas poems from the English Metaphysical poets in The Literary Life. More are to come. The Metaphysical poets are usually thought of for their wild conceits, comparisons of one fairly ordinary concept to a wildly different concrete image. Often the imagery is grotesque. Here, for Christmas we have a poem in which the Savior contemplates his birth into the world as an infant suckling his mother’s breasts. See what you think?

Joseph Beaumont (1616-99)

Jesus inter Ubera Mariae
[Jesus between Mary’s Breasts]

In the coolness of the day,
The old world even, God all undressed went down
Without His robe, without His crown,
Into His private garden, there to lay
On spicy bed
His sweeter head.

There He found two beds of spice,
A double mount of lilies in whose top
Two milky fountains bubbled up.
He soon resolved: “And well I like!” He cries,
“My table spread
Upon my bed.”

Scarcely had He ‘gun to feed
When troops of cherubs hovered round about,
And on their golden wings they brought
All Eden’s flowers. But we cried out: “No need
Of flowers here!
Sweet spirits, forbear.”

“True, He needs no sweets,” say they;
“But sweets have need of Him, to keep them so;
Now paradise springs new with you,
Old Eden’s beauty all inclined this way;
And we are come
To bring them home.

“Paradise spring new with you,
Where ‘twixt those beds of lilies you may see
Of life the everlasting Tree.”
“Sweet is your reason,” then said we: “come strew
Your pious showers
Of eastern flowers.”

[CHORUS]

Winds awake! and with soft gale
Awake the odors of our garden too;
By which yourselves perfumed go
Through every quarter of your world, that all
Your sound may hear
And breathe your air.

BEN JONSON, “A HYMN ON THE NATIVITY OF MY SAVIOR”

 

Ben Jonson (1572-1637)

A Hymn on the Nativity of My Savior

I sing the birth was born tonight,
The Author both of life and light;
The angels so did sound it,
And like the ravished shepherds said,
Who saw the light, and were afraid,
Yet searched, and true they found it.

The Son of God, the eternal King,
That did us all salvation bring,
And freed the soul from danger;
He whom the whole world could not take,
The Word, which heaven and earth did make,
Was now laid in a manger.

The Father’s wisdom willed it so,
The Son’s obedience knew no “No,”
Both wills were in one stature;
And as that wisdom had decreed,
The Word was now made Flesh indeed,
And took on Him our nature.

What comfort by Him do we win?
Who made Himself the Prince of sin,
To make us heirs of glory?
To see this Babe, all innocence,
A Martyr born in our defense,
Can man forget this story?

On this Day in History: Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem First Performed

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Christopher Innvar, Ian Bedford, and Veanne Cox in the 2006 production of The Beaux’ Stratagem at The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. (© Carol Rosegg)

On this day in history, March 8, 1707, British playwright George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem made its debut in London at the Theatre Royal in the Haymarket. This theatre is usually simply called The Haymarket.

George Farquhar (1678-1707) began his career in the theatre as an actor until he accidentally wounded a fellow actor. Abandoning acting, he set out to write for the London stage. His wife tricked him into marriage by pretending to be an heiress. Farquhar forgave her and the marriage was evidently happy. His two plays were The Recruiting Officer (1706) and our play today. Both plays were successful, yet Farquhar nevertheless died at age 30 in poverty as The Beaux’s Stratagem made its initial run.

If you haven’t read or seen performed this classic play in awhile, here is a simple summary of its complex plot by Martin S. Day: “Aimwell and Archer are the beaux, and their stratagem is to recoup their lost fortunes by marrying rich country girls near Litchfield by means of a complicated imposture. Archer weds Dorinda, daughter of Lady Bountiful. Aimwell almost seduces Mrs. Sullen, but she is saved because a gang of thieves breaks into the house. The heroes subdue the ransackers, and Mrs. Sullen and her churlish husband agree to divorce. Aimwell is to be her next husband.”

Here a few notes I once published in an essay for Salem Press years ago: Unlike most Restoration comedies of manners, The Beaux’ Stratagem is set in the country instead of London. As a result of the country setting emphasis is placed on low characters—innkeepers, servants, and highwaymen—instead of fashionable society. Archer and Aimwell, however, are newly arrived from the city and much of the play’s force derives from the contrast of country life versus city life. The two settings of the play, the inn and Lady Bountiful’s house reflect this conflict.

An inn in Litchfield is a way station for travelers coming and going from London to the country. As such it is utterly corrupt. At the inn a dishonest highwaymen plot to commit crimes with the complicity of a crooked innkeeper who even tries to corrupt his daughter for money. At the inn beaux from London plot stratagems. It is the forces from the inn that invade Lady Bountiful’s house in an attempt to destroy it.

In contrast to the world of the inn, Lady Bountiful’s house represents the simple virtues and charity of the best of the country. At Lady Bountiful’s house benevolence and concern for others dominate. Here the sick are healed and the corrupt are converted to virtue. This world is invaded by forces from the corrupt town by means of the highwaymen from the inn and by means of the beaux from the city. The robbers attempt to steal material goods while the beaux attempt to steal female virtue as well as money in Dorinda’s fortune. These corrupt forces eventually are defeated or neutralized while the country values of Lady Bountiful dominate at last.

Paul Varner

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On this Date: Premier of The Way of the World

March 4, 2017

The Premier of The Way of the World

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The premier of what many consider the greatest comedy of manners in English theatre history occurred sometime in March of 1700 when William Congreve’s (1670-1729) The Way of the World first took the stage at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London. It was to be the last of Congreve’s plays. After the poor initial reception Congreve abandoned theatre for more profitable ventures.

If you don’t remember the details of the plot, nobody can blame you. It’s complicated even by Restoration comedy standards. Here’s a short synopsis from Martin S. Day:

Lady Wishfort, in addition to her own estates, controls the property of Mrs. Fainall, her daughter, and Millamant, her niece. Mrs. Fainall’s former lover, Mirabell, is now interested in Millamant. Mirabell disguises his servant Waitwell (already married) as a nobleman, hoping for his marriage to Lady Wishfort. Then, on the threat of telling the world how he was duped, Mirabell can blackmail Lady Wishfort into giving him Millamant and her property.

Learning of his wife’s former relations with Mirabell, Fainall threatens full revelation unless all property is signed over to him. The sweethearts, Millamant and Mirabell, come to an agreement, but it appears that their fortunes are ruined. Mirabell, however, produces a deed from Mrs. Fainall before her marriage that conveys all her property to Mirabell. Triumphant in law and in the ways of the world, Mirabell is united to Millamant.

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Maggie Smith with Jerermy Brett, “The Way of The World”, Stratford, Ontario, 1976.

Here is a short piece I wrote for Salem Press years ago about the physical world of The Way of the World:

William Congreve’s The Way of the World is the quintessential English comedy of manners. As such, the world of this play revolves around the values of fashionable seventeenth-century London.

London, England. The world of the play is a world of coffee-houses and periwigs and elaborately formal dress. It is an upper-class world of gallants, fine ladies, and would-be gallants and attractive ladies. The world of trade and agriculture surrounds this world but is not a part of it except by way of contrast.

A Chocolate-house. Act One takes place at a chocolate house. Such houses as Will’s near Covent Garden and White’s near St. James Park were fashionable meeting places of young gallants and wits. Often gaming was associated with them.

St. James Park. Act Two occurs out of doors in the fashionable Mall area of St. James Park. The Mall was a long tract in St. James that was formerly used for playing paille-maille, or pall-mall. By the time of this play it was known as a fashionable park used for walking, for meeting lovers, and for displaying one’s fashion. It is often confused with Pall Mall, another park close by to the north.

The Country. Although no scene in the play occurs in the country, the country always is in the background. Sir Wilful Witwoud is a country booby who serves as a butt of ridicule for all. His half brother, Witwoud, has done all he can to eradicate traces of the country from his manners, dress, and speech, but without success. No character in the play is associated in a positive way with the country. Millamant, perhaps the most normative character of the play loathes the country, saying, “I loathe the country and everything that relates to it.”

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On This Date: The Premier of The Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter

March 2, 2017

The Premier of The Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter

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On this date in 1676 Sir George Etherege’s (c,1634-1691) play The Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter had its first performance at the Duke’s Theatre in London. Sometimes shortened to Sir Fopling Flutter, the play is as ideal a representative of Restoration comedy of manners or comedy of wit. When the plots of these kinds of plays are laid out in a short synopsis everything just sounds silly. Nevertheless, if you haven’t seen or read the play since college, here is a short synopsis from Martin S, Day:

The central character, Dorimant, is casting off an old flame, Mrs. Loveit is currently conducting an affair with Belinda, and is very much interested in Harriet. Harriet is intended for young Bellair, who, however, is drawn to Emilia. Dorimant fobs off Mrs. Loveit on Sir Fopling Flutter, and young Bellair encourages Harriet and Dorimant. Dissimulation surrounds all the characters until the tangle is straightened out and the couples, Emilia and young Bellair, Harriet and Dorimant are to be wed.

The real fun of the play, however, comes in the character of Sir Fopling with all his antics. Here is a piece I wrote a few years ago for Salem Press about the physical world of the play:

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Etherege’s play is one of the earliest comedies of manners, plays in which fashion consciousness and social concerns determine behavior. Although one might not think of geographical place being as important a factor in comedies of manners, the fact that this play is set in fashionable seventeenth-century London matters greatly to understanding the world of this play, for in this play, London is the world of fashion and society.

London, England. We must understand that The Man of Mode is set in fashionable seventeenth-century London. The characters move easily through this world or mode of fine society, a world of playhouses, parks, and drawing rooms. Original audiences of upper class gentlemen and ladies, many of whom would be from the Court, would be familiar with the common places of London that are mentioned in the play. They would be familiar with the fashionable shops on the Exchange, mentioned in Act One, as well as the Inns of Court where the lawyers practice, mentioned in Act Three. Obviously, the vision of London in the play excludes most of the real London of the day, which would in reality be dominated by the merchant middle class and large areas of poverty-stricken dwellings and shops.

The Country Contrasting with fashionable London in the play is the understood world of the “country,” essentially anywhere outside London. The City represents all that is fashionable and modern; the Country represents the unsophisticated and out of date lives of such characters as Lady Woodvill and Old Bellair. Harriet, accompanying her mother to town sees her only hope for a satisfactory life in making a marriage that will assure her a residence in London. Dorimant, at one point in Act Five, vows to move to the country if that is what it would take to marry Harriet. This vow shows the sincerity of his intentions toward her.

The Mall and Other Parks. Much of the play occurs out of doors in the fashionable “Mail” or Mall area of St. James Park. The Mall was a long tract in St. James that was formerly used for playing paille-maille, or pall-mall. By the time of this play it was known as a fashionable park used for walking, for meeting lovers, and for displaying one’s fashion. It is often confused with Pall Mall, another park close by to the north. In The Man of Mode the Mall is contrasted to Hyde Park, or High Park, another, much more fashionable area of leisure.

Paul Varner

 

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