Today we went and saw the Christmas production at our local church twice. The first time because it was so good, and the second time so we could bring some relatives. Who did not like it: the angel was declaiming the lines in iambic pentameter with a strict rbyme structure and many of us are used to the bleak prose of the Authorized Version.
I am old for this church. The teenage and college actors and singers are moving again to poetry, to express what we cannot fully understand.
Donne meditated on this: on the faith of the virgin, on the risk that Josept took, on the miracle of John's conception. For it you think you understand the incarnation, you have not plumbed its depths.
Salvation to all that will is nigh,
That All, which always is All everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Loe, faithful Virgin, yields himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though he there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet he'will wear
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in his mind, who is thy Son, and Brother,
Whom thou conceiv'st, conceiv'd; yea thou art now
Thy maker's maker, and thy Father's mother,
Thou hast light in dark; and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb
I must admit that Donne is new to me. My advent poetry and music is usually bleak: the Pogues and Eliot. Eliot hins ad the mystery Donne, wiser and plainer, writes about. For Eliot writes of the external world, not the world of spirit and faith.
The kings knew that there was a new dispensation, but nothing ot the spirit of God that made it.
'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and
And running away, and wanting their
liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the
lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns
And the villages dirty and charging high
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears,
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of
With a running stream and a water-mill
beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped in
away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with
vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for
pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no imformation, and so
And arrived at evening, not a moment
Finding the place; it was (you may say)
All this was a long time ago, I
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had
seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different;
this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like
Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these
But no longer at ease here, in the old
With an alien people clutching their
I should be glad of another death.
But Eliot knew that the dispensation of the pagans had ended. He saw hope in the incaration of God as a babe, and it the death of Christ to come, for most of his generation, as does a remnat in ours, prepares themselves for Christ return, for in them there is the only hope for the world.