John Milton's On the Morning of Christ's Nativity
John Milton was born in 1608 and died in died in 1674. He was by far the most learned man of his time. He influenced men from the Romantic poets to the American Puritans. Moreover, he relied heavily on the historic Christian doctrine of Calvinism. In the first four stanzas of On the Morning of Christ's Nativity Milton paints a beautiful picture of man's redemption in Christ.
First, the first four stanzas of Milton's poem have a distinct rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme is an adaptation of the rhyme scheme in Spenser's The Faerie Queen. In Spenser's poem the stanza rhyme scheme is ababbcbcc. In Milton's poem the rhyme scheme is ababbcc. The two poems have similar rhyme schemes except Spenser's poem has an extra cb.
Second, the most common feature of the first four stanzas is the striking allusion. In the stanza, Milton speaks of the "son of Heaven's eternal King" born of a "virgin mother" bringing "redemption from above." The "King of Heaven" is the Christian God. This is a quote from Daniel 4. The virgin mother is Mary, mother of Jesus. This is a prophecy of the birth of Christ from Isaiah 7 fulfilled in Luke 2. The "redemption from above" is the redemption written of in Romans 3:27. The "holy sages once did sing (they prophesied)" about Christ's releasing the elect of death from the Fall (Genesis 3). These prophecies are in Isaiah 9 and 40, among other places. They were fulfilled in Christ's death and resurrection, and God now works a "perpetual peace" in His elect.
The second stanza is much like the first, with allusion as the main feature. The "glorious form" and "light insufferable" are symbolic of God. Exodus 33:20 says no man shall see the face of God and live. Here Milton specifically writes about the Son, Jesus Christ. Milton says He sat in "Trinal Unity" at "Heaven's high council-table." "Trinal Unity" refers to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. All three are separate and distinct Persons of one God. They are in perfect unity. Finally, Milton says Christ forsook His glory and came "here with us." This is a reference to Philippians 2 where Christ "humbles Himself" and makes Himself in "the form of a servant." Finally, Milton says He chose "a darksome house of mortal clay." This alludes to 1 Corinthians 4:7 where Paul calls men "jars of clay." Thus, Milton says Christ became man.
The third stanza is different from the first two. In this stanza, Milton calls on a heavenly Muse and asks him why he does not bring presents or songs to welcome Christ to his new abode. He asks why the Muse is not at Christ's manger. He appeals to the Muse to take a chariot across the sky like Phoebus Apollo did in classical myth. This is yet another allusion. Finally, he inquires into whether the Muse even notices the bright squadrons of angels gathered around the manger.
The final stanza is Milton's continual urgings for the Muse to go to the manger. The "star led wizards" are the Magi who followed the star of Bethlehem from the East. The "odors sweet" are the gifts the Magi brought to Christ, frankincense and myrrh. Milton implores the Muse to bring Christ an "humble ode" and lay it at His feet. Moreover, he tells him to join the angel choir in song. Finally, he makes reference to Isaiah 6 where an angel took a burning coal from the altar and put it on the repentant Isaiah's lips saying, "Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged." In the same way, Christ came to purge sin and its wages (death) and redeem repentant men.
In conclusion, Milton's poem is a complex poem on redemption alluding to the Holy Scriptures throughout the entire poem. The first four stanzas are an adaptation of the rhyme scheme in Spenser's The Faerie Queen. The first two stanzas speak of Christ's incarnation. Then, in the last two stanzas Milton beseeches a Muse to praise Christ with the angels of Heaven.
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