I’ll have another Christmas post shortly, but in the meantime I can’t resist including this excerpt from a rather odd Christmas-day Pindarick ode from 1693 printed in the Athenian Oracle (an interesting paper if you have the time to look at it). Pindaric odes were all the rage during Queen Anne’s reign, often used to celebrate a victory, or, in this case, a birth. I’m no poet, or even an appreciator of poetry, but I find this one of the more interesting Christmas poems I’ve read. No roll-call of reindeer with alliterative names, but instead it starts with someone named Herbert – an English poet actually. After an epigram by said poet George Herbert, the first stanza notes that poor Herbert is dead (d. 1633), or at least he has left the Thames for “Jordan’s well known stream.” You hate to see a character killed off in the first act, but that’s only an appetizer. Entrée Jesus. The second stanza describes “David’s mightier Son” descending from the Heavens, with lots of celestial imagery. But it gets interesting (in a military sense) in the third stanza, where the suddenly all-grown-up Jesus dukes it out with the Prince of Darkness:
“As when some General, Father of the War,
Singles his haughty Rebel from afar,
He bids his Host give back, who press in vain,
And shoots himself away, across the trembling Plain;
His Eyes like Lightning, his lost Foe confound,
His Spear like Thunder nails him to the Ground;
So, single comes our Lord, again to try
The Force of his once vanquish’d Enemy:
The Wine-press he alone will tread,
Displays a Banner strangely Red,
By which Captivity is Captive led.
The Banner of the Cross, in which he knows,
He soon shall Conquer all his Fathers Foes:
With this on fatal Golgotha he stood,
Earth’s Heavn’s, and Hell’s united Force he bears,
Nor once gives back, nor once Despairs,
His Limbs all torn with Wounds.”
This isn’t the first time Jesus is compared to the Great Captains, and won’t be the last either. The succeeding verses bring up David and Goliath, include more gratuitous falling stars, transform Jesus-as-General into a “mean Mechanick’s son” laid in a cave incognito, and generally describe a battle between Good and Evil, the latter embodied by “proud Lucifer” with his “seven-plated Shield” and “Adamantine Arms,” kinda like Wolverine.
I would’ve thought a Christmas poem would want to focus more on Jesus and his birth, but no lowly manger for this Sun-god. Maybe the author had just read about the English taking it on the chin at the battle of Landen/Neerwinden and needed to work out his frustrations?
In short, it’s not like many of the carols I sang as a kid, but I kinda wish it was.