Verse > Anthologies > W. Garrett Horder, ed. > The Poets’ Bible: New Testament
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W. Garrett Horder, comp.  The Poets’ Bible: New Testament.  1895.
 
The Angel Song
John Keble (1792–1866)
 
‘And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God.’—LUKE II. 13.

    WHAT sudden blaze of song
        Spreads o’er th’ expanse of heav’n?
    In waves of light it thrills along,
        Th’ angelic signal given—
“Glory to God!” from yonder central fire        5
Flows out the echoing lay beyond the starry quire;
 
    Like circles widening round
        Upon a clear blue river,
    Orb after orb, the wondrous sound
        Is echoed on for ever:        10
“Glory to God on high, on earth be peace,
And love towards men of love 1—salvation and release.”
 
    Yet stay, before thou dare
        To join that festal throng;
    Listen and mark what gentle air        15
        First stirr’d the tide of song;
’Tis not, “the Saviour born in David’s home,
To whom for power and health obedient worlds should come:”—
 
    ’Tis not, “the Christ the Lord:”—
        With fix’d adoring look        20
    The choir of Angels caught the word,
        Nor yet their silence broke:
But when they heard the sign, where Christ should be,
In sudden light they shone and heavenly harmony.
 
    Wrapp’d in His swaddling bands,        25
        And in His manger laid,
    The hope and glory of all lands
        Is come to the world’s aid:
No peaceful home upon His cradle smil’d,
Guests rudely went and came, where slept the royal Child.        30
 
    But where Thou dwellest, Lord,
        No other thought should be.
    Once duly welcom’d and ador’d,
        How should I part with Thee?
Bethlehem must lose Thee soon, but Thou wilt grace        35
The single heart to be Thy sure abiding-place.
 
    Thee, on the bosom laid
        Of a pure virgin mind,
    In quiet ever, and in shade,
        Shepherd and sage may find;        40
They, who have bow’d untaught to Nature’s sway,
And they, who follow Truth along her star-paved way.
 
    The pastoral spirits first
        Approach Thee, Babe divine,
    For they in lowly thoughts are nurs’d,        45
        Meet for Thy lowly shrine:
Sooner than they should miss where Thou dost dwell,
Angels from Heaven will stoop to guide them to Thy cell.
 
    Still, as the day comes round
        For Thee to be revealed,        50
    By wakeful shepherds Thou art found,
        Abiding in the field.
All through the wintry heaven and chill night air,
In music and in light Thou dawnest on their prayer.
 
    Oh faint not ye for fear—        55
        What though your wandering sheep,
    Reckless of what they see and hear,
        Lie lost in wilful sleep?
High Heaven in mercy to your sad annoy
Still greets you with glad tidings of immortal joy.        60
 
    Think on th’ eternal home
        The Saviour left for you;
    Think on the Lord most holy, come
        To dwell with hearts untrue:
So shall ye tread untir’d His pastoral ways,        65
And in the darkness sing your carol of high praise.
 
Note 1. I have ventured to adopt the reading of the Vulgate as being generally known through Pergolesi’s beautiful composition ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis.’ [back]
 
 
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