CHRISTMAS IN ENGLISH POETRY
' If I am but a poor maid's child,
Born in an oxen's stall, I will let you know at the very latter end
That I am above you all.'
So he built him a bridge with the beams of the sun,
And over the sea went he, And after followed the three jolly jerdins,
And drowned they were all three.
Then Mary mild called home her child,
And laid him across her knee, And with a handful of green withy twigs
She gave him slashes three.
1 O the withy, O the withy, O bitter withy,
That causes me to smart ! O the withy shall be the very first tree
That perishes at the heart.' "
From these popular ballads, mediaeval memories in the rustic mind, we must return to the devotional verse of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Two of the greatest poets of the Nativity, the Roman priests Southwell and Crashaw, are deeply affected by the wave of mysticism which passed over Europe in their time. Familiar as is Southwell's "The Burning Babe," few will be sorry to find it here :—
"As I in hoary winter's night
Stood shivering in the snow, Surprised I was with sudden heat,
Which made my heart to glow ; And lifting up a fearful eye
To view what fire was near, A pretty Babe all burning bright
Did in the air appear ; Who, scorched with excessive heat,
Such floods of tears did shed, As though His floods should quench His flames,
Which with His tears were fed.