CHRISTMAS IN ENGLISH POETRY
heat of Incarnate Love, of the blinding light of Divinity with the night's darkness, indeed the whole paradox of the Incarnation —Infinity in extremest limitation—is nowhere realized with such intensity as by him. Yet, magnificent as are his best lines, his verse sometimes becomes too like the seventeenth-century Jesuit churches, with walls overladen with decoration, with great languorous pictures and air heavy with incense ; and then we long for the dewy freshness of the early carols.
The representative Anglican poets of the seventeenth century, Herbert and Vaughan, scarcely rise to their greatest heights in their treatment of Christmas, but with them as with the Romanists it is the mystical note that is dominant. Herbert sings:—
" O Thou, whose glorious, yet contracted, light,
Wrapt in night's mantle, stole into a manger ; Since my dark soul and brutish is Thy right,
To man, of all beasts, be not Thou a stranger.
Furnish and deck my soul, that thou may'st have A better lodging than a rack or grave." *°
And Vaughan :—
" I would I had in my best part Fit rooms for Thee ! or that my heart
Were so clean as
Thy manger was ! But I am all filth, and obscene : Yet, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make clean.
Sweet Jesu ! will then. Let no more This leper haunt and soil thy door !
Cure him, ease him,
O release him ! And let once more, by mystic birth, The Lord of life be born in earth." 41
In Herrick—how different a country parson from Herbert!— we find a sort of pagan piety towards the Divine Infant which,