Friday, 15 January 2010

Summer in Winter

Every year, I spend most of the month of December with The Oxford Book of Carols permanently attached to my hand. By this time I know it inside and out and back to front, but every year I still find something new and surprising. This year it was the song to which the editors give the title 'Summer in Winter' (I wish I could post the tune, but I can't find it on the internet. Go check out the book - page 250!). The words are excerpted from a longer sequence of verses by Richard Crashaw, a seventeenth-century Catholic convert. I'd never heard of him before, but his life story is extremely interesting. Do read it, but read the poem first.

Gloomy night embraced the place
Where the noble infant lay.
The babe looked up and shewed his face;
In spite of darkness it was day.
It was thy day, sweet, and did rise
Not from the East, but from thine eyes.

Winter chid aloud, and sent
The angry North to wage his wars.
The North forgot his fierce intent,
And left perfumes instead of scars.
By those sweet eyes' persuasive powers,
Where he meant frost, he scattered flowers.

We saw thee in thy balmy nest,
Bright dawn of our eternal day!
We saw thine eyes break from their east
And chase the trembling shades away.
We saw thee, and we blessed the sight,
We saw thee by thine own sweet light.

Welcome, all wonder in one sight,
Eternity shut in a span.
Summer in winter, day in night,
Heaven in earth, and God in man!
Great little one! whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth.

picture: a window in Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire

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