Home  »  The Book of Elizabethan Verse  »  Richard Crashaw (c. 1613–1649)

William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. The Book of Elizabethan Verse. 1907.

Verses from the Shepherds’ Hymn

Richard Crashaw (c. 1613–1649)

WE saw thee in Thy balmy nest,

Young dawn of our eternal day;

We saw Thine eyes break from the East,

And chase the trembling shades away;

We saw Thee, and we blest the sight,

We saw Thee by Thine own sweet light.

Poor world, said I, what wilt thou do

To entertain this starry stranger?

Is this the best thou canst bestow—

A cold and not too cleanly manger?

Contend, the powers of heaven and earth,

To fit a bed for this huge birth.

Proud world, said I, cease your contest,

And let the mighty babe alone,

The phœnix builds the phœnix’ nest,

Love’s architecture is His own.

The babe, whose birth embraves this morn,

Made His own bed ere He was born.

I saw the curl’d drops, soft and slow,

Come hovering o’er the place’s head,

Off’ring their whitest sheets of snow,

To furnish the fair infant’s bed.

Forbear, said I, be not too bold,

Your fleece is white, but ’tis too cold.

I saw th’ obsequious seraphim

Their rosy fleece of fire bestow,

For well they now can spare their wings,

Since Heaven itself lies here below.

Well done, said I; but are you sure

Your down, so warm, will pass for pure?

No, no, your King’s not yet to seek

Where to repose His royal head;

See, see how soon His new-bloom’d cheek

’Twixt mother’s breasts is gone to bed.

Sweet choice, said we, no way but so,

Not to lie cold, but sleep in snow!

She sings Thy tears asleep, and dips

Her kisses in Thy weeping eye;

She spreads the red leaves of Thy lips,

That in their buds yet blushing lie.

She ’gainst those mother diamonds tries

The points of her young eagle’s eyes.

Welcome—tho’ not to those gay flies,

Gilded i’ th’ beams of earthly kings,

Slippery souls in smiling eyes—

But to poor shepherds, homespun things,

Whose wealth’s their flocks, whose wit’s to be

Well read in their simplicity.

Yet, when young April’s husband show’rs

Shall bless the fruitful Maia’s bed,

We’ll bring the first-born of her flowers,

To kiss Thy feet and crown Thy head.

To Thee, dread Lamb! whose love must keep

The shepherds while they feed their sheep.

To Thee, meek Majesty, soft King

Of simple graces and sweet loves!

Each of us his lamb will bring,

Each his pair of silver doves!

At last, in fire of Thy fair eyes,

Ourselves become our own best sacrifice!