To see a commentary note, click on a blue square. To see the Latin text, click on a green square.
ALCON, OR A CHRISTMAS ECLOGUE ONCE WRITTEN FOR THE MOST ILLUSTRIOUS WEICKARD OF AUGSBURG
And I shall recall the sacred reed of Alcon, he whom the old man and the mother admired as he sang the wonders of the King of the heavenly hosts, and which, in the midst of the cave, the winged brotherhood received with their sonorous applause, and the marveling greenwoods echoed with vague murmurs.
But you, unless you labor under so great a weight of affairs as you conduct the business of your nation and of all Krain, and read the memorials of your antiquities, if it is your pleasure to encircle the Austrian forests with your hunting and you do not scorn Pan and his slender reeds, come hither, and do not forsake a lad’s undertaking. Lo, the time will come when I hope to have the power to fashion you well-deserved honors, and extol your praises to the stars. Oh you ornament, oh you whose great carefulness has won you authority over your city, noble man of Aursperg! Now I recall humble things, fit for the season, and send you them as a gift, rustic though they may be. The shepherds stood hymning the King, but thus Alcon took up, better with his voice and his pipes, and the far-off dales echoed it all.
Amidst rocks rough with cold and thickets, and the nearby lairs of beasts, You are born under cover of night, o divine Boy. No linens coddle you, no clothes dyed with the purple of Tyre swaddle you now; rather a heap of miserable straw provides a couch to lay your tender side. Alas for piety! An ox an lazy donkey, wont to bear a load and pull a plow with their necks, are among the first to acknowledge You as Lord, and, lying down, they protect Your naked limbs with their warm breath. Come, my flute, and sing other verses. You nymphs, fetch the Boy a-borning fleeces, such as Miletus’ groves ever provide, and weave a garment with a fair border. He will be our Captain, He whom so many prophets joined in hymning as the Promised One of the earth, destined to abandon great heaven’s threshold. With His scepter this divine child born of the seed of Jesse will bring the world government, sacred laws, and divine statutes, and cover its pacified brow with broken clouds. But, now great, He will dispel slaughter, savage horrors, and the poisonous seeds of war, and fraternal strife, and condemn the sinful to foul Orcus. If any traces of ancient deceit remain hidden, He will expunge them, and with His waters He will purge our limbs. The holy Parcae recite that, under this King, future ages will be golden. Fostering Peace will appear, crowned with new garlands, in her hand she will offer the happy olive. Twice a year the hills will abound with grapes, the fields with corn, twice a year apples will hang from the trees. For Him the pines will yield honey, and the thornbrakes lilies, and if thornbrakes yield lilies, what will not the earth? Pasture your sheep, lads, and put down your rods, no base snake hides itself in the greeny grass. Now all places are open to you, the beast is dead, dead is the snake. Now for the first time the lambs, scattered with their white mothers, will fear no fang or onset of wolves, and with You their Guardian shall more easily munch the tender grass. You will bring God’s commandments, You will invade the impious realms of Dis. Lo, its brazen gates will open for the King of men, the King unconquered. You will tame so many monsters that You will rescue humankind, freed from a miserable plague, from baleful death. Than You will come in triumph, You will come laden with the spoils of Avernus. Yet indeed You will be said to have taken the form of a holy Shepherd. Far and wide, You will bring your sheep to pasture, in the morning, when the cool dew covers the growing grasses, and the gentle violet, and the narcissus with its pleasant flower. But thorns and prickles with their long spikes will be absent, and a stream of water will issue from living rock, where the ewes themselves bear udders bursting with milk. And as dusk calls them from the pasture, the dusk now in heaven, You Yourself will lead them back to the stables, or to their pens. Of I could see these coming ages during my lifetime, when You provide the earth such spectacles! Begin, little Boy, to console your mother, make your face happy and make your fair eyes laugh. Behold, shepherds bring you their rustic gifts in full baskets, that which the sparse winter has left to the countryside, and the berries of the green laurel, and clusters of ivy-berries. After us, other men will strew this cradle with flowers. But, oh my companions, since joy has beheld this dwelling, and we have wended our way here, advised by the cheers of angels flying in the void, we will always tell of the Great One’s birthday, we will always speak of the cave of the King. Not only those born in Arcady will boast that they are pouring forth the best, and that they sing in alternating tunes of the loves they have carved on beeches: they will sing, we will surpass their loves. For what hilltops will not offer happy songs to the stars, what fields will not resound ‘He is God, He is God’?
Throughout the night the shepherd, filled with prophetic and divine inspiration, sang such things to the empty air, keeping watch until Phoebus advanced from his rosy rising, and filled the sky with an unwonted brightness.
A HYMN TO CHRIST RESURRECTED
Greatest King of men, to Whom the land of Judea gave so much suffering, upon Whom it visited so many cruel punishments with its sinful souls, Whom it gave to death and bound in the tomb, and Whose sacred incarnation it believed was now dissolved on that sad day, lo, You return to the aboveground airs, reborn, and appear, great with renewed godhead, You are present as a victor. Thanks to You a new, better order of the world is born, a better heaven is given the angels. He will resolve that the sun, hidden behind cloud, shine again, and discard its unworthy wrapping (which means so much to its author), for it will give the earth wondrous news of Him, and as His forerunner by its bright rising will infuse our minds with the lights of joy.
In the new dawn, mighty Christ, when few stars carry themselves in the sky, and Aurora has scarce raised her gleaming head from the wave, the two Marys, hastening to anoint Your holy corpse, sought out Your shrine. And, the marble overturned, a winged youth, clad in white, saw them, and the angel warned the timid women: “Depart, pious sisters, for no longer does this urn hold Him Whom you seek,” and straightway a chill spread through their bones. “Do not tarry, let pride set your pious limbs a-moving. Quickly depart to your comrades.” And ah, their holy faith relied on high heaven, and they were the first of the saints who dared believe such great mysteries, and speak openly. The uncomprehending band, sad before and now afraid, and hidden in nameless houses, was amazed. What grief gripped them, what dire sadness, how many complaints they poured forth from their hearts, like sheep who had lost their shepherd! Now everything brings you joy and cheering, the holy hymns of a King await you. By You Death is conquered, with her proud hands she will not overcome men, she will not horribly overcome saintly men, as once she took away our senses with her shameful destruction, and held down our feeble hands with her weight, herself brandishing her torch and the claws of her savage heart, claws by which she imagined our Lord had perished. Carrying her weaponry, she rages against heaven, impious, and the unhappy earth mocks our great God’s wrath. You break into the groves beseiged by soldiery and shatter its guardians’ high swords, speaking Your name, and you see their huge shields fall to the ground, and their squadrons scatter in horror. You scorn the insane king, with Your godhead You terrify the High Priest. You teach that divine mysteries often elude them, and You are indignant at men’s unjust power. Yet no rebukes, nor cruel lashings, nor any manner of torment can turn You, intrepid, from Your concerns for mankind. Look at His crown, bristling with iron and thorns, thrust on His bloodied brow. Look at Him bearing on His shoulders branches of a great tree, and at Him bending under the great weight He carries, weakly resting it on the ground, then stopping Himself on the hill. So greatly our Salvation came down from willing heaven, and His greatest praise remains from that death, when, first raising His head, He departed the dark cave and, returning, killed and avenged Himself upon His great enemy. He displays insignia of gold in His firm hand. And when He sits, sublime in His triumphal chariot, gnashing Death will drag a thousand brazen chains, with a gloomy face accompanying His hateful triumphs, leading the dire legions of horrible Dis, she whom the Victor will not allow to roam the earth, or regain her ancient powers. Alone she will visit her river and, grieving, atone for everything with her well-deserved punishments. And that principality, which sows the seeds of black war and, dire, loathes our hateful race with her ragings, will seek the empty realms and hidden lakes of the Furies. She will divest herself of her hundred coils, her hundred snakes. And around Him ancient heroes, bards who, filled with prophetic spirit, sang of all these things to later generations, will gladly rehearse their rejoicings, their holy hymns, and the symphonies of their golden quill. He has conquered Death, io, He has conquered the realms of Cocytus. As Moses parted the waters of the sea to Pharoah’s harm, as the shepherd born of the seed of Jesse laid low Goliath with his sling, so he He has conquered Death, He has conquered the realms of Cocytus. For, if the bards have spoken the truth, they will see Him bringing back Hell’s chariots hung with tapestries, and keeping His promises of their salvation. For the time will come in the gliding years, when the trumpet will fill the air with its sharp bellow, and will summon to life, and to the semblance of men, the shuddering souls from their earthly cave; not a voice uttered by gold or brass, but the voice in the mouth of the calling God thunders, words calling us to eternal life. Now it will be enough, Beloved, if You return Yourself to the Father, and bring Yourself to Your homeland with victorious arms, and establish Yourself as Ruler over the lands settled in deep peace, and if the centuries endure for a new world.
And we load our hearts with untiring words of praise.