From time-to-time, I’m going to feature Vintage Verses.
Poems of old. Quotes of yesteryear.
I begin today with Ben Jonson’s “A Hymn on the Nativity of My Savior.”
A Hymn on the Nativity of My Savior
I sing the birth was born tonight, The Author both of life and light; The angels so did sound it, And like the ravished shepherds said, Who saw the light, and were afraid, Yet searched, and true they found it. The Son of God, the eternal King, That did us all salvation bring, And freed the soul from danger; He whom the whole world could not take, The Word, which heaven and earth did make, Was now laid in a manger. The Father's wisdom willed it so, The Son's obedience knew no "No," Both wills were in one stature; And as that wisdom had decreed, The Word was now made Flesh indeed, And took on Him our nature. What comfort by Him do we win? Who made Himself the Prince of sin, To make us heirs of glory? To see this Babe, all innocence, A Martyr born in our defense, Can man forget this story?’
Ben Jonson (1572-1637)
Controversial, unsuccessful actor, semi-successful playwright, father of the cavalier poets, rebellious, Ben Jonson, has been called ‘England’s first poet laureate.”
He was the son of a prosperous protestant landowner. When “Bloody Mary” of England began her hell-bent reign of persecution against Protestants. Johnson’s father was forced to forfeit his fortune and was subsequently imprisoned. Ironically, years later, in 1598, Jonson converted to Catholicism, perhaps as an attempt to assuage his guilt or to earn friends in high places when he was jailed in London for manslaughter. This conversion lasted twelve years. (There seems to have been an issue with his refusal to participate in communion.) “In May 1610 King Henri IV of France, a Catholic monarch respected in England for tolerance towards Protestants, was assassinated, purportedly in the name of the Pope, and this seems to have been the immediate cause of Jonson’s decision to rejoin the Church of England.” (wiki)
One of my favorite poems written by Jonson is “On my First Sonne.” It is a deeply intense poem scribed after the death of his first son, Benjamin. His daughter had died at six months of age. Thirty-two years later, a second son, also named Benjamin, died. Jonson’s father had died two months before he was born. Some poems eclipse the span of parents’ fears, grief, guilt, and loss of hope. This one does just that. I’m always moved when I read this poem.
For more of Jonson’s bio, click the links.