Advent Day 4: A glorious light, suspending Night
Coleridge: A Christmas Carol.
The shepherds went their hasty way,
And found the lowly stable-shed
Where the Virgin-Mother lay:
And now they checked their eager tread,
For to the Babe, that at her bosom clung,
A mother’s song the Virgin-Mother sung
They told her how a glorious light,
Streaming from heavenly throng,
Around them shone, suspending night!
While sweeter than a mother’s song,
Blest Angels heralded the Saviour’s birth,
Glory to God on high! and Peace on Earth.
She listened to the tale divine,
And closer still the Babe she prest;
And while she cried: ‘The Babe is mine!’
The milk rushed faster to her breast:
Joy rose within her, like a summer’s morn;
Peace, Peace on Earth!
The Prince of Peace is born.
I find the phrase ‘sweeter than a mother’s song’ interesting. I immediately wonder, what could be sweeter? Then with a jovial tone, I imagine, its author, both a poet and a theologian, answering me: “Why the euangelion! The Gospel. For without Jesus there could be no gospel. The shepherds, now evangelists proclaim the Good news heralded by Angels. In a sense both Joseph and Mary’s choices have been validated. This.Is.For real. The Angels message sent through the shepherds confirm, that what was, now is!…now pass to me the eggnog!”
There are eight stanza’s to this poem. In the first three which are presented above Coleridge focuses heavily on motherhood, in the remaining five he shifts into a discussion about war, poverty, and the veneer of Christianity sometimes used by those in power (nominalism & injustice).
Unlike other works of his, thankfully, it is easy to catch the depth of his meaning. In a sense, this is evidenced by language that unpacks the story of a real, very human mother, present with her new-born child. Compared to some of his earlier poetry it doesn’t get any more real than the raw way in which Coleridge describes the relationship between mother and son. For example: Coleridge’s description of breastfeeding; a hint at the nurture, or real work ahead.
On the surface there appears to be a contrast between the mother’s song before shepherds, and the herald issued by Angels to them; a contrast between a human and angelic being. However, it is quite probable that Coleridge’s use of the phrase “mother’s song” is a metaphor for the joy, care, hope and vulnerability.This is supported by the phrase ‘joy rose within her, like a summer’s morn’. Human elements that would have been present in what we have come to know as the Nativity.
If I had more time, I would love to dig more into this poem. For the moment, I’m content to reflect theologically on the image of a ‘suspended night’, and wonder about answers to the question, what could be more sweeter than a mother’s song?
Coleridge, S.T 1997 The Complete Poems, Penguin Classics, p.273
Images: Both background photos are mine. Text and overlays: Picmonkey