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'First what He is inquire'




Behold a silly, tender Babe,

     In freezing winter night,

In homely manger trembling lies;

     Alas! a piteous sight.


The inns are full; no man will yield

     This little pilgrim bed;

But forced he is with silly beasts

     In crib to shroud his head.


Despise Him not for lying there;

     First what He is inquire:

An Orient pearl is often found

     In depth of dirty mire.


Weigh not His crib, His wooden dish,

     Nor beasts that by Him feed;

Weigh not His mother's poor attire,

     Nor Joseph's simple weed.


This stable is a Prince's court,

     The crib His chair of state;

The beasts are parcel of His pomp,

     The wooden dish His plate.


The persons in that poor attire

     His royal liveries wear;

The Prince Himself is come from heaven:

     This pomp is prizëd there.


With joy approach, O Christian wight!

     Do homage to thy King;

And highly praise this humble pomp,

     Which He from heaven doth bring.


                        —Robert Southwell, SJ

About the Author

Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.



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And from John Donne:

AnnunciationSalvation to all that will is nigh;That All, which always is all everywhere,Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lieIn prison, in thy womb; and though He thereCan take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.Ere by the spheres time was created, thouWast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art nowThy Maker's maker, and thy Father's mother;Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.NativityImmensity cloistered in thy dear womb,Now leaves His well-belov'd imprisonment,There He hath made Himself to His intentWeak enough, now into the world to come;But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,Stars and wise men will travel to preventThe effect of Herod's jealous general doom.Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith's eyes, how HeWhich fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,That would have need to be pitied by thee?Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

PEACEMy soul, there is a country Far beyond the stars,Where stands a winged sentry All skilful in the wars:There above noise and danger Sweet Peace sits crowned with smiles,And one born in a manger Commands the beauteous files.He is thy gracious friend And -- O my soul, awake!--Did in pure love descend To die here for thy sake.If thou canst get but thither, There grows the flower of Peace,The Rose that cannot wither, Thy fortress, and thy ease.Leave then thy foolish ranges, For none can thee secure,But one who never changes, Thy God, thy life, thy cure.Henry Vaughan

I heard this poem mentioned today in a sermon ... William Blake - Auguries of InnocenceTo see a world in a grain of sand,And a heaven in a wild flower,Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,And eternity in an hour.A robin redbreast in a cagePuts all heaven in a rage.A dove-house fill'd with doves and pigeonsShudders hell thro' all its regions.A dog starv'd at his master's gatePredicts the ruin of the state.A horse misused upon the roadCalls to heaven for human blood.Each outcry of the hunted hareA fibre from the brain does tear.A skylark wounded in the wing,A cherubim does cease to sing.The game-cock clipt and arm'd for fightDoes the rising sun affright.Every wolf's and lion's howlRaises from hell a human soul.The wild deer, wand'ring here and there,Keeps the human soul from care.The lamb misus'd breeds public strife,And yet forgives the butcher's knife.The bat that flits at close of eveHas left the brain that won't believe.The owl that calls upon the nightSpeaks the unbeliever's fright.He who shall hurt the little wrenShall never be belov'd by men.He who the ox to wrath has mov'dShall never be by woman lov'd.The wanton boy that kills the flyShall feel the spider's enmity.He who torments the chafer's spriteWeaves a bower in endless night.The caterpillar on the leafRepeats to thee thy mother's grief.Kill not the moth nor butterfly,For the last judgement draweth nigh.He who shall train the horse to warShall never pass the polar bar.The beggar's dog and widow's cat,Feed them and thou wilt grow fat.The gnat that sings his summer's songPoison gets from slander's tongue.The poison of the snake and newtIs the sweat of envy's foot.The poison of the honey beeIs the artist's jealousy.The prince's robes and beggar's ragsAre toadstools on the miser's bags.A truth that's told with bad intentBeats all the lies you can invent.It is right it should be so;Man was made for joy and woe;And when this we rightly know,Thro' the world we safely go.Joy and woe are woven fine,A clothing for the soul divine.Under every grief and pineRuns a joy with silken twine.The babe is more than swaddling bands;Every farmer understands.Every tear from every eyeBecomes a babe in eternity;This is caught by females bright,And return'd to its own delight.The bleat, the bark, bellow, and roar,Are waves that beat on heaven's shore.The babe that weeps the rod beneathWrites revenge in realms of death.The beggar's rags, fluttering in air,Does to rags the heavens tear.The soldier, arm'd with sword and gun,Palsied strikes the summer's sun.The poor man's farthing is worth moreThan all the gold on Afric's shore.One mite wrung from the lab'rer's handsShall buy and sell the miser's lands;Or, if protected from on high,Does that whole nation sell and buy.He who mocks the infant's faithShall be mock'd in age and death.He who shall teach the child to doubtThe rotting grave shall ne'er get out.He who respects the infant's faithTriumphs over hell and death.The child's toys and the old man's reasonsAre the fruits of the two seasons.The questioner, who sits so sly,Shall never know how to reply.He who replies to words of doubtDoth put the light of knowledge out.The strongest poison ever knownCame from Caesar's laurel crown.Nought can deform the human raceLike to the armour's iron brace.When gold and gems adorn the plow,To peaceful arts shall envy bow.A riddle, or the cricket's cry,Is to doubt a fit reply.The emmet's inch and eagle's mileMake lame philosophy to smile.He who doubts from what he seesWill ne'er believe, do what you please.If the sun and moon should doubt,They'd immediately go out.To be in a passion you good may do,But no good if a passion is in you.The whore and gambler, by the stateLicensed, build that nation's fate.The harlot's cry from street to streetShall weave old England's winding-sheet.The winner's shout, the loser's curse,Dance before dead England's hearse.Every night and every mornSome to misery are born,Every morn and every nightSome are born to sweet delight.Some are born to sweet delight,Some are born to endless night.We are led to believe a lieWhen we see not thro' the eye,Which was born in a night to perish in a night,When the soul slept in beams of light.God appears, and God is light,To those poor souls who dwell in night;But does a human form displayTo those who dwell in realms of day.

At the risk of fast forwarding through the Twelve Days of Christmas, here are two versions of Eliot reading The Journey of the Magi:, if you want it with pictures (and not bad ones!)

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