5] holy Sages: the Hebrew prophets.
6] deadly forfeit: the penalty of death incurred by man through the Fall.
11] the midst of Trinal Unity: i.e., as the Second Person of the Trinity, three Persons and one God.
15] Heavenly Muse. See Paradise Lost, I, 6 and note.
19] The sky before the chariot of the sun has commenced to move across it; cf. below line 84 and note.
21] spangled host: the stars.
23] wizards: the "wise men from the east'' (Matthew 1:2).
24] prevent: anticipate, come before.
28] In Isaiah 6:6-7, a seraph takes a burning coal from the altar and touches the lips of the prophet. Milton adopts this as a symbol of his own dedication and inspiration, remembering that the seraphim symbolized love of God.
39] front: face.
42] confounded: put to shame.
44] cease: put a stop to.
47] The olive branch or wreath and the dove ("turtle" here stands for turtle dove) are symbols of peace, and the turtle dove and myrtle are symbols of love. In Ben Jonson's Entertainments at the Coronation of James 1, Peace is thus described: "... her attire white, semined with stars: a wreath of olive on her head, on her shoulder a silver dove. In her left hand she held forth an olive branch."
48] The concentric spheres of the Ptolemaic universe. See below, line 125.
49] harbinger: forerunner.
53] Christian tradition associated what was known as the peace of Augustus with the birth of Christ.
56] hooked chariot: war chariot armed with protruding hooks or blades.
59] awful eye: eyes expressing awe.
64] whist: hushed.
68] Tradition described the halcyons as hatching out their offspring on the sea, temporarily calm, in late December: hence Milton's birds of calm, and the common phrase "halcyon days."
71] An astrological image: power emanating from the stars was held to influence life on earth: their influence (here wholly beneficent) is now all directed towards the child Christ at Bethlehem.
74] Lucifer: the morning star, last to set, and hence thought of as the shepherd or guardian of the rest.
75] orbs: see below line 125 and note.
84] Ovid, recounting the legend of Phaeton, tells how the Sun quits his palace with its jewelled throne, and, when Lucifer has marshalled the departing stars, ascends his chariot and drives across the sky.
85] The shepherds, to whom the angel appeared (Luke 2:8);
86] Or ere: before.
87] Than: then.
89] In classic myth Pan is the god and protector of shepherds and flocks. Not without precedent, Milton here associates Pan with Christ, the Good Shepherd (see Spenser, Shepheardes Calender, "Maye," Glosse).
91] loves or ... sheep. The shepherds of pastoral poetry cared for their sheep and sang of their loves.
92] silly: simple, rustic; like simple, silly also connoted harmless, innocent.
97] noise: music--here of stringed instruments.
98] took: captivated, cast a spell upon.
100] close: conclusion of a musical phrase, cadence.
102] the hollow round of Cynthia's seat: the sphere which contains the moon, whose goddess was Diana, called Cynthia because born on Mount Cynthus in Delos. See below, lines 125-32 and note.
106] The music made by the turning spheres (see below, lines 125-32 and note) was thought to be or to symbolize the power that preserved the natural world in harmonious order: the higher music of the angel choir, if it continued thus to penetrate the world of nature, would perform this function yet more perfectly and render Nature's music superfluous.
112] Seraphim and Cherubim: the first two orders in the hierarchy of angels.
114] display'd: extended (a term used in heraldry).
116] unexpressive: inexpressible (in any otherway), indescribable.
119] Cf. Job 38:4-11.
125] In the geo-centric scheme of the universe adopted by Ptolemy, the earth was surrounded by a series of concentric and transparent (cf. crystal) spheres containing moon, sun, each of the five planets then known, all the fixed stars, and the crystalline sphere, numbering nine (cf. ninefold) with the outer sphere or primum mobile, so called because it communicated motion to the whole. This was the system slowly displaced by the helio-centric scheme of Copernicus, supported and elaborated by the work of Kepler, Galileo, and Newton. To the older scheme belonged the idea, met in Plato, that the spheres, as they turned, produced music and together made up a perfect harmony (cf. ninefold harmony), and this harmony was, or symbolized, the force which kept the universe in its order. The music was, of course, inaudible to mankind (hence the request at lines 126-27). By Christian commentators the number of the spheres was held to correspond to the nine orders in the hierarchy of angels, and from this correspondence Milton develops or adopts the idea that the music of the spheres (the image ofperfect order and harmony on the natural level) might sound in unison with the song of the angel choir (the image of perfect order and harmony on the supernatural level): hence, make up a full consort to the angelic voices.
132] consort: synonymous with harmony and symphony.
135] According to the cyclic view of history entertained by the ancient Greeks, the earliest age was one of innocence and happiness, which they called the Golden Age; it was succeeded by others growing progressively worse, till the cycle was completed and the Golden Age returned.
141] Justice. The goddess of Justice, Astraea, was said to have left the world at the end of the Golden Age. Virgil prophesies her return and a new Age of Gold (Eclogues, IV, 4-9).
146] tissu'd: woven of silk and silver threads.
149] wisest Fate is identified by Milton with the will of God: "what I will is Fate" (P.L. VII, 173).
154] Cf. John 17:4-5, 22.
155] Cf. Thessalonians 4:15-16.
157] Cf. Exodus 19:15-20.
164] : "they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:30).
168] Based on two passages in Revelation: "And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil .... and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit ... that he should deceive the nations no more ..." (20:2-3 ); "And his [the "great red dragon's"] tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth" (12:4).
173] Christian commentators seized on the assertion of Plutarch that the pagan oracles (of which the most famous was that of Apollo at Delphi) fell silent, and associated the fact with the coming of Christ. Lat. cella designated the shrine.
181] Plutarch also recounts how, about this time, the pilot of a ship announced that great Pan was dead and the news was greeted with loud wailing and lamentation from the nearby shore.
186] Genius. See Lycidas, line 183 note.
191] Lars: Roman household gods;
Lemures: Spirits of the departed.
194] Flamens: Roman priests;
195] marble seems to sweat. Cf. "The marble pillers and images.../Swet all for sorowe" (Alexander Barclay, Eclogue 3).
196] peculiar: particular.
197] Milton covers much of this ground again and in greater detail in P.L. I, 392-489; and see notes thereon.
Peor was one of the manifestations of Baal, the Phoenician sun god. Baalim is the plural of Baal and hence includes his local manifestations.
199] twice-batter'd god: Dagon. See I Sam. 5:1-4; P.L., I, 457-66.
201] Ashtaroth: Astarte, the Phoenician moon-goddess.
203] Libyc Hammon: an Egyptian god, with the head of a ram, worshipped in the Libyan desert and later identified with Zeus.
204] Thammuz: a Phoenician god, corresponding to Adonis, whose death symbolized the passing of summer. See Ezekiel 8:14 and P.L. I, 446-57.
205] Moloch: worshipped by the Ammonites, who sacrificed their children to him: I Kings 11:7; II Kings 23:10.
211] brutish gods of Nile. The gods of ancient Egypt were associated with animals: Isis, sister and wife of Osiris, and goddess of the moon, was represented with a cow's homs; Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, was represented with a hawk's head; Anubis, a son of Osiris, was brought up by Isis whose faithful guard he became; he was represented with the head of a jackal, which the Greeks mistook for that of a dog.
213] Osiris, the sungod of the Egyptians, was slain by his brother Set, identified by the Greeks with Typhon; his scattered remains were collected by Isis and placed in a series of sacred chests, deposited in temples in various cities: the worshipped ark is evidently one of these chests. Osiris was worshipped under the form of a bull Apis, at Memphis.
218] shroud: refuge or retreat.
219] timbrel'd: accompanied on the timbrel, a kind of tambourine.
220] sable-stoled sorcerers: priests (who were also magicians) wearing black robes.
226] Typhon was at once a serpent monster of Greek myth and by the Greeks identified with Set (see above, lines 213-17 note).
227] an allusion to the infant Hercules, slaying of the serpents which attacked him in his cradle.
240] youngest-teemed star: latest born star, the star of Bethlehem.
244] bright-harness'd: clad in bright armour.
Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department
of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.
Original text: John Milton, Poems, 2nd edn. (London: Thomas Dring, 1673). Facs. edn. Complete Poetical Works reproduced in photographic facsimile. Comp. by H. F. Fletcher. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1943-48. PR 3551 F52 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1645
RPO poem editor: Hugh MacCallum, A. S. P. Woodhouse
RP edition: 3RP 1.225-31.
Recent editing: 1:2002/6/8
Other poems by John Milton