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Edmund Hamilton Sears (1810-1876)

Christmas Carols (It Came upon the Midnight Clear)


              1It came upon the midnight clear,
              2    That glorious song of old,
              3From angels bending near the earth
              4    To touch their harps of gold;
              5"Peace on the earth, good will to men
              6    From heaven's all-gracious King" --
              7The world in solemn stillness lay
              8    To hear the angels sing.

              9Still through the cloven skies they come
            10    With peaceful wings unfurled,
            11And still their heavenly music floats
            12    O'er all the weary world;
            13Above its sad and lowly plains
            14    They bend on hovering wing,
            15And ever o'er its Babel-sounds
            16    The blessed angels sing.

            17But with the woes of sin and strife
            18    The world has suffered long;
            19Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
            20    Two thousand years of wrong;
            21And man, at war with man, hears not
            22    The love-song which they bring; --
            23Oh hush the noise, ye men of strife,
            24    And hear the angels sing!

            25And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
            26    Whose forms are bending low,
            27Who toil along the climbing way
            28    With painful steps and slow,
            29Look now! for glad and golden hours
            30    Come swiftly on the wing; --
            31Oh, rest beside the weary road
            32    And hear the angels sing!

            33For lo! the days are hastening on
            34    By prophet bards foretold,
            35When with the ever circling years
            36    Comes round the age of gold;
            37When Peace shall over all the earth
            38    Its ancient splendors fling,
            39And the whole world give back the song
            40    Which now the angels sing.

Notes

1] This hymn follows and complements the first of many sermons in the book, preached on "The Cloud of Witnesses" All-Saints day, by making "the heart lyrical with the truth it [the sermon] sets forth" (v). The Biblical text on which the sermon is based, from Hebrews 12:1, concerns the doctrine of angels: "Seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." Sears explains this doctrine as follows:

... the spirit-world and this are continuous and interblending and from that run down into this the influence and energy on which we draw mightily in our struggles and conquests; ... no man is alone or isolated; ... there are chords of sympathy that run from us along the higher ranks of being; ... the repentance of a single sinner is an event that sends a wavelet of joy into the breasts of those who have been an invisible guard around his virtue and helped determine his decision for the right. (4)
....
Your home may be humble, apart, alone; but if a good life is lived there, it stands in the centre of an amphitheatre thronged with heavenly multitudes, all bending towards you and breathing their spirit into yours. (14-15)

15] Babel-sounds: Sears compares the sounds of the world to the confused languages given to the builders of the Tower of Babel by God in Genesis as a punishment for their pride in trying to reach heaven.


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: Edmund H. Sears, Sermons and Songs of the Christian Life (Boston: Noyes, Holmes, 1875): 17-18. Yale Divinity Library. Cf. American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, selected and annotated by John Hollander (New York: Library of America, 1993): I, 588-89. PS 607 A56 1993 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1852
Publication date note: Five Christmas Hymns (1852)
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/21

Rhyme: abcbdefe


Other poems by Edmund Hamilton Sears