Lift up your eyes, whoe'er ye be
That fare the new-born Christ to see:
For yonder is the shining sign
Of grace perennial and divine.
What means this star, whose piercing rays
Outshine the sun's resplendent blaze?
'Tis token sure that God is come
In mortal flesh to make His home.
No courtier of the realms of night
Nor monthly moon's bright acolyte,
This star directs the course of day,
Sole sovereign of the heavenly way.
Although the Bears their track retrace,
Nor wholly their clear beams efface,
Yet ofttimes 'neath the dun cloud's haze
They hide themselves from mortal gaze.
But yon Star's glory hath no end,
Nor to the depths can it descend:
It ne'er is whelmed by envious cloud
That seeks its beauty to enshroud.
Now let the baleful comet die,
The brood of blazing Sirius fly:
God's orb shall quench their sultry heats
And drive them from their haughty seats.
Lo! from the regions of the morn
Wherein the radiant sun is born,
The Persian sages see on high
God's ensign shining in the sky.
Soon as its rising beams prevail
The starry hosts in order pale:
E'en Lucifer durst not upraise
The silvery splendours of his face.
Who is this sovereign (they enquire)
That lords it o'er the ethereal choir?
'Fore whom the heavens bow down afraid,
Of all the worlds of light obeyed?
Sure 'tis the sign most reverend
Of Being that doth know no end:
Of One in state sublime arrayed
Ere sky and chaos yet were made.
This is the King of Israel,
Of all in Gentile lands that dwell:
The King to Abram and his seed
Throughout all ages erst decreed.
To him 'twas given his progeny
As stars innumerous to see:
First of believers! moved to slay
His only son, so God to obey.
Behold the Flower of David shine,
Of Jesse's root the Branch benign:
The sceptre spread with blossoms rare
Wields o'er the world its lordship fair.
Roused by the portent of the sky
The sages fix their gaze on high,
And speed them 'neath the furrowed way
Marked by the star's effulgent ray.
At length its flaming steps it stayed
Poised over where the Child was laid:
Straightway with downcast mien it shed
Its splendours on the sacred Head.
Whereat the travellers outpour
Of Eastern gifts their treasure-store,
Myrrh and sweet-smelling frankincense,
Gold meet for regal opulence.
Behold herein the triple sign
Of Thy pure being, King divine:
Seeing the Father willed in Thee
To plant a threefold majesty.
The gift of gold thee King proclaims:
Thee God the fragrant incense names:
The myrrh declares that Death shall thrust
Within the tomb Thy body's dust.
Ah! that dark sepulchre, whose fold
God's body quenched in death doth hold:
Yet shall He from that durance wake
And Death's strong prison-fetters break.
O Bethlehem! no longer thou
The least of cities: all shall vow
That thou art greatest on the earth:
For thou man's King didst bring to birth.
Yea thou didst on thy bosom bear
The All-loving Father's only heir:
Man of the Thunderer's Spirit made
And God in human flesh arrayed.
The prophets witnessed to the bond
Which sealed to Him the realm profound:
The Father's Kingdom He received
And the vast legacy perceived.
All things are His in sea and sky,
In hell beneath, in heaven on high:
From East to setting sun, in fee
He holds the earth's immensity.
Distraught, the tyrant base doth hear
That now the King of Kings draws near
To reign in David's seat of state
And Israel's empire dominate.
"Betrayed are we," he maddened cries,
"Our throne's usurper doth arise:
Go, soldiers, go with sword in hand
And slay all babes within my land.
"Spare no male child: each nurse's robe
Your scrutinizing steel must probe:
Spare not the suckling infant, though
O'er mother's breast its life-blood flow.
"On Bethlehem our suspicion falls,
On every hearth within its walls:
Lest mothers with love's tender zeal
Some manly scion may conceal."
With daggers drawn the infuriate crew
Upon their murderous errand flew:
Each latest offspring of the womb
To bloody death they foully doom.
Ah tiny limbs! 'twas hard to know
How best to strike the fatal blow:
Too wide the sword-blades are to smite
Those throats so silken-fragile, slight.
O horrid sight! the tender bones
Are dashed against the jaggèd stones:
Sightless and mangled there they lie,
Poor babes! untimely doomed to die.
Perchance the still deep river laves
Their bodies thrust into the waves:
The current with their sighing sighs,
Sobs with their latest, broken cries.
Ye flowers of martyrdom, all hail!
Of rising morn pure blossoms frail!
By Jesu's foe were ye downcast,
Like budding roses by the blast.
Lambs of the flock too early slain,
Ye first fruits of Christ's bitter pain!
Close to His very altar, gay
With palms and crowns, ye now do play.
Of what avail is deed so vile?
Doth Herod gain by murderous guile?
Of all to death so foully done
Escapes triumphant Christ alone.
Amidst that tide of infant gore
Alone He wins the sheltering shore:
The virgin's Child survives the stroke,
When every mother's heart was broke.
Thus Moses 'scaped the mad decree
Of evil Pharaoh and set free
The flock of God, prefiguring so
Christ spared from fate's malignant blow.
Vain too the king's hostility
Who framed the pitiless decree
That Israel's mothers should not rear
To manhood's strength their offspring dear.
Quickened by love, a woman's mind
Found means to thwart that law unkind,
And, falsely true, the child concealed
Destined to be his people's Shield.
On him it was that God did place
The august priesthood's holy grace,
The law on stony tablets writ
Did to his trembling hands commit.
And may we not with prophet's eye
In such a hero Christ descry?
The proud Egyptian's might he broke
And freed his kinsmen from the yoke.
So we by Error's might hemmed round
Were by our Captain's strength unbound:
His foe He wounded in the fight
And saved us from Death's horrid night.
Cheering by sign of flame their feet,
Moses renewed with waters sweet
His folk, albeit purified
From stain, what time they crossed the tide.
And he, remote on peaceful height,
Amalek's banded hosts did smite:
He prayed with arms stretched out above,
Foreshadowing the Cross of Love.
Yet truer Jesus surely he,
Who after many a victory
And labours long the tribes' renown
With promised heritage did crown;
Who when the waters rose on high
And now the Jordan's bed was dry,
Set up twelve stones of memory,
Types of apostles yet to be.
Rightly the Wise Men said, I ween,
That they Judaea's King had seen,
Since noble deeds of other days
Prophetic chant the Saviour's praise.
Of those old rulers He is King
Who did to Jacob judgment bring,
King of the Mother Church divine,
God's ancient and God's present Shrine.
Of Ephraim's sons He is adored:
Manasseh's sacred house as Lord
Reveres Him: to His might the seed
Of brethren twelve their fealty plead.
Nay, each degenerate race hath fled
Its shameful rites and orgies dread:
Grim Baal in glowing furnace cast
Sinks to the earth, forsook at last.
Idols smoke-blackened, wooden-hewn,
Of brass and stone, in dust are strewn:
The chiselled deities downtrod:
For all confess in Christ their God.
Rejoice all peoples, Jewry, Rome,
Fair Hellas, Thrace, Aegyptus' home:
Persians and Scythian land forlorn,
Rejoice: the world's great King is born!
Behold your Chief! His praise forth tell:
Ye sick, ye hale, all heaven and hell:
Ay, you whose vital spark hath sped:
For lo! in Him e'en Death is dead.
Hymns of Prudentius, 1905