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John Dryden

(1631 - 1700 / England)

Britannia Rediviva: A Poem on the Birth of the Prince


Our vows are heard betimes, and heaven takes care
To grant, before we can conclude the prayer;
Preventing angels met it half the way,
And sent us back to praise, who came to pray.
Just on the day, when the high-mounted sun
Did farthest in his northern progress run,
He bended forward, and even stretched the sphere
Beyond the limits of the lengthened year,
To view a brighter sun in Britain born;
That was the business of his longest morn;
The glorious object seen, 'twas time to turn.
Departing spring could only stay to shed
Her bloomy beauties on the genial bed,
But left the manly summer in her stead,
With timely fruit the longing land to cheer,
And to fulfil the promise of the year.
Betwixt two seasons comes the auspicious heir,
This age to blossom, and the next to bear.
Last solemn Sabbath saw the Church attend,
The Paraclete in fiery pomp descend;
But when his wondrous octave rolled again,
He brought a royal infant in his train:
So great a blessing to so good a king,
None but the Eternal Comforter could bring.
Or did the mighty Trinity conspire,
As once in council to create our sire?
It seems as if they sent the new-born guest,
To wait on the procession of their feast;
And on their sacred anniverse decreed
To stamp their image on the promised seed.
Three realms united, and on one bestowed,
An emblem of their mystic union showed;
The Mighty Trine the triple empire shared,
As every person would have one to guard.
Hail, son of prayers! by holy violence
Drawn down from heaven; but long be banished thence,
And late to thy paternal skies retire!
To mend our crimes, whole ages would require;
To change the inveterate habit of our sins,
And finish what thy godlike sire begins.
Kind heaven, to make us Englishmen again,
No less can give us than a patriarch's reign.
The sacred cradle to your charge receive,
Ye seraphs, and by turns the guard relieve;
Thy father's angel, and thy father join,
To keep possession, and secure the line;
But long defer the honours of thy fate;
Great may they be like his, like his be late,
That James this running century may view,
And give this son an auspice to the new.
Our wants exact at least that moderate stay;
For, see the dragon winged on his way,
To watch the travail, and devour the prey:
Or, if allusions may not rise so high,
Thus, when Alcides raised his infant cry,
The snakes besieged his young divinity;
But vainly with their forked tongues they threat,
For opposition makes a hero great.
To needful succour all the good will run,
And Jove assert the godhead of his son.
O still repining at your present state,
Grudging yourselves the benefits of fate;
Look up, and read in characters of light
A blessing sent you in your own despite!
The manna falls, yet that celestial bread,
Like Jews, you munch, and murmur while you feed.
May not your fortune be, like theirs, exiled,
Yet forty years to wander in the wild!
Or, if it be, may Moses live at least,
To lead you to the verge of promised rest!
Though poets are not prophets, to foreknow
What plants will take the blight, and what will grow,
By tracing heaven, his footsteps may be found;
Behold, how awfully he walks the round!
God is abroad, and, wondrous in his ways,
The rise of empires, and their fall, surveys;
More, might I say, than with an usual eye,
He sees his bleeding Church in ruins lie,
And hears the souls of saints beneath his altar cry.
Already has he lifted high the sign,
Which crowned the conquering arms of Constantine,
The moon grows pale at that presaging sight,
And half her train of stars have lost their light.
Behold another Sylvester, to bless
The sacred standard, and secure success;
Large of his treasures, of a soul so great,
As fills and crowds his universal seat.
Now view at home a second Constantine;
(The former too was of the British line,)
Has not his healing balm your breaches closed,
Whose exile many sought, and few opposed?
O, did not Heaven, by its eternal doom,
Permit those evils, that this good might come?
So manifest, that even the moon-eyed sects
See whom and what this Providence protects.
Methinks, had we within our minds no more
Than that one shipwrack on the fatal Ore,
That only thought may make us think again,
What wonders God reserves for such a reign.
To dream, that chance his preservation wrought,
Were to think Noah was preserved for nought;
Or the surviving eight were not designed
To people earth, and to restore their kind.
When humbly on the royal babe we gaze,
The manly lines of a majestic face
Give awful joy; 'tis paradise to look
On the fair frontispiece of nature's book:
If the first opening page so charms the sight,
Think how the unfolded volume will delight!
See how the venerable infant lies
In early pomp; how through the mother's eyes
The father's soul, with an undaunted view,
Looks out, and takes our homage as his due!
See on his future subjects how he smiles,
Nor meanly flatters, nor with craft beguiles;
But with an open face, as on his throne,
Assures our birthrights, and assumes his own.
Born in broad day-light, that the ungrateful rout
May find no room for a remaining doubt;
Truth, which itself is light, does darkness shun,
And the true eaglet safely dares the sun.
Fain would the fiends have made a dubious birth,
Loath to confess the godhead clothed in earth;
But, sickened, after all their baffled lies,
To find an heir apparent of the skies,
Abandoned to despair, still may they grudge,
And, owning not the Saviour, prove the judge.
Not great Æneas stood in plainer day,
When the dark mantling mist dissolved away;
He to the Tyrians showed his sudden face,
Shining with all his goddess mother's grace;
For she herself had made his countenance bright,
Breathed honour on his eyes, and her own purple light.
If our victorious Edward, as they say,
Gave Wales a prince on that propitious day,
Why may not years revolving with his fate
Produce his like, but with a longer date;
One, who may carry to a distant shore
The terror that his famed forefather bore?
But why should James, or his young hero, stay
For slight presages of a name or day?
We need no Edward's fortune to adorn
That happy moment when our prince was born;
Our prince adorns this day, and ages hence
Shall wish his birthday for some future prince.
Great Michael, prince of all the ethereal hosts,
And whate'er inborn saints our Britain boasts;
And thou, the adopted patron of our isle,
With cheerful aspects on this infant smile!
The pledge of heaven, which, dropping from above,
Secures our bliss, and reconciles his love.
Enough of ills our dire rebellion wrought,
When to the dregs we drank the bitter draught;
Then airy atoms did in plagues conspire,
Nor did the avenging angel yet retire,
But purged our still-increasing crimes with fire.
Then perjured plots, the still impending test,
And worse—but charity conceals the rest.
Here stop the current of the sanguine flood;
Require not, gracious God! thy martyrs' blood;
But let their dying pangs, their living toil,
Spread a rich harvest through their native soil;
A harvest ripening for another reign,
Of which this royal babe may reap the grain.
Enough of early saints one womb has given,
Enough increased the family of heaven;
Let them for his and our atonement go,
And, reigning blest above, leave him to rule below.
Enough already has the year foreslowed
His wonted course, the sea has overflowed,
The meads were floated with a weeping spring,
And frightened birds in woods forgot to sing;
The strong-limbed steed beneath his harness faints,
And the same shivering sweat his lord attaints.
When will the minister of wrath give o'er?
Behold him at Araunah's threshing-floor!
He stops, and seems to sheathe his flaming brand,
Pleased with burnt incense from our David's hand;
David has bought the Jebusite's abode,
And raised an altar to the living God.
Heaven, to reward him, makes his joys sincere;
No future ills nor accidents appear,
To sully and pollute the sacred infant's year.
Five months to discord and debate were given;
He sanctifies the yet remaining seven.
Sabbath of months! henceforth in him be blest,
And prelude to the realms perpetual rest!
Let his baptismal drops for us atone;
Lustrations for offences not his own:
Let conscience, which is interest ill disguised,
In the same font be cleansed, and all the land baptized.
Unnamed as yet; at least unknown to fame;
Is there a strife in heaven about his name,
Where every famous predecessor vies,
And makes a faction for it in the skies?
Or must it be reserved to thought alone?
Such was the sacred Tetragrammaton.
Things worthy silence must not be revealed;
Thus the true name of Rome was kept concealed,
To shun the spells and sorceries of those
Who durst her infant majesty oppose.
But when his tender strength in time shall rise
To dare ill tongues, and fascinating eyes,
This isle, which hides the little Thunderer's fame,
Shall be too narrow to contain his name:
The artillery of heaven shall make him known;
Crete could not hold the god, when Jove was grown.
As Jove's increase, who from his brain was born,
Whom arms and arts did equally adorn,
Free of the breast was bred, whose milky taste
Minerva's name to Venus had debased;
So this imperial babe rejects the food,
That mixes monarch's with plebeian blood:
Food that his inborn courage might control,
Extinguish all the father in his soul,
And for his Estian race, and Saxon strain,
Might reproduce some second Richard's reign.
Mildness he shares from both his parents' blood;
But kings too tame are despicably good:
Be this the mixture of this regal child,
By nature manly, but by virtue mild.
Thus far the furious transport of the news
Had to prophetic madness fired the muse;
Madness ungovernable, uninspired,
Swift to foretell whatever she desired.
Was it for me the dark abyss to tread,
And read the book which angels cannot read?
How was I punished, when the sudden blast
The face of heaven, and our young sun, o'ercast!
Fame, the swift ill increasing as she rolled,
Disease, despair, and death, at three reprises told:
At three insulting strides she stalked the town,
And, like contagion, struck the loyal down.
Down fell the winnowed wheat; but, mounted high,
The whirlwind bore the chaff, and hid the sky.
Here black rebellion shooting from below,
(As earth's gigantic brood by moments grow,)
And here the sons of God are petrified with woe:
An apoplex of grief! so low were driven
The saints, as hardly to defend their heaven.
As, when pent vapours run their hollow round,
Earthquakes, which are convulsions of the ground,
Break bellowing forth, and no confinement brook,
Till the third settles what the former shook;
Such heavings had our souls, till, slow and late,
Our life with his returned, and faith prevailed on fate.
By prayers the mighty blessing was implored,
To prayers was granted, and by prayers restored.
So, ere the Shunamite a son conceived,
The prophet promised, and the wife believed;
A son was sent, the son so much desired,
But soon upon the mother's knees expired.
The troubled seer approached the mournful door,
Ran, prayed, and sent his pastoral staff before,
Then stretched his limbs upon the child, and mourned,
Till warmth, and breath, and a new soul returned.
Thus Mercy stretches out her hand, and saves
Desponding Peter, sinking in the waves.
As when a sudden storm of hail and rain
Beats to the ground the yet unbearded grain,
Think not the hopes of harvest are destroyed
On the flat field, and on the naked void;
The light, unloaded stem, from tempest freed,
Will raise the youthful honours of his head;
And, soon restored by native vigour, bear
The timely product of the bounteous year.
Nor yet conclude all fiery trials past,
For heaven will exercise us to the last;
Sometimes will check us in our full career,
With doubtful blessings, and with mingled fear,
That, still depending on his daily grace,
His every mercy for an alms may pass;
With sparing hands will diet us to good,
Preventing surfeits of our pampered blood.
So feeds the mother bird her craving young
With little morsels, and delays them long.
True, this last blessing was a royal feast;
But where's the wedding-garment on the guest?
Our manners, as religion were a dream,
Are such as teach the nations to blaspheme.
In lusts we wallow, and with pride we swell,
And injuries with injuries repel;
Prompt to revenge, not daring to forgive,
Our lives unteach the doctrine we believe.
Thus Israel sinned, impenitently hard,
And vainly thought the present ark their guard;
But when the haughty Philistines appear,
They fled, abandoned to their foes and fear;
Their God was absent, though his ark was there.
Ah! lest our crimes should snatch this pledge away,
And make our joys the blessings of a day!
For we have sinned him hence, and that he lives,
God to his promise, not our practice, gives.
Our crimes would soon weigh down the guilty scale,
But James and Mary, and the Church prevail.
Nor Amalek can rout the chosen bands,
While Hur and Aaron hold up Moses' hands.
By living well, let us secure his days,
Moderate in hopes, and humble in our ways.
No force the free-born spirit can constrain,
But charity, and great examples gain.
Forgiveness is our thanks for such a day;
'Tis godlike God in his own coin to pay.
But you, propitious queen, translated here,
From your mild heaven, to rule our rugged sphere,
Beyond the sunny walks, and circling year;
You, who your native climate have bereft
Of all the virtues, and the vices left;
Whom piety and beauty make their boast,
Though beautiful is well in pious lost;
So lost as star-light is dissolved away,
And melts into the brightness of the day;
Or gold about the royal diadem,
Lost, to improve the lustre of the gem,—
What can we add to your triumphant day?
Let the great gift the beauteous giver pay;
For should our thanks awake the risingsun,
And lengthen, as his latest shadows run,
That, though the longest day, would soon, too soon be done.
Let angels' voices with their harps conspire,
But keep the auspicious infant from the choir;
Late let him sing above, and let us know
No sweeter music than his cries below.
Nor can I wish to you, great monarch, more
Than such an annual income to your store;
The day, which gave this unit, did not shine
For a less omen, than to fill the trine.
After a prince, an admiral beget;
The Royal Sovereign wants an anchor yet.
Our isle has younger titles still in store,
And when the exhausted land can yield no more,
Your line can force them from a foreign shore.
The name of Great your martial mind will suit;
But justice is your darling attribute:
Of all the Greeks, 'twas but one hero's due,
And, in him, Plutarch prophesied of you.
A prince's favours but on few can fall,
But justice is a virtue shared by all.
Some kings the name of conquerors have assumed,
Some to be great, some to be gods presumed;
But boundless power, and arbitrary lust,
Made tyrants still abhor the name of Just;
They shunned the praise this godlike virtue gives
And feared a title that reproached their lives.
The power, from which all kings derive their state,
Whom they pretend, at least, to imitate,
Is equal both to punish and reward;
For few would love their God, unless they feared.
Resistless force and immortality
Make but a lame, imperfect deity;
Tempests have force unbounded to destroy,
And deathless being even the damned enjoy;
And yet heaven's attributes, both last and first;
One without life, and one with life accurst;
But justice is heaven's self, so strictly he,
That could it fail, the godhead could not be.
This virtue is your own; but life and state
Are, one to fortune subject, one to fate:
Equal to all, you justly frown or smile;
Nor hopes nor fears your steady hand beguile;
Yourself our balance hold, the world's our isle.

Submitted: Monday, April 12, 2010

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