Upon Christ’s Nativity

From three dark places Christ came forth this day;
From first His Father’s bosom, where He lay,
Concealed till now; then from the typic law,
Where we His manhood but by figures saw;
And lastly from His mother’s womb He came
To us, a perfect God and perfect Man.
Now in a manger lies the eternal Word:
The Word He is, yet can no speech afford;
He is the Bread of Life, yet hungry lies;
The Living Fountain, yet for drink He cries;
He cannot help or clothe Himself at need
Who did the lilies clothe and ravens feed;
He is the Light of Lights, yet now doth shroud
His glory with our nature as a cloud.
He came to us a Little One, that we
Like little children might in malice be;
Little He is, and wrapped in clouts, lest He
Might strike us dead if clothed with majesty.
Christ had four beds and those not soft nor brave:
The Virgin’s womb, the manger, cross, and grave.
The angels sing this day, and so will I
That have more reason to be glad than they.

Rowland Watkyns

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7 Responses to Upon Christ’s Nativity

  1. Robert Fortuin says:

    Beautiful. Who is Rowland Watkyns?

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  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thank you for this! And Christmas greetings on this its Fourth Day and the Feast of the Holy Innocents (already, in ‘my’ time zone)!

    I can’t remember ever having heard of him – which surprises me a bit as lover of 17th-c. Welsh and/or Anglican-priest poets!

    Some searching finds his little online Dictionary of Welsh Biography article by Sir William Llewelyn Davies, which lists as source Joseph A. Bradney’s ‘Flamma sine Fumo’, in The Journal of the Welsh Bibliographical Society, ii, [no. 4, May 1920] 145-7, which in turn is happily scanned online:

    https://journals.library.wales/view/1226390/1226832/18#?xywh=-1840%2C-186%2C5662%2C3447

    Davies says, “As far as is known he published one work only, viz. Flamma sine Fumo: or Poems without Fictions (London, 1662)”, in Latin and English. Bradney, writing nearly a century ago, notes he was “born in a part of the country […] where Welsh was the language of the people until quite recently.” My Welsh is sadly rudimentary, but I wonder if there is a bit of play with it, as well as a lot of play with Patristics, in this poem – for example, in the third- and fourth-last lines: “Christ had four beds and those not soft nor brave: / The Virgin’s womb, the manger, cross, and grave.” For, the Welsh word for ‘grave’ is ‘bedd’ (the ‘dd’ being a voiced ‘th’ sound: plural ‘beddau’). It’s something I suspect about Henry Vaughan, too, as when he uses the image of ‘Dew’ for God, while ‘God’ in Welsh is ‘Duw’ (which sounds pretty much like one way of pronouncing ‘dew’).

    So, perhaps I should close this comment with ‘Joyful Christmas’ in Welsh: Nadolig Llawen!

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  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    In the Wikipedia, I find that Lewis’s admiring student, Alastair Fowler, included Watkyns in The New Oxford Book of Seventeenth-Century Verse (1991), as Gwyn Jones did in The Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English (1977). Elsewhere I find that there is a 1968 facsimile edition of Flamma sine Fumo by the University of Wales Press with which the name Paul Crompton Davies is also associated, and that Wilfrid Holland set something of his among Three Biblical Songs: for four-part chorus of mixed voices, unaccompanied (Boston: Schirmer, 1980).

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Wow, also Bernard Naylor’s The Living Fountain: cantata for tenor (soprano) and string orchestra, on poems by Rowland Watkyns (London, Novello, 1966), a Reginald C. Robbins setting of his Upon a fair and virtuous gentlewoman, that can sing excellently ( [Hollywood, Calif.], [Golden West Music Press] ©1941), and Arthur Bliss’s Mary of Magdala, Cantata for contralto and bass soli, SATB chorus and orchestra, with text written and adapted by Christopher Hassall, from Watkyns’ “The Gardener” (London: Novello, 1979).

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        The only one of these four settings I can manage to find on YouTube is Sir Arthur Bliss’s cantata (which Wikipedia dates 1962, noting F.31 as its catalogue number), with the composer conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Choir, and Norma Proctor as contralto and John Carol Case as baritone soloists. (I enjoyed it, though, sadly, the audio quality of what is described as “the first broadcast performance” does not allow my old ears to follow every word of the text!) Hassall is someone whose work I’d like to know better – his Canterbury Festival play, Christ’s Comet: The Story of a Thirty Years’ Journey that Began and Ended on the Same Day (1937), followed Dorothy Sayers’s The Zeal of Thy House, if I’m not mistaken. And Arend Smilde’s notes on Lewis’s That Hideous Strength at Lewisiana.nl now include the identification of a quotation from Hassall’s long poem “S.O.S.… ‘Ludlow’”, the very interesting three-part title poem of a volume published in 1940, and not a little related to the war.

        I saw a photo of the 1968 dust jacket online, including “Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Paul C. Davies”. I find he also contributed the essay, “Two Breconshire Contemporaries: Henry Vaughan and Rowland Watkyns”, to the Autumn 1975 Henry Vaughan Special Issue of Poetry Wales. Meanwhile, I’ve just found this with the list of contents – how an ordinary ‘independent scholar’ might be able to see the text of the book, I have not yet discovered:

        https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=eebo2;idno=A65256.0001.001

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