1633 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Shepheards Oracles: Eclogue V. Virgilius. Evangelus.

The Shepheards Oracles: Delivered in Certain Eglogues. By Fra: Quarles.

Francis Quarles


The first half of the Shepheards Oracles concludes with a "Messianic Eclogue" in which an Angel of the Lord appears to Evangelus, watching his flocks by night, who then relates the good news to his friend Vigilus. The series as a whole concludes with a similar prophetic utterance.

Robert Aris Willmott: "His pencil rather 'dashed' than 'drew,' and he wanted the taste and patience to finish his pictures. He was sublime and vulgar at the impulse of the moment. Sometimes, however, images of great delicacy fell unconsciously from his pen. Evangelus' description of the appearance of the Angel in the Shepherd's Oracles, may be quoted as an example: — 'His skin did show, | More white than ivory, or the new fall'n snow, | Whose perfect whiteness made a circling light, | That where it stood, it silvered o'er the night'" Lives of Sacred Poets (1834) 227-28.

Herbert E. Cory: "Some of the more satirical eclogues have a coarse spiritedness that is entertaining. Catholic and Protestant revile each other for being lean or fat after the manner of Piers and Palinode in Spenser's Maye. Quarles makes allegories of a Biblical type [Eclogue V] and one on the model of Phineas Fletcher's Purple Island and its principal source, Spenser's House of Alma [Eclogue Seven]. But the essential elements of the Spenserian pastoral have fled. There is nothing left here but crude polemics and raw vigour in his jangling couplets" "Spenserian Pastoral" PMLA 25 (1910) 262.

Compare William Thompson's The Nativity, a College Exercise, 1736 for a treatment of the same theme in a very different Spenserian mode.



VIGILIUS.
What strange affrights are these, that thus arrest
My lab'ring soule, and spoile me of my rest?
Before my meeting eyelids can conclude
A long desired league, the war's renew'd:
I cannot rest; sometimes me thinks I heare
Loud whoopes of Triumphs, sounding in mine eare:
Sometimes the musick of celestiall numbers
Sweetens my thoughts, and casts my soule in slumbers;
And then the discords of infernall cryes
And horrid shreekes awake my closing eyes:
Me thinks my trembling Cot does not allow
Such restfull ease, as it was wont to doe:
Pray God my Flocks be safe: My dreames foretell
Some strange designes; pray God, that all be well:
I'le up (for sure the wasted night growes old)
And, if that need require, secure my Fold:
Lord how the heavens be spangled! How each spark
Contends for greater brightnes, to undark
The shades of night; and in a silent story,
Declare the greatnesse of their Makers glory!
But hark! am I deceiv'd? or does mine eare
Perceive a noise of footsteps, drawing neare?
What midnight-wanderer is grown so bold
At such a seas'n, to ramble near my Fold?
Sure, tis some Pilgrime, burthen'd with the grief
Of a lost way, or else some nightly Thief:
Or else, perchance, some Shepheard that doth fly
From his affrighted Rest, as well as I:
No, tis some Friend; Or else my dog had nere
Bin silent half so long; Hoe! who goes there?

EVANGELUS.
Vigilius? Is the Swain I sought so nigh?
Fear not Vigilius; it is none but I.

VIGILIUS.
Evangelus? What businesse has divided
Thy steps this way? Or bin thy steps misguided?

EVANGELUS.
O, my Vigilius, I am come to bring
A true relation of the strangest thing;
The sweetest Tidings, and the rarest wonder
This night brought forth, as ever broke in sunder
The lips of panting Fame: I had no power
To keep it undisclos'd another hower.

VIGILIUS.
What is't? Speak, speak; Vigilius eares are mad
To know the newes: Say, is it good, or bad?

EVANGELUS.
O my Vigilius, 'tis as good as true;
True, true as heaven it self; and good to you:
'Tis good to wise and simple; rich and poore;
'Tis good to me; 'tis good to thousands more;
The greatest good that ever fell to man
Since earth had beeing, since the world began.

VIGILIUS.
Speake, welcome Shepheard; let thy tongue proceed
To make thy tydings sweeter by thy speed:
Breake ope thy lips, and let thy tongue diffuse
Her welcome errand: Shepheard, what's the news?

EVANGELUS.
Thou know'st, Vigilius, Davids Bethlem, now,
Swarmes with much people, and does overflow
With tides of strangers, that attend the pleasure
And soveraigne will of sole-commanding Cesar:
In this concourse, there's one, among the rest,
A Galilean Maid, a Virgin guest,
Whose radiant beauty (if we may relye
On Fames report) strikes every gazing eye
Stark blind, and keeps th' amaz'd beholder under
The stupid tyranny of Love and wonder:
And (what does more embellish so divine,
So rare a creature) she drawes out the line
Of princely David longer by her birth,
And keeps his blood alive upon the earth;
Nay, what compleats both linage and complexion,
And heapes perfection more upon perfection,
Mounting her Glory to the upper staire,
She is as perfect chast, as perfect faire;
So pure a soule inflames her Virgin brest,
That most conceive, she is an Angel drest
In flesh and blood; at least some Saint reviv'd;
Some say, (if their report may passe believ'd)
She hath no sins at all; at most, so few,
That very Scriptures are but barely true;
Her name is Mary; and if every one
May owne their right, right heire to Davids Throne:
She's now at Bethlem (where being newly come)
This very night, her pregnant Virgin-womb,
Without the throwes of childbed or the grone
Of the sick chaire, has borne, brought forth a Son.

VIGILIUS.
A Virgin beare a Son? What busie tongue
Has done thine eares, and easie faith that wrong?
Borne without pain? And of a Virgins womb?
Thou art be fool'd: where heard'st thou this? of whom?

EVANGELUS.
Shepheard; It is the common voic'd report
Of every tongue, and sent to Caesars Court;
I come from Bethlem, where the dead of night
Is wak'd in every Corner, with th' affright
Of sudden voices, and the hasty feet
Of wond'ring people, trampling in the street;
Wind-blazing Tapours hurry to and fro,
And every Window's turn'd a Lanthorn to;
The streets are fill'd; Some ramble up and down
To know the news; and some to make it known:
Here one man trudges; There another tramples;
Some whoop for joy; and some, by their Examples:
Some softly whisper: Others stand and muse,
Some bawl aloud; no need to aske the news:
One while, the multitude is fallen at strife;
Some say, she is a Virgin; some, a wife;
Some neither; Others, that best know, aver
She is espoused to a Carpenter,
Who finding her too great before her Day,
Brought her to Bethlem, secretly to lay
The Charge upon the Town, and steal away.

VIGILIUS.
All this may be, and yet no Virgin, Swain;
Can Virgins bear? Or births be freed from pain?

EVANGELUS.
Know, faithlesse Shepheard, then, that there appear'd
An Angel to me, from whose lips I heard
The news I tell thee; Swain, he did unfold
Not onely this, but what remains untold:
Nor was't to me alone, the news was brought,
For then my slow beleef might well have thought
Mine ears had bin abus'd; The thing was told
To many Shepheards more, that dare be bold
To call it Truth; to Shepheards, that were by,
That heard, and saw, and shook as well as I.
His face was like the visage of a Childe,
Round, smooth, and plump, and oftentimes it smil'd;
It glow'd like fier, and his rowling eyes
Cast flames, like Lightning darted from the skyes;
His haire was long, and curl'd, and did infold
Like knots of wire, compos'd of burnisht Gold;
His body was uncloath'd; His skin did show
More white then Iv'ry, or the new-faln snow,
Whose perfect whitenesse made a circling light,
That where it stood, it silverd o're the night;
And, as he spake, his wings would now and then
Spread, as he meant to flye, then close agen;
This news he brought; 'Twas neither Fame, nor I
That forg'd it, Swain; Good Angels cannot lye:
Canst thou beleeve it? If thy faith be strong,
My greater Tidings shall enlarge my tongue.

VIGILIUS.
I doe Evangelus, though for a season,
My faith was tyding on the streames of reason:
Yet now, the gale of thy report shall drive
Her sailes another course; my thoughts shall strive
Against that streame; and what I cannot under-
-stand with my heart, I will beleeve and wonder:
But tell me, Swaine, what happinesse accrews
From this? Or else, relate thy better news.

EVANGELUS.
Then know Vigilius, whilst the Angell spake,
My spirits trembled, and my loines did ake;
Horror and heart-amazing feares possest
The fainting powers of my troubled brest,
And struck my frighted soule into a swound,
That I lay senselesse prostrate on the ground;
With that he stretcht his life-restoring arme,
He rais'd me up and bid me feare no harme;
"Feare not, said he; I come not to affright
Thy gaster'd soule with terrours of the night;
My errand (Shepheard) is not to abuse
Thine eyes with horrid shapes; I bring thee news,
Tidings of joy, and everlasting peace:
Stand up and let thy faithlesse trembling cease;
Collect thy scatter'd senses, Swaine, and heare
The happiest newes that ever beg'd an eare;
Such news, whereat th' harmonious quire of heaven,
Archangels, Angels, and the other seven
Of those Celestiall Hierarchies, the troop
Of glorious Saints, and soules of Prophets stoop
Their joyfull eares, and being fully freight
With joyes, sing forth Hosanna's to the height:
This night a Virgin hath brought forth a Son,
A perfect God, though clad in flesh and bone,
Like mortall man, th' eternall Prince of Rest,
And Peace, in whom all nations shall be blest:
This night a Virgin hath brought forth a Child,
A perfect Man, but pure, and undefil'd
With guilt of sin; like you in shape and fashion,
And for your sakes, as subject to your passion:
A perfect God, whose selfe-subsisting nature
Required not the help of a Creator:
A perfect man, conceived by the power
Of th' holy Ghost, and borne this very hower:
A perfect God; beyond the comprehending
Of man; and infinite, without an ending:
A perfect man; objected to the eye,
And touch of Flesh and Blood; and borne to dye:
Like God, eternall; yet his life a span,
Like yours; a perfect God, a perfect man:
To you a Son is given; the heire of glory,
Whose Kingdome's endlesse and untransitory:
To you a child is borne, that shall succeed
That princely David, and of Davids seed:
A Son is given, whose name redeem'd the earth
A world of daies before his mothers birth:
A Child is borne, whose last expiring breath
Shall give new dayes; and dying, conquer death:
A Son, a Child; compos'd of Earth, and Heaven;
To you a Child is borne, a Son is given:
We blessed Angels have no need at all
Of such a Saviour, for we cannnot fall:
The damned spirits of th' Infernall Throne
Receive no profit by this Childe, this Son;
To you the glory of so great a gain
Belongs; To you these tidings appertain;
To you, thrice happy sons of men, we bring
This welcome errand from th' eternall King
Of endlesse mercy, the great Lord of Heaven;
To you this Childe is born; this Son is given.
Goe, Shepheards, goe to Bethlem, and your eyes
Shall see the Babe; The blessed Infant lyes
In a poor Stable, swadled in a Manger;
Goe, Swains, and entertain this heavenly Stranger,
Upon your bended knees; See, yonder Starre
Shall be your Pilot, where these wonders are;"
And as he spake that word, (not fully ended)
Ten thousand Angels in a Troop descended;
But here my tongue must fail, not having might
To tell the glory of that glorious sight:
Nay, had I power, thine ears would prove as weak
To apprehend, as my poor tongue's to speak.
They joyn'd their warbling notes, and in a height
Beyond the curious frailty of conceit,
Their voices sweetned our delighted fears,
And with this Caroll blest our ravisht ears.

Glory to God on high; and jolly mirth
Twixt man and man; and peace on earth:
This night a childe is born;
This night a Son is given;
This Son, this Childe
Hath reconcil'd
Poor man that was forlorne,
And th' angry God of heaven:
Hosanna, sing Hosanna.

Now, now that joyfull Day,
That blessed howre is come,
That was foretold
In dayes of old,
Wherein all nations may
Blesse, blesse the Virgins wombe:
Hosanna, sing Hosanna.

Let heaven triumph above,
Let earth rejoyce below,
Let heaven and earth
Be fill'd with mirth;
For peace and lasting love
Atones your God, and you:
Hosanna, sing Hosanna.

With that, their Air-dividing plumes they spred,
And, with Hosanna, in their mouths, they fled:
But, Shepheard, ah how far does my report,
Ah how extreamly my poor words come short
To blaze such glory! How have I transgrest,
T' expresse such Raptures, not to be exprest!

VIGILIUS.
O, Swain, how could I lose my self to hear
Thy blest discourse! O how my greedy ear
Clings to thy cordiall lips, whose soveraign breath
Brings Antidotes against the fangs of death!
How happy are these times! How blest are wee
Above all ages, that are born to see
This joyfull day, whose glory was deny'd
To Kings and holy Prophets, that rely'd
Upon the self-same hopes! How more then they
Are we poor Shepheards blest to see this day!

EVANGELUS.
O Shepheard, had our Princely David seen
This happy how'r, how had his spirit been
Inflam'd with Joy, and Zeal! What heavenly skill
Had passion lent to his diviner Quill!
What Odes! what Lyrick Raptures had inspir'd
His ravisht soul, that was already fir'd
With hopes alone, that these rare things should bee
In after days, which now his eyes should see!

VIGILIUS.
No question, but an infinite delight
Had easily sprung from so divine a sight:
It had bin joy sufficient, that a Sonne
Was born to sit upon his Princely Throne;
O, but that Son, to be a Saviour too,
Able to conquer death, and overthrow
The very Gates of Hell, and by his breath,
To drag his soul from the deep Jaile of death,
Had bin a Joy too high to be exprest
By tongues, or trusted to a common brest:
But hold! whilst we endevour to make known
Anothers Joy, we o're neglect our own:
The day is broke; The Eastern Lamps begin
To fail, and draw their nightly glory in:
Let's up to Bethlem; though our happy eyes
But see the Building where our Saviour lyes;
Perchance our prosp'rous Journey may find grace
To kisse his hand, or see his lovely face.

EVANGELUS.
Come, haste we then, Vigilius, let's away,
And gain th' advantage of the early day.

VIGILIUS.
Come, Shepheard; O how blest are thee and I,
That may behold our Saviour ere we dye!

[pp. 48-59]