1827
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Second Sunday after Easter.

The Christian Year: Thoughts in Verse for the Sundays and Holydays throughout the Year. 2 Vols.

Rev. John Keble


After Milton's Nativity Ode, in a simplified version of Milton's stanza.

John Wilson: "Oxford has produced many true poets — Collins, Warton, Hurdis, Bowles, Heber, Milman, and now Keble — all are her own — her inspired sons. Their strains are not steeped in 'port and prejudice;' but in the — Isis. Heaven bless Godstow — and many another sweet old ruined place — secluded, but not far apart from her own inspiring Sanctities! And those who love her not, never may the Muses love!" "The Christian Year" Blackwood's Magazine 27 (June 1830) 839.

Gentleman's Magazine: "In 1827 was commenced the publication of The Christian Year, 'than which,' says the Times, 'no book of modern times has come nearer to what we may call a Divine work.' The greater part had already existed for some time in albums, written under great variety of circumstances. Some of the poems were the work of a day — a few hours. It was only when half, or more than half, the year had been written, that Keble would listen to those who wanted the whole year, and in print. The work appeared anonymously, and it has probably exercised more influence on English religious thought than any volume of poems for very many generations" 220 (May 1866) 748.

Oliver Elton: "The Christian Year ... is not (save for one or two famed and notable exceptions) a book of hymns. The familiar morning and evening hymns, as they are sung, are really hymns picked out of poems by the rejection of unsuitable verses; and show in a curious way how good poetry may be poor hymnody, being too solitary, or too literary and allusive, in tone. It does not face the peculiar requirements, lower in one way but harder in another, of hymnody; it is mostly soliloquy, the communing of a pensive, eager, and pious spirit; so that it asks to be judged as poetry. And as such it is not readily judged; as a piece of art and style it is easily undervalued. There is plenty of thin, stopgap language; the plan of making 'thoughts in verse for the Sundays and Holydays throughout the Year' easily leads to writing perforce; nor are the poetic observation and the devout comment always well soldered together. But Keble has not captured the world of religious readers, beyond as well as within his own communion, for nothing; and he may be thought to have done so, on poetical grounds, with a better right than George Herbert. He has none of the chilling quaintness or tasteless oddness that deforms the sweet fancies and swift exaltations of his predecessor; his faults, indeed are in the direction of flatness and faintness. But the grave and nice quality of his language, his even but incessantly aspiring temper, and the soft throb of diffused emotion in this rhythm, entitle Keble to more than the rank among poets which his own humility may have claimed. He is, above all, intensely English, the flower of his caste. The English evening, the English tempered sun, the blotted distance; the near, surrounding greenness and stillness of a thousand rectories; they are all in his verse, and we need not dwell in or near his world of belief to appreciate them. It is no use calling such a man 'Wordsworth for women,' for he is not Wordsworth, and he is not particularly for women" Survey of English Literature 1780-1830 (1912) 2:264-65.



O for a sculptor's hand,
That thou might'st take thy stand,
Thy wild hair floating on the eastern breeze,
Thy tranc'd yet open gaze
Fix'd on the decent haze,
As one who deep in heaven some airy pageant sees.

In outline dim and vast
Their fearful shadows cast
The giant forms of empires on their way
To ruin: one by one
They tower and they are gone,
Yet in the Prophet's soul the dreams of avarice stay.

No sun or star so bright
In all the world of light
That they should draw to heaven his downward eye,
He hears th' Almighty's word,
He sees the angel's sword,
Yet low upon the earth his heart and treasure lie.

Lo from yon argent field,
To him and us reveal'd
One gentle star glides down, on earth to dwell.
Chain'd as they are below
Our eyes may see it glow,
And as it mounts again, may track its brightness well.

To him it glar'd afar,
A token of wild war,
The banner of his Lord's victorious wrath:
But close to us it gleams,
Its soothing lustre streams
Around our home's green walls, and on our church-way path.

We in the tents abide
Which he at distance eyed
Like goodly cedars by the waters spread,
While seven red altar-fires
Rose up in wavy spires,
Where on the mount he watch'd his sorceries dark and dread.

He watch'd till morning's ray
On lake and meadow lay,
And willow-shaded streams, that silent sweep
Around the banner'd lines,
Where by their several signs
The desert-wearied tribes in sight of Canaan sleep.

He watch'd till knowledge came
Upon his soul like flame,
Not of those magic fires at random caught:
But true prophetic light
Flash'd o'er him, high and bright,
Flash'd once, and died away, and left his darken'd thought.

And can he choose but fear,
Who feels his GOD so near,
That when he fain would curse his powerless tongue
In blessing only moves!—
Alas! the world he loves
Too close around his heart her tangling veil hath flung.

Sceptre and Star divine,
Who in thine inmost shrine
Hast made us worshippers, O claim thine own;
More than thy seers we know—
O teach our love to grow
Up to thy heavenly light, and reap what Thou hast sown.

[1:161-64]