Christmas Carol

The kings they came from out the south,
All dressed in ermine fine;
They bore Him gold and chrysoprase,
And gifts of precious wine.

The shepherds came from out the north,
Their coats were brown and old;
They brought Him little new-born lambs--
They had not any gold.

The wise men came from out the east,
And they were wrapped in white;
The star that led them all the way
Did glorify the night.

The angels came from heaven high,
And they were clad with wings;
And lo, they brought a joyful song
The host of heaven sings.

The kings they knocked upon the door,
The wise men entered in,
The shepherds followed after them
To hear the song begin.

The angels sang through all the night
Until the rising sun,
But little Jesus fell asleep
Before the song was done.

by Sara Teasdale

Comments (6) 1. The little Love-god lying once asleep, The little Love-god = Cupid, who was usually depicted as a babe, or a young boy. 2. Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand, Laid = had laid, having laid. heart-inflaming brand = torch which inflames hearts with the passion of love. 3. Whilst many nymphs that vowed chaste life to keep nymphs - in 153 they were maidens who accompanied Diana as she hunted wild animals. The same is probably intended here, especially as they had vowed to be chaste, one of the requirements of belonging to Diana's band. A nymph was strictly speaking a minor goddess who inhabited woodland and countryside. chaste life to keep = to observe, to honour a vow of chastity. 4. Came tripping by; but in her maiden hand Came tripping by = came past walking lightly, with carefree steps. Compare Milton's Come and trip it as ye go, On the light fantastic toe. Milton. L' Allegro.33-4. 5. The fairest votary took up that fire votary = maiden who was dedicated (vowed) to a life of purity. A votary is one who has taken a vow to observe a religious or otherwise special style of life. Compare: Who are the Votaries my loving Lords, That are vow-fellowes with this vertuous Duke? LLL.II.1.37-8. took up = picked up. that fire = Cupid's torch. ...
... 6. Which many legions of true hearts had warmed; many legions = many multitudes. 'Legions' was often used of angels or devils, meaning vast armies of the spirits of either region. The phrase 'their name is Legion' means 'they are innumerable'. The image is a military one, implying armies, a metaphor continued in the next line with 'General'. 7. And so the General of hot desire general - Q gives a capital G which I have retained since it is a form of military title, General Cupid, or Generalissimo of Passion etc. hot desire = erotic passion. The phrase could be taken as descriptive of the General, or part of his title, or it could be the object of disarmed in the next line, thus 'The General was disarmed of his weapon, hot desire, while he slept'. 8. Was, sleeping, by a virgin hand disarmed. a virgin hand = the hand of a virgin votaress. A mild bawdy innuendo is probably intended, such as 'she slept beside him and laid his spirit'. (See note to 129 line 1) . 9. This brand she quenched in a cool well by, This brand = Cupid's torch. well - see the note on fountain, line 4 of the previous sonnet. by = nearby
... 10. Which from Love's fire took heat perpetual, Which - i.e. the well, which became heated. Love's fire = Cupid's brand; symbolically, the passion of love. heat perpeual = everlasting heat. As in 153, A dateless lively heat, still to endure. 11. Growing a bath and healthful remedy, Growing a bath = becoming a bath, being converted into a bath etc. As in 153, grew a seething bath. 12. For men diseased; but I, my mistress' thrall, For men diseased = for men who have love sickness; for men who have syphilis. my mistress' thrall = a slave to my mistress. 13. Came there for cure and this by that I prove, there = to the bath, the well. this by that I prove = my experience at the bath (this) shows that etc. I prove = I demonstrate by experience. 14. Love's fire heats water, water cools not love. Love's fire - see line 10.
As the last in the famed collection of sonnets written by English poet and playwright William Shakespeare from 1592 to 1598, Sonnet 154 is most often thought of in a pair with the previous sonnet, number 153. As A. L. Rowse states in Shakespeare’s Sonnets: The Problems Solved, Sonnets 153 and 154 “are not unsuitably placed as a kind of coda to the Dark Lady Sonnets, to which they relate.” Rowse calls attention to the fact that Sonnets 153 and 154 “serve quite well to round off the affair Shakespeare had with Emilia, the woman characterized as the Dark Lady, and the section of the Dark Lady sonnets. Shakespeare used Greek mythology to address love and despair in relationships. The material in Sonnets 153 and 154 has been shown to relate to the six-line epigram by the Byzantine poet known as Marianus Scholasticus, who published a collection of 3,500 poems called The Greek Anthology. When translated, the epigram resembles Sonnets 153 and 154, addressing love and the story of Cupid, the torch, and the Nymph's attempt to extinguish the torch [from Wikipedia]
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