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Unformatted text preview: INTRODUCTION John Milton's &quot;On the Morning of Christ's Nativity&quot; is significant for its merit alone, though this remarkable poem is also important in the context of the artist's career. His first major work in English, the nativity ode reflects &quot;his desire to attempt the highest subjects and to take on the role of bardic Poet-Priest&quot; (Barbara Lewalski, Life of John Milton 38). Milton himself declares such ambition in a letter to his friend Charles Diodati: &quot;I sing to the peace-bringing God descended from heaven, and the blessed generations covenanted in the sacred books, I sing the starry axis and the singing hosts in the sky, and of the gods suddenly destroyed in their own shrines.&quot; ( &quot;Elegia sexta&quot; ). Milton's lofty tone suits the elevation of his artistry, as the nativity ode is the &quot;first realization&quot; of Milton's high poetic aspirations ( Lewalski 37). Stella Revard writes that the poem &quot;marks Milton's coming of age as a Christian English writer&quot; ( Milton and the Tangles of Neaera's Hair: The Making of the 1645 Poems 64). Milton's header, &quot;Compos'd 1629,&quot; dates the poem as written in Milton's twenty-first year, leading A.S.P. Woodhouse to call the Ode a coming-of-age poem ( Variorum Commentary 41). This is perhaps what Milton intended: the poem appears first in his 1645 Poems , after a frontispiece engraving of himself supposedly at twenty-one. Moreover, as Barbara Lewalski explains, the poem &quot;displays elements that remain constants in Milton's poetry: allusiveness, revisionism, mixture of genres, stunning originality, cosmic scope, prophetic voice&quot; ( Lewalski 46). According to Stanley Fish, Milton's works all voice the same concerns ( Fish 3). It makes sense, then, that Milton's first major work speaks to his life-long preoccupations. The poem is formally divided into two sections. The first four stanzas make up the proem. Each of these stanzas consists of six lines of iambic pentameter, which conclude in an alexandrine. This echoes Chaucerian and Spenserian tradition, and also imitates the form practiced in Milton's earlier poem &quot;On the Death of Fair Infant Dying of a Cough.&quot; The second half of the poem, in which Milton creates his own form, has been alternately called the &quot;hymn&quot; and the &quot;ode.&quot; In this section, the eight lines of each stanza vary in length (6, 6, 19, 6, 6, 10, 8, 12), each terminating in an alexandrine. The rhyme scheme follows the pattern aabccbdd. Whether this section is an ode or a hymn, J. Martin Evans points out that either &quot;automatically implies a choric rather than an individual speaker&quot; ( The Miltonic Moment 12). This is critical to Evans's thesis that the Ode is the most &quot;rigorously depersonalized of all Milton's nondramatic works&quot; ( Evans 12)....
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