The Christmas poems of Robert Herrick, the seventeenth-century poet and Anglican vicar, show doctrinal understanding, emotional intensity, and artistic strength. All of Herrick’s poetry reveals a depth and breadth of perception not only of classical writers but also of the Bible and the later church fathers, especially Augustine, Ambrose, Bernard, and Aquinas. The images, phrases, and cadences of Scripture often leave their mark on his poems.
The subjects of the 272 poems in his collection called His Noble Numbers include God, the Incarnation, Christ’s suffering and death and resurrection, prayer, temptation, sin, pardon, judgment. But the advent of Christ is particularly in evidence. Beneath the title on the title page of the 1647 edition are these words: “Wherein (amongst other things) he sings the Birth of his Christ: and sighs for his Savior’s suffering on the Cross.”
Herrick’s poetry on the Incarnation unmistakably reveals that God’s becoming man was a miraculous, unprecedented act. In his epigram “Christ’s Birth,” for example, the poet writes these words:
One Birth our Savior had, the like none yet
Was, or will be a second like to it.
He captures the reason for this miraculous coming in the quatrain “Christ’s Incarnation”:
Christ took our nature on Him, not that he
‘Bove all things lov’d it, for the puritie
No, but he drest Him with our human Trim,
Because our flesh stood most in need of Him.
When we read Herrick’s Christmas poems carefully, we recognize a simplicity or a childlike tone (not to be confused with childishness or naivete), but we also discover an intricacy that can easily be missed. I will concentrate on his beautiful, ...1
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