Firstpublished:1800 in Plain Psalmody, p. 41, for three voices: Treble-Tenor-Bass Description: Words by John Milton, "altered by the Rev. Mr. [John S. J.] Gardiner." Full text printed in Francis C. Schaffer's Hymns Suitable for the Devotion of Families and Churches, 1811, in six stanzas. Holden must have had access to the full text, for the title of this composition is from the sixth stanza. This composition written for the Stone Chapel Church, where it was performed annually (see discussion in Music 1998).
Original text and translations
John Milton's Hymn to the Nativity
It was the winter wild,
While the Heaven-born child,
All meanly wrapt, in the rude manger lies.
Nature, in awe to him.
Had doffed her gaudy trim,
With her great master so to sympathize.
It was no season then for her
To wanton with the sun, her lusty paramour.
No war or battle sound
Was heard the world around —
The idle spear and shield were high up hung,
The hooked chariot stood
Unstained with hostile blood;
The trumpet spake not to the armed throng,
And kings sat still with awful eye,
As if they surely knew their sovereign Lord was by.
But peaceful was the night
In which the Prince of Light
His reign of peace upon the earth began;
The winds with wonder whist,
Smoothly the waters kissed,
Whisp‘ring new joys to the mild ocean,
Who now hath quite forgot to rave
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.
But see, the Virgin blest
Hath laid her Babe to rest,
Time is our tedious song should here have ending;
Heaven’s youngest teemed star
Hath fixed her polished car,
Her sleeping Lord with handmaid lamp attending,
And all about the courtly stable
Bright harnessed angels sit in order serviceable.
Gardiner's Adaptation, from Schaffer 1811
1. No war or battles' sound
Was heard the world around;
No hostile chiefs to furious combat ran;
But peaceful was the night
In which the prince of light,
His reign of peace upon the earth began.
2. The shepherds on the lawn,
Before the point of dawn,
In social circle sat, while all around
The gentle fleecy brood
Or cropped the flowery food,
Or slept, or sported on the verdant ground.
3. When lo! With ravished ears,
Each swain delighted hears
Sweet music, offspring of no mortal hand;
Divinely warbled voice
Answering the stringed noise,
With blissful rapture charmed the listening band.
4. They saw a glorious light,
Burst on their wondering sight,
Harping in solemn choir, in robes arrayed
The helmed cherubim
And sworded seraphim
Are seen in glittering ranks with wings displayed.
5. Sounds of so sweet a tone
Before were never known,
But when of old the sons of morning sung,
When God disposed in air
Each constellation fair,
And the well-balanced world on hinges hung.
6. Hail, hail, auspicious morn!
The Savior Christ is born;
Such was the immortal seraph's song sublime!
Glory to God in heaven!
To man sweet peace be given,
Sweet peace and friendship to the end of time!