Posted in

Rowland Watkyns, “Upon Christ’s Nativity”

There is not an abundance of information on our next poet’s life.  Rowland Watkyns (c. 1614-1664) was a Welshman and the Anglican vicar of Llanfrynach.  His one known published work was a collection of poems Flamma sine Fumo (Poems without Fictions) published in 1662.

“Upon Christ’s Nativity” is taken from that collection.

From three dark places Christ came forth this day;

From first His Father’s bosom, where He lay,

Concealed till now; then from the typic law,

Where we His manhood but by figures saw;

And lastly from His mother’s womb He came

To us, a perfect God and perfect Man.

     Now in a manger lies the eternal Word:

The Word He is, yet can no speech afford;

He is the Bread of Life, yet hungry lies;

The Living Fountain, yet for drink He cries;

He cannot help or clothe Himself at need

Who did the lilies clothe and ravens feed;

He is the Light of Lights, yet now doth shroud’

His glory with our nature as a cloud.

He came to us a Little One, that we

Like little children might in malice be;

Little He is, and wrapped in clouts,[1] lest He

Might strike us dead if clothed with majesty.

     Christ had four beds and those not soft nor brave:

The Virgin’s womb, the manger, cross, and grave.

The angels sing this day, and so will I

That have more reason to be glad than they.


Three aspects of this poem express effectively the message of Christ’s birth.

  1. Christmas is a revelation. The three dark places from which “Christ came forth this day” capture this idea.  Jesus in his incarnation reveals the Father whom no man has seen (John 1:18).  The “typic” law or the Old Testament points to Christ and is fulfilled in him and revealed in its fullness.  “The law came through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).  Finally, as God coming from Mary’s womb he reveals not only perfect God but also perfect.  He is the new and last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:48-49).
  2. The Christmas revelation comes hidden in humility. This is the reason for all of the marvelous paradoxes that follow the affirmation of the central paradox that Christ is both perfect God and perfect Man—The Word that cannot speak, the hungry bread of life, etc.  The lowliness of God’s Son teaches us to be little children in malice and was also an act of mercy since we would be struck dead if his divine majesty were not clothed in humility.
  3. The Christmas revelation is one of a God saving mankind through suffering. This truth is brought out by the four beds “not soft nor brave,” ending in the cross and grave.

Christmas is such a marvelous revelation that the angels sing of it and Watkyns pledges that he that has “more reason to be glad than they” will also sing it.  So should all of us sinners.

Our next and last poem is a carol written wonderfully to express the joy of Christ’s birth in a non-Western culture, but for now “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

[1] “Clouts” is an old word meaning patches or worthless clothes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *