When I covered the turn of the millennia for the Gannett newspapers, I was struck by the gradual dawning of a new age, first in Indonesia and then around the globe, east to west. It occurred to me then as it occurs to me now that someone’s sunrise is always someone else’s sunset. The birth of the Baby Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem, which we celebrate today, nonetheless signaled the twilight of the gods in Europe.
John Milton (1608-74) thought so, too, and wrote as much in his “Hymn On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity.” For years, it was my custom on Christmas Day to read an excerpt aloud to my Aunt Mary – Tiny, to whom my forthcoming novel “Water Music” is dedicated – from the book “Greece in Poetry” (Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1993). I quote it now in her memory and in the hope that it will spark a new tradition and new memories in your home:
The Oracles are dunn,
No voice or hideous humm
Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving.
Apollo from his shrine
Can no more divine,
With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.
No nightly trance, or breathed spell,
Inspire’s the pale-ey’d priest from the prophetic cell.
The lonely mountains o’er,
And the resounding shore,
A voice of weeping heard, and loud lament;
From haunted spring, and dale
Edg’d with poplar pale,
The parting Genius is with sighing sent,
With flowre-inwov’n tresses torn
The Nimphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.