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This article is taken from PN Review 84, Volume 18 Number 4, March - April 1992.

Inwardness and the Dictionary Donald Davie

IN SOMETHING SO FAMILIAR to most of us as 'Hark! the herald-angels sing', we sing what seems, on a little reflection, nonsense:
       

Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings.


Since when did a sun have wings? And if it did have them, on the experience of the only sun we know of physically, those wings would bring pestilence as often as healing. Is this a reasonable objection? There are those - not poets, however - who will protest that such prosaic commonsense is out of place when we approach poetry. A better defence, from a quite different direction, is that Wesley is being scriptural:

Malachi 4,2 - But unto you that feare my Name shall the Sunne of righteousness arise with healing in his wings …


And yet not all scriptural texts speak with equal authority. Contrast 2 Samuel 23,4, one of the older Scriptures that the author of Malachi is thought to be alluding to at this point:

And he shall be as the light of the morning, when
the Sunne riseth, even a morning, without cloudes; as
the tender grass springing out of the earth by cleare
shining after raine: …


Here - it is a text that Cowper was to re-work beautifully in 'Sometimes a ...


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