Messiah (Oliver Holden)

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  • (Posted 2016-02-11)  CPDL #38531:       
Editor: Barry Johnston (submitted 2016-02-11).   Score information: Letter, 8 pages, 223 kB   Copyright: Public Domain
Edition notes: Oval-note edition, as written in 1793. Words from Pope's lyric poem; see text below for Holden's variants.

General Information

Title: Messiah
First Line: Ye nymphs of Solima
Composer: Oliver Holden
Lyricist: Alexander Pope

Number of voices: 5vv   Voicing: SSATB
Genre: SacredAnthem

Language: English
Instruments: A cappella

First published: 1793 in The Union Harmony, Volume 2, p. 90-102
Description: A long anthem; for the most part for three parts (Treble-Tenor-Bass), with duets and solos that include a second Treble and a Counter. Words by Alexander Pope, 1712, entitled Messiah. This is a semi-sacred poem, mostly paraphrasing portions of Isaiah's prophecies, but nonetheless including allusions to Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. See Pope's preface, below.

External websites:

Original text and translations

Pope's Introduction (1712)

In reading several passages of the prophet Isaiah, which foretell the coming of Christ, and the felicities attending it, I could not but observe a remarkable parity between many of the thoughts and those in the Pollio of Virgil. This will not seem surprising, when we reflect that the Eclogue was taken from a Sibylline prophecy on the same subject. One may judge that Virgil did not copy it line by line, but selected such ideas as best agreed with the nature of Pastoral Poetry, and disposed them in that manner which served most to beautify his piece. I have endeavored the same in this imitation of him, though without admitting any thing of my own; since it was written with this particular view, that the reader, by comparing the several thoughts, might see how far the images and descriptions of the Prophet are superior to those of the Poet. But as I fear I have prejudiced them by my management, I shall subjoin the passages of Isaiah, and those of Virgil, under the same disadvantage of a literal translation.

English.png English text

1 Ye Nymphs of Solima! begin the song:
2 To heavenly themes sublimer strains belong.
3 The mossy fountains, and the sylvan shades,
4 The dreams of Pindus, and the’ Aonian maids,
5 Delight no more — O Thou my voice inspire
6 Who touched Isaiah’s hallowed lips with fire!
7 Rapt into future times, the bard begun: (a)
8 A virgin shall conceive, a virgin bear a son!
9 From Jesse’s root behold a branch arise, (b)
10 Whose sacred flower with fragrance fills the skies;
11 The ethereal spirit o’er its leaves shall move,
12 And on its top descends the mystic dove.
13 Ye Heavens! from high the dewy nectar pour, (c)
14 And in soft silence shed the kindly shower!
15 The sick and weak the healing plant shall aid,
16 From storms a shelter, and from heat a shade.
17 All crimes shall cease, and ancient fraud shall fail,
18 Returning Justice lift aloft her scale;
19 Peace o’er the world her olive wand extend,
20 And white-robed Innocence from Heav’n descend.
21 Swift fly the years, and rise the’ expected morn!
22 O spring to light, auspicious babe! be born.
23 See Nature hastes her earliest wreaths to bring,
24 With all the incense of the breathing spring:
25 See lofty Lebanon his head advance,
26 See nodding forests on the mountains dance:
27 See spicy clouds from lowly Sharon rise,
28 And Carmel’s flowery top perfumes the skies!
29 Hark! a glad voice the lonely desert cheers;
30 Prepare the way! a God, a God appears!
31 A God, a God! the vocal hills reply;
32 The Rocks proclaim the’ approaching Deity.
33 Lo, Earth receives him from the bending skies!
34 Sink down, ye Mountains, and, ye valleys, rise;
35 With heads declined, ye Cedars, homage pay;
36 Be smooth, ye Rocks; ye rapid floods, give way;


37 The Savior comes, by ancient bards foretold!
38 Hear him, ye deaf, and all ye blind, behold!
39 He from thick films shall purge the visual ray,
40 And on the sightless eyeball pour the day:
41 ’T is he the’ obstructed paths of sound shall clear,
42 And bid new music charm the’ unfolding ear:
43 The dumb shall sing, the lame his crutch forego,
44 And leap exulting like the bounding roe.
45 No sigh, no murmur, the wide world shall hear, (d)
46 From every face he wipes off every tear.
47 In adamantine chains shall Death be bound,
48 And Hell’s grim tyrant feel the’ eternal wound.
49 As the good Shepherd tends his fleecy care,
50 Seeks freshest pasture and the purest air,
51 Explores the lost, the wand ‘ring sheep directs,
52 By day oversees them, and by night protects;
53 The tender lambs he raises in his arms,
54 Feeds from his hand, and in his bosom warms;
55 Thus shall mankind his guardian care engage,
56 The promised Father of the future age.
57 No more shall nation against nation rise,
58 Nor ardent warriors meet with hateful eyes,
59 Nor fields with gleaming steel be covered o’er,
60 The brazen trumpets kindle rage no more;
61 But useless lances into scythes shall bend,
62 And the broad falchion in a ploughshare end.
63 Then palaces shall rise; the joyful son
64 Shall finish what his short-lived sire begun;
65 Their vines a shadow to their race shall yield,
66 And the same hand that sowed shall reap the field:
67 The swain in barren deserts with surprise
68 See lilies spring, and sudden verdure rise;
69 And start, amidst the thirsty wilds, to hear
70 New falls of water murmuring in his ear.
71 On rifted rocks, the dragon’s late abodes,
72 The green reed trembles, and the bulrush nods;


73 Waste sandy valleys, once perplexed with thorn,
74 The spiry fir and shapely box adorn;
75 To leafless shrubs the flow ‘ring palms succeed,
76 And odorous myrtle to the noisome weed.
77 The lambs with wolves shall graze the verdant mead,
78 And boys in flowery bands the tiger lead;
79 The steer and lion at one crib shall meet,
80 And harmless serpents lick the pilgrim’s feet;
81 The smiling infant in his hand shall take
82 The crested basilisk and speckled snake,
83 Pleased, the green luster of the scales survey,
84 And with their forky tongue shall innocently play.
85 Rise, crowned with light, imperial Salem, rise!
86 Exalt thy towery head, and lift thy eyes!
87 See a long race thy spacious courts adorn;
88 See future sons and daughters, yet unborn,
89 In crowding ranks on every side arise,
90 Demanding life, impatient for the skies!
91 See barbarous nations at thy gates attend,
92 Walk in thy light, and in thy temple bend!
93 See thy bright altars thronged with prostrate kings,
94 And heaped with products of Sabaean springs;
95 For thee Idumea’s spicy forests blow,
96 And seeds of gold in Ophir’s mountains glow;
97 See Heav’n its sparkling portals wide display,
98 And break upon thee in a flood of day!
99 No more the rising sun shall gild the morn,
100 Nor evening Cynthia fill her silver horn;
101 But lost, dissolved in thy superior rays,
102 One tide of glory, one unclouded blaze
103 Overflow thy courts: the light himself shall shine
104 Revealed, and God’s eternal day be thine!
105 The seas shall waste, the skies in smoke decay,
106 Rocks fall to dust, and mountains melt away;
107 But fixed his word, his saving power remains;— (e)
108 Thy realm forever lasts, thy own Messiah reigns!

(a) Holden has Wrapt. (b) Holden has "Jesus' root." (c) Holden has "Ye heav'ns on high." (d) Holden has "No sigh nor murmur."
(e) Holden has "thy word, thy saving power."