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As thou art wont, my prompted song, else mute; And bear, through height or depth of Nature's
bounds, With prosperous wing full summ'd, to tell of
deeds above heroic, though in secret done, And unrecorded left through many an age; Worthy to have not remain’d so long unsung.
Now had the great proclaimer, with a voice More awful than the sound of trumpet, cried Repentance, and Heaven's kingdom nigh at hand To all baptized: to his great baptism flock'd With awe the regions round, and with them came From Nazareth the son of Joseph deem'd To the flood Jordan; came, as then obscure, Unmark'd, unknown; but him the Baptist soon Descried, divinely warn'd, and witness bore As to his worthier, and would have resign'd To him his heavenly office; nor was long His witness unconfirm'd: on him baptized Heaven open'd, and in likeness of a dove The Spirit descended, while the Father's voice From heaven pronounced him his beloved Son. That heard the adversary, who, roving still About the world, at that assembly famed Would not be last; and, with the yoice divine Nigh thunder-struck, the exalted man to whoin Such high attest was given, awhile survey'd With wonder; then, with envy fraught and rage Flies to his place, nor rests, but in mid air To council summons all his mighty peers, Within thick clouds and dark tenfold involved, A gloomy consistory; and then amidst, With looks aghast and sad, he thus bespake:
O ancient powers of air, and this wide world, (For much more willingly I mention air, This our old conquest, than remember hell, Our hated habitation,) well ye know,
How many ages, as the years of men,
playing All virtue, grace, and wisdom to achieve Things highest, greatest, multiplies my fear. Before him a great prophet, to proclaim His coming, is sent harbinger, who all Invites, and in the consecrated stream Pretends to wash off sin, and fit them, so Purified, to receive him pure; or rather To do him honour as their King: all come, And he himself among them was baptized; Not thence to be more pure, but to receive The testimony of Heaven, that who he is Thenceforth the nations may not doubt. I saw The prophet do him reverence; on him, rising Out of the water, Heaven above the clouds Unfold her crystal doors; thence on his head A perfect dove descend, (whate'er it meant,)
And out of Heaven the sovereign voice I heard,
once, Induces best to hope of like success.
He ended, and his words impression left Of much amazement to the infernal crew, Distracted and surprised with deep dismay At these sad tidings; but no time was then For long indulgence to their fears or grief: Unanimous they all commit the care And management of this main enterprise To him, their great dictator, whose attempt At first against mankind so well had thrived In Adam's overthrow, and led their march From hell's deep-vaulted den to dwell in light, Regents, and potentates, and kings, yea, gods, Of many a pleasant realm and province wide. So to the coast of Jordan he directs
His easy steps, girded with snaky wiles,
Gabriel, this day by proof thou shalt behold,
late On which I sent thee to the Virgin pure In Galilee, that she should bear a son, Great in renown, and call’d the Son of God; Then told'st her, doubting how these things
could be To her a virgin, that on her should come The Holy Ghost, and the power of the Highest O'ershadow her. This man,
born and now upgrown, To show him worthy of his birth divine And high prediction, henceforth I expose To Satan: let him tempt, and now assay His utmost subtlety; because he boasts And vaunts of his great cunning to the throng Of his apostasy: he might have learnt Less overweening, since he fail'd in Job, Whose constant perseverance overcame Whate'er his cruel malice could invent. He now shall know I can produce a man, Of female seed, far abler to resist All his solicitations, and at length All his vast force, and drive him back to hell; Winning, by conquest, what the first man lost, By fallacy surprised. But first I mean
To exercise him in the wilderness:
So spake the Eternal Father, and all heaven Admiring stood a space; then into hymns Burst forth, and in celestial measures moved, Circling the throne and singing, while the hand Sung with the voice, and this the argument:
Victory and triumph to the Son of God, Now entering his great duel, not of arms, But to vanquish by wisdom hellish wiles ! The Father knows the Son; therefore secure Ventures his filial virtue, though untried, Against whate'er may tempt, whate'er seduce, Allure, or terrify, or undermine. Be frustrate, all ye stratagems of hell; And, devilish machinations, come to naught!
So they in heaven their odes and vigils tuned: Meanwhile the Son of God, who yet some days Lodged in Bethabara, where John baptized, Musing, and much revolving in his breast, How best the mighty work he might begin Of Saviour to mankind, and which way first Publish his godlike office now mature, One day forth walk'd alone, the Spirit leading; And his deep thoughts, the better to converse With solitude, till, far from track of men, Thought following thought, and step by step led