Introduction. Milton probably intended "The Passion" as a companion piece to "On the Morning of Christs Nativity" and possibly "Upon the Circumcision." Written for Easter 1630, this work examines the death of Jesus. Milton thought this poem was a poor specimen of his ability and most critics agree, rating it as his worst English poem. Like many seventeenth-century Protestants, Milton found the subject of the crucifixion very difficult, perhaps because of centuries of iconic treatment in the Roman Catholic and orthodox traditions. Milton never thoroughly revised the poem between its first publication in 1645 and its final printing during his life in 1673. He included it, unfinished, in the 1645 collection probably because he intended that collection (and its re-issue in 1673) as a record of his juvenalia. This might also account for the engraved portrait of the poet "at age 21" as the frontispiece; Milton was 36 for most of 1645. One textual change exists: "latter" in line 22 became "latest" in 1673. The copy-text for this edition is Poems (1645).

Ere-while. Formerly.

Musick. Music of the spheres.

Ethereal. Heavenly.

My muse. This refers to Milton's "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity", composed for Christmas 1629.

divide. The separation of a musical score into choral parts possibly to embellish a basic musical theme; but Milton also suggests that the division of parts applies to the division of voices, his own and those heavenly.

sease. Seize.

Heroe. Milton draws a comparison between the deeds of Christ and the labors of Hercules.

human wight. Human being.

Priest. Christ is refered to as high priest in Hebrews 2: 17, 3:1, 4:14-15, 5: 1-6

Tabernacle. Milton imagines Christ's body, anointed with oil ( Matthew 26: 7-13) as the successionist replacement for the tabernacle (Exodus 25: 10- 27) in which the "testimony" of God's word to Moses was to be kept. See also Hebrews 1:9.

front. The forehead of Jesus resembled the starry heaven as he descended to earth.

Phoebus. Apollo, god of poetry and father of the Muses, is often associated with Christ.

Cremona's Trump doth sound. A reference to Marco Girolamo Vida's The Christiad (1535), a epic in Latin about the life of Christ.

Lute, or Viol. The viol and lute suggest pastoral or elegiac poetry rather than the sounding brass of Vida's epic.

still. Quiet.

Pole. The starry pole or northern star; a synechdoche for the sky.

wannish white. Some seventeenth century funeral notices were printed on black paper with white lettering or with a black border.

Prophet up at Chebar flood. stood at the river Chebar and had a vision of a divine chariot. See Ezekiel 1.

Salem. Jerusalem.

Sepulchral rock. According to legend, the sepulcher of Christ was created out of a single rock. See Mark 15:46 and Matthew 27:60.

Casket. Treasure chest; the sense of "casket" as "coffin" dates from 1863 (see OED2). But see Shakespeare's use of caskets in The Merchant of Venice 2.7 where they carry death's heads as well as treasure.

hands up-lock. Hands locked together while praying.

softned Quarry. The massive rock from which the sepulcher was cut.

score. Incise or engrave.

plaining. Mournful.

lively. Vividly.

Characters. Letters.

viewles. Invisible.

Take up a weeping. See Jeremiah 9: 10.

got. Conceived or begotten.

race of mourners. One of Milton's more baroque images—an infection prompting tears likened to a race of mourners begotten upon a rain cloud. The image alludes to the story of Ixion in Pindar's Pythian Odes 2. Ixion thought he was ravishing Hera, but Zeus put a raincloud in her place; Ixion thus begot a race of centaurs. See also the complicated allusions to the same story in Paradise Lost 4.499-500 and Paradise Regained 4.318-321.