Introduction. As in "The Passion," "Upon the Circumcision" alludes to the Nativity Ode in its opening lines. Perhaps the young Milton hoped the three would serve as a kind of poetic triptych marking these events in Christ's life, the liturgical calendar, and the apocalyptic events they both pointed towards and promised, but of course, "The Passion" was deliberately left unfinished. The Feast of the Circumcision falls on January 1, though this feast, like most others on the liturgical calendar, was not popular among puritans. As in the Nativity Ode and "The Passion," this poem expresses both wonder, admiration, grief, and gratitude for the sacrifice the Son of God is said to have made by becoming human. "The Circumcision" also dwells on the corollary condescension of submitting to the Hebrew Law, and what Milton calls "vengeful Justice." The blood shed during circumcision anticipates the bloodshed of crucifixion. Also implied by the final line is a conflicted connection, both euphemistic and succesionistically competitive, between the manhood represented by the penis, and the manliness represented by the heart. The poem appears in the Trinity Manuscript and its date of composition is unknown, though often supposed to be 1633.

Powers. "Powers" designates one of the nine orders of the angelic hierarchy, though here it probably stands in for angels in general.

Shepherds. The poem alludes to the shepherds of the nativity story (Luke 2:8-14) and the Nativity Ode.

no tear. Many believed that angels, whose essence was fire, could shed no tears of their own. Milton imagines angels expressing sadness without human-like tears in Paradise Lost 1.620 and 10.23-24.

whileare. Once, a while ago.

Sore. John Shawcross points out that the Trinity manuscript (TMS) appears to show that Milton planned to indent only line 13 here (Flannagan xvii) and leave 14 left-justified. See also Harris Fletcher 1.395.

sease. Seize. The poem invites us to imagine that the Son of God, who yielded up all his heavenly pomp and glory to become a human infant, falls prey—because he willingly submits—almost immediately to original sin, "our sin." Seizing the penis for circumcision becomes an image of original sin seizing the newly incarnated son of God, as if the penis/phallus is at once the sign of godliness, manliness, carnality, and fragile infancy; it signifies the place of loss—lost innocence, lost manliness, lost godliness.

lost in death. The practice of circumcision is here treated as emblematic of being "lost in death." Another Puritan/Pauline expression for this is "under the law" (see Galatians 2:21 and 3:23).

great Cov'nant. Milton refers to the ancient Hebrew Law of which Jesus announced himself the fulfillment (if not replacement) in Matthew 5:17.

Huge. John Shawcross points out that the Trinity manuscript (TMS) appears to show that Milton planned to indent only line 27 here (Flannagan xvii) and leave 28 left-justified. 1673 justifes line 27 and indents line 28. See also Harris Fletcher 1.395.

his heart. The poem alludes to Jesus's wound at the crucifixion (John 19:34), but also to the Pauline notion of the "circumcision of the heart" (Romans 2:28-29) that Christians believe supersedes the practice of ritual circumcision; this belief forms the basis of much anti-Jewish sentiment and lore by suggesting, contrary to biblical and other evidence (Deuteronomy 10:16), that Judaism is entirely a matter of outward rituals and observances and ignores "heartwork."