Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

December 21, 2008

. . . and don’t forget these Christmas poems

 
 
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Anonymous
 

At the Last
 

      The stream is calmest when it nears the tide,
      And flowers are sweetest at eventide,
      The birds most musical at close of day,
      The saints divinest when they pass away.

      Morning is holy, but a holier charm
      Lies folded in evening’s robe of balm;
      And weary men must ever love her best.
      For morning calls to toil, but night to rest.

      She comes from heaven and on her wings doth bear
      A holy fragrance, like the breath of prayer;
      Footsteps of angels follow in her trace,
      To shut the weary eyes of Day in peace.

      All things are hushed before her, as she throws
      O’er earth and sky her mantle of repose;
      There is a calmer beauty, and a power
      That Morning knows not, in the Evening’s hour.

      Until the evening we must weep and toil—
      Plough life’s stern furrow, dig the woody soil,
      Tread with sad feet the rough and thorny way,
      And bear the heat and burden of the day.

 

 
 
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lj-bridgmans-a-christmas-bonfire-in-russia

 
 
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by Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
 

Ballade of Christmas Ghosts
 

      Between the moonlight and the fire
      In winter twilights long ago,
      What ghosts we raised for your desire,
      To make your merry blood run slow!
      How old, how grave, how wise we grow!
      No Christmas ghost can make us chill,
      Save those that troop in mournful row,
      The ghosts we all can raise at will!

      The beasts can talk in barn and byre
      On Christmas Eve, old legends know.
      As year by year the years retire,
      We men fall silent then I trow,
      Such sights hath memory to show,
      Such voices from the silence thrill,
      Such shapes return with Christmas snow,—
      The ghosts we all can raise at will.

      Oh, children of the village choir,
      Your carols on the midnight throw,
      Oh, bright across the mist and mire,
      Ye ruddy hearths of Christmas glow!
      Beat back the dread, beat down the woe,
      Let’s cheerily descend the hill;
      Be welcome all, to come or go,
      The ghosts we all can raise at will.

      Friend, sursum corda, soon or slow
      We part, like guests who’ve joyed their fill;
      Forget them not, nor mourn them so,
      The ghosts we all can raise at will.

 

 
 
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by Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
 

The Birth of Christ

      The time draws near the birth of Christ;
        The moon is hid—the night is still;
        The Christmas bells from hill to hill
      Answer each other in the mist.

      Four voices of four hamlets round,
        From far and near, on mead and moor,
        Swell out and fail, as if a door
      Were shut between me and the sound.

      Each voice four changes on the wind,
        That now dilate and now decrease,
        Peace and good-will, good-will and peace,
      Peace and good-will to all mankind.

      Rise, happy morn! rise, holy morn!
        Draw forth the cheerful day from night;
        O Father! touch the east, and light
      The light that shone when hope was born!

 

 
 
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by Joe Cone (1869-?1925)
 

The Christmas Feeling
 

      I like the Christmas Feeling that is filling all the air,
      That fills the streets and busy stores, and scatters everywhere;
      I like the easy manner of the people on the street,
      The bundle-laden people, and the shop-girls smiling sweet.
      There’s a glow of warmth and splendor in the windows everywhere,
      There’s a glow in people’s faces which has lately stolen there;
      And everywhere the bells ring out with merry peal and chime,
      Which makes me like the Feeling of the happy Christmas time.

      I like the Christmas Feeling; there is nothing can compare
      With the free and kindly spirit that is spreading everywhere;
      And every heart for once is full of good old Christmas cheer.
      I like to Feel the presents as they reach me day by day;
      The presence of the presents drives my loneliness away.
      To Feel that I’m remembered is a Feeling most sublime,
      The Feeling of the Feeling of the happy Christmas time.

 

 
 
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by Margaret Deland (1857-1945)
 

The Christmas Silence
 

      Hushed are the pigeons cooing low
        On dusty rafters of the loft;
        And mild-eyed oxen, breathing soft,
      Sleep on the fragrant hay below.

      Dim shadows in the corner hide;
        The glimmering lantern’s rays are shed
        Where one young lamb just lifts his head,
      Then huddles ‘gainst his mother’s side.
     
      Strange silence tingles in the air;
        Through the half-open door a bar
        Of light from one low-hanging star
      Touches a baby’s radiant hair.

      No sound: the mother, kneeling, lays
        Her cheek against the little face.
        Oh human love! Oh heavenly grace!
      ‘Tis yet in silence that she prays!

      Ages of silence end to-night;
        Then to the long-expectant earth
        Glad angels come to greet His birth
      In burst of music, love, and light!

 

 
 
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by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
 

Church Decking at Christmas
 

      Would that our scrupulous sires had dared to leave
        Less scanty measure of those graceful rites
        And usages, whose due return invites
      A stir of mind too natural to deceive;
      Giving the memory help when she could weave
        A crown for Hope!—I dread the boasted lights
        That all too often are but fiery blights,
      Killing the bud o’er which in vain we grieve.
      Go, seek, when Christmas snows discomfort bring,
        The counter Spirit found in some gay church
        Green with fresh holly, every pew a perch
      In which the linnet or the thrush might sing,
        Merry and loud, and safe from prying search,
      Strains offered only to the genial spring.

 

 
 
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kenny-meadows-a-merry-christmas

 
 
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by William Barnes (1801-1886)
 

The Farmer’s Invitation
 

      Come down to-marra night; an’ mind
      Don’t leave thy fiddle-bag behind.
      We’ll shiake a lag, an’ drink a cup
      O’ yal to kip wold Chris’mas up.

      An’ let thy sister tiake thy yarm,
      The wa’k woont do ‘er any harm:
      Ther’s noo dirt now to spwile her frock
      Var ‘t a-vroze so hard ‘s a rock.

      Ther bent noo stranngers that ‘ull come,
      But only a vew naighbors: zome
      Vrom Stowe, an’ Combe; an’ two ar dree
      Vrom uncles up at Rookery.

      An’ thee woot vind a ruozy fiace,
      An’ pair ov eyes so black as sloos,
      The pirtiest oones in al the pliace.
      I’m sure I needen tell thee whose.

      We got a back-bran’, dree girt logs
      So much as dree ov us can car:
      We’ll put ’em up athirt the dogs,
      An’ miake a vier to the bar.

      An’ ev’ry oone wull tell his tiale,
      An’ ev’ry oone wull zing his zong,
      An’ ev’ry oone wull drink his yal,
      To love an’ frien’ship al night long.

      We’ll snap the tongs, we’ll have a bal,
      We’ll shiake the house, we’ll rise the ruf,
      We’ll romp an’ miake the maidens squal,
      A catchen o’m at bline-man’s buff.

      Zoo come to marra night, an’ mind
      Don’t leave thy fiddle-bag behind.
      We’ll shiake a lag, an’ drink a cup
      O’ yal to kip wold Chris’mas up.

 

 
 
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by Alfred H. Domett
 

The First Roman Christmas
 

      It was the calm and silent night!
        Seven hundred years and fifty-three
      Had Rome been growing up to might,
        And now was queen of land and sea.
      No sound was heard of clashing wars,
        Peace brooded o’er the hushed domain;
      Apollo, Pallas, Jove, and Mars
        Held undisturbed their ancient reign,
            In the solemn midnight
              Centuries ago.

      ‘Twas in the calm and silent night!
        The senator of haughty Rome
      Impatient urged his chariot’s flight,
        From lonely revel rolling home.
      Triumphal arches, gleaming, swell
        His breast with thoughts of boundless sway;
      What recked the Roman what befell
        A paltry province far away
            In the solemn midnight
              Centuries ago?

      Within that province far away
        Went plodding home a weary boor;
      A streak of light before him lay,
        Fallen through a half-shut stable-door,
      Across his path. He passed; for naught
        Told what was going on within.
      How keen the stars! his only thought;
        The air how calm, and cold, and thin!
            In the solemn midnight
              Centuries ago.

      O strange indifference! Low and high
        Drowsed over common joys and cares;
      The earth was still, but knew not why;
        The world was listening unawares.
      How calm a moment may precede
        One that shall thrill the world forever!
      To that still moment none would heed,
        Man’s doom was linked, no more to sever,
            In the solemn midnight
              Centuries ago.

      It is the calm and solemn night!
        A thousand bells ring out and throw
      Their joyous peals abroad, and smite
        The darkness, charmed, and holy now!
      The night that erst no name had worn,
        To it a happy name is given;
      For in that stable lay, new-born,
        The peaceful Prince of earth and heaven,
            In the solemn midnight
              Centuries ago.

 

 
 
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Anonymous
 

The Knighting of the Sirloin of Beef by Charles the Second
 

      The Second Charles of England
        Rode forth one Christmas tide,
      To hunt a gallant stag of ten,
        Of Chingford woods the pride.

      The winds blew keen, the snow fell fast,
        And made for earth a pall,
      As tired steeds and wearied men
        Returned to Friday Hall.

      The blazing logs, piled on the dogs,
        Were pleasant to behold!
      And grateful was the steaming feast
        To hungry men and cold.

      With right good-will all took their fill,
        And soon each found relief;
      Whilst Charles his royal trencher piled
        From one huge loin of beef.

      Quoth Charles, “Odd’s fish! a noble dish!
        Ay, noble made by me!
      By kingly right, I dub thee knight—
        Sir Loin henceforward be!”

      And never was a royal jest
        Received with such acclaim:
      And never knight than good Sir Loin
        More worthy of the name.

 

 
 
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Anonymous
 

Madonna and Child
 

                  This endris night
                  I saw a sight,
                    A star as bright as day;
                  And ever among
                  A maiden sung,
                    Lullay, by by, lullay.

      This lovely lady sat and sang, and to her child she said,—
      “My son, my brother, my father dear, why liest thou thus in hayd?
                  My sweet bird,
                  Thus it is betide
                    Though thou be king veray;
                  But, nevertheless,
                  I will not cease
                    To sing, by by, lullay.”

      The child then spake; in his talking he to his mother said,—
      “I bekid am king, in crib though I be laid;
                  For angels bright
                  Down to me light,
                    Thou knowest it is no nay,
                  And of that sight
                  Thou mayest be light
                    To sing, by by, lullay.”

      “Now, sweet Son, since thou art king, why art thou laid in stall?
      Why not thou ordain thy bedding in some great kingès hall?
                  Methinketh it is right
                  That king or knight
                    Should be in good array;
                  And them among
                  It were no wrong
                    To sing, by by, lullay.”

      “Mary, mother, I am thy child, though I be laid in stall,
      Lords and dukes shall worship me and so shall kingès all.
                  Ye shall well see
                  That kingès three
                    Shall come on the twelfth day;
                  For this behest
                  Give me thy breast
                    And sing, by by, lullay.”

      “Now tell me, sweet Son, I thee pray, thou art my love and dear,
      How should I keep thee to thy pay and make thee glad of cheer?
                  For all thy will
                  I would fulfil
                    Thou weet’st full well in fay,
                  And for all this
                  I will thee kiss,
                    And sing, by by, lullay.”

      “My dear mother, when time it be, take thou me up aloft,
      And set me upon thy knee and handle me full soft.
                  And in thy arm
                  Thou wilt me warm,
                    And keep me night and day;
                  If I weep
                  And may not sleep
                    Thou sing, by by, lullay.”

      “Now, sweet Son, since it is so, all things are at thy will,
      I pray thee grant to me a boon if it be right and skill,
                  That child or man,
                  That will or can,
                    Be merry upon my day;
                  To bliss them bring,
                  And I shall sing,
                    Lullay, by by, lullay.”

 

 
 
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by William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863)
 

The Mahogany-Tree
 

      Christmas is here;
      Winds whistle shrill,
      Icy and chill,
      Little care we;
      Little we fear
      Weather without,
      Sheltered about
      The Mahogany-Tree.

      Once on the boughs
      Birds of rare plume
      Sang in its bloom;
      Night-birds are we;
      Here we carouse,
      Singing, like them,
      Perched round the stem
      Of the jolly old tree.

      Here let us sport,
      Boys, as we sit—
      Laughter and wit
      Flashing so free.
      Life is but short—
      When we are gone,
      Let them sing on,
      Round the old tree.

      Evenings we knew,
      Happy as this;
      Faces we miss,
      Pleasant to see.
      Kind hearts and true,
      Gentle and just,
      Peace to your dust!
      We sing round the tree.

      Care like a dun,
      Lurks at the gate;
      Let the dog wait;
      Happy we’ll be!
      Drink, every one;
      Pile up the coals;
      Fill the red bowls,
      Round the old tree!

      Drain we the cup.—
      Friend, art afraid?
      Spirits are laid
      In the Red Sea.
      Mantle it up;
      Empty it yet;
      Let us forget,
      Round the old tree!

      Sorrows begone!
      Life and its ills,
      Duns and their bills,
      Bid we to flee.
      Come with the dawn,
      Blue-devil sprite;
      Leave us to-night,
      Round the old tree!

 

 
 
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by M. Nightingale
 

Mary Had A Little Lamb
 

      The Blessed Mary had a lamb,
      It too was white as snow,
      Far whiter than I ever am—
      Always and always so.

      She found it lying in the stall
      Wherefrom the oxen fed,
      With hay for bedding, hay for shawl,
      And hay beneath its head.

      She followed near it every day
      In all the paths it trod,
      She knew her lamb could never stray
      (It was the Lamb of God).

      And when the cloud of angels came
      And hid It from her sight,
      Its heart was near her all the same
      Because her own was white.

      So when she slept white lilies screened
      Her sleep from all alarms,
      Till from His Throne her white lamb leaned
      And waked her in His Arms.

 

 
 
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by Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
 

The New-Years Gift
 

      Let others look for pearl and gold
      Tissues, or tabbies manifold;
      One only lock of that sweet hay
      Whereon the Blessed Baby lay,
      Or one poor swaddling-clout, shall be
      The richest New-Year’s gift to me.

 

 
 
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by Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
 

The New-Years Gift Sent to Sir Simeon Steward
 

      No news of navies burnt at sea,
      No noise of late-spawned Tityries,
      No closet plot or open vent
      That frights men with a Parliament:
      No new device or late-found trick,
      To read by the stars the kingdom’s sick;
      No gin to catch the State, or wring
      The free-born nostrils of the king,
      We send to you, but here a jolly
      Verse crowned with ivy and with holly;
      That tells of winter’s tales and mirth
      That milkmaids make about the hearth,
      Of Christmas sports, the wassail-bowl,
      That’s tost up after fox-i’-th’-hole;
      Of Blindman-buff, and of the care
      That young men have to shoe the mare;
      Of Twelve-tide cake, of peas and beans,
      Wherewith ye make those merry scenes,
      When as ye choose your king and queen,
      And cry out: Hey, for our town green!
      Of ash-heaps, in the which ye use
      Husbands and wives by streaks to choose;
      Of crackling laurel, which foresounds
      A plenteous harvest to your grounds;
      Of these and such like things, for shift,
      We send instead of New-Year’s gift:
      Read then, and when your faces shine
      With buxom meat and cap’ring wine,
      Remember us in cups full-crowned,
      And let our city-health go round,
      Quite through the young maids and the men
      To the ninth number, if not ten;
      Until the fired chestnuts leap
      For joy to see the fruits ye reap
      From the plump chalice and the cup
      That tempts till it be tosséd up.
      Then, as ye sit about your embers,
      Call not to mind those fled Decembers;
      But think on these that are to appear
      As daughters to the instant year;
      Sit crowned with rose-buds, and carouse,
      Till Liber Pater twirls the house
      About your ears; and lay upon
      The year, your cares, that’s fled and gone.
      And let the russet swains the plough
      And harrow hang up resting now;
      And to the bagpipe all address
      Till sleep takes place of weariness;
      And thus, throughout, with Christmas plays
      Frolic the full twelve holydays.

 

 
 
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by Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
 

Saint Distaff’s Day, the Morrow After Twelfth Day
 

      Partly work and partly play
      Ye must on St. Distaff’s day;
      From the plough soon free your team,
      Then come home and fodder them;
      If the maids a-spinning go,
      Burn the flax and fire the tow;
      Scorch their plackets, but beware
      That ye singe no maiden-hair;
      Bring in pails of water then,
      Let the maids bewash the men;
      Give St. Distaff all the right,
      Then bid Christmas sport good-night,
      And next morrow every one
      To his own vocation.

 

 
 
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Anonymous
 

Santa Claus
 

      He comes in the night! He comes in the night!
        He softly, silently comes;
      While the little brown heads on the pillows so white
        Are dreaming of bugles and drums.
      He cuts through the snow like a ship through the foam,
        While the white flakes around him whirl;
      Who tells him I know not, but he findeth the home
        Of each good little boy and girl.

      His sleigh it is long, and deep, and wide;
        It will carry a host of things,
      While dozens of drums hang over the side,
        With the sticks sticking under the strings:
      And yet not the sound of a drum is heard,
        Not a bugle blast is blown,
      As he mounts to the chimney-top like a bird,
        And drops to the hearth like a stone.

      The little red stockings he silently fills,
        Till the stockings will hold no more;
      The bright little sleds for the great snow hills
        Are quickly set down on the floor.
      Then Santa Claus mounts to the roof like a bird,
        And glides to his seat in the sleigh;
      Not the sound of a bugle or drum is heard
        As he noiselessly gallops away.

      He rides to the East, and he rides to the West,
        Of his goodies he touches not one;
      He eateth the crumbs of the Christmas feast
        When the dear little folks are done.
      Old Santa Claus doeth all that he can;
        This beautiful mission is his;
      Then, children, be good to the little old man,
        When you find who the little man is.

 

 
 
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by Edwin Lees
 

Signs of Christmas
 

      When on the barn’s thatch’d roof is seen
      The moss in tufts of liveliest green;
      When Roger to the wood pile goes,
      And, as he turns, his fingers blows;
      When all around is cold and drear,
      Be sure that Christmas-tide is near.

      When up the garden walk in vain
      We seek for Flora’s lovely train;
      When the sweet hawthorn bower is bare,
      And bleak and cheerless is the air;
      When all seems desolate around,
      Christmas advances o’er the ground.

      When Tom at eve comes home from plough,
      And brings the mistletoe’s green bough,
      With milk-white berries spotted o’er,
      And shakes it the sly maids before,
      Then hangs the trophy up on high,
      Be sure that Christmas-tide is nigh.

      When Hal, the woodman, in his clogs,
      Bears home the huge unwieldly logs,
      That, hissing on the smould’ring fire,
      Flame out at last a quiv’ring spire;
      When in his hat the holly stands,
      Old Christmas musters up his bands.

      When cluster’d round the fire at night,
      Old William talks of ghost and sprite,
      And, as a distant out-house gate
      Slams by the wind, they fearful wait,
      While some each shadowy nook explore,
      Then Christmas pauses at the door.

      When Dick comes shiv’ring from the yard,
      And says the pond is frozen hard,
      While from his hat, all white with snow,
      The moisture, trickling, drops below,
      While carols sound, the night to cheer,
      Then Christmas and his train are here.

 

 
 
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madonna-enthroned-with-saints-and-angels-pesellino

 
 
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by Charles Mackay (1814-1889)
 

Under the Holly-Bough
 

      Ye who have scorned each other,
      Or injured friend or brother,
        In this fast-fading year;
      Ye who, by word or deed,
      Have made a kind heart bleed,
        Come gather here!
      Let sinned against and sinning
      Forget their strife’s beginning,
        And join in friendship now.
      Be links no longer broken,
      Be sweet forgiveness spoken
        Under the Holly-Bough.

      Ye who have loved each other,
      Sister and friend and brother,
        In this fast-fading year:
      Mother and sire and child,
      Young man and maiden mild,
        Come gather here;
      And let your heart grow fonder,
      As memory shall ponder
        Each past unbroken vow;
      Old loves and younger wooing
      Are sweet in the renewing
        Under the Holly-Bough.

      Ye who have nourished sadness,
      Estranged from hope and gladness
        In this fast-fading year;
      Ye with o’erburdened mind,
      Made aliens from your kind,
        Come gather here.
      Let not the useless sorrow
      Pursue you night and morrow,
        If e’er you hoped, hope now.
      Take heart,—uncloud your faces,
      And join in our embraces
        Under the Holly-Bough.

 

 
 
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masaccios-the-adoration-of-the-magi

 
 
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December 21, 2006

Christmastime at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s

 
 
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(February 27, 1807 – March 24, 1882)

 
 
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Aftermath
 
 
When the summer fields are mown,
When the birds are fledged and flown,
        And the dry leaves strew the path;
With the falling of the snow,
With the cawing of the crow,
Once again the fields we mow
        And gather in the aftermath.

Not the sweet, new grass with flowers
Is this harvesting of ours;
        Not the upland clover bloom;
But the rowen mired with weeds,
Tangled tufts from marsh and meads,
Where the poppy drops its seeds
        In the silence and the gloom.
 
 
Completing Tales of a Wayside Inn, on his sixty-sixth birthday, February 27, 1873, may have inspired Longfellow to write this poem. That third part of Tales was included in the volume named after the poem, in which the poem was placed last, the last of the third flight of his Birds of Passage.
 
 
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The Children’s Hours
 
 
Between the dark and the daylight,
        When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
        That is known as the Children’s Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
        The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
        And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
        Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
        And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
        Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
        To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
        A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
        They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
        O’er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
        They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
        Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
        In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, o blue-eyed banditti,
        Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
        Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
        And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
        In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
        Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
        And moulder in dust away!
 
 
angel-divider
 
 

click picture for song in wma format

 
 
Christmas Bells
 
 
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
                    And wild and sweet
                    The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
                    Had rolled along
                    The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
                    A voice, a chime,
                    A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
                    And with the sound
                    The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
                    And made forlorn
                    The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
                    “For hate is strong,
                    And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
                    The Wrong shall fail,
                    The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”
 
 
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The Cross of Snow
 
 
In the long, sleepless watches of the night,
        A gentle face–the face of one long dead–
        Looks at me from the wall, where round its head
        The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.
Here in this room she died; and soul more white
        Never through martyrdom of fire was led
        To its repose; nor can in books be read
        The legend of a life more benedight.
There is a mountain in the distant West
        That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
        Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
        These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
        And seasons, changeless since the day she died.
 
 

 
 
“‘Looking over one day,’ says Mr. Longfellow’s biographer, ‘an illustrated book of Western scenery, his attention was arrested by a picture of that mysterious mountain upon whose lonely, lofty breast the snow lies in long furrows that make a rude but wonderfully clear image of a vast cross. At night, as he looked upon the pictured countenance that hung upon his chamber wall, his thoughts framed themselves into the verses that follow [–above, that is]. He put them away in his portfolio, where they were found after his death.”
 
 
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a Fragment
 
 
December 18, 1847
 
 
Soft through the silent air descend the feathery snow-flakes;
White are the distant hills, white are the neighboring fields;
Only the marshes are brown, and the river rolling among them
Weareth the leaden hue seen in the eyes of the blind.
 
 
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written on the back of a note from a Mr. Summer, and dated:“September 28, 1841. Half past 3 o’clock, morning. Now to bed”
 
 
Excelsior
 
 
The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, ‘mid snow and ice,
A banner with the strange device,
                            Excelsior!

His brow was sad; his eye beneath,
Flashed like a falchion from its sheath,
And like a silver clarion rung
The accents of that unknown tongue,
                            Excelsior!

In happy homes he saw the light
Of household fires gleam warm and bright;
Above, the spectral glaciers shone,
And from his lips escaped a groan,
                            Excelsior!

“Try not the Pass!” the old man said:
“Dark lowers the tempest overhead,
The roaring torrent is deep and wide!
And loud that clarion voice replied,
                            Excelsior!

“Oh stay,” the maiden said, “and rest
Thy weary head upon this breast!”
A tear stood in his bright blue eye,
But still he answered, with a sigh,
                            Excelsior!

“Beware the pine-tree’s withered branch!
Beware the awful avalanche!”
This was the peasant’s last Good-night,
A voice replied, far up the height,
                                Excelsior!

At break of day, as heavenward
The pious monks of Saint Bernard
Uttered the oft-repeated prayer,
A voice cried through the startled air,
                            Excelsior!

A traveller, by the faithful hound,
Half-buried in the snow was found,
Still grasping in his hand of ice
That banner with the strange device,
                            Excelsior!

There in the twilight cold and gray,
Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay,
And from the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell, like a falling star,
                            Excelsior!
 
 
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The Good Part
 
 
that shall not be taken away
 
 
She dwells by Great Kenhawa’s side,
        In valleys green and cool;
And all her hope and all her pride
        Are in the village school.

Her soul, like the transparent air
        That robes the hills above,
Though not of earth, encircles there
        All things with arms of love.

And thus she walks among her girls
        With praise and mild rebukes;
Subduing e’en rude village churls
        By her angelic looks.

She reads to them at eventide
        Of One who came to save;
To cast the captive’s chains aside
        And liberate the slave.

And oft the blessed time foretells
        When all men shall be free;
And musical, as silver bells,
        Their falling chains shall be.

And following her beloved Lord,
        In decent poverty,
She makes her life one sweet record
        And deed of charity.

For she was rich, and gave up all
        To break the iron bands
Of those who waited in her hall,
        And labored in her lands.

Long since beyond the Southern Sea
        Their outbound sails have sped,
While she, in meek humility,
        Now earns her daily bread.

It is their prayers, which never cease,
        That clothe her with such grace;
Their blessing is the light of peace
        That shines upon her face.
 
 
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translated by Longfellow from the Spanish
 
 
by Francisco de Aldana (1537-1578)
 
 
The Image of God (La Imagen de Dios)
 
 
O Lord! who seest, from yon starry height,
        Centred in one the future and the past,
        Fashioned in thine own image, see how fast
        The world obscures in me what once was bright!
Eternal Sun! the warmth which thou hast given,
        To cheer life’s flowery April, fast decays;
        Yet in the hoary winter of my days,
        Forever green shall be my trust in Heaven.
Celestial King! O let thy presence pass
        Before my spirit, and an image fair
        Shall meet that look of mercy from on high,
As the reflected image in a glass
        Doth meet the look of him who seeks it there,
        And owes its being to the gazer’s eye.
 
 
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The Meeting
 
 
After so long an absence
        At last we meet again:
Does the meeting give us pleasure,
        Or does it give us pain?

The tree of life has been shaken,
        And but few of us linger now,
Like the Prophet’s two or three berries
        In the top of the uppermost bough.

We cordially greet each other
        In the old, familiar tone;
And we think, though we do not say it,
        How old and gray he is grown!

We speak of a Merry Christmas
        And many a Happy New Year
But each in his heart is thinking
        Of those that are not here.

We speak of friends and their fortunes,
        And of what they did and said,
Till the dead alone seem living,
        And the living alone seem dead.

And at last we hardly distinguish
        Between the ghosts and the guests;
And a mist and shadow of sadness
        Steals over our merriest jests.
 
 
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published in the Knickerbocker as The Fifth Psalm
 
 
also called An Autumnal Chant in Longfellow’s diary
 
 
Midnight Mass for the Dying Year
 
 
Yes, the Year is growing old,
        And his eye is pale and bleared!
Death, with frosty hand and cold,
        Plucks the old man by the beard,
                            Sorely, sorely!

The leaves are falling, falling,
        Solemnly and slow;
Caw! caw! the rooks are calling,
        It is a sound of woe,
                            A sound of woe!

Through woods and mountain passes
        The winds, like anthems, roll;
They are chanting solemn masses,
        Singing, “Pray for this poor soul,
                            Pray, pray!”

And the hooded clouds, like friars,
        Tell their beads in drops of rain,
And patter their doleful prayers;
        But their prayers are all in vain,
                            All in vain!

There he stands in the foul weather,
        The foolish, fond Old Year,
Crowned with wild flowers and with heather,
                Like weak, despised Lear,
                            A king, a king!

Then comes the summer-like day,
        Bids the old man rejoice!
His joy! his last!        Oh, the man gray
        Loveth that ever-soft voice,
                            Gentle and low.

To the crimson woods he saith,
        To the voice gentle and low
Of the soft air, like a daughter’s breath,
        “Pray do not mock me so!
                            Do not laugh at me!”

And now the sweet day is dead;
        Cold in his arms it lies;
No stain from its breath is spread
        Over the glassy skies,
                            No mist or stain!

Then, too, the Old Year dieth,
        And the forests utter a moan,
Like the voice of one who crieth
        In the wilderness alone,
                            “Vex not his ghost!”

Then comes, with an awful roar,
        Gathering and sounding on,
The storm-wind from Labrador,
        The wind Euroclydon,
                                The storm-wind!

Howl! howl! and from the forest
        Sweep the red leaves away!
Would, the sins that thou abhorrest,
        O soul! could thus decay,
                            And be swept away!

For there shall come a mightier blast,
        There shall be a darker day;
And the stars, from heaven down-cast
        Like red leaves be swept away!
                            Kyrie, eleyson!
                            Christe, eleyson!
 
 
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Snow-Flakes
 
 
Out of the bosom of the Air,
        Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
        Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
                Silent, and soft, and slow
                Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
        Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
        In the white countenance confession,
                The troubled sky reveals
                The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
        Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
        Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
                Now whispered and revealed
                To wood and field.
 
 
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The Three Kings
 
 
Three Kings came riding from far away,
        Melchior and Gaspar and Baltasar;
Three Wise Men out of the East were they,
And they travelled by night and they slept by day,
        For their guide was a beautiful, wonderful star.

The star was so beautiful, large, and clear,
        That all the other stars of the sky
Became a white mist in the atmosphere,
And by this they knew that the coming was near
        Of the Prince foretold in the prophecy.

Three caskets they bore on their saddle-bows,
        Three caskets of gold with golden keys;
Their robes were of crimson silk with rows
Of bells and pomegranates and furbelows,
        Their turbans like blossoming almond-trees.

And so the Three Kings rode into the West,
        Through the dusk of night, over hill and dell,
And sometimes they nodded with beard on breast
And sometimes talked, as they paused to rest,
        With the people they met at some wayside well.

“Of the child that is born,” said Baltasar,
        “Good people, I pray you, tell us the news;
For we in the East have seen his star,
And have ridden fast, and have ridden far,
        To find and worship the King of the Jews.”

And the people answered, “You ask in vain;
        We know of no king but Herod the Great!”
They thought the Wise Men were men insane,
As they spurred their horses across the plain,
        Like riders in haste, and who cannot wait.

And when they came to Jerusalem,
        Herod the Great, who had heard this thing,
Sent for the Wise Men and questioned them;
And said, “Go down unto Bethlehem,
        And bring me tidings of this new king.”

So they rode away; and the star stood still,
        The only one in the gray of morn
Yes, it stopped, it stood still of its own free will,
Right over Bethlehem on the hill,
        The city of David where Christ was born.

And the Three Kings rode through the gate and the guard,
        Through the silent street, till their horses turned
And neighed as they entered the great inn-yard;
But the windows were closed, and the doors were barred,
        And only a light in the stable burned.

And cradled there in the scented hay,
        In the air made sweet by the breath of kine,
The little child in the manger lay,
The child, that would be king one day
        Of a kingdom not human but divine.

His mother Mary of Nazareth
        Sat watching beside his place of rest,
Watching the even flow of his breath,
For the joy of life and the terror of death
        Were mingled together in her breast.

They laid their offerings at his feet:
        The gold was their tribute to a King,
The frankincense, with its odor sweet,
Was for the Priest, the Paraclete,
        The myrrh for the body’s burying.

And the mother wondered and bowed her head,
        And sat as still as a statue of stone;
Her heart was troubled yet comforted,
Remembering what the Angel had said
        Of an endless reign and of David’s throne.

Then the Kings rode out of the city gate,
        With a clatter of hoofs in proud array;
But they went not back to Herod the Great,
For they knew his malice and feared his hate,
        And returned to their homes by another way.
 
 
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The Wind Over the Chimney
 
 
See, the fire is sinking low,
Dusky red the embers glow,
        While above them still I cower,
While a moment more I linger,
Though the clock, with lifted finger,
        Points beyond the midnight hour.

Sings the blackened log a tune
Learned in some forgotten June
        From a school-boy at his play,
When they both were young together,
Heart of youth and summer weather
        Making all their holiday.

And the night-wind rising, hark!
How above there in the dark,
        In the midnight and the snow,
Ever wilder, fiercer, grander,
Like the trumpets of Iskander,
        All the noisy chimneys blow!

Every quivering tongue of flame
Seems to murmur some great name,
        Seems to say to me, “Aspire!”
But the night-wind answers, “Hollow
Are the visions that you follow,
        Into darkness sinks your fire!”

Then the flicker of the blaze
Gleams on volumes of old days,
        Written by masters of the art,
Loud through whose majestic pages
Rolls the melody of ages,
        Throb the harp-strings of the heart.

And again the tongues of flame
Start exulting and exclaim:
        “These are prophets, bards, and seers;
In the horoscope of nations,
Like ascendant constellations,
        They control the coming years.”

But the night-wind cries: “Despair!
Those who walk with feet of air
        Leave no long-enduring marks;
At God’s forges incandescent
Mighty hammers beat incessant,
        These are but the flying sparks.

“Dust are all the hands that wrought;
Books are sepulchres of thought;
        The dead laurels of the dead
Rustle for a moment only,
Like the withered leaves in lonely
        Churchyards at some passing tread.”

Suddenly the flame sinks down;
Sink the rumors of renown;
        And alone the night-wind drear
Clamors louder, wilder, vaguer,–
“‘T is the brand of Meleager
        Dying on the hearth-stone here!”

And I answer,–“Though it be,
Why should that discomfort me?
        No endeavor is in vain;
Its reward is in the doing,
And the rapture of pursuing
        Is the prize the vanquished gain.”
 
 
angel-divider 
 

 
 
written in Longfellow’s college years, before he was 19
 
 
Woods in Winter
 
 
When winter winds are piercing chill,
        And through the hawthorn blows the gale,
With solemn feet I tread the hill,
        That overbrows the lonely vale.

O’er the bare upland, and away
        Through the long reach of desert woods,
The embracing sunbeams chastely play,
        And gladden these deep solitudes.

Where, twisted round the barren oak,
        The summer vine in beauty clung,
And summer winds the stillness broke,
        The crystal icicle is hung.

Where, from their frozen urns, mute springs
        Pour out the river’s gradual tide,
Shrilly the skater’s iron rings,
        And voices fill the woodland side.

Alas! how changed from the fair scene,
        When birds sang out their mellow lay,
And winds were soft, and woods were green,
        And the song ceased not with the day!

But still wild music is abroad,
        Pale, desert woods! within your crowd;
And gathering winds, in hoarse accord,
        Amid the vocal reeds pipe loud.

Chill airs and wintry winds!        my ear
        Has grown familiar with your song;
I hear it in the opening year,
        I listen, and it cheers me long.
 
 
angel-divider
 
 

 
 
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