The sun that brief December day Rose cheerless over hills of gray, And, darkly circled, gave at noon A sadder light than waning moon. Slow tracing down the thickening sky Its mute and ominous prophecy, A portent seeming less than threat, It sank from sight before it set. A chill no coat, however stout, Of homespun stuff could quite shut out, A hard, dull bitterness of cold, That checked, mid-vein, the circling race Of life-blood in the sharpened face, The coming of the snow-storm told. The wind blew east: we heard the roar Of Ocean on his wintry shore, And felt the strong pulse throbbing there Beat with low rhythm our inland air. Meanwhile we did your nightly chores,-- Brought in the wood from out of doors, Littered the stalls, and from the mows Raked down the herd's-grass for the cows; Heard the horse whinnying for his corn; And, sharply clashing horn on horn, Impatient down the stanchion rows The cattle shake their walnut bows; While, peering from his early perch Upon the scaffold's pole of birch, The cock his crested helmet bent And down his querulous challenge sent. Unwarmed by any sunset light The gray day darkened into night, A night made hoary with the swarm And whirl-dance of the blinding storm, As zigzag, wavering to and fro Crossed and recrossed the wingèd snow: And ere the early bed-time came The white drift piled the window-frame, And through the glass the clothes-line posts Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts. * As night drew on, and, from the crest Of wooded knolls that ridged the west, The sun, a snow-blown traveller, sank From sight beneath the smothering bank, We piled, with care, our nightly stack Of wood against the chimney-back,-- The oaken log, green, huge, and thick, And on its top the stout back-stick; The knotty forestick laid apart, And filled between with curious art The ragged brush; then, hovering near, We watched the first red blaze appear, Heard the sharp crackle, caught the gleam On whitewashed wall and sagging beam, Until the old, rude-furnished room Burst, flower-like, into rosy bloom; While radiant with a mimic flame Outside the sparkling drift became, And through the bare-boughed lilac-tree Our own warm hearth seemed blazing free. The crane and pendent trammels showed, The Turks' heads on the andirons glowed; While childish fancy, prompt to tell The meaning of the miracle, Whispered the old rhyme: "Under the tree, When fire outdoors burns merrily, There the witches are making tea." The moon above the eastern wood Shone at its full; the hill-range stood Transfigured in the silver flood, Its blown snows flashing cold and keen, Dead white, save where some sharp ravine Took shadow, or the somber green Of hemlocks turned to pitchy black Against the whiteness at their back. For such a world and such a night Most fitting that unwarming light, Which only seemed where'er it fell To make the coldness visible.
John Greenleaf Whittier - 1807-1892
The Mystic's Christmas
"All hail!" the bells of Christmas rang, "All hail!" the monks at Christmas sang, The merry monks who kept with cheer The gladdest day of all their year. But still apart, unmoved thereat, A pious elder brother sat Silent, in his accustomed place, With God's sweet peace upon his face. "Why sitt'st thou thus?" his brethren cried, "It is the blessed Christmas-tide; The Christmas lights are all aglow, The sacred lilies bud and blow. "Above our heads the joy-bells ring, Without the happy children sing, And all God's creatures hail the morn On which the holy Christ was born. "Rejoice with us; no more rebuke Our gladness with thy quiet look." The gray monk answered, "Keep, I pray, Even as ye list, the Lord's birthday. "Let heathen Yule fires flicker red Where thronged refectory feasts are spread; With mystery-play and masque and mime And wait-songs speed the holy time! "The blindest faith may haply save; The Lord accepts the things we have; And reverence, howsoe'er it strays, May find at last the shining ways. "They needs must grope who cannot see, The blade before the ear must be; As ye are feeling I have felt, And where ye dwell I too have dwelt. "But now, beyond the things of sense, Beyond occasions and events, I know, through God's exceeding grace, Release from form and time and space. "I listen, from no mortal tongue, To hear the song the angels sung; And wait within myself to know The Christmas lilies bud and blow. "The outward symbols disappear From him whose inward sight is clear; And small must be the choice of days To him who fills them all with praise! "Keep while you need it, brothers mine, With honest seal your Christmas sign, But judge not him who every morn Feels in his heart the Lord Christ born!"