Wartime Christmas

Joyce Kilmer - 1886-1918
Led by a star, a golden star,
The youngest star, an olden star,
Here the kings and the shepherds are,
Akneeling on the ground.
What did they come to the inn to see?
God in the Highest, and this is He,
A baby asleep on His mother’s knee
And with her kisses crowned.

Now is the earth a dreary place,
A troubled place, a weary place.
Peace has hidden her lovely face
And turned in tears away.
Yet the sun, through the war-cloud, sees
Babies asleep on their mother’s knees.
While there are love and home—and these—
There shall be Christmas Day.

More by Joyce Kilmer

Love's Lantern

	(for Aline)

Because the road was steep and long
   And through a dark and lonely land,
God set upon my lips a song
   And put a lantern in my hand.

Through miles on weary miles of night
   That stretch relentless in my way
My lantern burns serene and white,
   An unexhausted cup of day.

O golden lights and lights like wine,
   How dim your boasted splendors are.
Behold this little lamp of mind:
   It is more starlike than a star!

Vision

          (for Aline)

Homer, they tell us, was blind and could not see the beautiful faces
Looking up into his own and reflecting the joy of his dream,
   Yet did he seem
Gifted with eyes that could follow the gods to their holiest places.

I have no vision of gods, not of Eros with love-arrows laden,
Jupiter thundering death or of Juno his white-breasted queen,
   Yet I have seen
All of the joy of the world in the innocent heart of a maiden.

The White Ships and the Red

         (For Alden March)

With dropping sail and pennant
    That never a wind may reach,
They float in sunless waters
    Beside a sunless beach.
Their mighty masts and funnels
    Are white as driven snow,
And with a pallid radiance
    Their ghostly bulwarks glow.

Here is a Spanish galleon
    That once with gold was gay,
Here is a Roman trireme
    Whose hues outshone the day.
But Tyrian dyes have faded,
    And prows that once were bright
With rainbow stains wear only
    Death’s livid, dreadful white.

White as the ice that clove her
    That unforgotten day,
Among her pallid sisters
    the grim Titanic lay.
And through the leagues above her
    She looked aghast, and said:
“What is this living ship that comes
    Where every ship is dead?”

The ghostly vessels trembled
    From ruined stern to prow;
What was this thing of terror
    That broke their vigil now?
Down through the startled ocean
    A mighty vessel came,
Not white, as all dead ships must be,
    But red, like living flame!

The pale green waves about her
    Were swiftly, strangely dyed,
By the great scarlet stream that flowed
    From out her wounded side.
And all her decks were scarlet
    And all her shattered crew.
She sank among the white ghost ships
    And stained them through and through.

The grim Titanic greeted her.
    “And who art thou?” she said;
“Why dost thou join our ghostly fleet
    Arrayed in living red?
We are the ships of sorrow
    Who spend the weary night,
Until the dawn of Judgement Day,
    Obscure and still and white.”

“Nay,” said the scarlet visitor,
    “Though I sink through the sea,
A ruined thing that was a ship,
    I sink not as did ye.
For ye met with your destiny
    By storm or rock or fight,
So through the lagging centuries
    Ye wear your robes of white.

“But never crashing iceberg
    Nor honest shot of foe,
Nor hidden reef has sent me
    The way that I must go.
My wound that stains the waters,
    My blood that is like flame,
Bear witness to a loathly deed,
    A deed without a name.

“I went not forth to battle,
    I carried friendly men,
The children played about my decks,
    The women sang—and then—
And then—the sun blushed scarlet
    And Heaven hid its face,
The world that God created
    Became a shameful place!

“My wrong cries out for vengeance,
    The blow that sent me here
Was aimed in Hell. My dying scream
    Has reached Jehovah’s ear.
Not all the seven oceans
    Shall wash away that stain;
Upon a brow that wears a crown
    I am the brand of Cain.”

When God’s great voice assembles 
    The fleet of Judgement Day,
The ghosts of ruined ships will rise
    In sea and strait and bay.
though they have lain for ages
    Beneath the changeless flood,
They shall be white as silver,
    But one—shall be like blood.

 

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Christmas Away from Home

Her sickness brought me to Connecticut.
Mornings I walk the dog: that part of life
is intact. Who's painted, who's insulated
or put siding on, who's burned the lawn
with lime—that's the news on Ardmore Street.

The leaves of the neighbor's respectable
rhododendrons curl under in the cold.
He has backed the car
through the white nimbus of its exhaust
and disappeared for the day.

In the hiatus between mayors
the city has left leaves in the gutters,
and passing cars lift them in maelstroms.

We pass the house two doors down, the one
with the wildest lights in the neighborhood,
an establishment without irony.
All summer their putto empties a water jar,
their St. Francis feeds the birds.
Now it's angels, festoons, waist-high
candles, and swans pulling sleighs.

Two hundred miles north I'd let the dog
run among birches and the black shade of pines.
I miss the hills, the woods and stony
streams, where the swish of jacket sleeves
against my sides seems loud, and a crow
caws sleepily at dawn.

By now the streams must run under a skin
of ice, white air-bubbles passing erratically,
like blood cells through a vein. Soon the mail,
forwarded, will begin to reach me here.