Heaven strews the earth with snow,
That neither friend nor foe
May break the sleep of the fast-dying year;
A world arrayed in white,
Late dawns, and shrouded light,
Attest to us once more that Christmas-tide is here.
And yet, and yet I hear
No strains of pious cheer,
No children singing round the Yule-log fire;
No carol's sacred notes,
Warbled by infant throats,
On brooding mother's lap, or knee of pleasèd sire.
Comes with the hallowed time
No sweet accustomed chime,
No peal of bells athwart the midnight air;
No mimes or jocund waits
Within wide-opened gates,
Loud laughter in the hall, or glee of children fair.
No loving cup sent round?
No footing of the ground?
No sister's kiss under the berried bough?
No chimney's joyous roar,
No hospitable store,
Though it be Christmas-tide, to make us note it now?
No! only human hate,
And fear, and death, and fate,
And fierce hands locked in fratricidal strife;
The distant hearth stripped bare
By the gaunt guest, Despair,
Pale groups of pining babes round lonely-weeping wife.
Can it be Christmas-tide?
The snow with blood is dyed,
From human hearts wrung out by human hands.
Hark! did not sweet bells peal?
No! 'twas the ring of steel,
The clang of armèd men and shock of murderous bands.
Didst Thou, then, really come?-
Silence that dreadful drum!-
Christ! Saviour! Babe, of lowly Virgin born!
If Thou, indeed, Most High,
Didst in a manger lie,
Then be the Prince of Peace, and save us from Hell's scorn.
We weep if men deny
That Thou didst live and die,
Didst ever walk upon this mortal sphere;
Yet of Thy Passion, Lord!
What know these times abhorred,
Save the rude soldier's stripes, sharp sponge, and piercing spear?
Therefore we, Father, plead,
Grant us in this our need
Another Revelation from Thy throne,
That we may surely know
We are not sons of woe,
Forgotten and cast off, but verily Thine own.
Yet if He came anew,
Where, where would shelter due
Be found for load divine and footsteps sore?
Here, not the inns alone,
But fold and stable groan
With sterner guests than drove sad Mary from the door.
And thou, 'mong women blest,
Who laidst, with awe-struck breast,
Thy precious babe upon the lowly straw,
Now for thy new-born Son
Were nook and cradle none,
If not in bloody trench or cannon's smoking jaw.
Round her what alien rites,
What savage sounds and sights-
The plunging war-horse and sulphureous match.
Than such as these, alas!
Better the ox, the ass,
The manger's crib secure and peace-bestowing thatch.
The trumpet's challenge dire
Would hush the angelic choir,
The outpost's oath replace the Shepherd's vow;
No frankincense or myrrh
Would there be brought to her,
For Wise Men kneel no more-Kings are not humble now.
O Lord! O Lord! how long?
Thou that art good, art strong,
Put forth Thy strength, Thy ruling love declare;
Stay Thou the smiting hand,
Invert the flaming brand,
And teach the proud to yield, the omnipotent to spare.
Renew our Christmas-tide!
Let weeping eyes be dried,
Love bloom afresh, bloodshed and frenzy cease!
And at Thy bidding reign,
As in the heavenly strain,
Glory to God on high! on earth perpetual peace!
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