Tuesday, December 25, 2012

John Greenleaf Whittier and The Christmas of 1888


Low in the east, against a white, cold dawn,
The black-lined silhouette of the woods was drawn,
And on a wintry waste
Of frosted streams and hillsides bare and brown,
Through thin cloud-films a pallid ghost looked down,
The waning moon half-faced.

In that pale sky and sere, snow-waiting earth,
What sign was there of the immortal birth?
What herald of the One?
Lo! swift as thought the heavenly radiance came,
A rose-red splendor swept the sky like flame,
Up rolled the round, bright sun!

And all was changed. From a transfigured world
The moon’s ghost fled, the smoke of home-hearths curled
Up to the still air unblown.
In Orient warmth and brightness, did that morn
O’er Nain and Nazereth, when the Christ was born,
Break fairer than our own?

The morning’s promise noon and eve fulfilled
In warm, soft sky and landscape hazy-filled
And sunset fair as they;
A sweet reminder of His holiest time,
A summer-miracle in our winter clime,
God gave a perfect day.

The near was blended with the old and far,
And Bethlehem’s hillside and the Magi’s star
Seemed here, as there and then, —
Our homestead pine-tree was the Syrian palm,
Our heart’s desire the angels’ midnight psalm,
Peace, and good-will to men!


— John Greenleaf Whittier


John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892) was inducted into the American Poets' Corner in 1996 — a class that also included Langston Hughes and Ernest Hemingway. The New England poet was also an ardent abolitionist.