Christmas-tide Poetry of John Keble
See generally: Christmas Poetry And Prose
Source: Lyra Innocentium: Thoughts in Verse on Christian Children, Their Ways, and Their Privileges. New York: Stanford and Swords, 1850.
Now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our
salvation nearer than when we believed.--Romans xiii 11.
Awake--again the Gospel-trump is blown -
From year to year it swells with louder tone,
From year to year the signs of wrath
Are gathering round the Judge's path,
Strange words fulfilled, and mighty works achieved,
And truth in all the world both hated and believed.
Awake! why linger in the gorgeous town,
Sworn liegemen of the Cross and thorny crown?
Up from your beds of sloth for shame,
Speed to the eastern mount like flame,
Nor wonder, should ye find your King in tears,
E'en with the loud Hosanna ringing in His ears.
Alas! no need to rouse them: long ago
They are gone forth to swell Messiah's show:
With glittering robes and garlands sweet
They strew the ground beneath His feet:
All but your hearts are there--O doomed to prove
The arrows winged in Heaven for Faith that will not love!
Meanwhile He passes through th' adoring crowd,
Calm as the march of some majestic cloud,
That o'er wild scenes of ocean-war
Holds its still course in Heaven afar:
E'en so, heart-searching Lord, as years roll on,
Thou keepest silent watch from Thy triumphal throne:
E'en so, the world is thronging round to gaze
On the dread vision of the latter days,
Constrained to own Thee, but in heart
Prepared to take Barabbas' part:
"Hosanna" now, to-morrow "Crucify,"
The changeful burden still of their rude lawless cry.
Yet in that throng of selfish hearts untrue
Thy sad eye rests upon Thy faithful few,
Children and childlike souls are there,
Blind Bartimeus' humble prayer,
And Lazarus wakened from his four days' sleep,
Enduring life again, that Passover to keep.
And fast beside the olive-bordered way
Stands the blessed home where Jesus deigned to stay,
The peaceful home, to Zeal sincere
And heavenly Contemplation dear,
Where Martha loved to wait with reverence meet,
And wiser Mary lingered at Thy sacred feet.
Still through decaying ages as they glide,
Thou lov'st Thy chosen remnant to divide;
Sprinkled along the waste of years
Full many a soft green isle appears:
Pause where we may upon the desert road,
Some shelter is in sight, some sacred safe abode.
When withering blasts of error swept the sky,
And Love's last flower seemed fain to droop and die,
How sweet, how lone the ray benign
On sheltered nooks of Palestine!
Then to his early home did Love repair,
And cheered his sickening heart with his own native air.
Years roll away: again the tide of crime
Has swept Thy footsteps from the favoured clime
Where shall the holy Cross find rest?
On a crowned monarch's mailed breast:
Like some bright angel o'er the darkling scene,
Through court and camp he holds his heavenward course serene.
A fouler vision yet; an age of light,
Light without love, glares on the aching sight:
Oh, who can tell how calm and sweet,
Meek Walton, shows thy green retreat,
When wearied with the tale thy times disclose,
The eye first finds thee out in thy secure repose?
Thus bad and good their several warnings give
Of His approach, whom none may see and live:
Faith's ear, with awful still delight,
Counts them like minute-bells at night.
Keeping the heart awake till dawn of morn,
While to her funeral pile this aged world is borne.
But what are Heaven's alarms to hearts that cower
In wilful slumber, deepening every hour,
That draw their curtains closer round,
The nearer swells the trumpet's sound?
Lord, ere our trembling lamps sink down and die,
Touch us with chastening hand, and make us feel Thee nigh.
And when these things begin to pass, then look up, and lift up your
heads; for your redemption draweth night. St. Luke xxi. 28.
Not till the freezing blast is still,
Till freely leaps the sparkling rill,
And gales sweep soft from summer skies,
As o'er a sleeping infant's eyes
A mother's kiss; ere calls like these,
No sunny gleam awakes the trees,
Nor dare the tender flowerets show
Their bosoms to th' uncertain glow.
Why then, in sad and wintry time,
Her heavens all dark with doubt and crime,
Why lifts the Church her drooping head,
As though her evil hour were fled?
Is she less wise than leaves of spring,
Or birds that cower with folded wing?
What sees she in this lowering sky
To tempt her meditative eye?
She has a charm, a word of fire,
A pledge of love that cannot tire;
By tempests, earthquakes, and by wars,
By rushing waves and falling stars,
By every sign her Lord foretold,
She sees the world is waxing old,
And through that last and direst storm
Descries by faith her Saviour's form.
Not surer does each tender gem,
Set in the fig-tree's polish'd stem,
Foreshow the summer season bland,
Than these dread signs Thy mighty hand:
But, oh, frail hearts, and spirits dark!
The season's flight unwarn'd we mark,
But miss the Judge behind the door,
For all the light of sacred lore:
Yet is He there; beneath our eaves
Each sound His wakeful ear receives:
Hush, idle words, and thoughts of ill,
Your Lord is listening: peace, be still.
Christ watches by a Christian's hearth,
Be silent, "vain deluding mirth,"
Till in thine alter'd voice be known
Somewhat of Resignation's tone.
But chiefly ye should lift your gaze
Above the world's uncertain haze,
And look with calm unwavering eye
On the bright fields beyond the sky,
Ye, who your Lord's commission bear
His way of mercy to prepare:
Angels He calls ye: be your strife
To lead on earth an Angel's life.
Think not of rest; though dreams be sweet,
Start up, and ply your heavenward feet.
Is not God's oath upon your head,
Ne'er to sink back on slothful bed,
Never again your loans untie,
Nor let your torches waste and die,
Till, when the shadows thickest fall,
Ye hear your Master's midnight call?
What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with
the wind? . . . But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I
say unto you, and more than a prophet. St. Matthew xi. 7, 9.
What went ye out to see
O'er the rude sandy lea,
Where stately Jordan flows by many a palm,
Or where Gennesaret's wave
Delights the flowers to lave,
That o'er her western slope breathe airs of balm.
All through the summer night,
Those blossoms red and bright
Spread their soft breasts, unheeding, to the breeze,
Like hermits watching still
Around the sacred hill,
Where erst our Saviour watched upon His knees.
The Paschal moon above
Seems like a saint to rove,
Left shining in the world with Christ alone;
Below, the lake's still face
Sleeps sweetly in th' embrace
Of mountains terrac'd high with mossy stone.
Here may we sit, and dream
Over the heavenly theme,
Till to our soul the former days return;
Till on the grassy bed,
Where thousands once He fed,
The world's incarnate Maker we discern.
O cross no more the main,
Wandering so will and vain,
To count the reeds that tremble in the wind,
On listless dalliance bound,
Like children gazing round,
Who on God's works no seal of Godhead find.
Bask not in courtly bower,
Or sun-bright hall of power,
Pass Babel quick, and seek the holy land -
From robes of Tyrian dye
Turn with undazzled eye
To Bethlehem's glade, or Carmel's haunted strand.
Or choose thee out a cell
In Kedron's storied dell,
Beside the springs of Love, that never die;
Among the olives kneel
The chill night-blast to feel,
And watch the Moon that saw thy Master's agony.
Then rise at dawn of day,
And wind thy thoughtful way,
Where rested once the Temple's stately shade,
With due feet tracing round
The city's northern bound,
To th' other holy garden, where the Lord was laid.
Who thus alternate see
His death and victory,
Rising and falling as on angel wings,
They, while they seem to roam,
Draw daily nearer home,
Their heart untravell'd still adores the King of kings.
Or, if at home they stay,
Yet are they, day by day,
In spirit journeying through the glorious land,
Not for light Fancy's reed,
Nor Honour's purple meed,
Nor gifted Prophet's lore, nor Science' wondrous wand.
But more than Prophet, more
Than Angels can adore
With face unveiled, is He they go to seek:
Blessed be God, Whose grace
Shows Him in every place
To homeliest hearts of pilgrims pure and meek.
The eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them
that hear shall hearken. Isaiah xxxii. 3
Of the bright things in earth and air
How little can the heart embrace!
Soft shades and gleaming lights are there -
I know it well, but cannot trace.
Mine eye unworthy seems to read
One page of Nature's beauteous book;
It lies before me, fair outspread -
I only cast a wishful look.
I cannot paint to Memory's eye
The scene, the glance, I dearest love -
Unchanged themselves, in me they die,
Or faint or false their shadows prove.
In vain, with dull and tuneless ear,
I linger by soft Music's cell,
And in my heart of hearts would hear
What to her own she deigns to tell.
'Tis misty all, both sight and sound -
I only know 'tis fair and sweet -
'Tis wandering on enchanted ground
With dizzy brow and tottering feet.
But patience! there may come a time
When these dull ears shall scan aright
Strains that outring Earth's drowsy chime,
As Heaven outshines the taper's light.
These eyes, that dazzled now and weak,
At glancing motes in sunshine wink.
Shall see the Kings full glory break,
Nor from the blissful vision shrink:
In fearless love and hope uncloyed
For ever on that ocean bright
Empowered to gaze; and undestroyed,
Deeper and deeper plunge in light.
Though scarcely now their laggard glance
Reach to an arrow's flight, that day
They shall behold, and not in trance,
The region "very far away."
If Memory sometimes at our spell
Refuse to speak, or speak amiss,
We shall not need her where we dwell
Ever in sight of all our bliss.
Meanwhile, if over sea or sky
Some tender lights unnoticed fleet,
Or on loved features dawn and die,
Unread, to us, their lesson sweet;
Yet are there saddening sights around,
Which Heaven, in mercy, spares us too,
And we see far in holy ground,
If duly purged our mental view.
The distant landscape draws not nigh
For all our gazing; but the soul,
That upward looks, may still descry
Nearer, each day, the brightening goal.
And thou, too curious ear, that fain
Wouldst thread the maze of Harmony,
Content thee with one simple strain,
The lowlier, sure, the worthier thee;
Till thou art duly trained, and taught
The concord sweet of Love divine:
Then, with that inward Music fraught,
For ever rise, and sing, and shine.
And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly
host, praising God. St. Luke ii. 13.
What sudden blaze of song
Spreads o'er th' expanse of Heaven?
In waves of light it thrills along,
Th' angelic signal given -
"Glory to God!" from yonder central fire
Flows out the echoing lay beyond the starry choir;
Like circles widening round
Upon a clear blue river,
Orb after orb, the wondrous sound
Is echoed on for ever:
"Glory to God on high, on earth be peace,
And love towards men of love--salvation and release."
Yet stay, before thou dare
To join that festal throng;
Listen and mark what gentle air
First stirred the tide of song;
'Tis not, "the Saviour born in David's home,
To Whom for power and health obedient worlds should come:" -
'Tis not, "the Christ the Lord:"
With fixed adoring look
The choir of Angels caught the word,
Nor yet their silence broke:
But when they heard the sign where Christ should be,
In sudden light they shone and heavenly harmony.
Wrapped in His swaddling bands,
And in His manger laid,
The Hope and Glory of all lands
Is come to the world's aid:
No peaceful home upon his cradle smiled,
Guests rudely went and came, where slept the royal Child.
But where Thou dwellest, Lord,
No other thought should be,
Once duly welcomed and adored,
How should I part with Thee?
Bethlehem must lose Thee soon, but Thou wilt grace
The single heart to be Thy sure abiding-place.
Thee, on the bosom laid
Of a pure virgin mind,
In quiet ever, and in shade,
Shepherd and sage may find;
They, who have bowed untaught to Nature's sway,
And they, who follow Truth along her star-paved way.
The pastoral spirits first
Approach Thee, Babe divine,
For they in lowly thoughts are nursed,
Meet for Thy lowly shrine:
Sooner than they should miss where Thou dost dwell,
Angela from Heaven will stoop to guide them to Thy cell.
Still, as the day comes round
For Thee to be revealed,
By wakeful shepherds Thou art found,
Abiding in the field.
All through the wintry heaven and chill night air,
In music and in light Thou dawnest on their prayer.
O faint not ye for fear -
What though your wandering sheep,
Reckless of what they see and hear,
Lie lost in wilful sleep?
High Heaven in mercy to your sad annoy
Still greets you with glad tidings of immortal joy.
Think on th' eternal home,
The Saviour left for you;
Think on the Lord most holy, come
To dwell with hearts untrue:
So shall ye tread untired His pastoral ways,
And in the darkness sing your carol of high praise.
He, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into
heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right
hand of God. Acts vii. 55
As rays around the source of light
Stream upward ere he glow in sight,
And watching by his future flight
Set the clear heavens on fire;
So on the King of Martyrs wait
Three chosen bands, in royal state,
And all earth owns, of good and great,
Is gather'd in that choir.
One presses on, and welcomes death:
One calmly yields his willing breath,
Nor slow, nor hurrying, but in faith
Content to die or live:
And some, the darlings of their Lord,
Play smiling with the flame and sword,
And, ere they speak, to His sure word
Unconscious witness give.
Foremost and nearest to His throne,
By perfect robes of triumph known,
And likest Him in look and tone,
The holy Stephen kneels,
With stedfast gaze, as when the sky
Flew open to his fainting eye,
Which, like a fading lamp, flash'd high,
Seeing what death conceals.
Well might you guess what vision bright
Was present to his raptured sight,
E'en as reflected streams of light
Their solar source betray -
The glory which our God surrounds,
The Son of Man, the atoning wounds -
He sees them all; and earth's dull bounds
Are melting fast away.
He sees them all--no other view
Could stamp the Saviour's likeness true,
Or with His love so deep embrue
Man's sullen heart and gross -
"Jesus, do Thou my soul receive:
Jesu, do Thou my foes forgive;"
He who would learn that prayer must live
Under the holy Cross.
He, though he seem on earth to move,
Must glide in air like gentle dove,
From yon unclouded depths above
Must draw his purer breath;
Till men behold his angel face
All radiant with celestial grace,
Martyr all o'er, and meet to trace
The lines of Jesus' death.
See: Hymns to St Stephen
Peter seeing him, saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?
Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is
that to thee? follow thou Me. St. John xxi. 21, 22.
"Lord, and what shall this man do?"
Ask'st thou, Christian, for thy friend?
If his love for Christ be true,
Christ hath told thee of his end:
This is he whom God approves,
This is he whom Jesus loves.
Ask not of him more than this,
Leave it in his Saviour's breast,
Whether, early called to bliss,
He in youth shall find his rest,
Or armed in his station wait
Till his Lord be at the gate:
Whether in his lonely course
(Lonely, not forlorn) he stay,
Or with Love's supporting force
Cheat the toil, and cheer the way:
Leave it all in His high hand,
Who doth hearts as streams command.
Gales from Heaven, if so He will,
Sweeter melodies can wake
On the lonely mountain rill
Than the meeting waters make.
Who hath the Father and the Son,
May be left, but not alone.
Sick or healthful, slave or free,
Wealthy, or despised and poor -
What is that to him or thee,
So his love to Christ endure?
When the shore is won at last,
Who will count the billows past?
Only, since our souls will shrink
At the touch of natural grief,
When our earthly loved ones sink,
Lend us, Lord, Thy sure relief;
Patient hearts, their pain to see,
And Thy grace, to follow Thee.
These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God
and to the Lamb. Rev. xiv. 4.
Say, ye celestial guards, who wait
In Bethlehem, round the Saviour's palace gate,
Say, who are these on golden wings,
That hover o'er the new-born King of kings,
Their palms and garlands telling plain
That they are of the glorious martyr-train,
Next to yourselves ordained to praise
His Name, and brighten as on Him they gaze?
But where their spoils and trophies? where
The glorious dint a martyr's shield should bear?
How chance no cheek among them wears
The deep-worn trace of penitential tears,
But all is bright and smiling love,
As if, fresh-borne from Eden's happy grove,
They had flown here, their King to see,
Nor ever had been heirs of dark mortality?
Ask, and some angel will reply,
"These, like yourselves, were born to sin and die,
But ere the poison root was grown,
God set His seal, and marked them for His own.
Baptised its blood for Jesus' sake,
Now underneath the Cross their bed they make,
Not to be scared from that sure rest
By frightened mother's shriek, or warrior's waving crest."
Mindful of these, the firstfruits sweet
Borne by this suffering Church her Lord to greet;
Blessed Jesus ever loved to trace
The "innocent brightness" of an infant's face.
He raised them in His holy arms,
He blessed them from the world and all its harms:
Heirs though they were of sin and shame,
He blessed them in his own and in his Father's Name.
Then, as each fond unconscious child
On the everlasting Parent sweetly smiled
(Like infants sporting on the shore,
That tremble not at Ocean's boundless roar),
Were they not present to Thy thought,
All souls, that in their cradles Thou hast bought?
But chiefly these, who died for Thee,
That Thou might'st live for them a sadder death to see.
And next to these, Thy gracious word
Was as a pledge of benediction stored
For Christian mothers, while they moan
Their treasured hopes, just born, baptised, and gone.
Oh, joy for Rachel's broken heart!
She and her babes shall meet no more to part;
So dear to Christ her pious haste
To trust them in His arms for ever safe embraced.
She dares not grudge to leave them there,
Where to behold them was her heart's first prayer;
She dares not grieve--but she must weep,
As her pale placid martyr sinks to sleep,
Teaching so well and silently
How at the shepherd's call the lamb should die:
How happier far than life the end
Of souls that infant-like beneath their burthen bend.
So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.
Isaiah xxxviii. 8; compare Josh. x. 13.
'Tis true, of old the unchanging sun
His daily course refused to run,
The pale moon hurrying to the west
Paused at a mortal's call, to aid
The avenging storm of war, that laid
Seven guilty realms at once on earth's defiled breast.
But can it be, one suppliant tear
Should stay the ever-moving sphere?
A sick man's lowly-breathed sigh,
When from the world he turns away,
And hides his weary eyes to pray,
Should change your mystic dance, ye wanderers of the sky?
We too, O Lord, would fain command,
As then, Thy wonder-working hand,
And backward force the waves of Time,
That now so swift and silent bear
Our restless bark from year to year;
Help us to pause and mourn to Thee our tale of crime.
Bright hopes, that erst the bosom warmed,
And vows, too pure to be performed,
And prayers blown wide by gales of care; -
These, and such faint half-waking dreams,
Like stormy lights on mountain streams,
Wavering and broken all, athwart the conscience glare.
How shall we 'scape the o'erwhelming Past?
Can spirits broken, joys o'ercast,
And eyes that never more may smile: -
Can these th' avenging bolt delay,
Or win us back one little day
The bitterness of death to soften and beguile?
Father and Lover of our souls!
Though darkly round Thine anger rolls,
Thy sunshine smiles beneath the gloom,
Thou seek'st to warn us, not confound,
Thy showers would pierce the hardened ground
And win it to give out its brightness and perfume.
Thou smil'st on us in wrath, and we,
E'en in remorse, would smile on Thee,
The tears that bathe our offered hearts,
We would not have them stained and dim,
But dropped from wings of seraphim,
All glowing with the light accepted love imparts.
Time's waters will not ebb, nor stay;
Power cannot change them, but Love may;
What cannot be, Love counts it done.
Deep in the heart, her searching view
Can read where Faith is fixed and true,
Through shades of setting life can see Heaven's work begun.
O Thou, who keep'st the Key of Love,
Open Thy fount, eternal Dove,
And overflow this heart of mine,
Enlarging as it fills with Thee,
Till in one blaze of charity
Care and remorse are lost, like motes in light divine;
Till as each moment wafts us higher,
By every gush of pure desire,
And high-breathed hope of joys above,
By every secret sigh we heave,
Whole years of folly we outlive,
In His unerring sight, who measures Life by Love.
In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without
hands. Coloss. ii. 11.
The year begins with Thee,
And Thou beginn'st with woe,
To let the world of sinners see
That blood for sin must flow.
Thine infant cries, O Lord,
Thy tears upon the breast,
Are not enough--the legal sword
Must do its stern behest.
Like sacrificial wine
Poured on a victim's head
Are those few precious drops of Thine,
Now first to offering led.
They are the pledge and seal
Of Christ's unswerving faith
Given to His Sire, our souls to heal,
Although it cost His death.
They to His Church of old,
To each true Jewish heart,
In Gospel graces manifold
Communion blest impart.
Now of Thy love we deem
As of an ocean vast,
Mounting in tides against the stream
Of ages gone and past.
Both theirs and ours Thou art,
As we and they are Thine;
Kings, Prophets, Patriarchs--all have part
Along the sacred line.
By blood and water too
God's mark is set on Thee,
That in Thee every faithful view
Both covenants might see.
O bond of union, dear
And strong as is Thy grace!
Saints, parted by a thousand year,
May thus in heart embrace.
Is there a mourner true,
Who fallen on faithless days,
Sighs for the heart-consoling view
Of those Heaven deigned to praise?
In spirit may'st thou meet
With faithful Abraham here,
Whom soon in Eden thou shalt greet
A nursing Father dear.
Would'st thou a poet be?
And would thy dull heart fain
Borrow of Israel's minstrelsy
One high enraptured strain?
Come here thy soul to tune,
Here set thy feeble chant,
Here, if at all beneath the moon,
Is holy David's haunt.
Art thou a child of tears,
Cradled in care and woe?
And seems it hard, thy vernal years
Few vernal joys can show?
And fall the sounds of mirth
Sad on thy lonely heart,
From all the hopes and charms of earth
Untimely called to part?
Look here, and hold thy peace:
The Giver of all good
E'en from the womb takes no release
From suffering, tears, and blood.
If thou would'st reap in love,
First sow in holy fear:
So life a winter's morn may prove
To a bright endless year.
When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their
tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of
Israel will not forsake them. Isaiah, xli. 17.
And wilt thou hear the fevered heart
To Thee in silence cry?
And as th' inconstant wildfires dart
Out of the restless eye,
Wilt thou forgive the wayward though
By kindly woes yet half untaught
A Saviours right, so dearly bought,
That Hope should never die?
Thou wilt: for many a languid prayer
Has reached Thee from the wild,
Since the lorn mother, wandering there,
Cast down her fainting child,
Then stole apart to weep and die,
Nor knew an angel form was nigh,
To show soft waters gushing by,
And dewy shadows mild.
Thou wilt--for Thou art Israel's God,
And Thine unwearied arm
Is ready yet with Moses' rod,
The hidden rill to charm
Out of the dry unfathomed deep
Of sands, that lie in lifeless sleep,
Save when the scorching whirlwinds heap
Their waves in rude alarm.
These moments of wild wrath are Thine -
Thine, too, the drearier hour
When o'er th' horizon's silent line
Fond hopeless fancies cower,
And on the traveller's listless way
Rises and sets th' unchanging day,
No cloud in heaven to slake its ray,
On earth no sheltering bower.
Thou wilt be there, and not forsake,
To turn the bitter pool
Into a bright and breezy lake,
This throbbing brow to cool:
Till loft awhile with Thee alone
The wilful heart be fain to own
That He, by whom our bright hours shone,
Our darkness best may rule.
The scent of water far away
Upon the breeze is flung;
The desert pelican to-day
Securely leaves her young,
Reproving thankless man, who fears
To journey on a few lone years,
Where on the sand Thy step appears,
Thy crown in sight is hung.
Thou, who did sit on Jacob's well
The weary hour of noon,
The languid pulses Thou canst tell,
The nerveless spirit tune.
Thou from Whose cross in anguish burst
The cry that owned Thy dying thirst,
To Thee we turn, our Last and First,
Our Sun and soothing Moon.
From darkness, here, and dreariness
We ask not full repose,
Only be Thou at hand, to bless
Our trial hour of woes.
Is not the pilgrim's toil o'erpaid
By the clear rill and palmy shade?
And see we not, up Earth's dark glade,
The gate of Heaven unclose?
And lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them,
till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they
saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. St. Matthew
ii. 9, 10.
Star of the East, how sweet art Thou,
Seen in life's early morning sky,
Ere yet a cloud has dimmed the brow,
While yet we gaze with childish eye;
When father, mother, nursing friend,
Most dearly loved, and loving best,
First bid us from their arms ascend,
Pointing to Thee, in Thy sure rest.
Too soon the glare of earthly day
Buries, to us, Thy brightness keen,
And we are left to find our way
By faith and hope in Thee unseen.
What matter? if the waymarks sure
On every side are round us set,
Soon overleaped, but not obscure?
'Tis ours to mark them or forget.
What matter? if in calm old age
Our childhood's star again arise,
Crowning our lonely pilgrimage
With all that cheers a wanderer's eyes?
Ne'er may we lose it from our sight,
Till all our hopes and thoughts are led
To where it stays its lucid flight
Over our Saviour's lowly bed.
There, swathed in humblest poverty,
On Chastity's meek lap enshrined,
With breathless Reverence waiting by,
When we our Sovereign Master find,
Will not the long-forgotten glow
Of mingled joy and awe return,
When stars above or flowers below
First made our infant spirits burn?
Look on us, Lord, and take our parts
E'en on Thy throne of purity!
From these our proud yet grovelling hearts
Hide not Thy mild forgiving eye.
Did not the Gentile Church find grace,
Our mother dear, this favoured day?
With gold and myrrh she sought Thy face;
Nor didst Thou turn Thy face away.
She too, in earlier, purer days,
Had watched thee gleaming faint and far -
But wandering in self-chosen ways
She lost Thee quite, Thou lovely star.
Yet had her Father's finger turned
To Thee her first inquiring glance:
The deeper shame within her burned,
When wakened from her wilful trance.
Behold, her wisest throng Thy gate,
Their richest, sweetest, purest store,
(Yet owned too worthless and too late,)
They lavish on Thy cottage-floor.
They give their best--O tenfold shame
On us their fallen progeny,
Who sacrifice the blind and lame -
Who will not wake or fast with Thee!
Sickness in the Cradle
From Lyra Innocentium: Thoughts in Verse on Christian Children, Their Ways, and Their Privileges. New York: Stanford and Swords, 1850, pp. 62-63.
" A CHRISTIAN child in pain !
O sad amazing thought !
A babe elect and born again,
With blood of JESUS bought,
That never yet knew dream of sin,
Nor throb of pride, nor will unclean ;
Yet faint with fever see him lie,
Or in strong grasp of sinners' agony !"
O, mother fond and wild,
Stay the complaining word !
What wouldst thou have ? Thy suffering child
Is as his Saviour Lord.
Or ever eight brief days have flown,
He, the unstain'd, must make His moan,
Must taste the sacrificial knife,
Must to the Cross devote the tender life.
Behold, the Virgin blest
Calls on her Babe to wake
From His sweet slumber on her breast ;
How should her heart not ache ?
From her pure bosom, where all night
He softly slept, that Maiden bright
Resigns her Well-beloved at morn
To shed His blood ; for therefore was He born.
Pierc'd is her heart, yet still :
For why ? that Mother's love
Is one with His Almighty will,
Chang'd by the o'ershadowing Dove.
O freely then your treasures yield,
With the dread Cross so lately seal'd,
Yield to the chastenings of th' Unseen,
The Saviour's Presence-tokens, sweet as keen.
The Saint's Infancy
From Lyra Innocentium: Thoughts in Verse on Christian Children, Their Ways, and Their Privileges. New York: Stanford and Swords, 1850, pp. 69-71.
" And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an Angel."
WHERE is the brow to bear in mortals' sight The Crown of pure angelic Light ? And where the favoured eye Through the dim air the radiance to descry ? An infant on its mother smiling, Wash'd from the world and sin's defiling, And to Faith's arm restored, while yet With the blest dew its cheeks are wet. There Christ hath sworn seraphic Light shall be, There eyes, the Light to see.
He who vouchsafed to kindle that pure glow Will feed it day and night, we know, By duteous fear of sin Fann'd into flame the virgin heart within, Till once again at Angels' warning Heaven-gates shall part as clouds of morning, And the confirming Spirit pour His glory where young hearts adore : There is Heaven's Light ; there, if true Pastors be, Are eyes, the Light to see.
And what if there some favoured one should kneel, Whom in His time the Lord will seal, High in the Mount to draw Light uncorrupt from His pure fontal Law, Then 'mid his brethren bear unknowing The lustre keen within him glowing, But veil it, when he feels their gaze, As Moses veil'd the Sinai rays ? Blest, who so shines : and blest the thoughtful few, Who see that brightness true.
Wouldst thou the tide of grace should higher flow, The angelic ray more glorious show ? Wait for His trial hour, His willing Saints in His dread day of Power. Ever as earth's wild war-cries heighten, The Cross upon the brow will brighten, Till on the very scorner's gaze Break forth the Heaven-reflecting rays, Strange awful charms the unwilling eye compel On the Saints' Light to dwell.
Yes strive, thou world, in thy rash tyrant-mood, To slake that burning Cross in blood : It will but brighter burn, As martyrs' eyes near and more near discern Where on the Father's right hand beaming, Light upon Light in glory streaming, The Saviour, felt, not seen, in life, Deigns to be seen in that last strife, And Angels hail, approaching to the shore, Rays like their own, and more.
Who knows but maiden mild or smiling boy, Our own entrusted care and joy, By His electing grace May with His martyrs find their glorious place ? O hope, for prayer too bold and thrilling, O bliss, to aid its high fulfilling ! O woe and wrong, O tenfold shame, To mar or damp the angelic flame ! To draw His soldiers backward from the Cross ! Woe and eternal loss !
Danger of Praise
From Lyra Innocentium: Thoughts in Verse on Christian Children, Their Ways, and Their Privileges. New York: Stanford and Swords, 1850, pp. 104-105.
" And he confessed, and denied not ; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
WHEN mortals praise thee, hide thine eyes, Nor in thy Master's wrong Take to thyself His crown and prize ; Yet more in heart than tongue.
None holier than the Desert Priest Beneath the Law's dim sky, Yet in Heaven's kingdom with the least, We read, he might not vie.
No member, yet, of Christ the Son, No gospel Prophet he ; Only a voice from out the Throne Of dread yet blest decree.
If he confessed, nor dared deny, , Woe to that Christian's heart, Who in man's praise would walk on high, And steal his Saviour's part !
And ah ! to him what tenfold woe, Who hides so well his sin, Through earth he seems a saint to go, Yet dies impure within !
Pray we our Lord, one pang to send Of deep remorseful fear For every smile of partial friend. Praise be our Penance here !
From Lyra Innocentium: Thoughts in Verse on Christian Children, Their Ways, and Their Privileges. New York: Stanford and Swords, 1850, pp. 203-204.
The children crying in the Temple, Hosannato the Son of David." How fast these autumn leaves decay ! But nearer view the naked spray, And many a bud thine eye will meet Prepared with ready smile to greet The showers and gleams of spring.
Such buds of hope are Advent hours : Ere the Old Year its leaves and flowers Have shed, the New in promise lives ; Christmas afar glad token gives, Soft carols faintly ring.
So when our Lord in meekness rode Where few save wintry hearts abode, Each leaf on Judah's sacred tree Was withered, wan, and foul to see, Touched by the frost-wind's wing.
Yet lurk'd there tender gems beneath, Ere long to bloom in glorious wreath. While Priest and Scribe looked on and frowned, His little ones came chanting round Hosanna to their King.
From Lyra Innocentium: Thoughts in Verse on Christian Children, Their Ways, and Their Privileges. New York: Stanford and Swords, 1850, pp. 205-206.
" What went ye out into the wilderness to see ? A reed shaken with the rind ?"
COME take a woodland walk with me, And mark the rugged old Oak Tree, How steadily his arm he flings Where from the bank the fresh rill springs, And points the waters' silent way Down the wild maze of reed and spray. Two furlongs on they glide unseen, Known only by the livelier green.
There stands he, in each time and tide, The new-born streamlet's guard and guide. To him spring shower and summer sun, Brown autumn, winter's sleet, are one. But firmest in the bleakest hour He holds his root in faith and power, The splinter'd bark, his girdle stern, His robe, grey moss and mountain fern.
Mark's! thou in him no token true Of heaven's own Priests, both old and new ? In penitential garb austere Fix'd in the wild, from year to year The lessons of stern love to teach, To penitents and children preach, Bold words and eager glances stay, And gently level JESUS' way ?
" He called His Name JESUS."
From Lyra Innocentium: Thoughts in Verse on Christian Children, Their Ways, and Their Privileges. New York: Stanford and Swords, 1850, pp. 239-242.
THE glorious Sun at morn Draws round him a soft screen, Clear haze, of light and moisture born ; So are the bright forms seen,
His royal cradle round Standing in meet array, Clouds of all hues, not wholly drowned In dazzling floods of day.
Thou temperest, Lord, the rays Which in thy manger burn, Till Faith in that deep glory-blaze Dim shapes of earth discern :
The spotless Mother, first Of creatures : His mild eye, O favoured ! who her travail nursed, And Thy dread infancy.
Him o'er Thee lowly bent, Or meekly waiting nigh, Or on some homely task intent, Yet conscious who is by,
Or on the journey wild, With duteous staff in hand, Guiding the Mother and the Child Across the sea of sand,
Thy Church in memory views ; Nor can her babes aright On Bethlehem or on Nazareth muse, But he is still in sight.
O balm to lonely hearts, Who childless or bereft, Yet round the cradle find their parts, Their place and portion left
In bowers of home delight : Yet may they draw full near, And in the treasure claim their right, Their share of smile and tear,
Of thrilling joys and cares. " Father in God :" who knows How near it brings us, unawares, To true parental throes ?
Mightier perchance may prove The lore the Font imparts To strangers, than all yearning love In heathen Mothers' hearts.
Whom JESUS Father owned,* Though childless to our eyes, Doubt not, his soul was higher toned To parents' sympathies,
Than sires on earth may know : And when His Octave came, He o'er the Lord did first below Speak the Most Holy Name.
Wherefore in chorus kind Of household jubilee, Name thou his name with willing mind, Who spake Christ's Name o'er thee.
And when at holy tide, Along the Church-way borne Thou seest how babes in triumph ride On arms by rude toil worn ;
Or mark'st, how well agree, Both leading and both led, Grey Poverty and childish Glee ; Leave not His lore unread :
Then of Saint Joseph think, And of his dread Nurse-Child. Let eyes, that day, from evil shrink, And hearts be undefiled.
Note From Kebler:
* St. Luke ii. 48, 49. Return
From Lyra Innocentium: Thoughts in Verse on Christian Children, Their Ways, and Their Privileges. New York: Stanford and Swords, 1850, pp. 311-313.
" If it bear fruit, well : if not, then after that Thou shalt cut it down.
THE duteous sun hath ceased to keep
The vigil of His wondrous birth,
Who in few hours, while sinners sleep.
Shall dawn on thankless earth.
The sun is set, the stars begin
Their stations in His watch on high,
As once around that Bethlehem inn ;
The vesper hour is nigh.
A little maid with eager gaze
Comes hurrying to the House of Prayer,
Shaping in heart a wild green maze
Of woodland branches there.
One look, a cloud comes o'er her dream :
No burnished leaves, so fresh and clear,
No berries with their ripe red gleam :
" There is no Christmas here."
What if that little maiden's Lord,
The awful Child on Mary's knee,
Even now take up the accusing word :
" No Christmas here I see.
" Where are the fruits I yearly seek,
As holy seasons pass away,
Eyes turned from ill, lips pure and meek,
A heart that strives to pray ?
" Where are the glad and artless smiles.
Like clustering hollies, seen afar
At eve along the o'ershaded aisles,
With the first twilight star ?"
Spare, gracious Saviour, me and mine :
Our tardy vows in mercy hear,
While on our watch the cold skies shine
Of the departing year.
Ere we again that glimmering view,
Cleansed be our hearts and lowly laid ;
The unfruitful plant do Thou renew,
And all beneath its shade.
By winter frosts and summer heats,
By prunings sharp and waterings mild,
Keen airs of Lent, and Easter sweets,
Tame Thou the sour and wild.
And dare we ask for one year more ?
Yea, there is hope : One waits on high
To tell our contrite yearnings o'er,
And each adoring sigh.
If He in Heaven repeat our vow,
We copying here His pure dread Will,
O dream of joy ! the withered bough
May blush with fruitage still.
From Lyra Innocentium: Thoughts in Verse on Christian Children, Their Ways, and Their Privileges. New York: Stanford and Swords, 1850, pp. 314-317.
" Rejoice in the Lord alway."
REJOICE in God alway,
With stars in Heaven rejoice,
Ere dawn of Christ's own day
Lift up each little voice.
Look up with pure glad eye,
And count those lamps on high.
Nay, who may count them ? on our gaze
They from their deeps come out in ever widening maze.
Each in his stand aloof
Prepares his keenest beam,
Upon that hovel roof,
In at that door, to stream,
Where meekly waits her time
The whole earth's Flower and Prime :
Where in few hours the Eternal One
Will make a clear new day, rising before the sun.
Rejoice in God alway,
With each green leaf rejoice,
Of berries on each spray
The brightest be your choice.
From bower and mountain lone
The autumnal hues are gone,
Yet gay shall be our Christmas wreath,
The glistening beads above, the burnished leaves beneath.
Such garland grave and fair
His Church to-day adorns.-
And mark it well even there*
He wears His crown of thorns.
Should aught profane draw near,
Full many a guardian spear
Is set around, of power to go
Deep in the reckless hand, and stay the grasping Foe.
Rejoice in God alway,
With Powers rejoice on high,
Who now with glad array
Are gathering in the sky,
His cradle to attend,
And there all lowly bend.
But half so low as He hath bowed
Did never highest Angel stoop from brightest cloud.
Rejoice in God alway,
All creatures, bird and beast,
Rejoice, again I say,
His mightiest and His least ;
From ox and ass that wait
Here on His poor estate,
To the four living Powers, decreed
A thousand ways at once His awful car to speed.
Rejoice in God alway :
With Saints in Paradise
Your midnight service say,
For vigil glad arise.
Even they in their calm bowers
Too tardy find the hours
Till He reveal the wondrous Birth :
How must we look and long, chained here to sin and earth !
Ye babes, to JESUS dear,
Rejoice in Him alway.
Ye whom He bade draw near,
O'er whom He loved to pray,
Wake and lift up the head
Each in his quiet bed.
Listen : His voice the night-wind brings :
He in your cradles lies, He in our carols sings.
From Lyra Innocentium: Thoughts in Verse on Christian Children, Their Ways, and Their Privileges. New York: Stanford and Swords, 1850, pp. 318-320.
(While waiting on an Infant at home.)
" Behold, I and the children which God hath given me."
THOU, who didst choose thine awful room
Within the undefiled womb,
The bridal chamber, where our God
For spousals high made brief abode,
High spousals, evermore to bind
The Godhead with our fallen kind :
Now while the o'erarching clouds among
Echoes the Angels' matin song,
While, heart and hand,
In every land
The Saints their sacrifice prepare
The Cradle to adore of Heaven's dread Heir,
Behold where in the silent shade
Thy slumbering little ones till matin prime are laid.
Soon will a thousand bells ring out,
A thousand roofs the choral shout
Prolong, where Kings with Shepherds meet
His manger with their gifts to greet.
What shall we do, mine infant dear,
Who may not those glad anthems hear ?
How shall we serve Him, thou and I,
Far from that glorious company ?
Thou smil'st in sleep :
Who knows how deep
The dream of joy that smile denotes ?
Mild as the summer lightning, see, it floats,
As if, the new-born Spirit o'er,
Came voices low from where departed babes adore.
Such is thy silent Liturgy,
But what is ours who wait on thee ?
We offer thee to Him, this hour,
Who in like slumber veil'd His power :
Thy cradle with its hopes and fears,
Thy May-day smiles and April tears,
Whate'er thou hast, whate'er thou art,
Howe'er thy mother's dreaming heart
Shapes thy bright doom
In years to come ;
All with that offering would we blend,
Which Saints on earth to Angel hands commend
To bear on high, this favoured day,
And on the sovereign Babe's unquenched altar lay.
Mysterious are these smiles of thine ;
But of that Face, the Godhead's shrine,
Those holy lips, that awful brow,
Nor Angel then nor Prophet now
Might truly deem ; none trace aright
Those hoverings of supernal light.
No more to sight, in earth or heaven,
Shall the Eternal Child be given,
But, Infant dear,
Unveiled and clear,
Thou shalt behold Him as He died,
Thine eye shall gaze upon the Crucified :
In mercy may He meet thy gaze,
And all the joy fulfil of all His bright glad days !
From Lyra Innocentium: Thoughts in Verse on Christian Children, Their Ways, and Their Privileges. New York: Stanford and Swords, 1850, pp. 321-323.
" They saw the young Child with Mary His Mother, and when they had
opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts."
How gaily seems the sun to rise
On christening days and days of birth,
Whether he smile in summer skies,
Or faintly warm the wintry earth !
Bright are the dreams he drives away,
And bright the promise of that day.
All charms, all gifts of Love are there,
Love breathes in all the fragrant air.
Oh haste we then to-day to greet
Him who is born our glorious King :
Of gold and myrrh and incense sweet
Your treasures to His cradle bring.
The Virgin Mother waiting by
Your offering scans with earnest eye,
Angels and Saints with jealous heed
Watch if you bring your best indeed.
And He, the Holiest, Humblest One,
Making as though He could not see,
Yet is His Eye all hearts upon.
O may He find some good in me !
A poor, weak, wayward soul is mine,
Yet own I, Lord, Thy saving sign.
Thou seest me daily, how before
Thy gracious footsteps I adore.
Fain would I there my stores unfold,
And of the gifts Thy Love hath given
One heart restore of virgin gold,
One prayer, like incense, seeking Heaven,
One drop of penitential Love,
Fragrant and dear to God above,
Yet bitter in the mouth as gall,
Fain would I bring Thee : 'tis mine all.
O blessed, who with eyes so pure
Have watched Thy cradle day by day,
Thy look may in their hearts endure,
Brightening their dim and weary way !
Blest, whom sweet thoughts of Christmas tide
Through all the year may guard and guide,
As on those sages journeying smiled
In dreams the Mother and the Child.
From Lyra Innocentium: Thoughts in Verse on Christian Children, Their Ways, and Their Privileges. New York: Stanford and Swords, 1850, pp. 324-327.
" The time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle
is heard in our land."
WHAT buds, what fragrant flowers are here !
Not yet are Christmas garlands sere,
The stern bleak months that lead the year
Are frowning still,
Yet forth they come, no stay, no fear,
And bloom at will.
Each nodding violet spray beneath
What troops of tender nurslings breathe,
Close set as gems in bridal wreath !
April's last day
No richer gift did e'er bequeath
To brightening May.
As they prevent the matin prime,
So, might it seem, sweet nature's chime
Rings out, to greet the holy time.
Heaven's softest airs
Wait on the Maid who now shall climb
The Temple stairs.
Pure from her undefiled throes,
Her virgin matron arms inclose
The only Gift the wide earth knows
Not all unmeet
For the dread place where now she goes,
See the Redeemer on His way
Himself to be redeemed to-day :
In humblest meekness see her lay
Before the shrine
Such offerings as poor matrons pay,
Want's lowly sign.
But soon the untimely vernal gleam
Must fade away like morning dream,
And ill winds blow, and cold mists stream
On flower and leaf :
So with the glad prophetic dream
Come tones of grief.
" The sword shall pierce thy very soul.'
As on some gay glad hour might toll
The funeral knell, or thunders roll
O'er summer night,
So did that word thy joy controul,
Thou Virgin bright !
Then, poor and orphan'd though I prove,
Yet would I praise Thee, Lord, and love,
And learn of Mary's spotless Dove,
With meanings meek,
And soft wing gliding high above,
Thy Face to seek.
The Christmas Poems of Rev. John Keble
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