The Christmas Child
by Isa Craig-Knox (1831-1903)
Source: Good Words, January 1862 (London and New York: Alexander Strahan and Company, 1866)
The rain is cold, the sky is pitch,
Above the city’s lengthening piles,
Gleaming across an inky ditch,
The glimmering lamp-lights stretch for miles.
‘Tis Christmas Eve, nor late though dark;
Still out upon the busy street
The windows shine, and one can mark
The passers hurrying through the sleet.
One hastens on with heavy tread;
Had any tried his face to scan,
“ A common man,” they would have said;
Thank God! he was “a common man.”
More lonely grew the way he took,
And once he stopped, amid the rain,
To cast a bright ungrudging look
On what he saw through lighted pane.
A Christmas feast! a table spread!
A cheerful glow of lamp and fire!
A heap of children, head o’er head,
And one in arms uplifted higher!—
Uplifted to the father’s lips!
But just as he had kissed the boy,
They closed the curtains, and eclipse
Fell on the sharer of his joy,
Who sighs, and on his way doth wend,—
A shadow on his face hath come.
What waits him at his journey’s end?
A cheerless hearth? a joyless home?
Nay, both as any warm and bright,
And wont to light his weariest way,
Through longest road and blackest night,
But now the brightness fades away.
No small feet cross that stainless hearth,
Or patter on that dainty floor!
Ono pair, long laid in wintry earth,
Will greet his coming never more.
Yet rest and hearty cheer await
Our dripping wayfarer; for him
Tho board is spread in simple state,
The curtained bed stands white and trim.
The housewife sits, with musing eye,
Contemplating her labours done;
Her Christmas cheer, her own mince-pie,
Her ample store of cake and bun.
She sighed in fullness of content,
And then she gave another sigh,—
“What’s all the good of this,” it meant,
“With none to eat but John and I?“
Frugal she was, nor much would take
Or give; what moved the worthy soul?
She rose and took her largest cake,
And forth on gentle errand stole.
Across the way a neighbour dwelt
With many little mouths to feed;
Heart-sickening care who daily felt,
For failing strength and growing need.
To them her Christmas gift she took,
Leaving ajar the cottage door,
Painting each sharer’s joyful look,
The weltering road she hastened o’er.
And through the storm swift-falling—Hark!
Was that a sob? One moment nigh,
A wild face peered from out the dark—
Some woeful heart was passing by.
The dame had lingered for a space,
And now upon the threshold met
Her spouse, and, with a radiant face,
Shut out the darkness and the wet.
A little stir their entrance makes,
But soon a genial quiet falls;
When, lo! an infant’s wail awakes
Within the unaccustomed walls.
And both are in mid-speech struck mute,
And quick, with startled looks, arise,
And listening stand—nor stir a foot—
Till, hark! again those plaining cries!
Then moving to the couch, that stands
So white and trim, they—half in awe,
And curious half—with eager hands,
Aside the snowy curtains draw.
And there it lay, a tiny thing
All meanly clad and weeping sore;
Such tears no elvish trick could wring,
No less than mortal grief could pour.
Soon as the baby-form was prest
In woman’s arms, it hushed its cries;
And turned toward the mother’s breast
With quivering lips and drowning eyes
They bring it to the light, nor mark
Without—the wreck of woe and sin—
A form that crouches in the dark,
A wild white face that peers within,
Praying the woman-soul to save
Her babe: and to that peaceful hearth
She saw the kiss that welcome gave,
And fled an outcast of the earth.
The cautious dame had questioned still
The bounds of charity and right,
Although her inmost soul would thrill
Above the babe that blessed night.
But for a whisper in her ear,
That boundless love that hour had claim
“A Christmas gift, we’ll keep it, dear,
It was to-night the Saviour came.”
Other works by Isa Craig-Knox on this site include: