The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Shepherds

Henry Vaughan

Source: Harrison S. Morris, ed., In The Yule-Log Glow--Book 3; Christmas Poems from 'round the World. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1900, pp. 141-143. Project Gutenberg eText # 20586.

Sweet, harmless livers! on whose holy leisure
Waits innocence and pleasure;
Whose leaders to those pastures and clear springs
Were patriarchs, saints, and kings;
How happened it that in the dead of night
You only saw true light,
While Palestine was fast asleep and lay
Without one thought of day?
Was it because those first and blessed swains
Were pilgrims on those plains
When they received the promise, for which now
'Twas there first shown to you?
'Tis true he loves that dust whereon they go
That serve him here below,
And therefore might for memory of those
His love then first disclose;
But wretched Salem, once his love, must now
No voice nor vision know;
Her stately piles with all their height and pride
Now languished and died,
And Bethl'em's humble cots above them stept
While all her seers slept;
Her cedar fir, hewed stones, and gold were all
Polluted through their fall;
And those once sacred mansions were now
Mere emptiness and show.
This made the angel call at reeds and thatch,
Yet where the shepherds watch,
And God's own lodging, though he could not lack,
To be a common rack.
No costly pride, no soft-clothed luxury
In those thin cells could lie;
Each stirring wind and storm blew through their cots,
Which never harbored plots;
Only content and love and humble joys
Lived there without all noise;
Perhaps some harmless cares for the next day
Did in their bosoms play:
As where to lead their sheep, what silent nook,
What springs or shades to look;
But that was all; and now with gladsome care
They for the town prepare;
They leave their flock, and in a busy talk
All towards Bethl'em walk,
To seek their soul's great Shepherd who was come
To bring all stragglers home;
Where now they find him out, and, taught before,
The Lamb of God adore,
That Lamb, whose days great kings and prophets wished
And longed to see, but missed.
The first light they beheld was bright and gay,
And turned their night to day;
But to this later light they saw in him,
Their day was dark and dim.

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