Verse > John Greenleaf Whittier > The Poetical Works in Four Volumes
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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892).  The Poetical Works in Four Volumes.  1892.
 
Religious Poems
The Star of Bethlehem
 
WHERE Time the measure of his hours
  By changeful bud and blossom keeps,
And, like a young bride crowned with flowers,
  Fair Shiraz in her garden sleeps;
 
Where, to her poet’s turban stone,        5
  The Spring her gift of flowers imparts,
Less sweet than those his thoughts have sown
  In the warm soil of Persian hearts:
 
There sat the stranger, where the shade
  Of scattered date-trees thinly lay,        10
While in the hot clear heaven delayed
  The long and still and weary day.
 
Strange trees and fruits above him hung,
  Strange odors filled the sultry air,
Strange birds upon the branches swung,        15
  Strange insect voices murmured there.
 
And strange bright blossoms shone around,
  Turned sunward from the shadowy bowers,
As if the Gheber’s soul had found
  A fitting home in Iran’s flowers.        20
 
Whate’er he saw, whate’er he heard,
  Awakened feelings new and sad,—
No Christian garb, nor Christian word,
  Nor church with Sabbath-bell chimes glad,
 
But Moslem graves, with turban stones,        25
  And mosque-spires gleaming white, in view,
And graybeard Mollahs in low tones
  Chanting their Koran service through.
 
The flowers which smiled on either hand,
  Like tempting fiends, were such as they        30
Which once, o’er all that Eastern land,
  As gifts on demon altars lay.
 
As if the burning eye of Baal
  The servant of his Conqueror knew,
From skies which knew no cloudy veil,        35
  The Sun’s hot glances smote him through.
 
“Ah me!” the lonely stranger said,
  “The hope which led my footsteps on,
And light from heaven around them shed,
  O’er weary wave and waste, is gone!        40
 
“Where are the harvest fields all white,
  For Truth to thrust her sickle in?
Where flock the souls, like doves in flight,
  From the dark hiding-place of sin?
 
“A silent horror broods o’er all,—        45
  The burden of a hateful spell,—
The very flowers around recall
  The hoary magi’s rites of hell!
 
“And what am I, o’er such a land
  The banner of the Cross to bear?        50
Dear Lord, uphold me with Thy hand,
  Thy strength with human weakness share!”
 
He ceased; for at his very feet
  In mild rebuke a floweret smiled;
How thrilled his sinking heart to greet        55
  The Star-flower of the Virgin’s child!
 
Sown by some wandering Frank, it drew
  Its life from alien air and earth,
And told to Paynim sun and dew
  The story of the Saviour’s birth.        60
 
From scorching beams, in kindly mood,
  The Persian plants its beauty screened,
And on its pagan sisterhood,
  In love, the Christian floweret leaned.
 
With tears of joy the wanderer felt        65
  The darkness of his long despair
Before that hallowed symbol melt,
  Which God’s dear love had nurtured there.
 
From Nature’s face, that simple flower
  The lines of sin and sadness swept;        70
And Magian pile and Paynim bower
  In peace like that of Eden slept.
 
Each Moslem tomb, and cypress old,
  Looked holy through the sunset air;
And, angel-like, the Muezzin told        75
  From tower and mosque the hour of prayer.
 
With cheerful steps, the morrow’s dawn
  From Shiraz saw the stranger part;
The Star-flower of the Virgin-Born
  Still blooming in his hopeful heart!

  1830.
        80
 
 
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