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A poem by Grant Balfour

Another Christmas

Title:     Another Christmas
Author: Grant Balfour [More Titles by Balfour]

Two nights, not more, before the Christmas eve,
A heap of things for washing lay against
The wall. Alas, at any time too great,
The present task might break the weary back,
But Christmas need was pressing and the labour
Must be done. (Oh, spare that wasted frame!
Hear, O Lord, the widow's cry!)

The weary, yet the watchful boy,
His blackboard took and wrote in letters big
And urgent, seeming charged with meaning strange.
And the clock's alarum was set. And now
On bended knee beside his mother's knee
He spoke his simple prayer, pleading lastly
That his mother might have better wages
And have rest. And, oh, the mother's heart
Went with him, with himself before the throne,
Forgetful, ay entirely, of herself.
A wild temptation seized her. She would clasp,
Yea, fiercely hug, that wasted angel-body
To her breast, and kiss those guileless, beauteous,
Sweetest lips. Alas! she knew the worst
Had come--those eyes, uplifted, hollow, shining,
Spoke of death. And why refrain? She would not,
Yea, she drank the cup of pleasure to the full.
The child was glad, and went to rest,
A smile of heaven on his lips.

And now the mother satisfied, as one
With strongest wine, rose up, and ope'd the door.
She looked abroad a moment, then went out
Into the silent air. The deep ravine
Was glorious white. The mighty pines were robed
As if prepared to sing in heaven's choir
On earth, when strong the northern tempest blew.
The widow, vigour getting for a little
From the frosty air, admired the scene,
And lifting up her eyes to sparkling worlds
Above, she felt assured, though human help
And pity wholly failed, that somewhere, sometime,
There was plenteous rest.

And yet she thanked
And praised the Power that good and evil gave,
For one brief cup of pleasure, if no more--
Her pleasure in her darling boy. "Take him,
O Lord, whatever portion mine."

The tension loosed,
The stricken widow turned, yet ere she turned
She scanned the northern shore of brilliant night,
And, lo, a mountain mass of tempest clouds
Lined up for battle with the sleeping south.
The woman, fearless, smiled as if in kinship
With the coming storm.

But having struggled, spoken,
Pleaded strong, her transient vigour gone,
She stumbled to the door and entered in.
Beside the bed, she saw the letters written
On the board, as if the sacred writing
On the wall. She saw the slender lovely hand
Exposed that wrote them, and she bowed and kissed it,
But she could not weep.

Ere midnight came,
The child awoke, disturbed, and anxious said,
"Oh, mother dear, what is that awful sound?"
"My darling, 'tis the sighing of the wind
Among the pines." But swifter sped the tempest,
Swifter, and the pines--they bowed their heads
Before the blast and sang. The cedars high
And oaks together answered back in song,
And louder, louder, as if thunder grand,
The tempest bell of music rang. The boy
Awoke again, and feebly cried--"Oh, mother,
I'm afraid--what is that dreadful sound?"
"My darling, fear not, 'tis the voice of God--
He leads the choir. And he remembers you
And me." "Oh, mother, take me in beside you,
I'm afraid of God, but Jesus"--Here he stopped.
He struggled till he got in part athwart
The cot. And as his wearied head sank down
He whispered faintly, and there came a broken
Answer, whispering--"Near me, nearer, darling"--
That was all.

The storm, the mother's music.
But the child's affright, attained its height.
Then sudden rang the loud alarum. But
They heard it not.

* * * * *

There was once a manger,
Once a cross, and both by man despised.
But God hath both exalted high. And once
A lonely cottage lowly, overlooked
By men. But God on it had mercy.
Tho' He seemed to be in wrath.

Three wise men
Did not come, nor one. A child, a girl
With golden hair and gray-blue laughing eyes,
A furtive playmate of the boy, with stress
Walked through the spotless wreaths of snow. The morning
Saw her come, when all was still. No lock
Debarred her, and she entered, having knocked.
She saw the writing on the blackboard big,
Against the wall, in trembling chalk--

[The end]
Grant Balfour's poem: Another Christmas