Christmas Gifts by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
hos basilei, hos theps, hos nekrps.
The Pope on Christmas Day
Sits in Saint Peter’s chair;
But the peoples murmur and say
“Our souls are sick and forlorn,
And who will show us where
Is the stable where Christ was born?”
The star is lost in the dark;
The manger is lost in the straw;
The Christ cries faintly … hark!…
Through bands that swaddle and strangle–
But the Pope in the chair of awe
Looks down the great quadrangle.
The Magi kneel at his foot,
Kings of the East and West,
But, instead of the angels (mute
Is the “Peace on earth” of their song),
The peoples, perplexed and opprest,
Are sighing “How long, how long?”
And, instead of the kine, bewilder in
Shadow of aisle and dome,
The bear who tore up the children,
The fox who burnt up the corn,
And the wolf who suckled at Rome
Brothers to slay and to scorn.
Cardinals left and right of him,
Worshippers round and beneath,
The silver trumpets at sight of him
Thrill with a musical blast:
But the people say through their teeth,
“Trumpets? we wait for the Last!”
He sits in the place of the Lord,
And asks for the gifts of the time;
Gold, for the haft of a sword
To win back Romagna averse,
Incense, to sweeten a crime,
And myrrh, to embitter a curse.
Then a king of the West said “Good!–
I bring thee the gifts of the time;
Red, for the patriot’s blood,
Green, for the martyr’s crown,
White, for the dew and the rime,
When the morning of God comes down.”
–O mystic tricolor bright!
The Pope’s heart quailed like a man’s;
The cardinals froze at the sight,
Bowing their tonsures hoary:
And the eyes in the peacock-fans
Winked at the alien glory.
But the peoples exclaimed in hope,
“Now blessed be he who has brought
These gifts of the time to the Pope,
When our souls were sick and forlorn.
–And here is the star we sought,
To show us where Christ was born!”