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Poem by Henry Timrod
’T was merry Christmas when he came, Our little boy beneath the sod; And brighter burned the Christmas flame, And merrier sped the Christmas game, Because within the house there lay A shape as tiny as a fay— The Christmas gift of God! In wreaths and garlands on the walls The holly hung its ruby balls, The mistletoe its pearls; And a Christmas tree’s fantastic fruits Woke laughter like a choir of flutes From happy boys and girls. For the mirth, which else had swelled as shrill As a school let loose to its errant will, Was softened by the thought, That in a dim hushed room above A mother’s pains in a mother’s love Were only just forgot. The jest, the tale, the toast, the glee, All took a sober tone; We spoke of the babe upstairs, as we Held festival for him alone. When the bells rang in the Christmas morn, It scarcely seemed a sin to say That they rang because that babe was born, Not less than for the sacred day. Ah! Christ forgive us for the crime Which drowned the memories of the time In a merely mortal bliss! We owned the error when the mirth Of another Christmas lit the hearth Of every home but this. When, in that lonely burial-ground, With every Christmas sight and sound Removed or shunned, we kept A mournful Christmas by the mound Where little Willie slept! Ah, hapless mother! darling wife! I might say nothing more, And the dull cold world would hold The story of that precious life As amply told! Shall we, shall you and I, before That world’s unsympathetic eyes Lay other relics from our store Of tender memories? What could it know of the joy and love That throbbed and smiled and wept above An unresponsive thing? And who could share the ecstatic thrill With which we watched the upturned bill Of our bird at its living spring? Shall we tell how in the time gone by, Beneath all changes of the sky, And in an ordinary home Amid the city’s din, Life was to us a crystal dome, Our babe the flame therein? Ah! this were jargon on the mart; And though some gentle friend, And many and many a suffering heart, Would weep and comprehend, Yet even these might fail to see What we saw daily in the child— Not the mere creature undefiled, But the winged cherub soon to be. That wandering hand which seemed to reach At angel finger-tips, And that murmur like a mystic speech Upon the rosy lips, That something in the serious face Holier than even its infant grace, And that rapt gaze on empty space, Which made us, half believing, say, “Ah, little wide-eyed seer! who knows But that for you this chamber glows With stately shapes and solemn shows?” Which touched us, too, with vague alarms, Lest in the circle of our arms We held a being less akin To his parents in a world of sin Than to beings not of clay: How could we speak in human phrase, Of such scarce earthly traits and ways, What would not seem A doting dream, In the creed of these sordid days? No! let us keep Deep, deep, In sorrowing heart and aching brain, This story hidden with the pain, Which since that blue October night When Willie vanished from our sight, Must haunt us even in our sleep. In the gloom of the chamber where he died, And by that grave which, through our care, From Yule to Yule of every year, Is made like spring to bloom; And where, at times, we catch the sigh As of an angel floating nigh, Who longs but has not power to tell That in that violet-shrouded cell Lies nothing better than the shell Which he had cast aside— By that sweet grave, in that dark room, We may weave at will for each other’s ear, Of that life, and that love, and that early doom, The tale which is shadowed here: To us alone it will always be As fresh as our own misery; But enough, alas! for the world is said, In the brief “Here lieth” of the dead!
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