John Greenleaf Whittier, the great 19th-century poet, lived here in Amesbury for most of his life and found inspiration for many of his poems in our local environs. In this poem, “The Christmas of 1888,” Whittier describes the sunrise on a balmy Christmas day in Amesbury more than 120 years ago. It was published in our local daily newspaper in place of the usual editorial. It seems particularly fitting as we’re still having rather “balmy” weather this month and our ponds and lakes have yet to sport any ice cakes. I offer this poem as part of our twelve days of Christmas.
P.S. I have a particular interest in Whittier and if you want to read about our publications about Whittier, navigate to that section. http://michaelmaspress.com/bookstore/john-greenleaf-whittier/
THE CHRISTMAS OF 1888
Low in the east, against a white, cold dawn,
The black-lined silhouette of the woods was drawn,
And on a wintry waste
Of frosted streams and hillsides bare and brown,
Through thin cloud-films a pallid ghost looked down,
The waning moon half-faced.
In that pale sky and sere, snow-waiting earth,
What sign was there of the immortal birth?
What herald of the One?
Lo! swift as thought the heavenly radiance came,
A rose-red splendor swept the sky like flame,
Up rolled the round, bright sun!
And all was changed. From a transfigured world
The moon’s ghost fled, the smoke of home-hearths curled
Up to the still air unblown.
In Orient warmth and brightness, did that morn
O’er Nain and Nazereth, when the Christ was born,
Break fairer than our own?
The morning’s promise noon and eve fulfilled
In warm, soft sky and landscape hazy-filled
And sunset fair as they;
A sweet reminder of His holiest time,
A summer-miracle in our winter clime,
God gave a perfect day.
The near was blended with the old and far,
And Bethlehem’s hillside and the Magi’s star
Seemed here, as there and then, —
Our homestead pine-tree was the Syrian palm,
Our heart’s desire the angels’ midnight psalm,
Peace, and good-will to men!