hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA


December 21, 2011

John Greenleaf Whittier: A Christmas morning long ago

The great 19th century poet John Greenleaf Whittier was born in Haverhill in 1807 and set many of his poems in Haverhill and environs. In this poem, "The Christmas of 1888," Whittier describes the sunrise on a balmy Christmas day more than 120 years ago. We offer it to you this week in place of our usual editorial and wish you a Merry Christmas.

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!

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