We were out on the hills that night
To watch our sheep;
Drowsily by the fire we lay
Where the waning flame did flicker and leap,
And some were weary and half asleep,
And some talked low of their flocks and the fright
Of a lion that day.
But I had drawn from the others apart;
I was only a lad,
And the night's great silence so filled my heart
That I dared not talk and I dared not jest;
The moon had gone down behind the hill
And even the wind of the desert was still;
As the touch of death the air was cold,
And the world seemed all outworn and old;
Yet a poignant delight in my soul was guest,
And I could not be sad.
Still were my thoughts the thoughts of youth
Under the skies:
I dreamed of the holy and tender truth
That shone for me in my mother's eyes;
Of my little sister's innocent grace,
And the mirthful lure in the olive face
Of a maid I had seen at the well that day,
Singing low as I passed that way,
And so sweet and wild were the notes of her song,
That I listened long.
Was it the dawn that silvered and broke
Over the hill?
Each at the other looked in amaze,
And never a breathless word we spoke.
Fast into rose and daffodil
Deepened that splendor; athwart its blaze
That pierced like a sword the gulf of night
We saw a form that was shaped of the light,
And we veiled our faces in awe and dread
To hearken the tidings the Bright One told
Oh! wonderful were the words he said
Of a Child in Bethlehem's manger old.
The stars were drowned in that orient glow;
The sky was abloom like a meadow in spring;
But each blossom there was a radiant face
And each flash of glory a shining wing;
They harped of peace and great good will,
And such was their music that well I know
There can never again in my soul be space
For a sound of ill.
The light died out as the sunset dies
In the western skies;
Swift went we to the Bethlehem khan,
Many our questions laughed to scorn,
But one, a gray and wrinkled man,
With strange, deep eyes that searched the heart,
Led us down to the child new-born
In a dim-lighted cave apart.
There on the straw the mother lay
Wan and white,
But her look was so holy and rapt and mild
That it seemed to shed a marvellous light,
Faint as the first rare gleam of day,
Around the child.
It was as other children are
Saving for something in the eyes,
Starlike and clear and strangely wise
Then came a sudden thought to me
Of a lamb I had found on the waste afar;
Lost and sick with hunger and cold,
I had brought it back in my arms to the fold
For tender ministry.
Dawn had flooded the east as a wave
When we left the cave;
All the world suddenly seemed to be
Young and pure and joyous again;
The others lingered to talk with the men,
Full of wonder and rapture still;
But I hastened back to the fold on the hill
To tend the lamb that had need of me.