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Father Ryan's Poems (60)

2006-09-08 16:13

    A Christmas Chant

    They ask me to sing them a Christmas song That with musical mirth shall ring; How know I that the world's great throng Will care for the words I sing?

    Let the young and the gay chant the Christmas lay, Their voices and hearts are glad; But I —— I am old, and my locks are gray, And they tell me my voice is sad.

    Ah! once I could sing, when my heart beat warm With hopes, bright as life's first spring; But the spring hath fled, and the golden charm Hath gone from the songs I sing.

    I have lost the spell that my verse could weave O'er the souls of the old and young, And never again —— how it makes me grieve —— Shall I sing as once I sung.

    Why ask a song? ah! perchance you believe, Since my days are so nearly past, That the song you'll hear on this Christmas eve Is the old man's best and last.

    Do you want the jingle of rhythm and rhyme? Art's sweet but meaningless notes? Or the music of thought, that, like the chime Of a grand cathedral, floats

    Out of each word, and along each line, Into the spirit's ear, Lifting it up and making it pine For a something far from here;

    Bearing the wings of the soul aloft From earth and its shadows dim; Soothing the breast with a sound as soft As a dream, or a seraph's hymn;

    Evoking the solemnest hopes and fears From our being's higher part; Dimming the eyes with radiant tears That flow from a spell bound heart?

    Do they want a song that is only a song, With no mystical meanings rife? Or a music that solemnly moves along —— The undertone of a life!

    Well, then, I'll sing, though I know no art, Nor the poet's rhymes nor rules —— A melody moves through my aged heart Not learned from the books or schools:

    A music I learned in the days long gone —— I cannot tell where or how —— But no matter where, it still sounds on Back of this wrinkled brow. And down in my heart I hear it still, Like the echoes of far-off bells; Like the dreamy sound of a summer rill Flowing through fairy dells.

    But what shall I sing for the world's gay throng, And what the words of the old man's song?

    The world they tell me, is so giddy grown That thought is rare; And thoughtless minds and shallow hearts alone Hold empire there;

    That fools have prestige, place and power and fame; Can it be true That wisdom is a scorn, a hissing shame, And wise are few?

    They tell me, too, that all is venal, vain, With high and low; That truth and honor are the slaves of gain; Can it be so?

    That lofty principle hath long been dead And in a shroud; That virtue walks ashamed, with downcast head, Amid the crowd.

    They tell me, too, that few they are who own God's law and love; That thousands, living for this earth alone, Look not above;

    That daily, hourly, from the bad to worse, Men tread the path, Blaspheming God, and careless of the curse Of his dead wrath.

    And must I sing for slaves of sordid gain, Or to the few Shall I not dedicate this Christmas strain Who still are true?

    No; not for the false shall I strike the strings Of the lyre that was mute so long; If I sing at all, the gray bard sings For the few and the true his song.

    And ah! there is many a changeful mood That over my spirit steals; Beneath their spell, and in verses rude, Whatever he dreams or feels.

    Whatever the fancies this Christmas eve Are haunting the lonely man, Whether they gladden, or whether they grieve, He'll sing them as best he can.

    Though some of the strings of his lyre are broke This holiest night of the year, Who knows how its melody may wake A Christmas smile or a tear?

    So on with the mystic song, With its meaning manifold -Two tones in every word, Two thoughts in every tone; In the measured words that move along One meaning shall be heard, One thought to all be told; But under it all, to be alone —— And under it all, to all unknown —— As safe as under a coffin-lid, Deep meanings shall be hid. Find them out who can! The thoughts concealed and unrevealed In the song of the lonely man.

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