The Nativity

G.K. Chesterton

For unto us a child is born. —Isaiah

    The thatch of the roof was as golden,
    Though dusty the straw was and old,
    The wind was a peal as of trumpets,
    Though barren and blowing and cold:
    The mother's hair was a glory,
    Though loosened and torn,
    For under the eaves in the gloaming—
    A child was born.

    O, if a man sought a sign in the inmost
    That God shaketh broadest his best,
    That things fairest are oldest and simplest,
    In the first days created and blest:
    Far flush all the tufts of the clover,
    Thick mellows the corn,
    A cloud shapes, a daisy is opened—
    A child is born.

    With raw mists of the earth-rise about them,
    Risen red from the ribs of the earth,
    Wild and huddled, the man and the woman,
    Bent dumb o'er the earliest birth;
    Ere the first roof was hammered above them.
    The first skin was worn,
    Before code, before creed, before conscience—
    A child was born.

    What know we of aeons behind us,
    Dim dynasties lost long ago,
    Huge empires like dreams unremembered,
    Dread epics of glory and woe?
    This we know, that with blight and with blessing,
    With flower and with thorn,
    Love was there, and his cry was among them—
    "A child is born."

    And to us, though we pore and unravel
    Black dogmas that crush us and mar,
    Through parched lips pessimistic dare mutter
    Hoarse fates of a frost-bitten star;
    Though coarse strains and heredities soil it,
    Bleak reasoners scorn,
    To us too, as of old, to us also—
    A child is born.

    Though the darkness be noisy with systems,
    Dark fancies that fret and disprove;
    Still the plumes stir around us, above us,
    The wings of the shadow of love.
    Still the fountains of life are unbroken,
    Their splendour unshorn;
    The secret, the symbol, the promise—
    A child is born.

    Have a myriad children been quickened,
    Have a myriad children grown old,
    Grown gross and unloved and embittered,
    Grown cunning and savage and cold?
    God abides in a terrible patience,
    Unangered, unworn,
    And again for the child that was squandered—
    A child is born.

    In the time of dead things it is living,
    In the moonless grey night is a gleam,
    Still the babe that is quickened may conquer,
    The life that is new may redeem.
    Ho, princes and priests, have you heard it?
    Grow pale through your scorn.
    Huge dawns sleep before us, stern changes—
    A child is born.

    More than legions that toss and that trample,
    More than choirs that bend Godward and sing,
    Than the blast of the lips of the prophet,
    Than the sword in the hands of the King,
    More strong against Evil than judges
    That smite and that scorn,
    The greatest, the last, and the sternest—
    A child is born.

    And the rafters of toil still are gilded
    With the dawn of the star of the heart,
    And the Wise Men draw near in the twilight,
    Who are weary of learning and art,
    And the face of the tyrant is darkened,
    His spirit is torn,
    For a new King is throned of a nation—
    A child is born.

    And the mother still joys for the whispered
    First stir of unspeakable things;
    Still feels that high moment unfurling,
    Red glories of Gabriel's wings.
    Still the babe of an hour is a master
    Whom angels adorn,
    Emmanuel, prophet, annointed—
    A child is born.

    To the rusty barred doors of the hungry,
    To the struggle for life and the din,
    Still, with brush of bright plumes and with knocking,
    The Kingdom of God enters in.
    To the daughters of patience that labour
    That weep and are worn,
    One moment of love and of laughter—
    A child is born.

    To the last dizzy circles of pleasure,
    Of fashion and song-swimming nights,
    Comes yet hope's obscure crucifixion,
    The birth fire that quickens and bites,
    To the daughters of fame that are idle,
    That smile and that scorn,
    One moment of darkness and travail—
    A child is born.

    And till man and his riddle be answered,
    While earth shall remain and desire,
    While the flesh of a man is as grass is,
    The soul of a man as a fire,
    While the daybreak shall come with its banner,
    The moon with its horn,
    It shall rest with us that which is written—
    "A child is born."

    And for him that shall dream that the martyr
    Is banished, and love but a toy,
    That life lives not through pain and surrender,
    Living only through self and its joy,
    Shall the Lord God erase from the body
    The oath he has sworn?
    Bend back to thy work, saying only—
    "A child is born."

    And Thou that art still in the cradle,
    The sun being crown for Thy brow,
    Make answer, our flesh, make an answer.
    Say whence art Thou come? Who art Thou?
    Art Thou come back on earth for our teaching,
    To train or to warn?
    Hush! How may we know, knowing only—
    A child is born?

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Last modified: 17th January, 2020
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