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Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Christus: A Mystery

THE NATIVITY

A MIRACLE-PLAY

INTROITUS

PRAECO.
Come, good people, all and each,
Come and listen to our speech!
In your presence here I stand,
With a trumpet in my hand,
To announce the Easter Play,
Which we represent to-day!
First of all we shall rehearse,
In our action and our verse,
The Nativity of our Lord,
As written in the old record
Of the Protevangelion,
So that he who reads may run!

Blows his trumpet.


I. HEAVEN.

MERCY, at the feet of God.
Have pity, Lord! be not afraid
To save mankind, whom thou hast made,
Nor let the souls that were betrayed
  Perish eternally!

JUSTICE.
It cannot be, it must not be!
When in the garden placed by thee,
The fruit of the forbidden tree
  He ate, and he must die!

MERCY.
Have pity, Lord! let penitence
Atone for disobedience,
Nor let the fruit of man's offence
  Be endless misery!

JUSTICE.
What penitence proportionate
Can e'er be felt for sin so great?
Of the forbidden fruit he ate,
  And damned must he be!

GOD.
He shall be saved, if that within
The bounds of earth one free from sin
Be found, who for his kith and kin
  Will suffer martyrdom.

THE FOUR VIRTUES.
Lord! we have searched the world around,
From centre to the utmost bound,
But no such mortal can be found;
  Despairing, back we come.

WISDOM.
No mortal, but a God-made man,
Can ever carry out this plan,
Achieving what none other can,
  Salvation unto all!

GOD.
Go, then, O my beloved Son!
It can by thee alone be done;
By thee the victory shall be won
  O'er Satan and the Fall!

Here the ANGEL GABRIEL shall leave Paradise and fly towards the
earth; the jaws of hell open below, and the Devils walk about,
making a great noise.


II. MARY AT THE WELL

MARY.
Along the garden walk, and thence
Through the wicket in the garden fence
  I steal with quiet pace,
My pitcher at the well to fill,
That lies so deep and cool and still
  In this sequestered place.

These sycamores keep guard around;
I see no face, I hear no sound,
  Save bubblings of the spring,
And my companions, who, within,
The threads of gold and scarlet spin,
  And at their labor sing.

THE ANGEL GABRIEL.
Hail, Virgin Mary, full of grace!

Here MARY looketh around her, trembling, and then saith:

MARY.
Who is it speaketh in this place,
  With such a gentle voice?

GABRIEL.
The Lord of heaven is with thee now!
Blessed among all women thou,
  Who art his holy choice!

MARY, setting down the pitcher.
What can this mean?  No one is near,
And yet, such sacred words I hear,
  I almost fear to stay.

Here the ANGEL, appearing to her, shall say:

GABRIEL.
Fear not, O Mary! but believe!
For thou, a Virgin, shalt conceive
  A child this very day.

Fear not, O Mary! from the sky
The Majesty of the Most High
  Shall overshadow thee!

MARY.
Behold the handmaid of the Lord!
According to thy holy word,
  So be it unto me!

Here the Devils shall again make a great noise, under the stage.


III.  THE ANGELS OF THE SEVEN PLANETS, BEARING THE STAR OF
BETHLEHEM

THE ANGELS.
The Angels of the Planets Seven,
Across the shining fields of heaven
  The natal star we bring!
Dropping our sevenfold virtues down
As priceless jewels in the crown
  Of Christ, our new-born King.

RAPHAEL.
I am the Angel of the Sun,
Whose flaming wheels began to run
  When God Almighty's breath
Said to the darkness and the Night,
Let there he light! and there was light!
  I bring the gift of Faith.

ONAFIEL.
I am the Angel of the Moon,
Darkened to be rekindled soon
  Beneath the azure cope!
Nearest to earth, it is my ray
That best illumes the midnight way;
  I bring the gift of Hope!

ANAEL.
The Angel of the Star of Love,
The Evening Star, that shines above
  The place where lovers be,
Above all happy hearths and homes,
On roofs of thatch, or golden domes,
  I give him Charity!

ZOBIACHEL.
The Planet Jupiter is mine!
The mightiest star of all that shine,
  Except the sun alone!
He is the High Priest of the Dove,
And sends, from his great throne above,
  Justice, that shall atone!

MICHAEL.
The Planet Mercury, whose place
Is nearest to the sun in space,
  Is my allotted sphere!
And with celestial ardor swift
I hear upon my hands the gift
  Of heavenly Prudence here!

URIEL.
I am the Minister of Mars,
The strongest star among the stars!
  My songs of power prelude
The march and battle of man's life,
And for the suffering and the strife,
  I give him Fortitude!

ORIFEL.
The Angel of the uttermost
Of all the shining, heavenly host,
  From the far-off expanse
Of the Saturnian, endless space
I bring the last, the crowning grace,
  The gift of Temperance!

A sudden light shines from the windows of the stable in the
village below.


IV. THE WISE MEN OF THE EAST

The stable of the Inn.  The VIRGIN and CHILD.  Three Gypsy Kings,
GASPAR, MELCHIOR, and BELSHAZZAR, shall come in.

GASPAR.
Hail to thee, Jesus of Nazareth!
Though in a manger thou draw breath,
Thou art greater than Life and Death,
  Greater than Joy or Woe!
This cross upon the line of life
Portendeth struggle, toil, and strife,
And through a region with peril rife
  In darkness shalt thou go!

MELCHIOR.
Hail to thee, King of Jerusalem!
Though humbly born in Bethlehem,
A sceptre and a diadem
  Await thy brow and hand!
The sceptre is a simple reed,
The crown will make thy temples bleed,
And in thine hour of greatest need,
  Abashed thy subjects stand!

BELSHAZZAR.
Hail to thee, Christ of Christendom!
O'er all the earth thy kingdom come!
From distant Trebizond to Rome
  Thy name shall men adore!
Peace and good-will among all men,
The Virgin has returned again,
Returned the old Saturnian reign
  And Golden Age once more.

THE CHILD CHRIST.
Jesus, the Son of God, am I,
Born here to suffer and to die
According to the prophecy,
  That other men may live!

THE VIRGIN.
And now these clothes, that wrapped Him, take
And keep them precious, for his sake;
Our benediction thus we make,
  Naught else have we to give.

She gives them swaddling-clothes and they depart.


V. THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT

Here JOSEPH shall come in, leading an ass, on which are seated
MARY and the CHILD.

MARY.
Here will we rest us, under these
O'erhanging branches of the trees,
Where robins chant their Litanies
  And canticles of joy.

JOSEPH.
My saddle-girths have given way
With trudging through the heat to-day;
To you I think it is but play
  To ride and hold the boy.

MARY.
Hark! how the robins shout and sing,
As if to hail their infant King!
I will alight at yonder spring
  To wash his little coat.

JOSEPH.
And I will hobble well the ass,
Lest, being loose upon the grass,
He should escape; for, by the mass,
  He's nimble as a goat.

Here MARY shall alight and go to the spring.

MARY.
O Joseph! I am much afraid,
For men are sleeping in the shade;
I fear that we shall be waylaid,
  And robbed and beaten sore!

Here a band of robbers shall be seen sleeping, two of whom shall
rise and come forward.

DUMACHUS.
Cock's soul! deliver up your gold!

JOSEPH.
I pray you, sirs, let go your hold!
You see that I am weak and old,
  Of wealth I have no store.

DUMACHUS.
Give up your money!

TITUS.
                    Prithee cease.
Let these people go in peace.

DUMACHUS.
First let them pay for their release,
  And then go on their way.

TITUS.
These forty groats I give in fee,
If thou wilt only silent be.

MARY.
May God he merciful to thee
  Upon the Judgment Day!

JESUS.
When thirty years shall have gone by,
I at Jerusalem shall die,
By Jewish hands exalted high
  On the accursed tree,
Then on my right and my left side,
These thieves shall both be crucified,
And Titus thenceforth shall abide
  In paradise with me.

Here a great rumor of trumpets and horses, like the noise of a
king with his army, and the robbers shall take flight.


VI. THE SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENTS

KING HEROD.
Potz-tausend!  Himmel-sacrament!
Filled am I with great wonderment
  At this unwelcome news!
Am I not Herod?  Who shall dare
My crown to take, my sceptre bear,
  As king among the Jews?

Here he shall stride up and down and flourish his sword.

What ho! I fain would drink a can
Of the strong wine of Canaan!
  The wine of Helbon bring
I purchased at the Fair of Tyre,
As red as blood, as hot as fire,
And fit for any king!

He quaffs great goblets of wine.

Now at the window will I stand,
While in the street the armed band
  The little children slay;
The babe just born in Bethlehem
Will surely slaughtered be with them,
  Nor live another day!

Here a voice of lamentation shall be heard in the street.

RACHEL.
O wicked king!  O cruel speed!
To do this most unrighteous deed!
  My children all are slain!

HEROD.
Ho, seneschal! another cup!
With wine of Sorek fill it up!
  I would a bumper drain!

RAHAB.
May maledictions fall and blast
Thyself and lineage to the last
  Of all thy kith and kin!

HEROD.
Another goblet! quick! and stir
Pomegranate juice and drops of myrrh
  And calamus therein!

SOLDIERS, in the street.
Give up thy child into our hands!
It is King Herod who commands
  That he should thus be slain!

THE NURSE MEDUSA.
O monstrous men!  What have ye done!
It is King Herod's only son
  That ye have cleft in twain!

HEROD.
Ah, luckless day!  What words of fear
Are these that smite upon my ear
  With such a doleful sound!
What torments rack my heart and head!
Would I were dead! would I were dead,
  And buried in the ground!

He falls down and writhes as though eaten by worms.  Hell opens,
and SATAN and ASTAROTH come forth and drag him down.


VII.  JESUS AT PLAY WITH HIS SCHOOLMATES

JESUS.
The shower is over.  Let us play,
And make some sparrows out of clay,
  Down by the river's side.

JUDAS.
See, how the stream has overflowed
Its banks, and o'er the meadow road
  Is spreading far and wide!

They draw water out of the river by channels and form little
pools. JESUS makes twelve sparrows of clay, and the other boys do
the same.

JESUS.
Look! look how prettily I make
These little sparrows by the lake
  Bend down their necks and drink!
Now will I make them sing and soar
So far, they shall return no more
  Unto this river's brink.

JUDAS.
That canst thou not!  They are but clay,
They cannot sing, nor fly away
  Above the meadow lands!

JESUS.
Fly, fly! ye sparrows! you are free!
And while you live, remember me,
  Who made you with my hands.

Here JESUS shall clap his hands, and the sparrows shall fly away,
chirruping.

JUDAS.
Thou art a sorcerer, I know;
Oft has my mother told me so,
  I will not play with thee!

He strikes JESUS in the right side.

JESUS.
Ah, Judas! thou hast smote my side,
And when I shall be crucified,
  There shall I pierced be!

Here JOSEPH shall come in and say:

JOSEPH.
Ye wicked boys! why do ye play,
And break the holy Sabbath day?
What, think ye, will your mothers say
  To see you in such plight!
In such a sweat and such a heat,
With all that mud upon your feet!
There's not a beggar in the street
Makes such a sorry sight!


VIII.  THE VILLAGE SCHOOL

The RABBI BEN ISRAEL, sitting on a high stool, with a long beard,
and a rod in his hand.

RABBI.
I am the Rabbi Ben Israel,
Throughout this village known full well,
And, as my scholars all will tell,
  Learned in things divine;
The Cabala and Talmud hoar
Than all the prophets prize I more,
For water is all Bible lore,
  But Mishna is strong wine.

My fame extends from West to East,
And always, at the Purim feast,
I am as drunk as any beast
  That wallows in his sty;
The wine it so elateth me,
That I no difference can see
Between "Accursed Haman be!"
And "Blessed be Mordecai!"

Come hither, Judas Iscariot;
Say, if thy lesson thou hast got
From the Rabbinical Book or not.
  Why howl the dogs at night?

JUDAS.
In the Rabbinical Book, it saith
The dogs howl, when with icy breath
Great Sammael, the Angel of Death,
  Takes through the town his flight!

RABBI.
Well, boy! now say, if thou art wise,
When the Angel of Death, who is full of eyes,
Comes where a sick man dying lies,
  What doth he to the wight?

JUDAS.
He stands beside him, dark and tall,
Holding a sword, from which doth fall
Into his mouth a drop of gall,
  And so he turneth white.

RABBI.
And now, my Judas, say to me
What the great Voices Four may be,
That quite across the world do flee,
  And are not heard by men?

JUDAS.
The Voice of the Sun in heaven's dome,
The Voice of the Murmuring of Rome,
The Voice of a Soul that goeth home,
  And the Angel of the Rain!

RABBI.
Right are thine answers every one!
Now, little Jesus, the carpenter's son,
Let us see how thy task is done;
  Canst thou thy letters say?

JESUS.
Aleph.

RABBI.
        What next? Do not stop yet!
Go on with all the alphabet.
Come, Aleph, Beth; dost thou forget?
  Cock's soul! thou'dst rather play!

JESUS.
What Aleph means I fain would know
Before I any farther go!

RABBI.
Oh, by Saint Peter! wouldst thou so?
  Come hither, boy, to me.
As surely as the letter Jod
Once cried aloud, and spake to God,
So surely shalt thou feel this rod,
  And punished shalt thou be!

Here RABBI BEN ISRAEL shall lift up his rod to strike Jesus, and
his right arm shall be paralyzed.


IX.  CROWNED WITH FLOWERS

JESUS sitting among his playmates, crowned with flowers as their
King.

BOYS.
We spread our garments on the ground!
With fragrant flowers thy head is crowned
While like a guard we stand around,
  And hail thee as our King!
Thou art the new King of the Jews!
Nor let the passers-by refuse
To bring that homage which men use
  To majesty to bring.

Here a traveller shall go by, and the boys shall lay hold of his
garments and say:

BOYS.
Come hither I and all reverence pay
Unto our monarch, crowned to-day!
Then go rejoicing on your way,
  In all prosperity!

TRAVELLER.
Hail to the King of Bethlehem,
Who weareth in his diadem
The yellow crocus for the gem
  Of his authority!

He passes by; and others come in, bearing on a litter a sick
child.

BOYS.
Set down the litter and draw near!
The King of Bethlehem is here!
What ails the child, who seems to fear
  That we shall do him harm?

THE BEARERS.
He climbed up to the robin's nest,
And out there darted, from his rest,
A serpent with a crimson crest,
  And stung him in the arm.

JESUS.
Bring him to me, and let me feel
The wounded place; my touch can heal
The sting of serpents, and can steal
  The poison from the bite!

He touches the wound, and the boy begins to cry.

Cease to lament!  I can foresee
That thou hereafter known shalt be,
Among the men who follow me,
  As Simon the Canaanite!

EPILOGUE
  In the after part of the day
  Will be represented another play,
  Of the Passion of our Blessed Lord,
  Beginning directly after Nones!
  At the close of which we shall accord,
  By way of benison and reward,
  The sight of a holy Martyr's bones!