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James Elroy Flecker


A Miracle of Bethlehem


SCENE: A street of that village.
Three men with ropes, accosted by a stranger.
THE STRANGER

I pray you, tell me where you go
With heads averted from the skies,
And long ropes trailing in the snow,
And resolution in your eyes.

THE FIRST MAN

I am a lover sick of love,
For scorn rewards my constancy;
And now I hate the stars above,
Because my dear will naught of me.

THE SECOND MAN

I am a beggar man, and play
Songs with a splendid swing in them,
But I have seen no food to-day.
They want no song in Bethlehem.

THE THIRD MAN

I am an old man, Sir, and blind,
A child of darkness since my birth.
I cannot even call to mind
The beauty of the scheme of earth.

Therefore I sought to understand
A secret hid from mortal eyes,
So in a far and fragrant land
I talked with men accounted wise,

And I implored the Indian priest
For wisdom from his holy snake,
Yet am no wiser in the least,
And have not seen the darkness break.

STRANGER

And whither go ye now, unhappy three?

THE THREE MEN WITH ROPES

Sir, in our strange and special misery
We met this night, and swore in bitter pride
To sing one song together, friend with friend,
And then, proceeding to the country side,
To bind this cordage to a barren tree,
And face to face to give our lives an end,
And only thus shall we be satisfied.
(They make to continue their road)

THE STRANGER

Stay for a moment. Great is your despair,
But God is kind. What voice from over there?

A WOMAN (from a lattice)

My lover, O my lover, come to me!

FIRST MAN

God with you. (he runs to the window)

STRANGER

Ah, how swiftly gone is he!

MANY VOICES, (heard singing in a cottage)

There is a softness in the night
A wonder in that splendid star
That fills us with delight,
Poor foolish working people that we are,
And only fit to keep
A little garden or a dozen sheep.

Old broken women at the fire
Have many ancient tales they sing,
How the whole world's desire
Should blossom here, and how a child should bring
New glory to his race
Though born in so contemptible a place.

Let all come in, if any brother go
In shame or hunger, cold or fear,
Through all this waste of snow.
To night the Star, the Rose, the Song are near,
And still inside the door
Is full provision for another score.
(The Beggar runs to them)

THE STRANGER (to the Blind Man)

Do you not mean to share these joys?

THE BLIND MAN

Aweary of this earthly noise
I pace my silent way.
Come you and help me tie this rope:
I would not lose my only hope.
Already clear the birds I hear,
Already breaks the day.

STRANGER

O foolish and most blind old man,
Where are those other two?

THE BLIND MAN

Why, one is wed and t'other fed:
Small thanks they gave to you.

STRANGER

To me no thanks are due.
Yet since I have some little power
Bequeathed me at this holy hour,
I tell you, friend, that God shall grant
This night to you your dearest want.

THE BLIND MAN

Why this sweet odour? Why this flame?
I am afraid. What is your name?

THE STRANGER

Ask your desire, for this great night
Is passing.

THE BLIND MAN

Sir, I ask my sight.

THE STRANGER

To see this earth? Or would you see
That hidden world which sent you me?

THE BLIND MAN

O sweet it were but once before I die
To track the bird about the windy sky,
Or watch the soft and changing grace
Imprinted on a human face.
Yet grant me that which most I struggled for,
Since I am old, and snow is on the ground.
On earth there's little to be found,
And I would bear with earth no more.
O gentle youth,
A fool am I, but let me see the Truth!

THE STRANGER

Gaze in my eyes.

THE BLIND MAN

How can I gaze?
What song is that, and what these rays
Of splendour and this rush of wings?

THE STRANGER

These are the new celestial things.

THE BLIND MAN

Round the body of a child
A great dark flame runs wild.
What may this be?

THE STRANGER

Look further, you shall see.

THE BLIND MAN

Out on the sea of time and far away
The Empires sail like ships, and many years
Scatter before them in a mist of spray:
Beyond is mist—when the mist clears -
Enough—Away!—O friend, I would be there!

STRANGER

It is most sure that God has heard his prayer.
(The stranger vanishes)

THE BEGGAR

(Leading a troop of revellers from the house where they were singing)

Come, brothers, seek my friend and bring him in.
On such a night as this it were a sin
To leave the blind alone.

THE REVELLERS

Greatly we fear lest he, still resolute,
Have wandered to the fields for poisoned fruit.

THE BEGGAR

See here upon this stone . . .
He is all frozen . . . take him to a bed
And warm his hands.

THE REVELLERS

O sorrow, he is dead!

Submitted: Thursday, April 15, 2010

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