Ella Wheeler Wilcox (5 November 1850 - 30 October 1919 / Johnstown Center / Rock County / Wisconsin)
In his great cushioned chair by the fender
An old man sits dreaming to-night,
His withered hands, licked by the tender,
Warm rays of the red anthracite,
Are folded before him, all listless;
His dim eyes are fixed on the blaze,
While over him sweeps the resistless
Flood-tide of old days.
He hears not the mirth in the hallway,
He hears not the sounds of good cheer,
That through the old homestead ring alway
In the glad Christmas-time of the year.
He heeds not the chime of sweet voices
As the last gifts are hung on the tree.
In a long-vanished day he rejoices-
In his lost Used to be.
He has gone back across dead Decembers
To his childhood's fair land of delight;
And his mother's sweet smile he remembers,
As he hangs up his stocking at night.
He remembers the dream-haunted slumber
All broken and restless because
Of the visions that came without number
Of dear Santa Claus.
Again, in his manhood's beginning,
He sees himself thrown on the world,
And into the vortex of sinning
By Pleasure's strong arms he is hurled.
He hears the sweet Christmas bells ringing,
'Repent ye, repent ye, and pray;'
But he joins with his comrades in singing
A bacchanal lay.
Again he stands under the holly
With a blushing face lifted to his;
For love has been stronger than folly,
And has turned him from vice unto bliss;
And the whole world is lit with new glory
As the sweet vows are uttered again,
While the Christmas bells tell the old story
Of peace unto men.
Again, with his little brood 'round him,
He sits by the fair mother-wife;
He knows that the angels have crowned him
With the truest, best riches of life;
And the hearts of the children, untroubled,
Are filled with the gay Christmas-tide;
And the gifts for sweet Maudie are doubled,
'Tis her birthday, beside.
Again,-ah, dear Jesus, have pity-
He finds in the chill, waning day,
That one has come home from the city-
Frail Maudie, whom love led astray.
She lies with her babe on her bosom-
Half-hid by the snow's fleecy spread;
A bud and a poor trampled blossom-
And both are quite dead.
So fair and so fragile! just twenty-
How mocking the bells sound to-night!
She starved in this great land of plenty,
When she tried to grope back to the light.
Christ, are Thy disciples inhuman,
Or only for men hast Thou died?
No mercy is shown to a woman
Who once steps aside.
Again he leans over the shrouded
Still form of the mother and wife;
Very lonely the way seems, and clouded,
As he looks down the vista of life.
With the sweet Christmas chimes there is blended
The knell for a life that is done,
And he knows that his joys are all ended
And his waiting begun.
So long have the years been, so lonely,
As he counts them by Christmases gone.
'I am homesick,' he murmurs; 'if only
The Angel would lead the way on.
I am cold, in this chill winter weather;
Why, Maudie, dear, where have you been?
And you, too, sweet wife-and together-
O Christ, let me in.'
The children ran in from the hallway,
'Were you calling us, grandpa?' they said.
Then shrank, with that fear that comes alway
When young eyes look their first on the dead.
The freedom so longed for is given.
The children speak low and draw near:
'Dear grandpa keeps Christmas in Heaven
With grandma, this year.'
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