Robert William Service

(16 January 1874 - 11 September 1958 / Preston)

The Christmas Tree


In the dark and damp of the alley cold,
Lay the Christmas tree that hadn't been sold;
By a shopman dourly thrown outside;
With the ruck and rubble of Christmas-tide;
Trodden deep in the muck and mire,
Unworthy even to feed a fire...
So I stopped and salvaged that tarnished tree,
And thus is the story it told to me:

"My Mother was Queen of the forest glade,
And proudly I prospered in her shade;
For she said to me: 'When I am dead,
You will be monarch in my stead,
And reign, as I, for a hundred years,
A tower of triumph amid your peers,
When I crash in storm I will yield you space;
Son, you will worthily take my place.'

"So I grew in grace like a happy child,
In the heart of the forest free and wild;
And the moss and the ferns were all about,
And the craintive mice crept in and out;
And a wood-dove swung on my highest twig,
And a chipmunk chattered: 'So big! So big!'
And a shy fawn nibbled a tender shoot,
And a rabbit nibbled under my root...
Oh, I was happy in rain and shine
As I thought of the destiny that was mine!
Then a man with an axe came cruising by
And I knew that my fate was to fall and die.

"With a hundred others he packed me tight,
And we drove to a magic city of light,
To an avenue lined with Christmas trees,
And I thought: may be I'll be one of these,
Tinselled with silver and tricked with gold,
A lovely sight for a child to behold;
A-glitter with lights of every hue,
Ruby and emerald, orange and blue,
And kiddies dancing, with shrieks of glee -
One might fare worse than a Christmas tree.

"So they stood me up with a hundred more
In the blaze of a big department store;
But I thought of the forest dark and still,
And the dew and the snow and the heat and the chill,
And the soft chinook and the summer breeze,
And the dappled deer and the birds and the bees...
I was so homesick I wanted to cry,
But patient I waited for someone to buy.
And some said 'Too big,' and some 'Too small,'
And some passed on saying nothing at all.
Then a little boy cried: Ma, buy that one,'
But she shook her head: 'Too dear, my son."
So the evening came, when they closed the store,
And I was left on the littered floor,
A tree unwanted, despised, unsold,
Thrown out at last in the alley cold."

Then I said: "Don't sorrow; at least you'll be
A bright and beautiful New Year's tree,
All shimmer and glimmer and glow and gleam,
A radiant sight like a fairy dream.
For there is a little child I know,
Who lives in poverty, want and woe;
Who lies abed from morn to night,
And never has known an hour's delight..."

So I stood the tree at the foot of her bed:
"Santa's a little late," I said.
"Poor old chap! Snowbound on the way,
But he's here at last, so let's be gay."
Then she woke from sleep and she saw you there,
And her eyes were love and her lips were prayer.
And her thin little arms were stretched to you
With a yearning joy that they never knew.
She woke from the darkest dark to see
Like a heavenly vision, that Christmas Tree.

Her mother despaired and feared the end,
But from that day she began to mend,
To play, to sing, to laugh with glee...
Bless you, O little Christmas Tree!
You died, but your life was not in vain:
You helped a child to forget her pain,
And let hope live in our hearts again.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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