Anna Laetitia Barbauld (20 June 1743 – 9 March 1825 / Leicestershire, England)
Deep in Sabea's fragrant groves retired,
Long had the Eastern Sages studious dwelt,
By love sublime of sacred science fired:
Long had they trained the' inquiring youth,
With liberal hand the bread of wisdom dealt,
And sung in solemn verse mysterious truth.
The sacred characters they knew to trace
Derived from Egypt's elder race;
And all that Greece, with copious learning fraught,
Thro' different schools by various masters taught;
And all Arabia's glowing store
Of fabled truths and rich poetic lore:
Stars, plants and gems, and talismans they knew,
And far was spread their fame and wide their praises grew.
The' admiring East their praises spread:
But with uncheated eyes themselves they viewed;
Mourning they sat with dust upon their head,
And oft in melancholy strain
The fond complaint renewed,
How little yet they knew, how much was learned in vain.
For human guilt and mortal woe
Their sympathizing sorrows flow;
Their hallowed prayers ascend in incense pure;
They mourned the narrow bounds assigned
To the keen glances of the searching mind,
They mourned the ills they could not cure,
They mourned the doubts they could not clear,
They mourned that prophet yet, nor seer,
The great Eternal had made known,
Or reached the lowest step of that immortal throne.
And oft the starry cope of heaven beneath,
When day's tumultuous sounds had ceased to breathe,
With fixed feet, as rooted there,
Through the long night they drew the chilly air;
While sliding o'er their head,
In solemn silence dread,
The' ethereal orbs their shining course pursued,
In holy trance enwrapt the sages stood,
With folded arms laid on their reverend breast,
And to that Heaven they knew, their orisons addresst.
A Star appears; they marked its kindling beam
O'er night's dark breast unusual splendours stream:
The lesser lights that deck the sky,
In wondering silence softly gliding by,
At the fair stranger seemed to gaze,
Or veiled their trembling fires and half withdrew their rays.
The blameless men the wonder saw,
And hailed the joyful sign with pious awe;
They knew 'twas none of all the train
With which in shadowy forms and shapes uncouth,
Monsters of earth and of the main,
Remote from nature as from truth,
Their learned pens the sky had figured o'er:
No star with such kind aspect shone before;
Nor e'er did wandering planet stoop so low
To guide benighted pilgrims through this vale of woe.
The heavenly impulse they obey,
The new-born light directs their way;
Through deserts never marked by human tread,
And billowy waves of loose, unfaithful sand,
O'er many an unknown hill and foreign strand
The silver clue unerring led,
And peopled towns they pass, and glittering spires;
No cloud could veil its light, no sun could quench its fires.
Thus passed the venerable pilgrims on,
Till Salem's stately towers before them shone,
And soon their feet her hallowed pavements presst;
Not in her marble courts to rest,—
From pomp and royal state aloof,
Their shining guide its beams withdrew;
And points their path, and points their view,
To Bethlehem's rustic cots, to Mary's lowly roof.
There the bright sentinel kept watch,
While other stars arose and set;
For there, within its humble thatch,
Weakness and power, and heaven and earth were met.
Now, sages, now your search give o'er,
Believe, fall prostrate, and adore!
Here spread your spicy gifts, your golden offerings here;
No more the fond complaint renew,
Of human guilt and mortal woe,
Of knowledge checked by doubt, and hope with fear:
What angels wished to see, ye view;
What angels wished to learn, ye know;—
Peace is proclaimed to man, and heaven begun below.
Comments about this poem (The Epiphany by Anna Laetitia Barbauld )
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