The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review
littlereview

Poem for Sunday


O Little Town of Bethlehem
By Phillips Brooks


O little town of Bethlehem!
  How still we see thee lie,
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep,
  The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
  The Everlasting light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
  Are met in thee tonight.

O mourning stars together
  Proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King,
  And peace to men on earth.
For Christ is born of Mary,
  And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
  Their watch of wond'ring love.

How silently, how silently,
  The wondrous Gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts
  The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
  But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
  The dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy
  Pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee,
  Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching
  And faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
  And Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
  Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
  Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels,
  The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
  Our Lord Emmanuel!

--------

"Christmas nostalgia can come to even the most secular people, even to a secular Jew like me," writes Robert Pinsky in Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World. "The eerie beauty of 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' impressed me mightily in grade school, our high voices soaring, in the little town where I grew up...years later I learned that this is the first stanza of a poem by Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), written on a visit to Bethlehem in 1868. Brooks was famous in his time for a sermon he delivered on the subject of the Civil War dead. The silent, dark streets he describes in the poem call to mind the silence of the young men missing from little towns all over the North and the South. The 'deep and dreamless sleep' of death permeates the stanza and reflects those years of public, political 'hopes and fears' as well as personal ones. The language of the stanza gains power from those invisible hopes and fears and that implicit silence of the dead. Paradoxically, the 'everlasting light' of his Christian belief shines in Brooks's 'dark streets.'"

I also enjoyed Michael Dirda's column in Book World, "A season to remember the transforming power of sacred language," on The Book of Common Prayer. It's a good night to talk about Christmas because 1) it's snowing, 2) we drove home through Hanover treated to a light display by the locals -- people do rather spectacular house and lawn decorations there, including lighted nativity scenes, full herds of reindeer and all manner of candy canes, snowmen, snowflakes, stars, etc. -- and 3) we were making plans with my in-laws for what we're going to do Christmas Eve and morning when we're up there next. I think they're going to invite my parents to come for Christmas dinner. This ought to be interesting.

And it's a good night for a Civil War reference because although it was very cold today -- I'm not sure it got above freezing where we were in Pennsylvania -- we spent part of the day at Gettysburg National Battlefield, just because we hadn't been in awhile and it's beautiful and somber with the stark trees at this time of year. We hiked on Little Round Top, though the kids were too cold to climb in Devil's Den, where the rocks are more accessible than ever because the park service has set out to remove all the trees that were not on the battlefields when the Civil War was going on. This seems a little insane to me, as we are talking about thousands of trees and there are now hundreds of monuments for the different regiments etc. dotting the battlefields that were not there either, and it's so pretty now with the woods everywhere. The kids had refused to bring their gloves and therefore got cold pretty quickly, so after we walked around on Little Round Top, we drove through some of the other areas and looked at the cannons and markers for fallen soldiers.

Otherwise it was pretty mellow -- we had sandwiches for lunch (well, I had yogurt) and baked chicken for dinner so as not to upset the stomachs of those of us who had bad weeks digestion-wise, and we played Monopoly which to my amazement I won by a lot, mostly because I had the orange properties with hotels on them and people kept ending up in jail, then rolling themselves out and right onto my $1000 properties. So although other people owned all the other monopolies, I ended up getting their properties when they owed me more than they could pay and after my son had to cede Park Place and Boardwalk to me, he quit. *g* I do not think I have ever had such a successful Monopoly game. We did not see Maximus (the groundhog), though apparently he was out early in the morning when my mother in law walked Ginger (the dog), who is now too blind and deaf to notice the rabbits and other animals in the backyard. She's also limping quite a bit. Our younger son is going to be absolutely devastated if anything happens to her so I am worried.

Have not read flist or gotten to comments from yesterday and tomorrow morning we all have to get up bright and early for a performance at the kids' Hebrew school (my older son is playing Ariel Sharon -- this ought to be interesting). Then younger son has a birthday party playing laser tag and older son has three friends coming over, so it will be a miracle if I manage to get anything done beyond kid stuff!


Union Brigadier General Gouverneur K. Warren stood on these rocks in the afternoon of July 2, 1863 and saw with his binoculars that Confederate troops were hiding in the woods just beyond Emmitsburg Road.


He sent for troops to defend Little Round Top and, despite being shot in the neck, saved the hill -- and quite possibly the battle -- for the Union.


Colonel Patrick O'Rorke of the 140th New York Infantry was not so fortunate -- though he rushed his men into the fight, he was killed during the battle.


From within the 44th New York Infantry monument atop Little Round Top, a view of Devil's Den (captured by the Confederates) and the Valley of Death (where many soldiers from both sides fell) as well as the treeline behind which Warren saw the Southern army approaching.
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