The Star in the East

FROM hoary kingdoms of all ancientness,
Led by a Star they came, —
A Star that dimmed the lustre of the heavens,
Shaking their fleece of flame !
A splendid caravan, from desert depths
They flashed their royal way ;
Gold wrought, in all strange charactery and gems
Their housings caught the ray.
The shining stallions arched their necks and rang
Their jeweled bridle-reins
The stately camels stretched like monoliths
Their shadows on the plains.
Treasure of perfumes and of precious stones
Weighed them, and wondrous web
Of scarlet cloths, woven at the wane of moon
And at the great sea’s ebb ;
And oils, and gums the ooze of sacred trees
In sun-imprisoning flecks,
And in their lamps the fire not once relit
Since priest Melchizedek’s.
There little Melchior, King of Nubia, came
With gold to signify
Possession of the empire of the earth
And kingship’s prophecy.
And Chaldæa’s monarch, the old Balthuzar,
Brought incense, for a sign
That prayer and praise should find divinity
In manger or in shrine.
But Jasper, black, and of a mighty make,
And of rich Tarshish king,
Brought neither gold nor incense, but brought myrrh,
For human suffering.
And with them, and before them, the great Star,
That up the eastern coasts,
Outstripping comets and white-bearded orbs,
Came leading heaven’s hosts.
While all black art of dark astrology,
With incantations gray
That signs and zodiacs trembled to regard,
Showed where the young child lay,—
The young child, who, not yet a fortnight old,
Among the oxen slept,
Where angels hung upon a drooping wing,
And all the sweet watch kept.
Chiefs of old heathenry, how long, how far,
They journeyed on their quest !
What tribute and what treasure did they bring
To greet the holy guest!
What costly travel and what toilsome march
Were theirs, too, — that great press
Which followed on the way the Magi led
Up from the wilderness !
But we, on whom for twice a thousand years
The Star in the East has shone,—
What hard road do we tread with tender feet
To make the truth our own ?
Up from what deserts do we hotly spur
To consecrate our King ?
To God, in Christ or in Humanity,
What tribute do we bring?
We look on the immensity of space,
And count all creeds a song;
We let the dungeoned prisoner write in blood
The story of his wrong.
So we but lose no bubble of the wine,
In the rose crush no sting,
We care not for the pierced divinity,—
We crown the senses King !
Brief empery, that with the bubble breaks,
With the rose falls! whose slaves
Shall revel then but with the loathly worm
And the dark fruit of graves!
Dart forth your white and awful light, O Star,
Wither this King to dross !
Lead us a path like that once trod the feet
Were nailed upon a cross !
Harriet Prescott Spofford.