Christmas Sheaf - an old poem
THE CHRISTMAS SHEAF
By PHOEBE CARY
Now, good-wife, bring your precious hoard,
The Norland farmer cried,
And heap the hearth, and heap the board,
For the blessed Christmas-tide.
And bid the children fetch, he said,
The last ripe sheaf of wheat.
And set it on the roof o'erhead
That the birds may come and eat
And this we do for His dear sake,
The Master kind and good,
Who of the loaves He blest and brake
Fed all the multitude.
Then Fredrica, and Franz, and Paul,
When they heard their father's words,
Put up the sheaf, and one and all
Seemed merry as the birds.
Till suddenly the maiden sighed,
The boys were hushed in fear,
As, covering all her face, she cried,
If Hansel were but here
And when, at dark, about the hearth
They gathered still and slow,
You heard no more the childish mirth
So loud an hour ago.
And on their tender cheeks the tears
Shone in the flickering light;
For they were four in other years
Who are but three tonight.
And tears are in the mother's tone;
As she speaks she trembles too:
Come, children, come, for the supper's done,
And your father waits for you.
Then Fredrica, and Franz, and Paul,
Stood each beside his chair;
The boys were comely lads and tall,
The girl was good and fair.
The father's hand was raised to crave
A grace before the meat,
When the daughter spake; her words were brave
But her voice was low and sweet:
The Christmas Sheaf
Dear father, should we give the wheat
To all the birds of the air?
Shall we let the kite and the raven eat
Such choice and dainty fare ?
For if to-morrow from our store
We drive them not away,
The good little birds will get no more
Than the evil birds of prey.
Nay, nay, my child," he gravely said,
You have spoken to your shame,
For the good, good Father overhead
Feeds all the birds the same.
He hears the ravens when they cry,
he keeps the fowls of the air;
And a single Sparrow can not lie
On the ground without His care.
Yea, father, yea; and tell me this —
Her words came fast and wild—
Are not a thousaud sparrows less
To Him than a single child?
Even though it sinned and strayed from home ?
The father groaned In pain
As she cried, Oh, let our Hansel come
And live with us again!
I know he did what was not right
Sadly he shook his head.
If he knew I longed for him to-night,
He would not come, he said.
He went from me in wrath and pride;
God! shield him tenderly!
For I hear the wild wind cry outside
Like a soul in agony.
Nay, it is a soul! oh, eagerly,
The maiden answered then;
And, father, what if it should be he,
Come back to us again !
She stops ; the portal open flies;
Her fear is turned to joy.
"Hansel!" the startled father cries;
And the mother sobs, "My boy!"
Tis a bowed and humbled man they greet,
With loving lips and eyes,
Who fain would kneel at his father's feet,
But he softly bids him rise;
And he says, I bless thee, O mine own;
Yea, and thou shalt be blest!
While the happy mother holds her Son
Like a baby on her breast
Their house and love again to share
The Prodigal has come;
And now there will be no empty chair,
Nor empty heart in their home.
And they think, as they see their joy and pride
Safe back in the sheltering fold,
Of the Child that was born at Christmas-tide
In Bethlehem of old.
And all the hours glide swift away
With loving, hopeful words,
Till the Christmas sheaf at break of day
Is alive with happy birds !
[note.—The Christmas Sheaf - In Norway the last sheaf from the harvestfield is never threshed, but it is always reserved till Christmas-eve, when It is set up on the roof as a feast for the hungry birds]
Above: The 1911 Royal Copenhagen Christmas Plate depicts the Christmas Sheaf