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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Syria: Bethlehem

The Shepherds

By John Pierpont (1785–1866)

(From Airs of Palestine)

THE NIGHT was moonless; Judah’s shepherds kept

Their starlight watch; their flocks around them slept.

To heaven’s blue fields their wakeful eyes were turned,

And to the fires that there eternal burned.

Those azure regions had been peopled long

With Fancy’s children, by the sons of song:

And there the simple shepherd, conning o’er

His humble pittance of Chaldean lore,

Saw, in the stillness of a starry night,

The swan and eagle wing their silent flight;

And from their spangled pinions, as they flew,

On Israel’s vales of verdure shower the dew;

Saw there the brilliant gems, that nightly flare,

In the thin mist of Berenice’s hair;

And there Boötes roll his lucid wain,

On sparkling wheels, along the ethereal plain;

And there the Pleiades, in tuneful gyre,

Pursue forever the star-studded lyre;

And there, with bickering lash, heaven’s charioteer

Urge round the Cynosure his bright career.

While thus the shepherds watched the host of night,

O’er heaven’s blue concave flashed a sudden light.

The unrolling glory spread its folds divine

O’er the green hills and vales of Palestine;

And lo! descending angels, hovering there,

Stretched their loose wings, and in the purple air

Hung o’er the sleepless guardians of the fold,

When that high anthem, clear and strong and bold,

On wavy paths of trembling ether ran:

“Glory to God, benevolence to man,

Peace to the world”; and in full concert came,

From silver tubes and harps of golden frame,

The loud and sweet response, whose choral strains

Lingered and languished on Judæa’s plains.

Yon living lamps, charmed from their chambers blue

By airs so heavenly, from the skies withdrew:

All?—all but one, that hung and burned alone,

And with mild lustre over Bethlehem shone.

Chaldea’s sages saw that orb afar

Glow unextinguished; ’t was Salvation’s Star.