Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE CHRISTMAS SHEAF, by PHOEBE CARY

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THE CHRISTMAS SHEAF, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Now, goodwife, bring your precious hoard
Last Line: Is alive with happy birds!
Subject(s): Birds; Christmas; Nativity, The

"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 Hansei 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 to-night.

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:

"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 cannot lie
On the ground without his care."

"Yea, father, yea; and tell me this," --
Her words came fast and wild, --
"Are not a thousand 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 Hansei 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:
"Hansei!" the startled father cries;
And the mother sobs, "My boy!"

'T is 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!

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