There were seven angels erst that spanned
Heaven's roadway out through space,
Lighting with stars, by God's command,
The fringe of that high place
Whence plumèd beings in their joy,
The servitors His thoughts employ,
Fly ceaselessly. No goodlier band
Looked upward to His face.
There, on bright hovering wings that tire
Never, they rested mute,
Nor of far journeys had desire,
Nor of the deathless fruit;
For in and through each angel soul
All waves of life and knowledge roll,
Even as to nadir streamed the fire
Of their torches resolute.
They lighted Michael's outpost through
Where fly the armored brood,
And the wintry Earth their omens knew
Of Spring's beatitude;
Rude folk, ere yet the promise came,
Gave to their orbs a heathen name,
Saying how steadfast in men's view
The watchful Pleiads stood.
All in the solstice of the year,
When the sun apace must turn,
The seven bright angels 'gan to hear
Heaven's twin gates outward yearn:
Forth with its light and minstrelsy
A lordly troop came speeding by,
And joyed to see each cresset sphere
So gloriously burn.
Staying his fearless passage then
The Captain of that host
Spake with strong voice: "We bear to men
God's gift the uttermost,
Whereof the oracle and sign
Sibyl and sages may divine:
A star shall blazon in their ken,
Borne with us from your post.
"This night the Heir of Heaven's throne
A new-born mortal lies!
Since Earth's first morning hath not shone
Such joy in seraph eyes."
He spake. The least in honor there
Answered with longing like a prayer,—
"My star, albeit thenceforth unknown,
Shall light for you Earth's skies."
Onward the blessed legion swept,
That angel at the head;
(Where seven of old their station kept
There are six that shine instead.)
Straight hitherward came troop and star;
Like some celestial bird afar
Into Earth's night the cohort leapt
With beauteous wings outspread.
Dazzling the East beneath it there,
The Star gave out its rays:
Right through the still Judean air
The shepherds see it blaze,—
They see the plume-borne heavenly throng,
And hear a burst of that high song
Of which in Paradise aware
Saints count their years but days.
For they sang such music as, I deem,
In God's chief court of joys,
Had stayed the flow of the crystal stream
And made souls in mid-flight poise;
They sang of Glory to Him most High,
Of Peace on Earth abidingly,
And of all delights the which, men dream,
Nor sin nor grief alloys.
Breathless the kneeling shepherds heard,
Charmed from their first rude fear,
Nor while that music dwelt had stirred
Were it a month or year:
And Mary Mother drank its flow,
Couched with her Babe divine,—and, lo!
Ere falls the last ecstatic word
Three Holy Kings draw near.
Whenas the star-led shining train
Wheeled from their task complete,
Skyward from over Bethlehem's plain
They sped with rapture fleet;
And the angel of that orient star,
Thenceforth where Heaven's lordliest are,
Stands with a harp, while Christ doth reign,
A seraph near His feet.