This Advent moon shines cold and clear,
These Advent nights are long;
Our lamps have burned year after year
And still their flame is strong.
‘Watchman, what of the night?’ we cry,
Heart-sick with hope deferred:
‘No speaking signs are in the sky,’
Is still the watchman’s word.
The Porter watches at the gate,
The servants watch within;
The watch is long betimes and late,
The prize is slow to win.
‘Watchman, what of the night?’ But still
His answer sounds the same:
‘No daybreak tops the utmost hill,
Nor pale our lamps of flame.’
One to another hear them speak
The patient virgins wise:
‘Surely He is not far to seek’ –
‘All night we watch and rise.’
‘The days are evil looking back,
The coming days are dim;
Yet count we not His promise slack,
But watch and wait for Him.’
One with another, soul with soul,
They kindle fire from fire:
‘Friends watch us who have touched the goal.’
‘They urge us, come up higher.’
‘With them shall rest our waysore feet,
With them is built our home,
With Christ.’ – ‘They sweet, but He most sweet,
Sweeter than honeycomb.’
There no more parting, no more pain,
The distant ones brought near,
The lost so long are found again,
Long lost but longer dear:
Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard,
Nor heart conceived that rest,
With them our good things long deferred,
With Jesus Christ our Best.
We weep because the night is long,
We laugh for day shall rise,
We sing a slow contented song
And knock at Paradise.
Weeping we hold Him fast Who wept
For us, we hold Him fast;
And will not let Him go except
He bless us first or last.
Weeping we hold Him fast to-night;
We will not let Him go
Till daybreak smite our wearied sight
And summer smite the snow:
Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove
Shall coo the livelong day;
Then He shall say, ‘Arise, My love,
My fair one, come away.’
My #1 Son gave me a collection of Christina Rossetti poetry for Christmas two years ago and I savored the great breadth of her works through the following Spring, allowing the poems some joyful, some light, some wry, some contrite, all quite authentic to resonate through my hungry soul. Last year we studied the wit and wordplay of the great devotional poets, Donne, Herbert and Milton. This year we have been immersed in the evocative narrative poetry of Longfellow. But it’s December, so I pulled down my Rossetti collection. Christina Rossetti remains my favorite religious poet because her longing for Christ is palpable and unabashed, which is perfect for Advent. She is the woman with the alabaster jar pouring out her fragrant offering of well-chosen words, eloquent lines, poignant passages.
This achingly transcendent poem is going into our Commonplace Books. It is rich in Biblical allusion, so we will also look up Scripture and discuss the metaphors. I love every verse of this poem, but since we have only just this past Sunday, finally, after quite a while, officially joined a church community, I found the lines discussing Christian fellowship and community particularly meaningful.
One with another, soul with soul, they kindle fire from fire.
I hope you take a moment to listen to this lovely choral setting of the first few verses. Quite a few of Rossetti’s poems have been set to music, but it didn’t occur to me to look for a setting of this poem, I found it completely by accident, as if there were such a thing. Written by German composer Jens Klimek, the silvery heights in the vocal score beautifully express the yearning that is part of Advent.