New Year's Eve

LITTLE G RETCHEN , little Gretchen
Wanders up and down the street,
The snow is on her yellow hair,
The frost is at her feet.

The rows of long dark houses
Without look cold and damp,
By the struggling of the moonbeam,
By the flicker of the lamp.

The clouds ride fast as horses,
The wind is from the north,
But no one cares for Gretchen,
And no one looketh forth.

Within those damp dark houses,
Are merry faces bright,
And happy hearts are watching out
The old year's latest night.

The board is spread with plenty,
Where the smiling kindred meet,
But the frost is on the pavement,
And the beggar's in the street.

With the little box of matches,
She could not sell all day,
And the thin, thin tatter'd mantle,
The wind blows every way;

She clingeth to the railing,
She shivers in the gloom, —
There are parents sitting snugly
By firelight in the room;

And groups of busy children
Withdrawing just the tips
Of rosy fingers press'd in vain
Against their bursting lips,

With grave and earnest faces
Are whispering each other,
Of presents for the new year, made
For father or for mother.

But no one talks to Gretchen,
And no one hears her speak,
No breath of little whisperers
Comes warmly to her cheek;

No little arms are round her,
Ah me! that there should be
With so much happiness on earth
So much of misery!

Sure they of many blessings
Should scatter blessings round,
As laden boughs in Autumn fling
Their ripe fruits to the ground.

And the best love man can offer
To the God of love, be sure,
Is kindness to His little ones,
And bounty to His poor.

Little Gretchen, little Gretchen
Goes coldly on her way;
There's no one looketh out at her,
There's no one bids her stay.

Her home is cold and desolate,
No smile, no food, no fire,
But children clamorous for bread,
And an impatient sire.

So she sits down in an angle,
Where two great houses meet,
And she curls up beneath her
For warmth her little feet;

And she looketh on the cold wall,
And on the colder sky,
And wonders if the little stars
Are bright fires up on high.

She heard a clock strike slowly,
Up in a far church tower,
With such a sad and solemn tone,
Telling the midnight hour.

Then all the bells together,
Their merry music pour'd;
They were ringing in the feast,
The Circumcision of the Lord.

And she thought as she sat lonely,
And listen'd to the chime,
Of wondrous things that she had loved
To hear in olden time.

And she remember'd her of tales
Her mother used to tell,
And of the cradle songs she sang,
When summer's twilight fell;

Of good men, and of angels,
And of the Holy Child,
Who was cradled in a manger,
When winter was most wild;

Who was poor, and cold, and hungry,
And desolate, and lone;
And she thought the song had told her
He was ever with His own.

And all the poor and hungry
And forsaken ones are His:
" How good of Him to look on me,
In such a place as this. " —

Colder it grows, and colder,
But she does not feel it now,
For the pressure at her heart,
And the weight upon her brow.

But she struck one little match
On the wall so cold and bare,
That she might look around her,
And see if He were there.

The single match has kindled,
And by the light it threw,
It seem'd to little Gretchen,
The wall was rent in two;

And she could see the room within,
The room all warm and bright,
With the fire-glow red, and dusky,
And the tapers all alight.

And there were kindred gather'd
Round the table richly spread,
With heaps of goodly viands,
Red wine, and pleasant bread.

She could smell the fragrant savour,
She could hear what they did say:
Then all was darkness once again,
The match had burnt away.

She struck another hastily,
And now she seem'd to see,
Within the same warm chamber,
A glorious Christmas tree;

The branches were all laden
With such things as children prize,
Bright gifts for boy and maiden,
She saw them with her eyes.

And she almost seem'd to touch them,
And to join the welcome shout:
When darkness fell around her,
For the little match was out.

Another, yet another she
Has tried, they will not light,
Till all her little store she took,
And struck with all her might.

And the whole miserable place
Was lighted with the glare,
And lo, there hung a little Child,
Before her in the air.

There were blood-drops on His forehead,
And a spear-wound in His side,
And cruel nail-prints in His feet,
And in His hands spread wide.

And He look'd upon her gently,
And she felt that He had known
Pain, hunger, cold, and sorrow,
Ay, equal to her own.

And He pointed to the laden board,
And to the Christmas tree,
Then up to the cold sky, and said,
" Will Gretchen come with Me? "

The poor child felt her pulses fail,
She felt her eyeballs swim,
And a ringing sound was in her ears,
Like her dead mother's hymn.

And she folded both her thin white hands,
And turn'd from that bright board,
And from the golden gifts, and said,
" With Thee, with Thee, O Lord. "

The chilly winter morning
Breaks up in the dull skies,
On the city wrapp'd in vapour,
On the spot where Gretchen lies.

The night was wild and stormy,
The morn is cold and grey,
And good church bells are ringing
Christ's Circumcision day.

And holy men are praying
In many a holy place;
And little children's angels
Sing songs before His face.

In her scant and tatter'd garment,
With her back against the wall,
She sitteth cold and rigid,
She answers not their call.

They have lifted her up fearfully,
They shudder'd as they said,
" It was a bitter, bitter night,
The child is frozen dead. "

The Angels sang their greeting,
For one more redeem'd from sin;
Men said, " It was a bitter night,
Would no one let her in? "

And they shudder'd as they spoke of her,
And sigh'd; — they could not see
How much of happiness there was,
With so much misery.
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