Shepherds

Shadowed they press down the sloping hill,
Groping their way in the still-thick dark,
Past black-mouthed caves heavy with night
To one where fire-light flickers still.

11Shepherds.jpg
The Adoration of the Shepherds, by Giorgione

Shadowed they press down the sloping hill,
Groping their way in the still-thick dark,
Past black-mouthed caves heavy with night
To one where fire-light flickers still.

There was glory on the hillside, that they knew—
But the light has faded—can this be the place?
Go inside, one says, and cough a little—
They are only shepherds, and only a few.

Outside the wind sways the bowed brush low
Murmering deference—blessing—prayer.
It swirls the loose hay on the rough stone floor
And lifts the ruff of a placid cow.

Oh chill air, tingle with this child’s strong cry—
Oh stars, burn clearer in greeting Him
Whom the universe thrilled to, time ago
When first it sang its created song!

At dawn, the plowman will creak from his bed—
Stretching as always in the cold half-light.
And his wife will turn her hair up in a knot
And pin it wearily, so she can make bread.

And the innman, who counted his money and smiled
Last night will count it again today
And fasten the bag with a satisfied shake—
Only shepherds gaze at the newborn child.

Slowly the light of the new day grows
Warming the mouth of that place, where, tired,
The mother sits and rocks her son
And thinks a little, and knows what she knows.

And leaving, one shepherd lags from the rest
Inhuman voices still ring in his ears
His unseeing eyes bright from within—
From the daystar light that still burns in his chest.

© 2003 Deborah King