John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

Advent 2009: Star of Bethlehem

I ran across this in a collection of holiday stories drawn from the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It appeared there (and in These Happy Golden Years) as a song Pa sang to the family on Christmas Eve. I have to admit it's hard for me to imagine it as a song; a poem like this fairly demands to be declaimed in a heartfelt manner, possibly with flamboyant gestures.

My opinion on the matter notwithstanding, this was a familiar hymn back in Pa Ingalls's day. I found an old book online called Immortal Hymns and Their Story that says it was sung to a tune called Missionary Chant, which is completely unfamiliar to me. Since the poem was written in iambic tetrameter, though, I can sing it to any number of LM (long meter) or LMD (long meter double) tunes I do know, such as Old Hundredth (a.k.a. the Doxology) or Jerusalem (a.k.a And Did Those Feet).

Star of Bethlehem

When marshalled on the nightly plain
The glitt'ring host bestud the sky,
One star alone of all the train
Can fix the sinner's wandering eye.
Hark! hark! to God the chorus breaks
From ev'ry host, from ev'ry gem;
But one alone the Saviour speaks,—
It is the Star of Bethlehem!

Once on the raging seas I rode;
The storm was loud, the night was dark;
The ocean yawned, and rudely blew
The wind that tossed my found'ring bark.
Deep horror then my vitals froze;
Death-struck, I ceased the tide to stem,
When suddenly a star arose,—
It was the Star of Bethlehem!

It was my guide, my light, my all;
It bade my dark forebodings cease;
And through the storm and danger's thrall,
It led me to the port of peace.
Now safely moored, my perils o'er,
I'll sing first in night's diadem,
Forever and forever more,—
The Star, the Star of Bethlehem!

Henry Kirke White (1785–1806)

Previous Advent posts:

2003: Father, Long Your People Waited
2004: St. Joseph Carving
2005: 'Twas only joy the angel sang
2006: Is There a Santa Claus?
2007: Star of the Hero
2008: Russian Christmas Music

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