Hymns of the Cross: A Christmas Hymn?

Richard Wilbur, who turned 90 this year, has published 11 collections of poetry, 10 plays (translating three more from other languages) as well as various prose and critical pieces. Among his various recognitions are two Pulitzers, and two appointments to the post of Poet Laureate of the United States.  He is, perhaps, our greatest living poet.

He has also written at least one hymn. Having recently returned the volume in which it appears to the library, I’m going by memory on the details (which were scant anyway).

In the late 1950s, Wilbur received a commission or request for a Christmas hymn text to be included in some function of the Anglican Church (or maybe Episcopal). I imagine the piece was set and then used in that service or program. Later, the hymn was included in an edition of a hymnal. Other than that and a choral setting I found online, this excellent text seems to have received little attention.

It is with great delight I present it here. Yes, a Christmas hymn for passion week.

A Christmas Hymn

And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

A stable-lamp is lighted
Whose glow shall wake the sky;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
And straw like gold shall shine;
A barn shall harbor heaven,
A stall become a shrine.

This child through David’s city
Shall ride in triumph by;
The palm shall strew its branches,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
Though heavy, dull, and dumb,
And lie within the roadway
To pave his kingdom come.

Yet he shall be forsaken,
And yielded up to die;
The sky shall groan and darken,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
For stony hearts of men:
God’s blood upon the spearhead,
God’s love refused again.

But now, as at the ending,
The low is lifted high;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
In praises of the child
By whose descent among us
The worlds are reconciled.

~Richard Wilbur

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