“A Christmas Legend” by Frank Sidgwick

At the Dickens Fair  this year, I saw this poem performed with a brilliance that brought its every image and emotion to life. Reading the text by itself cannot, of course, deliver the same experience, but nonetheless it is a joy to read. I know nothing of this Frank Sidgwick, but his poem sounds like something Lewis might have written, or at least approved of.

[UPDATE: Mark Lewis, the performer I saw, has kindly provided a link to his recording of the poem. Listen to it here.]

It is about what happens when the wild Greek god Pan encounters the Christ Child on the first Christmas. I suspect, but am not sure, that it may allude to the reported death of Pan, which legendarily occurs at the time of Jesus’ birth. Yet apart from this bit of legend, the poem still has power. When a created being, however mysterious and magnificent, meets its Creator, what can it do, but weep? Tears of joy or of fear, or of both mingled with the latter triumphant.

Frank Sidgwick

A Christmas Legend

Abroad on a winter’s night there ran
Under the starlight, leaping the rills
Swollen with snow-drip from the hills,
Goat-legged, goat-bearded Pan.

He loved to run on the crisp white floor,
Where black hill-torrents chiselled grooves,
And he loved to print his clean-cut hooves,
Where none had trod before.

And now he slacked and came to a stand
Beside a river too broad to leap;
And as he panted he heard a sheep
That bleated near at hand.

Bell-wether, bell-wether, what do you say?
Peace, and huddle your ewes from cold!”
“Master, but ere we went to fold
Our herdsman hastened away:

“Over the hill came other twain
And pointed away to Bethlehem,
And spake with him, and he followed them,
And has not come again.

“He dropped his pipe of the river-reed ;
He left his scrip in his haste to go ;
And all our grazing is under snow,
So that we cannot feed.”

“Left his sheep on a winter’s night?”
Pan folded them with an angry frown.
“Bell-wether, bell-wether, I’ll go down
Where the star shines bright.”

Down by the hamlet he met the man.
“Shepherd, no shepherd, thy flock is lorn!”
“Master, no master, a child is born
Royal, greater than Pan.

“Lo, I have seen ; I go to my sheep ;
Follow my footsteps through the snow,
But warily, warily see thou go,
For child and mother sleep.”

Into the stable-yard Pan crept,
And there in a manger a baby lay
Beside his mother upon the hay,
And mother and baby slept.

Pan bent over the sleeping child,
Gazed on him, panting after his run :
And while he wondered, the little one
Opened his eyes and smiled;

Smiled, and after a little space
Struggled an arm from the swaddling-band,
And raising a tiny dimpled hand,
Patted the bearded face.

Something snapped in the breast of Pan;
His heart, his throat, his eyes were sore,
And he wished to weep as never before
Since the world began.

And out he went to the silly sheep,
To the fox on the hill, the fish in the sea,
The horse in the stall, the bird in the tree,
Asking them how to weep.

They could not teach they did not know;
The law stands writ for the beast that’s dumb
That a limb may ache and a heart be numb,
But never a tear can flow.

So bear you kindly to-day, O Man,
To all that is dumb and all that is wild,
For the sake of the Christmas Babe who smiled
In the eyes of great god Pan.

7 thoughts on ““A Christmas Legend” by Frank Sidgwick

  1. Okay, two things. First, I heartily desire to attend the Dickens Fair next year! That looks AMAZING! :-) Second, the poem is also marvelous. It does sound very Lewis-esque in its construction and content. I love the idea behind this, that even a minor deity in another religion sees the import of Christ. I only wish more humans, with our capacity for love and wonder, could be a struck dumb by Jesus’ arrival and purpose than he is in this. Beautiful piece. Thank you so much for educating me today!

    1. You should! It’s really cool. I like it much better than Renaissance Faires, actually; it has more atmosphere and dignity. And costumes are a little easier.

      You’re very welcome. I think the more we are willing to let God stretch us beyond ourselves, the more He will show us His awesome side. ‘-)

  2. Hello David,
    I’m so glad that you liked my telling of A Christmas Legend at the Dickens Fair.
    This poem by Frank Sidgwick helps me to understand the balance of the old ways and the new ways.
    I have recorded the poem and put it here on my Podcast site.
    I am a professional storyteller with 2 Emmys and an appearance on The Tonight Show to my credit.
    Please enjoy!
    Mark Lewis

    1. Greetings Mark,

      Thank you kindly for taking the time to comment here! I’m very pleased to have been found by you, and even moreso to hear again your performance via the recording. I have added your podcast site to my links on the sidebar, and will add a link to your recording on this post of mine.

      It was the last performance of the night, I think, and I was the young blue-suited fellow who complimented you afterward and wanted to confirm Frank Sidgwick’s name. I also enjoyed the performance of “The Jabberwocky” you did with the other gentlemen (I don’t remember his name). Mostly I write the stories I tell, but have always enjoyed “performing” for my little niece and nephews. They always love the pirate voices, especially.

      Cheers, God bless, and Merry Christmas!

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s