"The Wise" - a Christmas Poem by William Everson

For many of us, this is a rather bleak Christmas. It seems as if our enemies are getting  steadily stronger while our society is beginning to come apart at the seams. I remember another bleak Christmas, in 1941, when it also appeared that the whole world was against us and that the powers of evil might at last prevail. But then, as now, we believed that we were on the side of light, fighting against the forces of darkness, and that Someone would prevent that light from ever being completely extinguished.

The time we commemorate today was also bleak. A cruel power held the whole world in an iron grip that it seemed would never be loosened. But a few saw a glimmer of rekindled light and, as William Everson wrote*, knew it for the undeserved gift it always is:


Miles across the turbulent kingdoms

They came for it, but that was nothing,

That was the least.  Drunk with vision,

Rain stringing in the ragged beards,

When a beast lamed, they caught up another

And goaded west.

For the time was on them.

Once, as it may, in the life of a man,

Once, as it was, in the life of mankind,

All is corrected.  And their years of pursuit,

Raw-eyed reading the wrong texts,

Charting the doubtful calculations,

Those nights knotted with thought,

When dawn held off, and the rooster

Rattled the leaves with his blind assertion---

All that, they regarded, under the Sign,

No longer as search but as preparation.

For when the mark was made, they saw it.

Nor stopped to reckon the fallible years,

But rejoiced and followed,

And are called "wise", who learned that Truth,

When sought and at last seen,

Is never found.  It is given.

And they brought their camels

Breakneck into that village,

And flung themselves down in the dung and dirt of that place,

And kissed that ground, and the tears

Ran on their faces, where the rain had.


* copyright by Jude Everson, reprinted with permission. cf. The Veritable Years: Poems 1949-1966, by William Everson (Black Sparrow Books, 1998).
For many of us, this is a rather bleak Christmas. It seems as if our enemies are getting  steadily stronger while our society is beginning to come apart at the seams. I remember another bleak Christmas, in 1941, when it also appeared that the whole world was against us and that the powers of evil might at last prevail. But then, as now, we believed that we were on the side of light, fighting against the forces of darkness, and that Someone would prevent that light from ever being completely extinguished.

The time we commemorate today was also bleak. A cruel power held the whole world in an iron grip that it seemed would never be loosened. But a few saw a glimmer of rekindled light and, as William Everson wrote*, knew it for the undeserved gift it always is:


Miles across the turbulent kingdoms

They came for it, but that was nothing,

That was the least.  Drunk with vision,

Rain stringing in the ragged beards,

When a beast lamed, they caught up another

And goaded west.

For the time was on them.

Once, as it may, in the life of a man,

Once, as it was, in the life of mankind,

All is corrected.  And their years of pursuit,

Raw-eyed reading the wrong texts,

Charting the doubtful calculations,

Those nights knotted with thought,

When dawn held off, and the rooster

Rattled the leaves with his blind assertion---

All that, they regarded, under the Sign,

No longer as search but as preparation.

For when the mark was made, they saw it.

Nor stopped to reckon the fallible years,

But rejoiced and followed,

And are called "wise", who learned that Truth,

When sought and at last seen,

Is never found.  It is given.

And they brought their camels

Breakneck into that village,

And flung themselves down in the dung and dirt of that place,

And kissed that ground, and the tears

Ran on their faces, where the rain had.


* copyright by Jude Everson, reprinted with permission. cf. The Veritable Years: Poems 1949-1966, by William Everson (Black Sparrow Books, 1998).