'Neath the radiance faint of the starlit sky
The gleaming snow-drifts lay wide and high;
O'er hill and dell stretched a mantle white,
The branches glittered with crystal bright;
But the winter wind's keen icy breath
Was merciless, numbing and chill as death.
It clamored around a handsome pile -
Abode of modern wealth and style
Where smiling guests had gathered to greet
Its master's birth-day with welcome meet;
And clink of glasses and loud gay tone,
With song and jest, drowned the wind's wild moan.
Yet, farther on, another abode
Its pillared portico proudly showed.
From its windows high flowed streams of light,
Mingling with outside shadows of night;
And the strains of music rapid, gay -
Told well how within sped the hours away.
Steal but one glance at that magic scene,
And long you will spell-bound gaze, I ween,
On mirrors and flowers, and paintings old,
And side-boards heaped with vessels of gold;
Proud, stately men and women most fair,
Glitt'ring in toilets, marvellous, rare.
Sharp grief may torture many a heart,
But its pangs are hid with wond'rous art;
Breasts may harbor hate, envy or guile,
But all is concealed 'neath the studied smile;
And carelessly gay is each well-trained face,
As the dancers flash past with magic grace.
Not far away, down yon narrow lane,
Where poverty herds with guilt and pain,
Are homes where the wind finds entrance free,
Searching each cranny with savage glee,
And freezing the blood of those within,
Through their wretched garments, scant and thin.
List to the music that meets the ear!
No sweet strains of Strauss will greet you here,
But the moan of sickness, the feeble wail
Of suff'ring childhood - of mothers pale,
The groan of despair, or, alas, still worse!
The blasphemous jest, or fierce, deep curse.
See! on yon board is their banquet spread,
Coarse broken remnants of mouldy bread;
No cheerful flame in the fire-place bare
To temper the cold of the biting air,
Or the chill of the snow on the rotting floor,
Drifting beneath the ill-closed door.
O, woman, one gem from those that deck
Thy taper fingers, white brow or neck;
Young girl, a rose from thy glossy hair,
One inch of that lace so costly and rare,
Would give food and heat, and cheerful light
To that wretched home, for at least one night.
Revellers met round the festive board,
A hot house fruit from your dainty hoard,
The price of one draught of that wine, so old
That it seems as precious as liquid gold,
Would bring joy to more than one aching breast,
And smiles to lips unused to such guest.
Children of fashion, children of wealth,
Who hear harsh truths, as it were, by stealth,
An hour will come to all who live
Of their stewardship here strict account to give
Before the Great Judge, wise, stern and pure,
Who will justice mete to both rich and poor.
Well for you then if kind word and deed,
Or generous alms to those in need,
Have marked the course of your life's brief dream,
They'll plead for you in that hour supreme,
Outweigh past errors, and justice move
To the side of mercy and pitying love.