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Christmas in Legend and Story by  Elva S. Smith
Table of Contents

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THE CROSS OF THE DUMB

A Christmas On Iona, Long, Long Ago

FIONA MACLEOD

[128]

One eve, when St. Columba strode

In solemn mood along the shore,

He met an angel on the road

Who but a poor man's semblance bore.


He wondered much, the holy saint,

What stranger sought the lonely isle,

But seeing him weary and wan and faint

St. Colum hailed him with a smile.


"Remote our lone Iona lies

Here in the grey and windswept sea,

And few are they whom my old eyes

Behold as pilgrims bowing the knee. . . .


"But welcome . . . welcome . . . stranger-guest,

And come with me and you shall find

[129]

A warm and deer-skinn'd cell for rest

And at our board a welcome kind. . . .


"Yet tell me ere the dune we cross

How came you to this lonely land?

No curraghs in the tideway toss

And none is beached upon the strand!"


The weary pilgrim raised his head

And looked and smiled and said, "From far,

My wandering feet have here been led

By the glory of a shining star. . . . "


St. Colum gravely bowed, and said,

"Enough, my friend, I ask no more;

Doubtless some silence-vow was laid

Upon thee, ere thou sought'st this shore:


"Now, come: and doff this raiment sad

And those rough sandals from thy feet:

The holy brethren will be glad

To haven thee in our retreat."


Together past the praying cells

And past the wattle-woven dome

Whence rang the tremulous vesper bells

St. Colum brought the stranger home.


[130]

From thyme-sweet pastures grey with dews

The milch-cows came with swinging tails:

And whirling high the wailing mews

Screamed o'er the brothers at their pails.


A single spire of smoke arose,

And hung, a phantom, in the cold:

Three younger monks set forth to close

The ewes and lambs within the fold.


The purple twilight stole above

The grey-green dunes, the furrowed leas:

And Dusk, with breast as of a dove,

Brooded: and everywhere was peace.


Within the low refectory sate

The little clan of holy folk:

Then, while the brothers mused and ate,

The wayfarer arose and spoke. . . .


"O Colum of Iona-Isle,

And ye who dwell in God's quiet place,

Before I crossed your narrow kyle

I looked in Heaven upon Christ's face."


Thereat St. Colum's startled glance

Swept o'er the man so poorly clad,

[131]

And all the brethren looked askance

In fear the pilgrim-guest was mad.


"And, Colum of God's Church i' the sea

And all ye Brothers of the Rood,

The Lord Christ gave a dream to me

And bade me bring it ye as food.


"Lift to the wandering cloud your eyes

And let them scan the wandering Deep. . . .

Hark ye not there the wandering sighs

Of brethren ye as outcasts keep?"


Thereat the stranger bowed, and blessed;

Then, grave and silent, sought his cell:

St. Colum mused upon his guest,

Dumb wonder on the others fell.


At dead of night the Abbot came

To where the weary wayfarer slept:

"Tell me," he said, "thy holy name. . . "

—No more, for on bowed knees he wept. . . .


Great awe and wonder fell on him;

His mind was like a lonely wild

When suddenly is heard a hymn

Sung by a little innocent child.


[132]

For now he knew their guest to be

No man as he and his, but one

Who in the Courts of Ecstasy

Worships, flame-winged, the Eternal Son.


The poor bare cell was filled with light,

That came from the swung moons the Seven

Seraphim swing day and night

Adown the infinite walls of Heaven.


But on the fern-wove mattress lay

No weary guest. St. Colum kneeled,

And found no trace; but, ashen-grey,

Far off he heard glad anthems pealed.


At sunrise when the matins-bell

Made a cold silvery music fall

Through silence of each lonely cell

And over every fold and stall,


St. Colum called his monks to come

And follow him to where his hands

Would raise the Great Cross of the Dumb

Upon the Holy Island's sands. . . .


"For I shall call from out the Deep

And from the grey fields of the skies,

[133]

The brethren we as outcasts keep,

Our kindred of the dumb wild eyes. . . .


"Behold, on this Christ's natal morn,

God wills the widening of His laws,

Another miracle to be born—

For lo, our guest an Angel was! . . .


"His Dream the Lord Christ gave to him

To bring to us as Christ-Day food,

That Dream shall rise a holy hymn

And hang like a flower upon the Rood!. . ."


Thereat, while all with wonder stared

St. Colum raised the Holy Tree:

Then all with Christ-Day singing fared

To where the last sands lipped the sea.


St. Colum raised his arms on high . . .

"O ye, all creatures of the wing,

Come here from out the fields o' the sky,

Come, here and learn a wondrous thing!"


At that the wild clans of the air

Came sweeping in a mist of wings—

Ospreys and fierce solanders there,

Sea-swallows wheeling mazy rings,


[133]

The foam-white mew, the green-black scart,

The famishing hawk, the wailing tern,

All birds from the sand-building mart

To lonely bittern and heron. . . .


St. Colum raised beseeching hands

And blessed the pastures of the sea:

"Come, all ye creatures, to the sands,

Come and behold the Sacred Tree!"


At that the cold clans of the wave

With spray and surge and splash appeared:

Up from each wrack-strewn, lightless cave

Dim day-struck eyes affrighted peered.


The pollacks came with rushing haste,

The great sea-cod, the speckled bass;

Along the foaming tideway raced

The herring-tribes like shimmering glass:


The mackerel and the dog-fish ran,

The whiting, haddock, in their wake:

The great sea-flounders upward span,

The fierce-eyed conger and the hake:


The greatest and the least of these

From hidden pools and tidal ways

[135]

Surged in their myriads from the seas

And stared at St. Columba's face.


"Hearken," he cried, with solemn voice—

"Hearken! ye people of the Deep,

Ye people of the skies, Rejoice!

No more your soulless terror keep!


"For lo, an Angel from the Lord

Hath shown us that wherein we sin—

But now we humbly do His Word

And call you, Brothers, kith and kin. . . .


"No more we claim the world as ours

And everything that therein is—

To-day, Christ's Day, the infinite powers

Decree a common share of bliss.


"I know not if the new-waked soul

That stirs in every heart I see

Has yet to reach the far-off goal

Whose symbol is this Cross-shaped Tree. . . .


"But, O dumb kindred of the skies,

O kinsfolk of the pathless seas,

[136]

All scorn and hate I exorcise,

And wish you nought but Love and Peace!"



* * * * *

Thus, on that Christmas-day of old

St. Colum broke the ancient spell.

A thousand years away have rolled,

'Tis now . . . . "a baseless miracle."


O fellow-kinsmen of the Deep,

O kindred of the wind and cloud,

God's children too . . . . how He must weep

Who on that day was glad and proud!


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