How the Great Guest Came by Edwin Markham (1852-1940)
I first heard this poem on a CD made by Los Altos United Methodist Church titled “Sing with the Angels”. John Dodson read a shortened version that has always stuck with me.
Before the cathedral in grandeur rose
At Ingelburg where the Danube goes;
Before its forest of silver spire
Went airily up to the clouds and fires;
Before the oak had ready a beam,
While yet the arch was stone and dream —
There where the altar was later laid,
Conrad the cobbler, plied his trade.
It happened one day at the year’s white end —
Two neighbors called in on their old-time friend;
And they found the shop, so meager and mean,
Made gay with a hundred boughs of green.
Conrad was stitching with face ashine,
But suddenly stopped as he twitched a twine:
“Old friends, good news! At dawn today,
As the cocks were scaring the night away,
The Lord appeared in a dream to me,
And said, `I am coming your Guest to be!’
So I’ve been busy with feet astir,
Strewing the floor with branches of fir.
The wall is washed and the shelf is shined,
And over the rafter the holly twined.
He comes today, and the table is spread
With milk and honey and wheaten bread.”
His friends went home; and his face grew still
As he watched for the shadow across the sill.
He lived all the moments o’er and o’er,
When the Lord should enter the lowly door —
The knock, the call, the latch pulled up,
The lighted face, the offered cup.
He would wash the feet where the spikes had been,
He would kiss the hands where the nails went in,
And then at the last would sit with Him
And break the bread as the day grew dim.
While the cobbler mused there passed his pane
A beggar drenched by the driving rain.
He called him in from the stony street
And gave him shoes for his bruised feet.
The beggar went and there came a crone,
Her face with wrinkles of sorrow sown.
A bundle of faggots bowed her back,
And she was spent with the wrench and rack.
He gave her his loaf and steadied her load
As she took her way on the weary road.
Then to his door came a little child,
Lost and afraid in the world so wild,
In the big, dark world. Catching it up,
He gave it the milk in the waiting cup,
And led it home to its mother’s arms,
Out of the reach of the world’s alarms.
The day went down in the crimson west
And with it the hope of the blessed Guest,
And Conrad sighed as the world turned gray:
“Why is it, Lord, that your feet delay?
Did you forget that this was the day?”
Then soft in the silence a Voice he heard:
“Lift up your heart, for I have kept my word.
Three times I came to your friendly door;
Three times my shadow was on your floor.
I was the beggar with the bruised feet;
I was the woman you gave to eat;
I was the child on the homeless street!”