The Silent Children by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps


THE light was low in the school-room;

The day before Christmas day

Had ended. It was darkening in the garden

Where the Silent Children play.

Throughout that House of Pity,

The soundless lessons said,

The noiseless sport suspended,

The voiceless tasks all read,

The little deaf-mute children,

As still as still could be,

Gathered about the master,

Sensitive, swift to see,

With their fine attentive fingers

And their wonderful, watchful eyes—

What dumb joy he would bring them

For the Christmas eve's surprise!

The lights blazed out in the school-room

The play-ground went dark as death;

The master moved in a halo;

The children held their breath:

"I show you now a wonder—

The audiphone," he said.

He spoke in their silent language,

Like the language of the dead.

And answering spake the children,

As the dead might answer too:

"But what for us, O master?

This may be good for you;

"But how is our Christmas coming

Out of a wise machine?

For not like other children's

Have our happy hours been;

"And not like other children's

Can they now or ever be!"

But the master smiled through the halo:

"Just trust a mystery,

Then to the waiting marvel

The listening children leant:

Like listeners, the shadows

Across the school-room bent,

O my children, for a little,

As those who suffer must!

Great 'tis to bear denial,

But grand it is to trust."

While Science, from her silence

Of twice three thousand years,

Gave her late salutation

To sealed human ears.


Quick signalled then the master:

Sweet sang the hidden choir—

Their voices, wild and piercing,

Broke like a long desire

That to content has strengthened.

Glad the clear strains outrang:

"Nearer to Thee, oh, nearer!"

The pitying singers sang,

Happy that Christmas evening:

Wise was the master's choice,

Who gave the deaf-mute children

The blessed human voice.

Wise was that other Master,

Tender His purpose dim,

Who gave His Son on Christmas,

To draw us "nearer Him."

"Nearer to Thee, oh, nearer,

Nearer, my God' to Thee! "

Awestruck, the silent children

Hear the great harmony.

We are all but silent children,

Denied and deaf and dumb

Before His unknown science—

Lord, if Thou wilt, we come!