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Poetry: The Shepherd's Pipe

Songs from the Holy Night

Georg Johannes Gick

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This unpretentious yet hauntingly beautiful cycle of Christmas poems, first published in German in 1935 and later translated into English by Jere Brunner and set to music as a children’s cantata by Marlys Swinger, revolves around the stable on Christmas Night. The commonplace things participate, each in its own way, in the miraculous birth, as do the everyday people who come to worship – and we find ourselves among them. 

The poems in The Shepherd’s Pipe can be read again and again. Better yet, listen to (or sing!) the songs, which are simple enough for anyone to learn. Your Christmas experience will be all the richer. Here is a selection from the first section of the book, “The Heart Lifts its Hands”.

The Bed of Hay

See, I am the bed of hay
 from the blessed night
where Love came to the world – a tiny child –
so helpless in our sight.

For the little God so great
I’m too poor, I’m told.
Had I but known this miracle could be!
Thou Love a thousandfold!

Will you ask the child for me,
 I beg you, holy mother,
a crib more worthy I may be
to hold this little brother.

The Wisp of Straw

I’m a wisp of manger straw
from holy night and I was glad;
I was full of love and awe
 and made myself his bed.

Trample all my ripe grain out,
 thou child of love of heaven;
 In the soil of shepherd’s hut
 shall all my roots be driven.

When you bless the great broad world
 to its very end,
I shall be a ripened field
waiting for your hand.

Before you die for all men’s sake
 on the lifted cross,
I shall be the bread you break
to redeem our loss.

The Spider in the Corner

I’m spider in his cubbyhole
 under the roof away;
for the child I slave and toil
all through the night and day.

All the many weary folk
 who come to see God’s Son –
their hearts are filled with Christmas love
 when my spinning’s done.

When I have spun my life away
 and woven many hearts a shrine,
 let the child come if he may,
and spin me up in mine.

The Little Path

That’s what I should like the best:
 to be a humble bridge or way
 leading to the Christmas joy
where longing finds the road to rest.

If only someone came to greet
 the holy mother and her child,
the very stones that make my path
would thrill with joy beneath those feet.

The Shepherd’s Song

I am the shepherd’s song, I sing
 here in the stable’s shadow,
and all men come; like lambs I bring
them to the Christmas meadow.

I call them through the winter night,
 lost out there in the bitter cold;
Oh come and see how love is bright
 in the Good Shepherd’s fold!

If there should come some weary one
 still late at night that I could bless,
I’ll be content my singing’s done
and glad for weariness.

The Candle

A candle let me be to shine
 before the manger; Let me stay
as a burning sign
to all who pass along this way…

So that some poor wandering stranger
 may see my light and come,
leave earth’s streets and find a manger
 that is all men’s home.

Then let my wax drip to the floor
 with the love I bring;
Only when I am no more
will I be everything!

The Candle

The Bell

I ring it far and near
and sound it forth to all,
for God is made our brother here
 in an oxen stall!

Then all men’s hearts will ring out clear
 to make his praises known
and burn like crimson candles here
in silence ‘round God’s throne.

This is the wonder in the last
 great Christmastime  when time is done
and the Spirit’s children keep the feast
 with God, the Father and the Son!

The Miracle

When all the winds were mild,
 Mary came to me apart
 and laid the Holy Child
 here inside my heart.

My heart was made the manger,
 and my body was the stall.
 And now no man is stranger:
my life goes out to all,

To bring to each of them
 this Child of heaven’s light,
to let them enter in, like flames
of candles to the holy  night.

My heart was made the manger,
 and my body was the stall.
 And now no man is stranger:
my life goes out to all,

Notes

We know that Christ came, not in a gorgeous, gilded, royal setting, but in surroundings so humble and poor that even the lowest and meanest of God’s creatures could see His power for what it was – not of this world but of God. The little path, the bed of hay, the linden tree – do they not point to Christmas every day? While The Shepherd’s Pipe has at its center the very fact of Christmas, all of the voices that speak through it are for every day and every time.

The poet, Georg Johannes Gick, was born in 1910 in Aschaffenburg, Bavaria, and grew up in Amberg. In 1937 he moved to Munich, where he taught elementary school and served as a school principal from 1956 to 1972. We feel close to him, for the Poet has spoken to us of himself, and in a way which we wish to echo:

Let my life before the Child
In quiet first bow down;
and then my heart, no longer mine,
pours out for you in song.


Download the complete PDF of The Shepherd’s Pipe:
Poems
Sheet Music

Download the Audio version of The Shepherd’s Pipe

shepherd playing a pipe
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