Bethlehem and Golgotha

Friedrich Ruckert

Translated by N. L. Frothingham
IN Bethlehem He first arose,
  From whom we draw our true life’s breath;
  And Golgotha at last he chose,
  Where his cross broke the power of death.
  I wandered from the Western strand,
  Through strange scenes of the Morning Land;
  But naught so great did I survey
  As Bethlehem and Golgotha.
The ancient wonders of the world
  Here rose aloft,—the mighty Seven;
  How was their transient glory hurled
  To earth before the might of Heaven!
  In passing, I could see and tell
  How all their pride to ruin fell;
  There stood in quiet Gloria
  But Bethlehem and Golgotha.
Cease, Pyramids of Egypt, cease!
  The toil that built you never gave
  The faintest thought of Death’s great peace,—
  ’T was but the darkness of a grave.
  Ye Sphinxes, in colossal stone!
  The riddle Life an unread one
  Ye left;—the answer found its way
  Through Bethlehem and Golgotha.
O Rocknabad, earth’s Paradise,
  Of all Shiraz the sweetest flower!
  Ye Indian sea-coasts, breathing spice,
  Where groves of palm in beauty tower;—
  I see o’er all your sunny plains
  The step of Death leave sable stains.
  Look up! There comes a deathless ray
  From Bethlehem and Golgotha.
Thou Cba! black stone of the waste,
  At which the feet of half our line
  Yet stumble. Stand, now, proudly braced
  Beneath thy crescent’s waning shine!
  The moon before the sun grows dim;
  Thou art shattered by the sign of Him,
  The conquering Prince. “Victoria!”
  Shout Bethlehem and Golgotha.
O Thou, who in a shepherd-stable
  An infant willingly hast lain,
  And through the cross’s pain wert able
  To give the victory over pain!
  To pride the manger seems disgrace;
  The cross a vile, unworthy place;
  But what shall bring this pride down? Say!
  ’T is Bethlehem and Golgotha.
The Magi kings went forth to see
  The Shepherd Stock, the Paschal Lamb;
  And to the cross on Calvary
  The pilgrimage of nations came.
  Amidst the battle’s stormy toss,
  All flew to splinters,—but the Cross;
  As East and West encamping lay
  Round Bethlehem and Golgotha.
O, march we not in martial band,
  But with the Spirit’s flag unfurled!
  Let us subdue the Holy Land
  As Christ himself subdued the world.
  Let beams of light on every side
  Fly, like Apostles, far and wide,
  Till all men catch the beams that play
  O’er Bethlehem and Golgotha.
With pilgrim staff and scallop-shell
  Through Eastern climes I sought to roam;
  This counsel have I found to tell,
  Brought from my travels to my home:—
  With staff and scallop do not crave
  To see Christ’s cradle and his grave.
  Turn inward! there in clearest day
  View Bethlehem and Golgotha.
O heart! what helps it, that the knee
  Upon his natal spot is bended?
  What helps it, reverently to see
  The grave from which he soon ascended?
  Let him within thee find his birth;
  And do thou die to things of earth,
  And live him;—let this be for aye
  Thy Bethlehem and Golgotha.