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!

children listening to audiphone

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,

"O my children for a little.
As those who suffer must!
Great 'tis to bear denial,
But grand it is to trust."

Then to the waiting marvel
The listening children leant;
Like listeners, the shadows
Across the school-room bent,

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.

"Nearer to Thee, oh, nearer,
Nearer, my God, to Thee!"

Awestruck, the silent children
Hear the great harmony.

Happy that Christmas evening:
Wise was the master's choice,
Who gave the deaf-mute children
The blessed human voice.

Wise was the other Master,
Tender His purpose dim,
Who gave His Son on Christmas,
To draw us "nearer Him."

We are all but silent children,
Denied and deaf and dumb
Before His unknown science --
Lord, if Thou wilt, we come!

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