At midnight's stroke,
On the first Christmas, half the world awoke.
Then out of nest and lair
Came thronging to Bethlehem the wordless folk;
Hurried the beasts of the forest, the birds of the air,
To pay the Lord their homage and His due.
And Cat came, too,
Mincing on delicate feet to see the Child.
But being shy and wild,
Approached no nearer than the hearth; lay dumb
And distant there.
While the rest knelt in praise,
The Cat by too much glory overcome
Could not withdraw her gaze
From the Nativity; could only stare
Through slitted eyes as things of fur and feather
(The deer beside the lion, the pheasant, the hare
Safe in the fox's paws) bent down together.
Although their anthems lifted all around,
She, in her throat, made only a trembling sound
And could not bow her head.
Yet as the morning dawned
And one by one the other creatures fled
Each to his habitat--
The eagle to his crag and to his pond
The otter--only Cat
Remained beside the dying fire, unable
To quit the place that was both Crib and Stable.
Then Mary spoke aloud.
"Dear Cat," she said, "dear, stiff-necked, proud
And obstinate beast, I bless you. From this hour
Leave wilderness behind you.
Because you stayed, though none shall have the power
To call you servant, yet the hearth shall bind you
Forever to itself. Both fond and free,
Wherever Man is, you shall also be.
And many a family
Will smile to hear you singing (where you settle)
Household hosannahs like a pulsing kettle."
Some winter night
Observe Cat now. Her eyes will suddenly gleam
Yellow against the light,
Her body shudder in a jungle dream,
Her claws unsheath their sharpness. She remembers
Old times, old barbarous customs, old Decembers
Before she called the tribes of Man her friends.
But the dream ends.
Then, reassured, she curls herself along
The floor and hums her cool, domestic song.