Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Italy
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII.  1876–79.
Rome, Churches of
Christmas Night in St. Peter’s
Helen Hunt Jackson (1830–1885)
LOW on the marble floor I lie:
        I am alone:
Though friendly voices whisper nigh,
And foreign crowds are passing by,
        I am alone.        5
        Great hymns float through
The shadowed aisles. I hear a slow
Refrain, “Forgive them, for they know
        Not what they do.”
With tender joy all others thrill;        10
        I have but tears:
The false priests’ voices, high and shrill,
Reiterate the “Peace, good-will”;
        I have but tears.
        I hear anew        15
The nails and scourge; then come the low,
Sad words, “Forgive them, for they know
        Not what they do.”
Close by my side the poor souls kneel;
        I turn away;        20
Half-pitying looks at me they steal;
They think, because I do not feel,
        I turn away.
        Ah! if they knew,
How following them, where’er they go,        25
I hear, “Forgive them, for they know
        Not what they do.”
Above the organ’s sweetest strains
        I hear the groans
Of prisoners, who lie in chains,        30
So near, and in such mortal pains,
        I hear the groans.
        But Christ walks through
The dungeons of St. Angelo,
And says, “Forgive them, for they know        35
        Not what they do.”
And now the music sinks to sighs;
        The lights grow dim:
The Pastorella’s melodies
In lingering echoes float and rise;        40
        The lights grow dim;
        More clear and true,
In this sweet silence seem to flow
The words, “Forgive them, for they know
        Not what they do.”        45
The dawn swings incense, silver gray;
        The night is past;
Now comes, triumphant, God’s full day;
No priest, no church can bar its way:
        The night is past;        50
        How on this blue
Of God’s great banner, blaze and glow
The words, “Forgive them, for they know
        Not what they do!”

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