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Hymn of the Moravian Nuns of Bethlehem

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1839


When the dying flame of day
Through the chancel shot its ray,
Far the glimmering tapers shed
Faint light on the cowl├Ęd head;
And the censer burning swung,
Where, before the altar, hung
The crimson banner, that with prayer
Had been consecrated there.
And the nuns' sweet hymn was heard the while,
Sung low, in the dim, mysterious aisle.

  "Take thy banner! May it wave
   Proudly o'er the good and brave;
   When the battle's distant wail
   Breaks the sabbath of our vale,
   When the clarion's music thrills
   To the hearts of these lone hills,
   When the spear in conflict shakes,
   And the strong lance shivering breaks.

  "Take thy banner! and, beneath
   The battle-cloud's encircling wreath,
   Guard it, till our homes are free!
   Guard it! God will prosper thee!
   In the dark and trying hour,
   In the breaking forth of power,
   In the rush of steeds and men,
   His right hand will shield thee then.

  "Take thy banner! But when night
   Closes round the ghastly fight,
   If the vanquished warrior bow,
   Spare him! By our holy vow,
   By our prayers and many tears,
   By the mercy that endears,
   Spare him! he our love hath shared!
   Spare him! as thou wouldst be spared!

  "Take thy banner! and if e'er
   Thou shouldst press the soldier's bier,
   And the muffled drum should beat
   To the tread of mournful feet,
   Then this crimson flag shall be
   Martial cloak and shroud for thee."

The warrior took that banner proud,
And it was his martial cloak and shroud!

Published in Voices of the Night

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