Weeping, We Hold Him Fast Tonight

Peter von Cornelius, "The Wise and Foolish Virgins"

Peter von Cornelius, “The Wise and Foolish Virgins”

Spiritual Sunday

Here’s a lovely Advent poem by Christina Rossetti, speaking to our despair in dark times and then promising Christmas hope. It begins with an allusion to the ten bridesmaids (or virgins) in Jesus’s parable who are waiting for the late-arriving bridegroom  (Matthew 25:1-13). When he finally arrives, the five who are prepared for his arrival are invited to the feast while the five who are not are shut out. (“Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”)

The poem ends with the words of another bridegroom, these coming at a much warmer time of year when “the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle[dove] is heard in our land.” The bridegroom’s words in that most erotic of Biblical books are joyous: “My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away” (Song of Songs 2:10). Rossetti describes Christ the bridegroom as “most sweet, sweeter than honeycomb.”

Also throughout the poem are references to “the watchman,” who appears in Ezekiel and especially in Isaiah. Here he is in 21:11-12:

The burden of Dumah. He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come.

and here in 52: 9-10:

Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the LORD shall bring again Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem.

So if you are weeping because the night is long, if your feet are waysore or if you have lost loved ones, don’t lose home. The poet assures us that summer shall smite the snow, figs shall bud, and “dove with dove shall coo the livelong day.”


By Christina Rossetti

This Advent moon shines cold and clear,
These Advent nights are long;
Our lamps have burned year after year
And still their flame is strong.
“Watchman, what of the night?” we cry,
Heart-sick with hope deferred:
“No speaking signs are in the sky,
Is still the watchman’s word.

The Porter watches at the gate,
The servants watch within;
The watch is long betimes and late,
The prize is slow to win.
“Watchman, what of the night?”
But still
His answer sounds the same:
No daybreak tops the utmost hill,
Nor pale our lamps of flame.”

One to another hear them speak
The patient virgins wise:
“Surely He is not far to seek –
“All night we watch and rise.”
The days are evil looking back,
The coming days are dim;
Yet count we not His promise slack,
But watch and wait for Him.’

One with another, soul with soul,
They kindle fire from fire:
“Friends watch us who have touched the goal.”
“They urge us, come up higher.
“With them shall rest our waysore feet,
With them is built our home,
With Christ.”– “They sweet, but He most sweet,
Sweeter than honeycomb.”

There no more parting, no more pain,
The distant ones brought near,
The lost so long are found again,
Long lost but longer dear:
Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard,
Nor heart conceived that rest,
With them our good things long deferred,
With Jesus Christ our Best.

We weep because the night is long,
We laugh for day shall rise,
We sing a slow contented song
And knock at Paradise.
Weeping we hold Him fast Who wept
For us, we hold Him fast;
And will not let Him go except
He bless us first or last.

Weeping we hold Him fast to-night;
We will not let Him go
Till daybreak smite our wearied sight
And summer smite the snow:
Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove
Shall coo the livelong day;
Then He shall say, “Arise, My love,
My fair one, come away.”

This entry was posted in Rossetti (Christina) and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

  • Sign up for weekly newsletter

    Your email will not be shared or sold.
    * = required field

    powered by MailChimp!
  • Twitter Authentication data is incomplete