.

“A star!” the wise man shouted, “Look, a star!”
forgetting the hour and his solitude,
or else too overjoyed to heed the time—
then, starting at the ghostly echo through
the tower’s highest chamber, shook with fright
and with a jolting hand silenced his lips.
Nobody heard him; still the land lay sleeping.
The night’s new guardian, beaming from the West,
shone quite unnoticed by the city, lit
now as it was with strange and wondrous light:
watery and faint as a second moon,
but kinder than the first; more full of promise,
of life, of some strange thing the king knew not.

And in the quiet of the night he stood,
his frozen face turned up to meet the star,
as overwhelmed with wonder as with fright,
with joy as doubt, not comprehending all
the silent beacon spoke in its radiant touch.
And then, as clear as bells that mark the hour,
that would not ring the day for hours yet,
the king in awe could swear the star did speak!
Aloud, with voice as plain as the king’s own,
or yours, or mine. It sang into the night—
or else it was the shadows speaking songs,
as shadows sometimes do to day-worn souls
in search of sleep before the dawn; but shadows,
marked the king, speak soft and sinister:
their whispered invitations tug the holes
within our hearts and fill them with despair.
This was no hissing phantom calling him,
but rather, clear and bright, a ringing voice
with penetrating radiance as befit
the warmth of that bright light hung in the West.
One word it spoke, one word that lingered in
the dust-flecked rays of midnight crossing through
the tower’s highest chamber. “Come,” it said,
and that was all..

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The above is an excerpt of the complete work, which can be found here.

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Jack DesBois is a singer, actor, and storyteller. He gives annual Epiphany season performances of “The Western Star,” which he wrote in 2016. He self-published a chapbook of short poems in 2018. As a singer, Jack has had the good fortune to solo in several of the great works of Baroque Oratorio, including Handel’s Messiah (Bass) and Esther (Haman) and J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion (Jesus). Jack lives in Topsfield, Massachusetts. 


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12 Responses

  1. Brian Yapko

    Jack, this is a beautiful poem which is fairly radiant with love and love of Christ. Your blank-verse depiction of the Magi and the appearance of the Christmas star is both skilled and deeply touching. I especially appreciated hearing your nicely-performed extended version on the attached video. I have a soft spot for bringing Bible stories and characters to poetic life and you have delivered admirably. I look forward to seeing more of your work!

    Reply
    • Jack DesBois

      Thank you, Brian! I’m glad the poem’s love (I think of it as light) touched you. I will definitely submit more poetry to SCP, though I’m afraid this one is my most worthy offering to a community steeped in poetic skill and insight. Writing The Western Star was an odd process, involving very little revision – it “came to me” in small chunks over the course of a year. “Watership Down” author Richard Adams once said that after the overwhelming success of his debut novel, he spent the rest of his life trying to become the man who wrote “Watership Down”. My experience writing poetry since The Western Star has been somewhat similar. But I will submit more poetry, and let you all be the judge…

      Reply
    • Jack DesBois

      Thank you, Paul! This is a poem for listening to – like Homer must have been, I like to fancy – so I’m glad you took the time to listen.

      Reply
  2. Margaret Coats

    Jack, what a marvel of composition and dramatic performance! I only got through the videos for Part I, but I hope to return and hear more. In Part I, I was most impressed by description of the Holy Face present in or promised by the star. This face, as you so quickly recount, contains all the faces in creation, including the faces of such things as the stones under our feet. “If they had faces,” as you say in emphatic understatement!

    Reply
    • Jack DesBois

      Thank you, Margaret. The “face of nations” is one of my favorite passages as well. I’ve tried reaching out to visual artists to collaborate on an illustrated edition of the poem, with no luck so far. I’d love to see that face! But perhaps it’s best left to our imaginations, in the end.

      Reply
  3. C.B. Anderson

    I think in some ways you got in your own way. Throughout, there was a tendency toward wordiness that left me high and dry. I like a crisp exposition that’s laconic and free from circumlocutions. Any point you’ve made twice does not need to be expressed a third time. We all get the significance of the Epiphany, and the point need not be belabored. I don’t live in Vermont, so I can’t say how the performance of this work might have affected me, had I attended in person.

    Reply
    • Jack DesBois

      Thank you for your candor, Mr. Anderson. You’re absolutely right that The Western Star’s poetry is far from crisp and laconic. My defense is that the poem is meant for a listening, rather than a reading, audience, and it is meant to wash over its audience for an hour and fifteen minutes. Dense poetry is best taken in small doses. At the risk of committing heresy, I invoke Gertrude Stein, who relaxed her audience out of their fear of missing a word or thought by repeating and repeating everything. At the risk of committing another heresy, I suggest Homer did the same thing.

      After five years living with this poem, I’m not sure I quite get the significance of the Epiphany…

      Reply

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