Later Poems

by Bliss Carman


The Wise Men from the East



WHY were the Wise Men three,
Instead of five or seven?”

They had to match, you see,
The archangels in Heaven.

God sent them, sure and swift,

By his mysterious presage,
To bear the threefold gift
And take the threefold message.

Thus in their hands were seen
The gold of purest Beauty,

The myrrh of Truth all-clean,
The frankincense of Duty.

And thus they bore away
The loving heart’s great treasure,
And knowledge clear as day,

To be our life’s new measure.

They went back to the East
To spread the news of gladness.
There one became a priest
To the new word of sadness;


And one a workman, skilled
Beyond the old earth’s fashion;
And one a scholar, filled
With learning’s endless passion.

God sent them for a sign

He would not change nor alter
His good and fair design,
However man may falter.

He meant that, as He chose
His perfect plan and willed it,

They stood in place of those
Who elsewhere had fulfilled it;

Whoso would mark and reach
The height of man’s election,
Must still achieve and teach

The triplicate perfection.

For since the world was made,
One thing was needed ever,
To keep man undismayed
Through failure and endeavor—


A faultless trinity
Of body, mind, and spirit,
And each with its own three
Strong angels to be near it;

Strength to arise and go

Wherever dawn is breaking,
Poise like tides that flow,
Instinct for beauty-making;

Imagination bold
To cross the mystic border,
Reason to seek and hold,
Judgement for law and order;

Joy that makes all things well,
Faith that is all-availing
Each terror to dispel,

And Love, ah, Love unfailing.

These are the flaming Nine
Who walk the world unsleeping,
Sent forth by the Divine
With manhood in their keeping.


These are the seraphs strong
His mighty soul had need of,
When He would right the wrong
And sorrow He took heed of.

And that, I think, is why

The Wise Men knelt before Him,
And put their kingdoms by
To serve Him and adore Him;

So that our Lord, unknown,
Should not be unattended,

When He was here alone
And poor and unbefriended;

That still He might have three
(Rather than five or seven)
To stand in their degree,

Like archangels in Heaven.