Before the Cathedral in grandeur rose,
At Ingelburg where the Danube goes;
Before its forest of silver spires
Went airily up to the clouds and fires;
Before the oak had ready a beam,
While yet the arch was stone and dream –
There where the altar was later laid,
Conrad the cobbler plied his trade.
Doubled all day on his busy bench,
Hard at his cobbling for master and hench,
He pounded away at a brick rat-tat,
Shearing and shaping with pull and pat,
Hide well hammered and pegs sent home.
Till the shoe was fit for the Prince of Rome
And he sang as the threads want to and fro:
“Whether ‘tis hidden or whether it show,
Let the work be sound, for the Lord will know.”
Tall was the cobbler, and gray and thin,
And a full moon shone where the hair had been.
His eyes peered out, intent and afar,
As looking beyond the things that are.
He walked as one who is done with fear,
Knowing at last that God is near.
Only the half of him cobbled the shoes
The rest was away for the heavenly news.
Indeed, so thin was the mystic screen
That parted the Unseen from the Seen,
You could not tell, from the cobbler’s theme
If his dream were truth or his truth were dream.
It happened one day at the year’s white end,
Two neighbors called on their old-time friend;
And they found the shop, so meagre and mean,
Made gay with a Hundred boughs of green.
Conrad was stitching with face ashine,
But suddenly stopped as he twitched a twine:
“Old friends, good news! At dawn today,
As the cocks were scaring the night away,
The Lord appeared in a dream to me.
And said, “I am coming your guest to be!”
So I’ve been busy with feet astir,
Strewing the floor with branches of fir,
The wall is washed and the shelf is shined,
And over the rafter the holly twined.
He comes today, and the table is spread
With milk and honey and wheaten bread.”
His friends went home; and his face grew still
As he watched for the shadow across the sill.
He lived all the moments o’er and o’er,
When the Lord should enter the lowly door –
The knock, the call, the latch pulled up,
The lighted face, the offered cup.
He would wash the feet where the spikes had been;
He would kiss the hands where the nails went in;
And then at last he would sit with Him
And break the bread as the day grew dim.
While the cobbler mused, there passed his pane
A traveller drenched by the driving rain.
He called him in from the stony street
And gave him shoes for his bruised feet.
The traveller went and there came a crone,
Her face with wrinkles of sorrow sown.
A bundle of fagots bowed her back,
And she was spent with the wrench and rack
He gave her his loaf and steadied her load.
As she took her may on the weary road.
Then came to his door a little child,
Lost and afraid in the world so wild,
In the big, dark world. Catching it up,
He gave it the milk in the waiting cup,
And led it home to its mother’s arms,
Out of the reach of the world’s alarms.
The day went down in the crimson west
And with it the hope of the blessed Guest,
And Conrad sighed as the world turned gray:
“Why is it, Lord, that your feet delay?
Did you forget that this was the day?”
Then soft in the silence a Voice he heard.
“Lift up your heart, for I kept my word.
Three times I came to your friendly door;
Three times my shadow was on your floor.
I was the traveller with bruised feet;
I was the woman you gave to eat;
I was the child on the homeless street!” - Edward Markham
Journal of Religious Speaking, 1-11, pages 29-31