A garland of poems for ChristmasTide

In a time when more than ever we are hectored and daily assaulted by instant, ill informed and ill expressed opinions from commentators and pundits in print, on the airwaves and on social media we need more than ever the considered voice of poetry.

I believe that poetry is one of the glories of our species. Proof, that somewhere in the human spirit there is always a blessed movement towards understanding, reconciliation and wholeness.

Poetry has been a constant nurturing companion in my life. It’s poetry I turn to most for fellow feeling, illumination and consolation.

So today I’m collecting a garland of Christmas poems for you to ponder as you gather round for your seasonal celebrations. Drink deep!

First, ‘December’ by John Clare (1793-1864) a poet who was deeply attuned to the turning of the seasons and the rhythms of rural life.

‘… And some, to view the winter weathers,
Climb up the window-seat with glee,
Likening the snow to falling feathers,
In fancy’s infant ecstacy;
Laughing with superstitious love,
O’er visions wild that youth supplies’
Of people pulling geese above,
and keeping Christmas in the skies.’

Next the short but immensely wise, ‘BC : AD’ by the much under rated
U A Fanthorpe.

‘… And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect

Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.’

Now we turn to that great rarity a genuinely popular poet – John Betjeman (1906-1984).

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Lets her this one!

Now for a very distinctive voice. ‘Advent: A Carol’ by Patric Dickinson (1914-1994) a writer who revered and translated the Classical poets while looking at the world himself with a sharply individual measured intelligence.

He’s pictured below with a much more famous poet – Dylan Thomas.

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‘What did you hear?
Said stone to echo:
All that you told me
Said echo to stone.

Tidings, said echo,
Tidings, said stone,
Tidings of wonder
Said echo to stone.

Who then shall hear them?
Said stone to echo:
All people on earth,
Said echo to stone.

Turned into one,
Echo and stone,
The world for all coming
Turned into one.’

One of the greatest ever Christmas poems is surely by Christina Rosetti (1830-1894)

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‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ is one of the glories of English poetry.

‘Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air-
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss

What can I give Him?
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him-
Give my heart’

Let’s hear that sung with elegant fervour by the very fine choral ensemble, Chanticleer.

‘The Carol Of The Poor Children’ is by Richard Middleton (1882-1911) a fascinating turn of the 19th/20th Century figure now more known for his stories like ‘The Ghost Ship’ than for his striking poetry.

‘Are we naked, mother, and are we starving-poor
Oh, see what gifts the kings have brought outside the stable door
Are we cold, mother, the ass will give his hay
To make the manger warm and keep the cruel winds away
We are the poor children, but not so poor who sing Our Carols with our voiceless hearts to greet the new-born king
On this night of all nights, when in the frosty sky A new star, a kind star is shining on high!’.

Anyone who has been a regular visitor to The immortal jukebox will know that I have deep feeling for the Irish contribution to literature and music.

So it was compulsory for me to include ‘A Christmas Childhood’ by
Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967) the sage of Iniskeen, one of the great figures of 20th Century Irish Literature. Kavanagh became a major figure in Dublin life and is commemorated by a Canal side statue.

Sit back and listen to the wonderful musical of Kavanagh’s words read aloud and linger for a performance of The Wexford Carol.

‘Carol For The Last Christmas Eve’ is by a favourite poet of mine,
Norman Nicholson (1914-1987). He came from Millom in England’s rural Cumbria. Never fashionable Nicholson’s work will endure.

‘The first night, the first night,
The night that Christ was born,
His mother looked in his eyes and saw
Her maker in her son.

The twelfth night, the twelfth night,
After Christ was born, the Wise Men found the child and knew
Their search had just begun.

But the last night, the last night,
Since ever Christ was born,
What his mother knew will be known again,
And what was found by the Three Wise Men,
And the sun will rise and so will we,
Umpteen hundred and eternity’

Our next poet Charles Causley (1917-2003) had a mythopoetic imagination and the ability to make his words sing with bardic power.

‘Mary’s Song’ has always moved me.

‘Warm in the wintry air
You lie,
The ox and the donkey
Standing by,
With summer eyes
They seem to say:
Welcome, Jesus,
On Christmas Day!

Sleep, King Jesus:
Your diamond crown
High in the sky
Where stars look down.
Let your reign
Of love begin,
That all the world may enter in.’

I am going to conclude and hang my garland with ‘Christmas Night’ by a contemporary English poet, Lawrence Sail (b.1942).

‘On the wind, a drifting echo
Of simple songs. In the city
the streetlamps, haloed innocents,
click into instant sleep.
The darkness at last breathes.

In dreams of wholeness, irony
is a train melting to distance;
and the word, a delighted child
Gazing in safety at
a star solid as flesh.

May you all enjoy every moment and morsel of Christmas Tide.

37 thoughts on “A garland of poems for ChristmasTide

  1. Christmas Tide… I like the phrase. Hadn’t heard it before.
    i’m not a religious man, but my “reading” of Christ was that He, in a world or revenge and an eye for an eye, was the first to offer Pardon, Forgiveness. A message that many should meditate in these drab times of hatred and random killings.
    Happy New year nonetheless Thom, to you, your family and friends. Your enemies can fend for themselves. 😉


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