Robert William Service |
Today I opened wide my eyes,
And stared with wonder and surprise,
To see beneath November skies
An apple blossom peer;
Upon a branch as bleak as night
It gleamed exultant on my sight,
A fairy beacon burning bright
Of hope and cheer.
"Alas!" said I, "poor foolish thing,
Have you mistaken this for Spring?
Behold, the thrush has taken wing,
And Winter's near.
Serene it seemed to lift its head:
"The Winter's wrath I do not dread,
Because I am," it proudly said,
"Some apple blossom must be first,
With beauty's urgency to burst
Into a world for joy athirst,
And so I dare;
And I shall see what none shall see -
December skies gloom over me,
And mock them with my April glee,
And fearless fare.
"And I shall hear what none shall hear -
The hardy robin piping clear,
The Storm King gallop dark and drear
Across the sky;
And I shall know what none shall know -
The silent kisses of the snow,
The Christmas candles' silver glow,
Before I die.
"Then from your frost-gemmed window pane
One morning you will look in vain,
My smile of delicate disdain
No more to see;
But though I pass before my time,
And perish in the grale and grime,
Maybe you'll have a little rhyme
To spare for me.
Sandra Cisneros |
December 24th and we’re through again.
This time for good I know because I didn’t
throw you out — and anyway we waved.
No angry doors.
We folded clothes and went
our separate ways.
You left behind that flannel shirt
of yours I liked but remembered to take
Where are you tonight?
Richard, it’s Christmas Eve again
and old ghosts come back home.
I’m sitting by the Christmas tree
wondering where did we go wrong.
Okay, we didn’t work, and all
memories to tell you the truth aren’t good.
But sometimes there were good times.
Love was good.
I loved your crooked sleep
beside me and never dreamed afraid.
There should be stars for great wars
There ought to be awards
and plenty of champagne for the survivors.
After all the years of degradations,
the several holidays of failure,
there should be something
to commemorate the pain.
Someday we’ll forget that great Brazil disaster.
Till then, Richard, I wish you well.
I wish you love affairs and plenty of hot water,
and women kinder than I treated you.
I forget the reason, but I loved you once,
Maybe in this season, drunk
and sentimental, I’m willing to admit
a part of me, crazed and kamikaze,
ripe for anarchy, loves still.
Robert Frost |
(A Christmas Circular Letter)
THE CITY had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine,
I said, “There aren’t enough to be worth while.
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.
“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round.
The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north.
He said, “A thousand.
“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”
He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.
Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them.
Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.
More great poems below...
John Betjeman |
Here among long-discarded cassocks,
Damp stools, and half-split open hassocks,
Here where the vicar never looks
I nibble through old service books.
Lean and alone I spend my days
Behind this Church of England baize.
I share my dark forgotten room
With two oil-lamps and half a broom.
The cleaner never bothers me,
So here I eat my frugal tea.
My bread is sawdust mixed with straw;
My jam is polish for the floor.
Christmas and Easter may be feasts
For congregations and for priests,
And so may Whitsun.
All the same,
They do not fill my meagre frame.
For me the only feast at all
Is Autumn's Harvest Festival,
When I can satisfy my want
With ears of corn around the font.
I climb the eagle's brazen head
To burrow through a loaf of bread.
I scramble up the pulpit stair
And gnaw the marrows hanging there.
It is enjoyable to taste
These items ere they go to waste,
But how annoying when one finds
That other mice with pagan minds
Come into church my food to share
Who have no proper business there.
Two field mice who have no desire
To be baptized, invade the choir.
A large and most unfriendly rat
Comes in to see what we are at.
He says he thinks there is no God
And yet he comes .
it's rather odd.
This year he stole a sheaf of wheat
(It screened our special preacher's seat),
And prosperous mice from fields away
Come in to hear our organ play,
And under cover of its notes
Ate through the altar's sheaf of oats.
A Low Church mouse, who thinks that I
Am too papistical, and High,
Yet somehow doesn't think it wrong
To munch through Harvest Evensong,
While I, who starve the whole year through,
Must share my food with rodents who
Except at this time of the year
Not once inside the church appear.
Within the human world I know
Such goings-on could not be so,
For human beings only do
What their religion tells them to.
They read the Bible every day
And always, night and morning, pray,
And just like me, the good church mouse,
Worship each week in God's own house,
But all the same it's strange to me
How very full the church can be
With people I don't see at all
Except at Harvest Festival.
Ogden Nash |
In Baltimore there lived a boy.
He wasn't anybody's joy.
Although his name was Jabez Dawes,
His character was full of flaws.
In school he never led his classes,
He hid old ladies' reading glasses,
His mouth was open when he chewed,
And elbows to the table glued.
He stole the milk of hungry kittens,
And walked through doors marked NO ADMITTANCE.
He said he acted thus because
There wasn't any Santa Claus.
Another trick that tickled Jabez
Was crying 'Boo' at little babies.
He brushed his teeth, they said in town,
Sideways instead of up and down.
Yet people pardoned every sin,
And viewed his antics with a grin,
Till they were told by Jabez Dawes,
'There isn't any Santa Claus!'
Deploring how he did behave,
His parents swiftly sought their grave.
They hurried through the portals pearly,
And Jabez left the funeral early.
Like whooping cough, from child to child,
He sped to spread the rumor wild:
'Sure as my name is Jabez Dawes
There isn't any Santa Claus!'
Slunk like a weasel of a marten
Through nursery and kindergarten,
Whispering low to every tot,
'There isn't any, no there's not!'
The children wept all Christmas eve
And Jabez chortled up his sleeve.
No infant dared hang up his stocking
For fear of Jabez' ribald mocking.
He sprawled on his untidy bed,
Fresh malice dancing in his head,
When presently with scalp-a-tingling,
Jabez heard a distant jingling;
He heard the crunch of sleigh and hoof
Crisply alighting on the roof.
What good to rise and bar the door?
A shower of soot was on the floor.
What was beheld by Jabez Dawes?
The fireplace full of Santa Claus!
Then Jabez fell upon his knees
With cries of 'Don't,' and 'Pretty Please.
He howled, 'I don't know where you read it,
But anyhow, I never said it!'
'Jabez' replied the angry saint,
'It isn't I, it's you that ain't.
Although there is a Santa Claus,
There isn't any Jabez Dawes!'
Said Jabez then with impudent vim,
'Oh, yes there is, and I am him!
Your magic don't scare me, it doesn't'
And suddenly he found he wasn't!
From grimy feet to grimy locks,
Jabez became a Jack-in-the-box,
An ugly toy with springs unsprung,
Forever sticking out his tongue.
The neighbors heard his mournful squeal;
They searched for him, but not with zeal.
No trace was found of Jabez Dawes,
Which led to thunderous applause,
And people drank a loving cup
And went and hung their stockings up.
All you who sneer at Santa Claus,
Beware the fate of Jabez Dawes,
The saucy boy who mocked the saint.
Donner and Blitzen licked off his paint.
John Betjeman |
The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.
The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.
Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.
And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.
And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.
And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?
And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
Edwin Arlington Robinson |
He took a frayed hat from his head,
And “Peace on Earth” was what he said.
“A morsel out of what you’re worth,
And there we have it: Peace on Earth.
Not much, although a little more
Than what there was on earth before
I’m as you see, I’m Ichabod,—
But never mind the ways I’ve trod;
I’m sober now, so help me God.
I could not pass the fellow by.
“Do you believe in God?” said I;
“And is there to be Peace on Earth?”
“Tonight we celebrate the birth,”
He said, “of One who died for men;
The Son of God, we say.
Your God, or mine? I’d make you laugh
Were I to tell you even half
That I have learned of mine today
Where yours would hardly seem to stay.
Could He but follow in and out
Some anthropoids I know about,
The god to whom you may have prayed
Might see a world He never made.
“Your words are flowing full,” said I;
“But yet they give me no reply;
Your fountain might as well be dry.
“A wiser One than you, my friend,
Would wait and hear me to the end;
And for his eyes a light would shine
Through this unpleasant shell of mine
That in your fancy makes of me
A Christmas curiosity.
All right, I might be worse than that;
And you might now be lying flat;
I might have done it from behind,
And taken what there was to find.
Don’t worry, for I’m not that kind.
‘Do I believe in God?’ Is that
The price tonight of a new hat?
Has he commanded that his name
Be written everywhere the same?
Have all who live in every place
Identified his hidden face?
Who knows but he may like as well
My story as one you may tell?
And if he show me there be Peace
On Earth, as there be fields and trees
Outside a jail-yard, am I wrong
If now I sing him a new song?
Your world is in yourself, my friend,
For your endurance to the end;
And all the Peace there is on Earth
Is faith in what your world is worth,
And saying, without any lies,
Your world could not be otherwise.
“One might say that and then be shot,”
I told him; and he said: “Why not?”
I ceased, and gave him rather more
Than he was counting of my store.
“And since I have it, thanks to you,
Don’t ask me what I mean to do,”
“Believe that even I
Would rather tell the truth than lie—
On Christmas Eve.
No matter why.
His unshaved, educated face,
His inextinguishable grace.
And his hard smile, are with me still,
Deplore the vision as I will;
For whatsoever he be at,
So droll a derelict as that
Should have at least another hat.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow |
"I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Ellis Parker Butler |
Observe, my child, this pretty scene,
And note the air of pleasure keen
With which the widow’s orphan boy
Toots his tin horn, his only toy.
What need of costly gifts has he?
The widow has nowhere to flee.
And ample noise his horn emits
To drive the widow into fits.
The philosophic mind can see
The uses of adversity.
Philip Larkin |
Once i am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting seats and stone
and little books; sprawlings of flowers cut
For Sunday brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense musty unignorable silence
Brewed God knows how long.
Hatless I take off
My cylce-clips in awkward revrence
Move forward run my hand around the font.
From where i stand the roof looks almost new--
Cleaned or restored? someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern I peruse a few
hectoring large-scale verses and pronouce
Here endeth much more loudly than I'd meant
The echoes snigger briefly.
Back at the door
I sign the book donate an Irish sixpence
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.
Yet stop I did: in fact I often do
And always end much at a loss like this
Wondering what to look for; wondering too
When churches fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show
Their parchment plate and pyx in locked cases
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?
Or after dark will dubious women come
To make their children touvh a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort or other will go on
In games in riddles seemingly at random;
But superstition like belief must die
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass weedy pavement brambles butress sky.
A shape less recognisable each week
A purpose more obscure.
I wonder who
Will be the last the very last to seek
This place for whta it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber randy for antique
Or Christmas-addict counting on a whiff
Of grown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative
Bored uninformed knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation--marriage and birth
And death and thoughts of these--for which was built
This special shell? For though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth
It pleases me to stand in silence here;
A serious house on serious earth it is
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet
Are recognisd and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious
And gravitating with it to this ground
Which he once heard was proper to grow wise in
If only that so many dead lie round.
Anne Sexton |
Oh sharp diamond, my mother!
I could not count the cost
of all your faces, your moods--
that present that I lost.
Sweet girl, my deathbed,
my jewel-fingered lady,
your portrait flickered all night
by the bulbs of the tree.
Your face as calm as the moon
over a mannered sea,
presided at the family reunion,
the twelve grandchildren
you used to wear on your wrist,
a three-months-old baby,
a fat check you never wrote,
the red-haired toddler who danced the twist,
your aging daughters, each one a wife,
each one talking to the family cook,
each one avoiding your portrait,
each one aping your life.
Later, after the party,
after the house went to bed,
I sat up drinking the Christmas brandy,
watching your picture,
letting the tree move in and out of focus.
The bulbs vibrated.
They were a halo over your forehead.
Then they were a beehive,
blue, yellow, green, red;
each with its own juice, each hot and alive
stinging your face.
But you did not move.
I continued to watch, forcing myself,
waiting, inexhaustible, thirty-five.
I wanted your eyes, like the shadows
of two small birds, to change.
But they did not age.
The smile that gathered me in, all wit,
all charm, was invincible.
Hour after hour I looked at your face
but I could not pull the roots out of it.
Then I watched how the sun hit your red sweater, your withered neck,
your badly painted flesh-pink skin.
You who led me by the nose, I saw you as you were.
Then I thought of your body
as one thinks of murder--
Then I said Mary--
Mary, Mary, forgive me
and then I touched a present for the child,
the last I bred before your death;
and then I touched my breast
and then I touched the floor
and then my breast again as if,
somehow, it were one of yours.
William Topaz McGonagall |
Welcome, sweet Christmas, blest be the morn
That Christ our Saviour was born!
Earth's Redeemer, to save us from all danger,
And, as the Holy Record tells, born in a manger.
Then ring, ring, Christmas bells,
Till your sweet music o'er the kingdom swells,
To warn the people to respect the morn
That Christ their Saviour was born.
The snow was on the ground when Christ was born,
And the Virgin Mary His mother felt very forlorn
As she lay in a horse's stall at a roadside inn,
Till Christ our Saviour was born to free us from sin.
Oh! think of the Virgin Mary as she lay
In a lowly stable on a bed of hay,
And angels watching O'er her till Christ was born,
Therefore all the people should respect Christmas morn.
The way to respect Christmas time
Is not by drinking whisky or wine,
But to sing praises to God on Christmas morn,
The time that Jesus Christ His Son was born;
Whom He sent into the world to save sinners from hell
And by believing in Him in heaven we'll dwell;
Then blest be the morn that Christ was born,
Who can save us from hell, death, and scorn.
Then he warned, and respect the Saviour dear,
And treat with less respect the New Year,
And respect always the blessed morn
That Christ our Saviour was born.
For each new morn to the Christian is dear,
As well as the morn of the New Year,
And he thanks God for the light of each new morn.
Especially the morn that Christ was born.
Therefore, good people, be warned in time,
And on Christmas morn don't get drunk with wine
But praise God above on Christmas morn,
Who sent His Son to save us from hell and scorn.
There the heavenly babe He lay
In a stall among a lot of hay,
While the Angel Host by Bethlehem
Sang a beautiful and heavenly anthem.
Christmas time ought to be held most dear,
Much more so than the New Year,
Because that's the time that Christ was born,
Therefore respect Christmas morn.
And let the rich be kind to the poor,
And think of the hardships they do endure,
Who are neither clothed nor fed,
And Many without a blanket to their bed.
Barry Tebb |
(or ‘Huddersfield the Second Poetry Capital of England Re-visited’)
What was it Janice Simmons said to me as James lay dying in Ireland?
“Phone Peter Pegnall in Leeds, an ex-pupil of Jimmy’s.
A benefit reading, he’d love to hear from you and have your help.
‘Like hell he would’ I thought but I phoned him all the same
At his converted farmhouse at Barswill, a Lecturer in Creative Writing
At the uni.
But what’s he written, I wondered, apart from his CV?
“Well I am organising a reading but only for the big people, you understand,
Hardman, Harrison, Doughty, Duhig, Basher O’Brien, you know the kind,
The ones that count, the ones I owe my job to.
We nattered on and on until by way of adieu I read the final couplet
Of my Goodbye poem, the lines about ‘One Leeds Jimmy who could fix the world’s.
Duhigs once and for all/Write them into the ground and still have a hundred
Lyrics in his quiver.
Pete Stifled a cough which dipped into a gurgle and sank into a mire
Of strangulated affect which almost became a convulsion until finally
He shrieked, “I have to go, the cat’s under the Christmas tree, ripping
Open all the presents, the central heating boiler’s on the blink,
The house is on fucking fire!”
So I was left with the offer of being raffle-ticket tout as a special favour,
Some recompense for giving over two entire newsletters to Jimmy’s work:
The words of the letter before his stroke still burned.
“I don’t know why
They omitted me, Armitage and Harrison were my best mates once.
You and I
A whole year’s silence until the card with its cryptic message
‘Jimmy’s recovering slowly but better than expected’.
I never heard from Pegnall about the reading, the pamphlets he asked for
Whalebone, the fellow-tutor he commended, also stayed silent.
Had the event been cancelled? Happening to be in Huddersfield on Good Friday
I staggered up three flights of stone steps in the Byram Arcade to the Poetry Business
Where, next to the ‘closed’ sign an out-of-date poster announced the reading in Leeds
At a date long gone.
I peered through the slats at empty desks, at brimming racks of books,
At overflowing bin-bags and the yellowing poster.
Desperately I tried to remember
What Janice had said.
“We were sat up in bed, planning to take the children
For a walk when Jimmy stopped looking at me, the pupils of his eyes rolled sideways,
His head lolled and he keeled over.
The title of the reading was from Jimmy’s best collection
‘With Energy To Burn’
with energy to burn.
Langston Hughes |
The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you--
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St.
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age.
But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me--we two--you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records--Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white--
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me--
although you're older--and white--
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.
John Clare |
The winter comes; I walk alone,
I want no bird to sing;
To those who keep their hearts their own
The winter is the spring.
No flowers to please—no bees to hum—
The coming spring's already come.
I never want the Christmas rose
To come before its time;
The seasons, each as God bestows,
Are simple and sublime.
I love to see the snowstorm hing;
'Tis but the winter garb of spring.
I never want the grass to bloom:
The snowstorm's best in white.
I love to see the tempest come
And love its piercing light.
The dazzled eyes that love to cling
O'er snow-white meadows sees the spring.
I love the snow, the crumpling snow
That hangs on everything,
It covers everything below
Like white dove's brooding wing,
A landscape to the aching sight,
A vast expanse of dazzling light.
It is the foliage of the woods
That winters bring—the dress,
White Easter of the year in bud,
That makes the winter Spring.
The frost and snow his posies bring,
Nature's white spurts of the spring.