Reindeer on snow as the sun rises.

Posted 20 Dec 2013

in Featured

Write a Christmas poem! (more…)

 

Gillian K Ferguson looks at how the festive season can be a powerful inspiration for poetry.

Baubles and bells, tinsel and turkey, the fuzzy glow of love and laughter around the fire… Or a sizzling spark to the petroleum of simmering family tension, a fairy-light-lit reminder of glittering broken dreams; a gross display of rampant exploitative commercialism… For those PoetryZoo members now embroiled in the festive season, Christmas can mean many things. From joy and merriment to depression and despair. Some feel any religious content has haemorrhaged away compared to the compulsion to guzzle chocolate and spend more money than most are able to afford. Where does the birth of Jesus figure in an advent calendar sporting boyband One Direction?! (Harry Styles’s hilariously bouffant hair is 19th December, by the way). Or how about the Christmas card advertising a mobile phone? I mean, has anyone ever actually seen a robin making a telephone call? Though maybe it was tweeting… (sorry!).

One thing we can be sure of, however, is that Christmas can act as a powerful inspiration for poetry. Many poets have found the various aspects of the season to be a stimulus – and produced some of our best known poems. These range from the profoundly religious, like Milton’s ‘On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity’ (1629) and Christina Rossetti’s ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, made so familiar as one of the world’s finest carols, with its simple, humble but moving message – ‘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’ – to the merely jolly, or downright disturbing.

Another poem familiar to many, especially in the US – and which helped establish Santa’s identity! – is ‘A Visit from St Nicholas’ (1823), also known as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ – attributed to Clement Clarke Moore; it is one of those rare beasts – a poem where many people can recite lines from memory! All together now… The last lines from the appropriately-named Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ (1922) are lovely indeed and have also crept in to lodge in a lot of craniums – ‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep./ But I have promises to keep,/ And miles to go before I sleep,/ And miles to go before I sleep.’

But there are also the Christmas poems filled with darker mysteries, strange tensions and sparkling sorrows. WB Yeats’s atmospheric ‘The Magi’, where the ‘pale unsatisfied ones/ Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky’, finishing with the unforgettable, ‘And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,/ Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,/ The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor’ is short and strange, but makes a luminous, haunting impact. Also concerning Magi, TS Eliot’s brilliant ‘The Journey of the Magi’ smells of alienation and regret, but was considered by Eliot himself to be a poem “suitable for the Christmas season”; it was, he thought “a kind of Christmas card”. The opening ‘A cold coming we had of it’, always guarantees delicious shivers… Only send it as a card, though, to those feeling very merry.

So, how about writing your own Christmas poem? Maybe you feel frustrated at the modern day consumer-fest? – or still think the magic survives, especially if you have young children? Maybe you want to express particular gratitude, suffering or hope. To write of loneliness or communion. Religion or reindeer. Cruelty or kindness. Or talk about toys, or toddlers, tinsel or trees – or that special moment of stillness on Christmas Eve. Many people reflect at Christmas, whether this brings wonderful or melancholic feelings; this could be the nutritious roots of a poem. Angels and snow, glitter and glue; relatives, romance and robins… Sadness and Santa… Angst and elves… The heightened emotions and eventual exhaustion… Spirituality or stuffing… Incinerated turkeys, family dramas, gastric distress or ghastly gifts…There’s plenty of material! And when it’s all too much, you can just sneak away to think and write – PoetryZoo is always here!

When you’re happy with your poems, you can add them to the communal PoetryZoo ‘Christmas’ anthology at http://poetryzoo.com/anthologies/42. It’s easy to add a poem; just open the anthology and press ‘Add poem’ – a list of your own poems will appear – simply check the box next to the poem/s you want to include and click ‘Add poems to Anthology’ at the bottom of the page. Here’s a guide too – http://muse.poetryzoo.com/2013/09/how-to-add-a-new-poem-to-an-anthology-or-start-your-own/

Below, you’ll find some of the Christmas poems mentioned above, as yule fuel for your poetic engine – as well as suitably festive work from our iconic poets who look so at home with the new tech!

We wish you all the happiest Christmas possible.

By Gillian K Ferguson, PoetryZoo Keeper

 

In the bleak midwinter, Christina Rossetti

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

 

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.

In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

 

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,

Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;

Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,

The ox and ass and camel which adore.

 

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,

Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;

But His mother only, 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.

 

The Magi, W.B. Yeats

Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,

In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones

Appear and disappear in the blue depths of the sky

With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,

And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,

And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,

Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,

The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

 

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Robert Frost http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171621

Journey of the Magi, T.S. Eliot http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoem.do?poemId=7070

 

A Visit from St. Nicholas, Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds;

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,

Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,

When what to my wondering eyes did appear,

But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,

With a little old driver so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blixen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

So up to the housetop the coursers they flew

With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.

His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly

That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

 

A Christmas Carol, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I.

The shepherds went their hasty way,

And found the lowly stable-shed

Where the Virgin-Mother lay:

And now they checked their eager tread,

For to the Babe, that at her bosom clung,

A Mother’s song the Virgin-Mother sung.

II.

They told her how a glorious light,

Streaming from a heavenly throng,

Around them shone, suspending night!

While sweeter than a mother’s song,

Blest Angels heralded the Saviour’s birth,

Glory to God on high! and Peace on Earth.

III.

She listened to the tale divine,

And closer still the Babe she pressed;

And while she cried, the Babe is mine!

The milk rushed faster to her breast:

Joy rose within her, like a summer’s morn;

Peace, Peace on Earth! the Prince of Peace is born.

 

‘Twas just this time, last year, I died, Emily Dickinson

445

‘Twas just this time, last year, I died.

I know I heard the Corn,

When I was carried by the Farms—

It had the Tassels on—

 

I thought how yellow it would look—

When Richard went to mill—

And then, I wanted to get out,

But something held my will.

 

I thought just how Red—Apples wedged

The Stubble’s joints between—

And the Carts stooping round the fields

To take the Pumpkins in—

 

I wondered which would miss me, least,

And when Thanksgiving, came,

If Father’d multiply the plates—

To make an even Sum—

 

And would it blur the Christmas glee

My Stocking hang too high

For any Santa Claus to reach

The Altitude of me—

 

But this sort, grieved myself,

And so, I thought the other way,

How just this time, some perfect year—

Themself, should come to me—

 

A Christmas Greeting, Walt Whitman

Welcome, Brazilian brother–thy ample place is ready;

A loving hand–a smile from the north–a sunny instant hall!

(Let the future care for itself, where it reveals its troubles,

impedimentas,

Ours, ours the present throe, the democratic aim, the acceptance and

the faith;)

To thee to-day our reaching arm, our turning neck–to thee from us

the expectant eye,

Thou cluster free! thou brilliant lustrous one! thou, learning well,

The true lesson of a nation’s light in the sky,

(More shining than the Cross, more than the Crown,)

The height to be superb humanity.

 

Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns

 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And auld lang syne!

 

For auld lang syne, my jo,

For auld lang syne,

We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

 

And surely ye’ll be your pint stowp!

And surely I’ll be mine!

And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

 

We twa hae run about the braes,

And pou’d the gowan fine;

But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fitt,

Sin’ auld lang syne.

 

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,

Frae morning sun till dine;

But seas between us braid hae roar’d

Sin’ auld lang syne.

 

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!

And gie’s a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll tak a right gude-willie-waught,

For auld lang syne.

 

For auld lang syne, my jo,

For auld lang syne,

We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

by The PoetryZoo Keeper