I was looking for a few last minute gifts when a small and lovely book of Christmas poems caught my eye. I love a book that fits in a pocket or in your purse. I love a collection of poetry that reaches back to the 17th century (Ben Jonson), stopping off among the Victorians (Sir Walter Scott), Emily Dickinson (her own category), and the modernists (T.S. Eliot) before reaching forward to the present (Donald Hall). I enjoyed it in the bath with a glass of wine and a candle and could not have been happier… you might like it too! Christmas can be stressful, and wine and poetry and a warm soak can help.

Here are a few from the collection to entice you…

A Christmas Sonnet
For One in Doubt

By Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)

While you that in your sorrow disavow
Service and hope, see love and brotherhood
Far off as ever, it will do no good
For you to wear his thorns upon your brow
For doubt of him. And should you question how
To serve him best, he might say, if he could
“Whether or not the cross was made of wood
Where on you mailed me, is no matter now.”

Though other saviors have in older lore
A Legend, and for older gods have died –
Though death may wear the crown it always wore
And ignorance be still the sword of pride –
Something is here that was not here before,
And strangely has not yet been crucified.

* * *

A Carol

By Donald Hall (1928-2018)

The warmth of cows

     That chewed on hay

And cherubim

Protected him

     As small he lay.


Chickens and sheep

    Knew he was there

Because all night

A holy light

    Suffused the air.


Darkness was long

    And the sun brief

When the Child arose

A man of sorrows

    And friend to grief.

*      *      *

Christmas Trees

By Geoffrey Hill (1932-2016)

Bonhoeffer in his skylit cell
bleached by the flares’ candescent fall,
pacing out his own citadel,

restores the broken themes of praise,
encourages our borrowed days,
by logic of his sacrifice.

Against wild reasons of the state
his words are quiet but not too quiet.
We hear too late or not too late.

*      *     *

What are you listening for this holiday season?


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