Robert Pinsky reads Thomas Hardy's Christmas poem.
Photograph by Photos.com/Thinkstock.
Irving Berlin dealt with Christmas expectations by writing a song about being in California: The little-known verse to “White Christmas” makes it clear that the dream of snow and sleighbells is set in “Beverly Hills, L.A.” where “the orange and palm trees sway.”
In an entirely different way, Thomas Hardy attains surprise as well as nostalgia by basing his Christmas poem on a country legend. Hardy shows respect for rural customs and the kind of unorthodox beliefs that some might call “superstition.” The respect, along with his wry, gentle detachment, both gain a kind of authority from the regional terms “barton” (a farmyard) and “coomb” (a valley).
Here again, in a Slate tradition, is Hardy's “The Oxen.”
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel,
In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky is Slate's poetry editor. His Selected Poems is now available.
Clickhere to visit Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project site.To submit poetry to Slate, send up to five poems and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Robert Pinsky, Slate Magazine, Boston University, 236 Bay State Road, Boston, MA, 02215.