Poems for Christmas time
Poetry Breakfast ~ at home
Poems for Christmas time ~ there are so many, and so wonderful! We have picked out a selection to share with you here, and more will be shared at our live Zoom Poetry Breakfast on Thursday December 9th at 9am.
If you would like to join us, please email Anna (booking is essential) for all the information you need to take part.
This will be the final Poetry Breakfast of the year, we’ll start again on February 10th, 2022 with our special guest Roz Goddard.
“And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”
One evening I came back home
and everything was just as I’d left it –
except that the bowl gleamed with a new knowledge,
the cat wore his yellow gaze like a mask,
and I sensed the house had been visited –
wings unfurling like ferns in the quiet air.
I was blessed with children anyway,
I shook my life out like a cloth,
and perhaps there is a purpose after all
in not being chosen:
the minute my clock has never regained,
sunlight in the guest room climbing its ladder of dust.
by Esther Morgan from Grace, Bloodaxe Books, 2011, included with Esther’s kind permission.
New Year Behind the Asylum
There was the noise like when the men in droves
Are hurrying to the match only this noise was
Everybody hurrying to see the New Year in
In town under the clock but we, that once,
He said would I come our usual Saturday walk
And see it in out there in the open fields
Behind the asylum. Even on sunny days
How it troubled me more and more the nearer we got
And he went quiet and as if he was ashamed
For what he must always do, which was
Go and grip the bars of the iron gates and stand
Staring into the garden until they saw him.
They were like the animals, so glad and shy
Like overgrown children dressed in things
Handed down too big or small and they came in a crowd
And said hello with funny chunnering noises
And through the bars, looking so serious,
He put his empty hand out. But that night
We crept past quickly and only stopped
In the middle of the empty fields and there
While the clock in the square where the normal people stood
And all the clocks in England were striking twelve
We heard the rejoicings for the New Year
From works and churches and the big ships in the docks
So faint I wished we were hearing nothing at all
We were so far away in our black fields
I felt we might not ever get back again
Where the people were and it was warm, and then
Came up their sort of rejoicing out of the asylum,
Singing or sobbing I don’t know what it was
Like nothing on earth, their sort of welcoming in
Another New Year and it was only then
When the bells and the cheerful hooters couldn’t be heard
But only the inmates, only the poor mad people
Singing or sobbing their hearts out for the New Year
That he gripped me fast and kissed my hair
And held me in against him and clung on tight to me
Under a terrible number of bare stars
So far from town and the lights of house and home
And shut my ears against the big children crying
But listened himself, listened and listened
That one time. And I’ve thought since and now
He’s dead I’m sure that what he meant was this:
That I should know how much love would be needed.
by David Constantine, from Collected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, 2004, included here with David’s kind permission.
Anna will read both these poems on December 9th.
In Harrods’ window, trees created,
gold and red, sophisticated,
to perfection, decorated.
New shining baubles for our tree,
gold and red, I could just see
how beautiful our tree would be.
Now here it stands, my creation,
decorated to perfection,
the ideal Christmas colour scheme,
red and gold on darkest green.
Then they came in and made a fuss.
They didn’t like it. It wasn’t ‘us’.
Where was the angel with the wobbly head
that Charlotte made in nursery school?
You can’t leave her off the top, they said.
They brought down the box from under our bed.
Here’s Paul’s Father Christmas made of toilet rolls.
He usually goes about here, they said.
Then Adam found his Holy Ghost.
I think he really means ‘Heavenly Host’.
It’s a cardboard cross in silver and red.
I’ll put it right at the front, he said.
Then I looked into the box and found
my man in the moon with his face so round,
the yellow house, the silver bell,
the little blue bird, my pale pink shell.
We hung them all on the tree as well.
What had become of my perfect creation,
my Christmas tree of sophistication,
my colour scheme of gold and red?
It looks much better now, they said.
by Pauline Prior Pitt, from Waiting Women, Spike Press, 1999
Pauline will read this on December 9th, and will also read ‘Christmas Cards’ by Wendy Cope, from Christmas Poems by Wendy Cope, Faber and Faber, 2017
I syng of a maiden (1400) Middle English version
I syng of a mayden
That is makeles,
king of alle kinges
to here sone che chees.
He cam also stille
Ther his moder was
As dew in Aprylle,
That fallyt on the gras.
He cam also stille
To his modres bowr
As dew in Aprylle,
That falleth on the flowr.
He cam also stille
Ther his moder lay
As dew in Aprylle,
That falleth on the spray.
Moder & mayden
Was nevere noon but she:
Well may swich a lady
Godes moder be.
I sing of a maiden Modern English version
I sing of a maiden
That is matchless,
King of all kings
For her son she chose.
He came as still
Where his mother was
As dew in April
That falls on the grass.
He came as still
To his mother’s bower
As dew in April
That falls on the flower.
He came as still
Where his mother lay
As dew in April
That falls on the spray.
Mother and maiden
There was never, ever one but she;
Well may such a lady
God’s mother be.
Alex will bravely read both versions of this poem on December 9th, and also
Adoration of the Shepherds, a Night Piece
after Rembrandt’s etching, The Hunterian, Glasgow
The description says Mary is “at rest” but really
what we have here is the total exhaustion
of someone who has just given birth
after riding on a donkey for five days.
She is swaddled like the baby. Is she looking at him
with love and wonder or has the inn-keeper
just woken her with his lamp?
If she does manage to turn her head
and see the men (and cow) peering in I doubt
she will acknowledge them. Joseph is reading.
A manual for first-time parents, the complete guide
to joinery? I suspect he will welcome this distraction.
Even my phone tells me that’s enough now,
leave Mary be. The picture fades, goes black.
by Lorraine Mariner, from Christmas Crackers: Ten Poems to Surprise and Delight, Candlestick Press, 2017, included here with kind permission of the publisher.
Midnight, Christmas Eve
So simple, on a night like this, to lose
all fear and lean too far out on the bridge
in admiration of the stars that throw
themselves into black water
and disappear. From the river’s edge
a song begins, flung up from the cathedral,
lifted through its ribs of stone
past its candled arches and its domes
to icy sky, a sound that feels
as pure, unreal as snow falling upward.
The portal is thrown open with the force
of something that wants to be alive.
Song like this could spark a fire
from hopeless wood, or give birth
out of stricken earth to forests
of branch and leaf and bud.
Across the city, a girl’s hair swings
against her cheek, her hands feel
kicking feet, a heartbeat.
The great vault with all its singing
swoops down to look, to where she looks,
a cathedral turned to cradle, deep as the sky,
starlit, ready to be filled.
I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept
Hoar frost on the trees.
Breath clouding the window pane.
Squeak your fingers across the glass to
scrutinise the sky, an astronomer in ankle socks
deciphering the stars.
Spool back to the letter on the fire,
sucked up the chimney in a flash –
a pair of skates, a skipping rope –
the dash outside to catch the ashes on the wind,
smoke signals drifting over rooftops.
Roll forward through the years
and other words gone up in smoke –
We went to your mother’s last year;
not in front of the children.
It’s bad news, I’m afraid;
the first Christmas is the hardest.
All the Christmases roll together, all the voices
that have gone, blown skyward on the wind,
always snow at Christmas.
as a snowball gathers snow.
I hear them
as the child hears sleigh bells in that
close and holy whiteness.
I wear them
like a coat, turn my face towards the sky,
accept the falling flakes of snow.
by Carol Caffrey, from The Untethered Space, 4Word, 2020, included with Carol’s kind permissio.
December 25th Nativity
Out in the hedges sheep turn from the wind.
Lanes are empty over the bitter hills.
Nobody travels for nobody knows the way;
today everyone will be counted where they are.
The people have hidden themselves; they’ve gone to ground
deep in the warm rooms and the charity halls,
burrowing into the red heart of the day,
the comfort of stories, the bright, unanswerable star.
But the heart is beating, suddenly beating
subtle and soft so the sheep look up and listen;
beating in the scarlet rotting berries;
in the tangle of the wind among the trees;
in the barn where the drunken tramp is singing;
in the corner of the church where the candles slowly stiffen.
by Catherine Fisher from ‘Scenes From a Book of Hours’~ a sequence in The Unexplored Ocean, Seren, 1994, included here with Catherine’s kind permission.
Carol will read these poems on December 9th.
Bert will read
Journey of the Magi by TS Eliot, from The Ariel Poems ~ Illustrated Poems for Christmas by T.S. Eliot, Faber and Faber, 2014
The Christmas Robin by Robert Graves, from Selected Poems, Faber and Faber, 2018.
Christmas in Andalucia
I’m in the bath when you pop up,
for a drink between turkey and pudding,
you with your G&T, me with my vodka and coke.
It is dark there in Surrey, while here
a late sun gleams in the olive groves.
Christmas in Andalucía:
the search for sunshine, the good life,
in a plush hotel – the mini-bar
stuffed with cheese, chorizo and olives,
a bottle of cava on ice. I have the laptop
on a stool at the side of the bath,
and you have yours at the end of your bed.
You look delicious in your new black bra,
far away in that cold stone house.
Beyond the dark window, England
is covered in frost and moonlight.
Soon they’re calling you down for pudding,
cheese, and a good sweet wine, for games
around the fire. I ask you to take off your bra
before you go. I am full of loss and longing.
You slip the straps from your shoulders
and let it fall. The miles are meaningless.
You try to escape but can’t; the heart
is hewn from elm and oak and mistletoe.
by Neil Rollinson, from Talking Dead, Cape, 2015, and included here with Neil’s kind permission.
For my eighth Christmas
Santa brought a Post Office Set with a tin, oval post box,
counterfeit postal orders, a rubber stamp
an ink pad that left guilty finger prints
until it dried out on twelfth night;
A century of postmen pass,
I rush between scissors, glue and sparkled oil cloths
searching hidden books of stamps and deserted address books
scurrying to last minute later collections
hoping table top cards aren’t left to hibernate
in an oval metal post box.
For my ninth Christmas
I found a rectangular boxed shooting game
stretching the dimensions of an acquisition pillow case.
Before breakfast I’d bagged the lot
rifled corks at endangered species
whose coloured pictures fell when hit
to reveal 50 for a tiger
and a lion worthy of 100,
I don’t recall the elephant.
The millennium comes and goes,
I’m making cakes of bacon fat and left overs in yoghurt pots
getting frozen fingers hanging up these savoury stockings,
happy to simply spy a cube of a wren, a hungry mid-winter acrobat
awaiting its turn at the table behind a nuthatch then a robin.
with a bathroom cabinet bristling with
past presents of shaving gear for beards
attachments for ear, nose but never throat,
the mirror on the cabinet door reflects the Christmas child
who looks more like Santa Claus each passing year.
by Steve Harrison, included here with Steve’s kind permission.
And if your father’s lugging look he’s lugging
something from the attic there he’s tugging
Christmas from a box oh out it’s coming
there! look from the cardboard, this fantastic
symbol or this tree that’s evergreen
and plastic. Fix it up and deck it out
with toys and trinkets, stuff which does this – shines
or shimmers – if a present’s placed beneath it
with no name-tag then bags I it’s mine
or if its yours then listen now I see it
it’s smaller than these are. Hey the tree’s a
diva: tinsel feather boas, baubles,
rock star’s ear-rings, dangle look from all
its lugholes and what’s next now but this tangle
of fairy lights, pimped-up barbed wire: plug
them in and mutter, mouth the magic words
so nobody can hear you swear and there!
they flash, they spark, they stir, sometimes they even
work and wrapping makes a mystery
of every present, rustles as they’re opened,
whispering their secrets. If your father’s
lugging look he’s lugging from the attic
this box filled up with everything you were –
with tinsel, baubles, with this time last year.
by Jonathan Edwards from Christmas Crackers: Ten Poems to Surprise and Delight, Candlestick Press, 2017, included here with Jonathan’s kind permission, and permission of the publisher.
Steve will read both these poems on December 9th.
To finish off, I’m going to read Carol Ann Duffy’s marvellous, magical poem Another Night Before Christmas which has been the central part of my Christmas celebrations since its publication in 2010.
I was nervous about reading it when it first came out, having loved the original for as long as I could remember. But oh! ~ how lovely and special this is, bringing the sense of the poem right up to date without losing any of its wonder.
And finally ...
Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed in any way to the success of Poetry Breakfast (the online blog and the live Zoom gatherings) over this past year. I am deeply grateful, and glad too, to have found a new way of sharing the poetry we love with people near and far.
We are planning to start meeting again in person from March 2022 ~ won’t that be marvellous! ~ but the Zoom meetings will continue for those who can’t get to Tea on the Square in Much Wenlock; Aardvark Books near Knighton and the Poetry Pharmacy in Bishop’s Castle so do not fear!
We’ll take a break from Poetry Breakfast now until February 10th when our guest poet will be Roz Goddard, and our theme will be ‘The Small Curve ~ poems about vulnerability.’ Do please send in poems on this theme as soon as you can!
So all that remains now, is for me to wish you the very best of the season and to hope for a heathy and peaceful new year.
(yes this is still the right email!)
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