As I've done for quite a number of years now, I placed on the three lists I own/moderate, a poem appropriate to the yearly Christmas ritual, together with a picture, and (I hoped) related remarks. This year I really did come across some beauties, which I'd like to remember by putting them here. Anne Stevenson is one of my favorite contemporary (to me she's contemporary) poets:
"A Carol of Birds"
Feet that could be clawed but are not ...
Arms that might have flown but did not ...
No one said "Let there be angels!" but the birds
Whose choirs fling alleluias over the sea,
Herring gulls, black backs carolling raucously
While cormorants dry their wings on a rocky stable.
Plovers that stoop to sanctify the land
And scoop small, roundy mangers in the sand,
Swaddle a saviour each in a speckled shell.
A chaffinchy fife unreeling in the marsh
Accompanies the tune a solo thrush
Half sings, half talks in riffs of wordless words,
As hymns flare up from tiny muscled throats,
Robins and hidden wrens whose shiny notes
Tinsel the precincts of the winter sun.
What loftier organ than these pipes of beech,
Pillars resounding with the jackdaws' speech,
And poplars swayed with light like shaken bells?
Wings that could be hands, but are not ...
Cries that might be pleas but cannot
Question or disinvent the stalker's gun,
Be your own hammerbeam angels of the air
Before, in the maze of space, you disappear,
Stilled by our dazzling anthrocentric mills.
· From Light Unlocked: Christmas Card Poems, edited by Kevin Crossley-Holland and Lawrence Sail, published by Enitharmon (£10). Originally from A Report from the Border, by Anne Stevenson, published by Bloodaxe.
Washday, Susan Winter -- an elderly woman and her cat can be seen at the window
Birds, small creatures, are a common motif in women's poetry: this one seasonal, apt, and dark, calling us to account with its not so cryptic ending: "Stilled by our dazzling anthrocentric mills."
For Trollope19thCStudies, I chose from Tennyson's In Memoriam,:
Again at Christmas did we weave
The holly round the Christmas hearth;
The silent snow possess'd the earth,
And calmly fell our Christmas-eve:
The yule-log sparkled keen with frost,
No wing of wind the region swept,
But over all things brooding slept
The quiet sense of something lost.
As in the winters left behind,
Again our ancient games had place,
The mimic picture's breathing grace,
And dance and song and hoodman-blind.
Who show'd a token of distress?
No single tear, no mark of pain:
O sorrow, then can sorrow wane?
O grief, can grief be changed to less?
O last regret, regret can die!
No--mixt with all this mystic frame,
Her deep relations are the same,
But with long use her tears are dry.
Sickert, 1904, The Canal, Venice, a Palazzo