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For the shortest day of the year

Dear friends,

I love this poem. Yvette and I have often heard it read aloud sonorously on a CD we have (we had a tape before) of a rendition of Christmas Revels:

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

Poussin, Winter



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 22nd, 2011 01:31 pm (UTC)
Another winter solstice poem
Thank you, Ellen -- I've already driven everyone on my bus nuts this
morning with solstice wishes and explanations!

For anyone who likes, here's a copy of a poem I wrote many moons ago,
in pseudo-medieval style:

Wynter is y-cumin in!
Lude sing fa la!
Calle ye fyfe and calle ye corus
Lite ye Yule logge now to warme us,
Prayse Sonne of Godde with vos enormous,
Lude sing fa la!

Wynter is y-cumin in,
Lude sing fa-la!
Starre of Bethlehem shyne brite
Welcum festivalle of lites
Saturnalia wylde delite,
Lude sing fa la!

Wynter solstice, longest nite,
Blazeth douzens day-tymes brite.
Wynter is y-cumin in,
Lude sing fa la.

Maria Elena Torres
Dec. 22nd, 2011 01:50 pm (UTC)
Nancy Mayor asks "by?"

I believe it's usually presented as "traditional". On the CD I have it's listed as "anon;'" however, I found it on Susan Cooper's website:


My guesses include 1) it is a modern revision of a traditional non-, or pre-Christian carol;2) it is a modern revision of an older carol which removes references to Christianity; or 3) neither of the above.

So, don't know by who. But I like it, especially as read aloud and performed for Christmas Revels shows.

Dec. 22nd, 2011 02:21 pm (UTC)
IN response to Maria,

Yes, I like your poem too. The one I put on also eschewed all sentimental commercialisms (like cotemporary uses of Santa). I've another that will meet Nancy's criteria of attribution. This one comes with an extraordinary video..


When my trust hung from the thin thread of justice
And the hearts of my lamps were smashed into tiny pieces
All over town
And the childlike eyes of my love were blindfolded
With the black kerchief of law
When blood was gushing forth from the anxious temples of my desire
When my life was nothing other than the ticking of the clock
I realized that I must love
That I must madly love.

This is an excerpt from the poem “Window” (1967) by Forugh Farrokhzad translated by Farzaneh Milani from the Persian. Shirin Neshat is an artist and director of the film “Women Without Men.”

Miss Drake
Dec. 22nd, 2011 06:34 pm (UTC)
Bob: "This winter solstice it was almost 60 degrees Fahrenheit in New York City. RL"

We are very warm too.

However, the sky over my head on my spot of the earth did not begin to lighten until nearly 7, and yesterday (granted it was cloudy and
rainy), the world had gone dark by 4:30 t0 4:40, and we were very dark by 5. The solstice assumes cold because the sun is not here that much, but it need not be that way. As we know the earth has undergone many many changes over the billions (or is it millions) of years it's been "here" in its spot moving round its star, our sun.

We shall have to change our songs I suppose.

I do recommend that video. Very moving,

Miss Drake
Dec. 22nd, 2011 06:36 pm (UTC)
Ellen --

Interesting to find someone else who share our family's enthusiasm for Susan Cooper. I didn't know that Web site; thanks for that. I've seen that poem attributed to her; I don't know on what basis, but it seems likely to me. I imagine the person who originated the site would know.

I imagine you know _King of Shadows_, which we liked almost as much as _The Grey King_ (we actually went to Tywyn with our daughters and climbed the Grey King).

All the best for the season, as they say.

-- Russ
Dec. 22nd, 2011 06:36 pm (UTC)
Dear Russ,

I don't know _The King of Shadows_, but will look it up tonight. Our enthusiasm comes from the Revels we've gone to, but I know texts like hers are central to it.

I really write to wish you and yours a good Christmas and New Year to come,

Dec. 22nd, 2011 08:50 pm (UTC)
It's not very festive, but it is good: Donne's 'Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day'. Arthur Lindley
Dec. 22nd, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)
It's better than festive, Arthur. I like that last stanza especially. The first line is also arresting.

by John Donne

'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ...

For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not ...

But I am none ; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night's festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is.
Dec. 22nd, 2011 10:48 pm (UTC)
The admiral
Jenny Moody on C18-l wrote:

> This year the winter solstice occurred in the UK on 22nd December 5.30am GMT. Since the US East Coast clock is five hours behind the UK, the solstice occurred on the East Coast half an hour after midnight on 22nd December, but on the US West coast at 9.30pm on 21st December. How interesting to have it on two different dates! And how to work out which day was the shortest – is it the one whose solstice time is nearest the sunset or sunrise?


The admiral replied:

It's conventional. Just as we say it's noon when our clocks tell us, set as they are to the conventional time zones we have divided the planet into, rather than when the sun is actually at its highest
overhead; so we designate that day the shortest on which the solstice (an astronomical event -- the moment when the angle between the earth's axis and a line joining the centers of the sun and earth reaches its extreme value) occurs at Greenwich.

In actual fact the time between sunrise and sunset on Dec 21st in Los Angeles was probably a second or two shorter than the time between sunrise and sunset on Dec 22nd there. But what's a second or two among friends?

What was the convention in the eighteenth century? Was the solstice
always conventionally Dec 21st, regardless of astronomy? Or did
different countries celebrate local solstices, as local clocks were
set to local noon?

Jim Moody (as far as I know, no relation)
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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