Top left an angel
hovering. Top right the attendance
of a star. From both
bottom corners devils
look up, relishing
in prospect a divine
meal. How old at the centre
the child's face gazing
into love's too human
face, like one prepared
for it to have its way
and continue smiling?
By R. S. Thomas
from Counterpoint 2. Incarnation (1990)
The Nativity? No.
Something has gone wrong.
There is a hole in the stable
acid rain drips through
onto an absence. Beauty
is hoisted upside down.
The truth is Pilate not
lingering for an answer.
The angels are prostrate
'beaten into the clay'
as Yeats thundered. Only Satan beams down,
poisoning with fertilisers
the place where the child
lay, harrowing the ground
for the drumming of the machine-
gun tears of the rich that are
seed of the next war.
By R. S. Thomas
from Counterpoint (1990) 2. Incarnation
I didn't know him,
the man who jumped from the bridge.
But I saw the parabola
of long-drawn-out falling in the brown
eyes of his wife week after week
at the supermarket cash-out.
We would quietly ask "How is he?"
hear of the hospital's white
care, the corridors between her
and the broken man in the bed,
and the doctors who had no words,
no common supermarket women's talk.
Only after the funeral
I knew how he'd risen, wild
from his chair and told her
he was going out to die.
Very slowly from the first leap
he fell through winter, through the cold
of Christmas, wifely silences,
the blue scare of ambulance,
from his grave on the motorway
to the hospital, two bridges down.
A season later in a slow cortège
he has reached the ground.
by Gillian Clarke
from Letter from a Far Country (1982)
Pentwyn is a district, community and electoral ward in the east of Cardiff, Wales, located northeast of the city centre. Llanedeyrn is immediately to the south, Cyncoed to the west, Pontprennau to the north and the Rhymney River forms the eastern border.
This story of this poem is true albeit half heard from people talking about it and half learned from the local newspaper. The Pentwyn Bridge of the title carries a road over a dual carriageway in Cardiff. Asthe peom narrates a man told his terrified wife he was going out to kill himself. He jumped from the bridge and was severely injured then taken to hospital. Many months later, having never left hospital in the meantime, he finally died.
The moon is born
and a child is born,
lying among white clothes
as the moon among clouds
They both shine, but
the light from the one
is abroad in the universe
as among broken glass.
by R. S. Thomas
from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)
They came over the snow to the bread's
pure snow, fumbled it in their huge
hands, put their lips to it
like beasts, stared into the dark chalice
where the wine shone, felt it sharp
on their tongue, shivered as at a sin
remembered, and heard love cry
momentarily in their hearts' manager.
They rose and went back to their poor
holdings, naked in the bleak light
of December. Their horizon contracted
to the one small, stone-riddled field
with its tree, where the weather was nailing
the appalled body that had not asked to be born.
by R. S. Thomas
from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)
Christmas; the themes are exhausted.
Yet there is always room
on the heart for another
snowflake to reveal a pattern.
Love knocks with such frosted fingers.
I look out. In the shadow
of so vast a God I shiver, unable
to detect the child for the whiteness.
by R. S. Thomas
from No Truce with the Furies (1995)
older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.
The dwarfish natives of the Arctic caverns did not speak his language, but conversed in
their own, twittering tongue, conducted incomprehensible rituals, when they were not
actually working in the factories.
Once every year they forced him, sobbing and protesting, into Endless Night. During the
journey he would stand near every child in the world, leave one of the dwarves’ invisible
gifts by its bedside. The children slept, frozen into time.
He envied Prometheus and Loki, Sisyphus and Judas. His punishment was harsher.
Ho. Ho. Ho.
by Neil Gaiman
from Smoke & Mirrors
In 1989, Neil Gaiman and Sandman artist David McKean collaborated on a hundred word Christmas card story titled “Nicholas Was.” Below is a short animated version created by 39 Degrees North Studio.
Through the closed nursery doors, the sugar angel
stares through the chink to see
the children playing at the Christmas party,
the brightly candled tree.
Nana is making up the crackling fire,
a blaze for Christmas Day.
Only the sugar angel – he is German –
wastes, warm and sweet, away.
First comes the softening of his little feathers,
the melting of his feet,
the tiny head falls back, he makes a puddle,
minute and warm and sweet.
And then the puddle dries away. The mistress
looks everywhere in vain,
while old deaf Nana, who remembers nothing,
grumbles and looks again.
You fragile creatures of our dearest daydreams!
Break, melt and vanish away
in the bright-burning blaze of hourly happenings,
the clatter of everyday.
Only a little mischevious girl, recalling
the breath of days departed,
will weep for you in secret for a moment.
A child is tender-hearted.
by Александр Александрович Блок (Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)
translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monsterous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
‘A cold coming we had of it.
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces.
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation,
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky.
And an old white horse galloping away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
by T. S. Eliot (1885-1965)
from Ariel Poems