Tastes of Christmas Past

                            Jane Taylor 1783-1824     (Lavenham, Suffolk, UK)


The Star

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are,
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

When the blazing sun is set,
And the grass with dew is wet,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Then the traveler in the dark
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see where to go
If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye
Till the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark
Lights the traveler in the dark,
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.


The Oxen                                                       Thomas Hardy           1840-1928
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,
Hoping it might be so.


Christmas Bells                                          Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1807-1882

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”


A Christmas Folksong                     Paul Laurence Dunbar                   1873-1906
DE win’ is blowin’ wahmah,
An hit’s blowin’ f’om de bay;
Dey’s a so’t o’ mist a-risin’
All erlong de meddah way;
Dey ain’t a hint o’ frostin’
On de groun’ ner in de sky,
An’ dey ain’t no use in hopin’
Dat de snow’ll ‘mence to fly.
It’s goin’ to be a green Christmas,
An’ sad de day fu’ me.
I wish dis was de las’ one
Dat evah I should see.
Dey’s dancin’ in de cabin,
Dey’s spahkin’ by de tree;
But dancin’ times an’ spahkin’
Are all done pas’ fur me.
Dey’s feastin’ in de big house,
Wid all de windahs wide —
Is dat de way fu’ people
To meet de Christmas-tide?
It’s goin’ to be a green Christmas,
No mattah what you say.
Dey’s us dat will remembah
An’ grieve de comin’ day.
Dey’s des a bref o’ dampness
A-clingin’ to my cheek;
De aih’s been dahk an’ heavy
An’ threatenin’ fu’ a week,
But not wid signs o’ wintah,
Dough wintah’d seem so deah —
De wintah’s out o’ season,
An’ Christmas eve is heah.
It’s goin’ to be a green Christmas,
An’ oh, how sad de day!
Go ax de hongry chu’chya’d,
An’ see what hit will say.
Dey’s Allen on de hillside,
An’ Marfy in de plain;
Fu’ Christmas was like springtime,
An’ come wid sun an’ rain.
Dey’s Ca’line, John, an’ Susie,
Wid only dis one lef’:
An’ now de curse is comin’
Wid murder in hits bref.
It’s goin’ to be a green Christmas —
Des hyeah my words an’ see:
Befo’ de summah beckons
Dey’s many’ll weep wid me.


Three Poems by Longfellow

Two early poems: Autumn, Woods in Winter plus: The Open Window


With what a glory comes and goes the year!
The buds of spring, those beautiful harbingers
Of sunny skies and cloudless times, enjoy
Life’s newness, and earth’s garniture spread out;
And when the silver habit of the clouds
Comes down upon the autumn sun, and with
A sober gladness the old year takes up
His bright inheritance of golden fruits,
A pomp and pageant fill the splendid scene.
There is a beautiful spirit breathing now
Its mellow richness on the clustered trees,
And, from a beaker full of richest dyes,
Pouring new glory on the autumn woods,
And dipping in warm light the pillared clouds.
Morn on the mountain, like a summer bird,
Lifts up her purple wing, and in the vales
The gentle wind, a sweet and passionate wooer,
Kisses the blushing leaf, and stirs up life
Within the solemn woods of ash deep-crimsoned,
And silver beech, and maple yellow-leaved,
Where Autumn, like a faint old man, sits down
By the wayside a-weary. Through the trees
The golden robin moves. The purple finch,
That on wild cherry and red cedar feeds,
A winter bird, comes with its plaintive whistle,
And pecks by the witch-hazel, whilst aloud
From cottage roofs the warbling blue-bird sings,
And merrily, with oft-repeated stroke,
Sounds from the threshing-floor the busy flail.
O what a glory doth this world put on
For him who, with a fervent heart, goes forth
Under the bright and glorious sky, and looks
On duties well performed, and days well spent!
For him the wind, ay, and the yellow leaves,
Shall have a voice, and give him eloquent teachings.
He shall so hear the solemn hymn that Death
Has lifted up for all, that he shall go
To his long resting-place without a tear.


When winter winds are piercing chill,
And through the hawthorn blows the gale,
With solemn feet I tread the hill,
That overbrows the lonely vale.
O’er the bare upland, and away
Through the long reach of desert woods,
The embracing sunbeams chastely play,
And gladden these deep solitudes.
Where, twisted round the barren oak,
The summer vine in beauty clung,
And summer winds the stillness broke,
The crystal icicle is hung.
Where, from their frozen urns, mute springs
Pour out the river’s gradual tide,
Shrilly the skater’s iron rings,
And voices fill the woodland side.
Alas! how changed from the fair scene,
When birds sang out their mellow lay,
And winds were soft, and woods were green,
And the song ceased not with the day!
But still wild music is abroad,
Pale, desert woods! within your crowd;
And gathering winds, in hoarse accord,
Amid the vocal reeds pipe loud.
Chill airs and wintry winds! my ear
Has grown familiar with your song;
I hear it in the opening year,
I listen, and it cheers me long.


The old house by the lindens
Stood silent in the shade,
And on the gravell’d pathway
The light and shadow played.

I saw the nursery windows
Wide open to the air!
But the faces of the children
They were no longer there!
The large Newfoundland house-dog
Was standing by the door;
He looked for his little playmates,
Who would return no more.

They walked not under the lindens,
They played not in the hall;
But shadow, and silence, and sadness
We’re hanging over all.

The birds sang in the branches,
With sweet familiar tone;
But the voices of the children
Will be heard in dreams alone!

And the boy that walked beside me,
He could not understand
Why closer in mine, ah! Closer,
I pressed his warm, soft hand!

Poems from Maine: Take Heart

 A Graph Review: 55 with highlights 75

take heart cover

Selected by Maine Poet Laureate, Wesley McNair

£11.95. Hbk.
978 1 60893222 1
Publisher: Down East.
2013 (March 2014 in UK)

Into my hands, fresh from the USA comes a brightly-covered hardback called ‘Take Heart‘ with variously coloured heart-shaped stones on a natural wood background.  The cover tilts toward being mbs (mind-body-spirit) but ‘Poems from Maine‘ is loud and clear and, anyway, the sight of the cover did lift my spirit so no fault there.  It is good to see such an uncomplicated and happy cover on a poetry book.

Wesley McNair, current Maine Poet Laureate and author of twenty books of poetry has a regular column ‘Take Heart’ which features a poem each week from around Maine, by poets current and late.  It is syndicated across thirty newspapers and reaches a quarter million readers.  Several authors in the collection belong to the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance which supports the Maine Laureateship.  Wesley McNair has run the column since May 2011 and this selection is from the first two years.  Do read the introduction as it puts flesh on the collection and the popularity of poetry, also highlights the ranging opportunities for its use.  As you would expect there is a contents list at the front and an index of poets and titles.  There is also a list of the contributors with each having a few lines of biographical detail; the last being slightly longer giving notes on the editor, Wesley McNair.  The acknowledgment section is also useful to seek out some publications, though availability may be a problem if from magazines or short runs.

It is refreshing to read such a selection.  A collection by 69 poets of 118 poems; all had been previously published before appearing in his column.  I must also give credit to the production and cover, it feels good to be reading a book that is light in weight but a firm hardback with a matt cover, smooth to the touch.  Quite substantial for a good price.  For me, the freshness is from reading an assortment of poems by different poets from an area that I have had no sight or sound of except via film.  I have to admit that many of the poets are new to me.  Most are currently or until quite recently, writing.  Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Edna St Vincent Millay are two that I have come across previously. Longfellow too, from decades ago but Edna St Vincent Millay pleasantly recently.  She is definitely a poet I would recommend for further reading and study.

I think I must be getting old, or started old, as I have a hankering for verse that rhymes, at least to a small degree, at times.  It is found within this volume though free-form style proliferates but the reader is carried forward by the variety of subjects and style. Straightforward, descriptive, enigmatic with twists and also humour; the selection is good and the poetry is too.  There is much to read and many that have lines or verses that strike a chord or raise an image that matches one’s own experience or sets a tangential thought on its own journey.  Much to enjoy and consider.

All poetry is personal to the reader; covering a selection like this I found many to like, some to re-read and several to file away as new personal favourites, both poems and authors.  I kept my choice to twelve poems though could have suggested more, but look at this book and choose your own.  Here I offer a few suggestions, though tomorrow my choice could well alter: starred are current best ofs…

Louise Bogan: Musician P129
Edwin Arlington Robinson: The Clerks P169
Annie Farnsworth: Spaghetti Western Days P21
Edna St Vincent Millay: Love’s Not All*** P34, Inland 98
Patricia Smith Ranzoni. If you should die before I do P45
Richard Foerster: Garden Spider 82***
Mary Sarton: The Geese, A Parrot p161
Bruce Guernsey: The Hands, p121 Night Patrol*** P139
Elizabeth Tibbetts: Coming Home*** P172
Elizabeth McFarland. Feed my birds P123
Henry Wandsworth Longfellow: Nature p150

*** was not sure whether to mark my current ‘best of’ as they change frequently, but have.