Saturday, 24 December 2011

A Poem For Christmas Eve - Avril Joy

Any soldier in the trenches  in 1915 who happened to read a copy of The Times for 24th December might have seen Thomas Hardy's poem  The Oxen. It was first published in this edition and printed alongside news of the devastating conflict that was ravaging Europe. It appeared alongside an advertisement for Bovril -which claimed to give strength to the men in the trenches!

When I was seventeen I was given this poem by my English teacher to read aloud at the Christmas Carol Service. I learned it by heart and every Christmas Eve without fail it comes back to me. I didn't know, until recently, when and where it was first published, or that 'in these years' referred to the years of the Great War. I hadn't fully grasped its context. But I instinctively felt its poignancy, its air of regret and I understood the folk traditions from which it came and which meant so much to Hardy. I loved its language too: the comfort of words like 'combe' which were a part of my West Country heritage. I understood the desire for something magical, something to believe in.

Now it seems as poignant to me as it did then at seventeen, perhaps even more so. After all we are still at war and the spiritual messages of Christmas are easily forgotten.

So I offer you this beautiful poem as a Christmas gift and I hope you come to remember and enjoy it as much as I do and I hope you have a wonderful - happy and peaceful - Christmas wherever you are and whatever you do. 

The Oxen

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.


Thomas Hardy 

Thomas Hardy's Study


5 comments:

Kathleen Jones said...

Lovely! Thanks Avril. and Happy Christmas too.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Thank-you so much for reminding me of this one. I love it, but had forgotten about it. And hope you have a very Happy Christmas.

Avril said...

Happy Christmas to you both - Kathy and Catherine and all Readers and Authors Electric!

Susan Price said...

It's long been one of my favourites. I love that final line, 'hoping it might be so.' It echoes!

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Very moving. A big thanks for this gift. I didn't know this poem (I am ashamed to day!), so all the more pleased to discover it now through you, Avril!
Merry Christmas to you :)