Mrs. C says: Poetry can be a scary thing to some people – reminding them of boring English Literature lessons at school, when to find the meaning behind every last syllable of a poetic work was tantamount to teenage torture. But don’t be afraid. Explore the genre and you will find something with which you can connect – something to touch your heart and caress your soul.
Ed Elf: Like Pam Ayres?
Mrs. C: She is more likely to tweak your laughter valve. But as long as the poems you read stir some emotion, then it is job done.
Ed Elf: My personal favourites are the ones like: “There was a woman from Leeds, whose…”
Mrs. C: That’s quite enough of that, you naughty, naughty elf. Excuse my friend – and do, please, read on and enjoy just a few of the Christmas poems selected by us here at How to Christmas, as well as some useful poetry pointers and a list of poems we believe are worth seeking out for seasonal perusal. Ed Elf: Most poetically put, might I say, Mrs. C.
Poetry is a very personal medium. The key is to explore and discover the works that mean something to you. Here is an excellent place to start. Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy has produced a wonderful series of Christmas poetry pamphlets, each entitled “The Twelve Poems of Christmas”. She will have a complete collection of 10 by 2018. Volumes I to VIII are available for purchase (the ninth is due out in 2017), along with her fine collection of pocket books: “Bethlehem”; “The Christmas Truce”; “Another Night Before Christmas”; “The Wren Boys”; “Wenceslas: A Christmas Poem” and “Mrs. Scrooge: A Christmas Tale”.
“The Oxford Book of Christmas Poems” by Michael Harrison is another collection of note, so too “Christmas Please!” 100 Poems on the Festive Season” by Douglas Brooks-Davies.
And then there’s U.A. Fanthorpe’s “Christmas Poems”. For years, she wrote a small poem to insert in her Christmas cards. This is the resultant collection. A relatively unheralded poet, Fanthorpe’s poems have a certain charm and can be thought provoking.
One Christmas poem we may all know from childhood is the beggars’ rhyme: “Christmas is coming the goose is getting fat, please put a penny in the old man’s hat; if you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do; if you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you!” This is simple and memorable. We can all recite it – and yet it’s a poem. See…nothing to be afraid of here.
Now How to Christmas encourages you not to be afraid to tackle the poetry greats or to delve in to poems from the distant past. All have something special to offer. Don’t over-analyse or scrutinise, a la the English classes of old. Just relax and read and hope to find your own festive joy within the clever verse. We have just the smallest selection for you to read here – followed by a huge array of seasonal poems we hope you might search out and read in the future.
“Somehow, Not Only For Christmas” by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)
Whittier was an American Quaker poet who fought for the abolition of slavery in the United States. Influenced by Scotland’s Robert Burns, Whittier is listed as one of the Fireside Poets – a small group of 19th century American poets from the state of New England. The words to the hymn “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” come from his poem “The Brewing of Soma”.
Somehow, not only for Christmas,
But all the long year through,
The joy that you give to others,
Is the joy that comes back to you.
And the more you spend in blessing
The poor and lonely and sad,
The more of your heart’s possessing
Returns to you glad.
“The Burning Babe” by Robert Southwell (1561-1595)
Southwell was an English poet and a Roman Catholic priest of the Jesuit Order. He was born in Horsham St. Faith, Norfolk – the youngest of eight children. Because of his religious convictions, Southwell was hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason. He was beatified in 1929 and canonized by the Pope in 1970.
As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surpris’d I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty Babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
Who, scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
“Alas!” quoth he, “but newly born, in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel Justice layeth on, and Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.”
With this he vanish’d out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas day.
“Nativity” by John Donne (1572-1631)
Donne was an English poet, lawyer, satirist and cleric in the Church of England whose poetry is noted for its vibrancy of language and clever use of metaphor.
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov’d imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod’s jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.
“Homeless” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
English poet Coleridge was a founder, along with his friend William Wordsworth, of the Romantic Movement in Britain. He holds high regard as one of the most important figures in British poetry. Through his life, it has been documented that Coleridge suffered bouts of anxiety and depression.
“O! Christmas Day, Oh! happy day!
A foretaste from above,
To him who hath a happy home
And love returned from love!
O! Christmas Day, O gloomy day,
The barb in Memory’s dart,
To him who walks alone through Life,
The desolate in heart.”
“Cultivation of Christmas Trees” by T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
“A Boy at Christmas” by Edgar Guest (1881-1959)
“Christmas Morning” by Edwin Waugh (1817-1890)
“A Christmas Carol” by G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
“On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” by John Milton (1608-1674)
“Christmas in the Olden Time” from “Marmion” by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)
“A Christmas Carol” by George Wither (1588-1667)
“The Oxen” by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
“Little Tree” by E.E. Cummings (1894-1962)
“The Three Kings” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
“Christmas Carol” by Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)
“The Cradle Song” by William Blake (1757-1827)
“Minstrel” by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
“Christmas in India” Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
“Ring Out, Wild Bells” by Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
“Christmas Trees” by Robert Frost (1874-1963)
“Christmas at Sea” by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
“Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement C. Moore (1779-1863)
“Mistletoe” by Walter de la Mare (1873-1956)
“For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio” by W.H. Auden (1907-1973)
“The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus” by Ogden Nash (1902-1971)
“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” by Dr. Seuss (1904-1991)
“The Innkeeper’s Wife” by Clive Sansom (1910-1981)
“Sheepdog” by U.A. Fanthorpe (1929-2009)
“The Annunciation” by Elizabeth Jennings (1926-2001)
“How the Great Guest Came” by Edwin Markham (1852-1940)
“A Wreath of Christmas Legends” by Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978)
“Under the Holly Bough” by Charles Mackay (1812-1889)
“Advent 55” by Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984)
“In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)