Friday, December 24, 2010


I remember exactly when I encountered this poem but won't relate the circumstances here because they really don't matter. What matters is the beauty of it, whether one believes or not. Sometimes belief--or lack of it--is best suspended at times and this may be one of those times: stoned out of my mind with jet lag after flying 16 hours east, awake way too early and looking forward to flying up to a White Christmas in Wisconsin with Erin and her family, while at the same time wishing I could also be with my daughters, son-in-law and grandsons.


Apparently there is/was an old English/Celtic/Anglo belief that on Christmas Eve at midnight all the animals in all stables and mangers throughout the world get on their knees in devotion to commemorate the birth of the Christ child. Who knows? Could be . . .

You will have to look up 'barton' and 'coomb,' but otherwise the piece speaks clearly beautifully to all of us, even those among us who doubt or don't believe at all.

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

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