I will always reply to comments and always re-reply to re-replies.

Monday, December 17, 2007


A view over the fields to our 13th century village church (click to enlarge)

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!(1) Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton
(2) by yonder coomb(3)
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

(1) This poem was written in 1915
(2) A farmstead
(3) A valley

I have recently read Claire Tomalin's excellent biography of Hardy, which has prompted me to read all his wonderful poems again. This one cleverly parallels the Christmas story (The oxen, the stable, the shepherds sitting around the fire) without actually mentioning it. It also, for me at least, encapsulates Hardy's Wessex - the folk tale told around the fire by the old men of the village whilst watching their sheep. The last line goes to the heart of Hardy's agnosticism and emphasises his hope and essential spirituality.

This Friday, 21st December our family and friends gather here to enjoy our annual "Scrooge Night". Mulled wine, brandy, mince pies and cream - whilst watching that best of all Christmas films "Scrooge", with the inimitable Alistair Sim. ( There is a "Daddy, my Daddy" moment, when he asks the forgiveness of his nephew's wife in the last scenes!)

And so, "God bless us, everyone" as Tiny Tim exclaimed



herhimnbryn said...

'.....said Tiny Tim, waving his crutch and falling in the fire!'

Happy Whatsists Aged P!

herhimnbryn said...

ps SNOW! SOS Send snow!

Lucy said...

That HHB is naughty!
Always loved the Hardy,very much how I feel about religion, especially at Chistmas.

Avus said...

HHnB: I nearly mentioned his "crutch", but felt it might cheapen the comment(!) However, I was pretty sure that the family would not allow us to forget the pun! (as to snow - none here as yet, but it was -2C here this morning - scraping frost off windscreens weather!)
Lucy: Yes, Hardy was, if anything, an atheist, but loved all the old church rituals of his boyhood. I suppose I am a bit like him (and you), subscribing to Edna Millay's thoughts on the subject:
"The tired agnostic longs for prayer
More than the blest can ever do:
Between the chinks in his despair,
From out his forest he peeps through
Upon a clearing sunned so bright
He cups his eyeballs from its light."

Judith said...

Ooohh! that verse speaks to me, Avus.

Thanks for your charming comment on my blog today. I hope you are going to gear yourself up over the next year for a triumphant entry into your 70s! It's the moment for a touch of panache, in my view.

Granny J said...

Wonderful comments for us agnostics! And a Very Merry Christmas back to you! Have they not relegated that phrase to a PC closet to be replaced with a bland Happy Holidays, as has happened only too often in the USA...

Avus said...

Panache for the 70th - that's a thought now! I know the poem "when I am an old woman I shall wear purple". I wonder what the male equivalent is? Large black hat, silver cane and cloak like Tennyson perhaps? Or shall I stick with the motorcycles and my red leather jacket?
Yes, I like your Edna St Vincent very much. As to PC Christmas - we have one city that wishes its inhabitants "Happy Wintervel" (God help us!)

chiefbiscuit said...

Have a good one Avus.

Nea said...

A lovely post, and made me feel the Christmas spirit even more. We also sit and drink hot drinks, watch Christmas movies and eat cookies and assorted Chritmas confections. I suppose everyone has their own favorites, both drink and dessert.....myself I would love to try a sampling from around the world.......

Loved the poem, and will see if I can find that particular movie, they have made so many of Scrooge, each one the same, yet different.

Have a wonderful Holiday Avus, you and all of your family. :):)

Everyone wants some of your snow, don't we. haha. The church, wOw, I would dearly love to look out my window and see something like that in my front view. That is one of the things I love the best about "your neck of the woods", you have so much history right at your fingertips. Ours, well, it doesn't go back so far, does it, haha....imagine places still in existance from the 1400's

Avus said...

Thank you Nea. Yes, The Alastair Sim version of "Scrooge" is, in my opinion, the best ever done on Dicken's "A Christmas Carol". It should be easily available to you - it is certainly advertised on Amazon at present.
As to "history". I suppose it is just as ancient in your country, except that the pre-16th century stuff belongs to your ancestors, the native Americans. In North America they did not leave much in the way of buildings, I guess - but in South America............
All happiness to you and yours.

Lucy said...

Merry Christmas Avus!

Lee said...

I hope that your Christmas was/is a happy one and that 2008 brings you much joy and many adventures.


pohanginapete said...

(Oh well, better late than never, I suppose...) The climatic contrast between your Christmas and ours half a world away could hardly be greater, but the similarities in attitudes more than compensate. I didn't know the Hardy poem; thanks Avus. And that snippet from Edna Millay (who I'd never heard of), also rings so true, for me at least. In fact, just the other day a friend and I were discussing her attraction to the Mass despite her belief she's not a Christian. I wondered whether it's the ritual that appeals, so I'm intrigued to hear you mention pretty much exactly that in your first reply, above.

Anyway, I do hope you had a wonderful Christmas, and that '08 proves special for all the right reasons. Cheers Avus!

Avus said...

Thanks for the good wishes. As to Edna St.Vincent Millay - one of America's greatest poets and one of my all-time favourites. I love this jeu d'esprit of hers:
"My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -
It gives a lovely light."