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.
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
A VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL!