But one thing has not changed: the lights. Indoors, the lights on the tree, reflected in the ornaments. Outdoors, the brightly-lit houses in the neighborhood. The four white candles of the Swedish angel chimes. A string of bubble lights. Sentimentality? Nostalgia? Yes, of course.
Yuletide in a Younger World
We believed in highdays then,
And could glimpse at night
On Christmas Eve
Imminent oncomings of radiant revel --
Doings of delight: --
Now we have no such sight.
We had eyes for phantoms then,
And at bridge or stile
On Christmas Eve
Clear beheld those countless ones who had crossed it
Cross again in file: --
Such has ceased longwhile!
We liked divination then,
And, as they homeward wound
On Christmas Eve,
We could read men's dreams within them spinning
Even as wheels spin round: --
Now we are blinker-bound.
We heard still small voices then,
And, in the dim serene
Of Christmas Eve,
Caught the far-time tones of fire-filled prophets
Long on earth unseen. . . .
-- Can such ever have been?
Thomas Hardy, Winter Words in Various Moods and Metres (1928).
Ben Nicholson, "1930 (Christmas Night)" (1930)
Back in October, I wrote about Thomas Hardy's humanity, honesty, and sincerity. As fond as we moderns are of irony, we should put it aside when we read the following poem.
I take Hardy at his word. And, with respect to the poem's last two lines, I would do exactly as Hardy says he would do.
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, Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses (1917).
Harold Bush, "The Christmas Tree" (1933)
Hardy never condescends. He may satirize and skewer the pretensions of those who think too well of themselves. And, although he was acutely sensitive to criticism, both personal and literary, his humility was remarked upon by nearly everyone who met him in person. That and his soft-spokenness. Of course he was ambitious, but I think that in his heart of hearts he always thought of himself as a Dorset countryman.
The rain-shafts splintered on me
As despondently I strode;
The twilight gloomed upon me
And bleared the blank high-road.
Each bush gave forth, when blown on
By gusts in shower and shower,
A sigh, as it were sown on
In handfuls by a sower.
A cheerful voice called, nigh me,
"A merry Christmas, friend!" --
There rose a figure by me,
Walking with townward trend,
A sodden tramp's, who, breaking
Into thin song, bore straight
Ahead, direction taking
Toward the Casuals' gate.
Thomas Hardy, Winter Words in Various Moods and Metres (1928). "The Casuals' gate" refers to a gate of the Union House in Dorchester. J. O. Bailey, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Handbook and Commentary (University of North Carolina Press 1970), page 581. "In Hardy's time any 'casual' (pauper or tramp) could apply to the police for a ticket, with which he would be admitted for supper, a bed, and breakfast." Ibid.
A merry Christmas, friends!
Robin Tanner, "Christmas" (1929)