Sunday, December 24, 2017

"A Merry Christmas, Friend!"

Our experience of Christmas changes as we grow older.  I am not speaking of historical accidents and aberrations such as, for instance, self-regarding modern irony, or the equally self-regarding Christmas policing activities of cultural scolds.  They are of no moment.

I was 7 years old in 1963 when Andy Williams first sang "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."  I still love that song.  As a child, I sang "Away in a Manger" and "Silent Night" in a choir of shepherds in a Christmas pageant that took place in a Lutheran church on a dark night in winter-bound Minnesota.  And that's that.  Some memories are not for the discarding.

The delight does not change.  But there is a movement from the joy of receiving, to the joy of giving, and, finally (if we are fortunate), to the joy of simply being present in the World at such a time.  A time for gratitude and for reflection.  But an effort is required, and, speaking for myself, the effort often falls short.  But the breathtaking pause -- fragile light fluttering in the darkness -- calls for our attention.

     Christmas Poem

We are folded all
In a green fable
And we fare
From early
Plough-and-daffodil sun
Through a revel
Of wind-tossed oats and barley
Past sickle and flail
To harvest home,
The circles of bread and ale
At the long table.
It is told, the story --
We and earth and sun and corn are one.

Now kings and shepherds have come.
A wintered hovel
Hides a glory
Whiter than snowflake or silver or star.

George Mackay Brown, The Wreck of the Archangel (John Murray 1989).

It is late afternoon on Christmas Eve as I write this.  Half an hour ago, the snow began to fall.

Ben Nicholson (1894-1982), "1930 (Christmas Night)" (1930)

Light persisting in, and emerging out of, darkness.  Flickering.  Coming and going.  Like a human soul.


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 (Macmillan 1928).

"The Casuals' gate" was an entry to the "Union House" (the workhouse) in Dorchester.  "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."  J. O. Bailey, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Handbook and Commentary (University of North Carolina Press 1970), page 581.

The snow continues to fall.

Merry Christmas, dear readers.

Robin Tanner (1904-1988), "Christmas" (1929)


mary f.ahearn said...

A Merry Christmas and healthy,joyful New Year to you, accompanied by a gratitude deeply felt for all the beauty you've shared with us this year.
You've so well expressed the sentiments of this time of year as the days move into the light, ever so gradually. Lovely,lovely poems too.

elspethanne said...

I lost your blog some years ago. This Christmas Morning , thankyou for your words and the wonderful poetry. Orkney is a special place. Wishing you a Happy Christmas from Scotland. Elspeth Gibb

Maggie Emm said...

Merry Christmas to you too Stephen! Your posts resonate with me so strongly that finding your blog is a wonderful present! I love the spirit of Christmas, but find it bittersweet in my 60's because of folks no longer here. Only last week another dear friend passed away. it was so amazing to read your last two posts because of the poems from George Mackay Brown - he was one of her favourite writers and that seemed such a lovely coincidence. So I bought myself one of his books to make a start! Peace and joy to you x

Anonymous said...

Wonderful Christmas posting. I have discussed Gram Parsons with you in the past. I just discovered this week a fellow band member named Gene Clark. I am 70 years old and a fan of the Byrds but I was unconscious of him. I was listening to JD Souther on the radio talking about how he and Glen Frey listened to Clark's "Polly" for four months when they first started writing songs. Of course I went to Youtube to see what this was all about and was blown away. His music has a surrealistic and poetic character to it. Especially the songs "Polly" and "Silver Raven". Alas, he was a troubled soul and now seems to be almost unknown except to some old fans from the 60's.Merry Christmas.

Darrell Woolums

sunt_lacrimae_rerum said...

And a Merry Christmas to you. Thank you for your wonderful blog.

Ron Ireland said...

Merry Christmas, Mr. Pentz. Thank you for enriching my life and the lives of so many others. All the very best to you now and always.

Fred said...

And a Merry Christmas to you. I hope the coming year will be a great one for you.

Esther said...

There is something very special about this post. It's absolutely beautiful.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mary: Thank you very much. I appreciate your kind words about the post and the blog. And I thank you for your your long-time presence here, which means a great deal to me. I wish you the best in the coming year.

Stephen Pentz said...

Ms. Gibb: Thank you very much. I'm happy you found your way back here. I hope you'll return soon. But anytime is fine: the poems and paintings will be here. Thanks again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Maggie Emm: It's very nice to hear from you. Thank you for sharing those thoughts, and for your kind words.

Yes, losses do begin to accumulate in the 60s, don't they? I'm very sorry to hear about your friend, but it is a lovely coincidence that she liked Brown's poems, and that you now found a few of them here. I'm certain you will enjoy reading more of them in the book you purchased. And I recommend tracking down some of his prose works as well.

Best wishes to you for a wonderful new year.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Woolums: Yes, I recall our discussions of Gram Parsons. As for Gene Clark: he was indeed, as you say, a troubled soul. I grew up in Southern California in the late 1960s and 1970s, and my friends and I were caught up in the "country rock" fervor of that time and place, including Gram Parsons (of course) and Gene Clark. In fact, I have a copy of the album (a real record!) on which "Polly" appears: "Through the Morning, Through the Night" by Dillard & Clark. Dillard & Clark had a connection with The Flying Burrito Brothers, since Chris Hillman, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Bernie Leadon, Byron Berline, and Michael Clarke played with the group at one time or another.

I also spent a great deal of time listening to his solo album "No Other," which is probably his best. In addition to "Silver Raven," I recommend "The True One" and "Life's Greatest Fool." I saw him in a concert in 1978 or 1979 (or thereabouts) when he, Roger McGuinn, and Chris Hillman were performing as "McGuinn, Clark and Hillman."

As for "Polly": it is indeed wonderful. I have it paired in my mind with a later song by Clark: "Gypsy Rider," which I hope you have found by now. An incredible, haunting song (as is "Polly"). There is a wonderful video of Clark singing it (with Carla Olson) on a TV show from the 1980s. You can find it on YouTube.

Although Gram Parsons came up with the term "Cosmic American Music," I think that Gene Clark had the same vision.

It is good to hear from you again. Thank you for still being here after all these years. Happy New Year.

Stephen Pentz said...

sunt_lacrimae_rerum: Thank you very much. It's good to hear from you again. Have a wonderful New Year.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Ireland: That's very kind of you to say. Thank you so much. My intention is simply to share what I love with others, in the hope that these things may resonate with them as well. Receiving a comment such as yours is gratifying and humbling. Thank you again. I'm pleased you have been here for so long, and I hope you will stay around. Best wishes to you in the coming year.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: Thank you. As always, it's good to hear from you. I wish you a wonderful coming year as well.

Stephen Pentz said...

Esther: Thank you very much for your kind words, which I greatly appreciate. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, and I wish you the best in the New Year. Thank you for stopping by again.

Martin Caseley said...

Happy Christmas, Stephen - another thought-provoking post with a lovely Hardy poem. While it's being discussed, could I also recommend the haunting version of 'Polly' by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. Greetings from rural Lincolnshire, where snow is expected later!

Jeff said...

Merry Christmas, Stephen! This was well put: "But there is a movement from the joy of receiving, to the joy of giving, and, finally (if we are fortunate), to the joy of simply being present in the World at such a time."

Although I get weary of many Christmas songs, two snippets of lyric always stop me happily in my tracks: "a weary world rejoices" and "God and sinners reconcile."

Thanks for the gift of your thoughts, your time, and your eye for poetry that echoes what's otherwise missing in the rest of the online world.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Caseley: Thank you. It's good to hear from you again. Thank you for the reference to the performance of "Polly" by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. I was aware of the album, but had only heard parts of it: I wasn't aware that "Polly" was on it (as well as "Through the Morning, Through the Night" by Clark). It's a lovely version: "haunting" as you say -- although, given the melody and the words, it is hard to imagine a version that would not be haunting. To me it sometimes sounds like an Irish lament.

Thank you very much for visiting, and for sharing your thoughts. I wish you all the best in the coming year. Happy New Year.

Stephen Pentz said...

Jeff: I'm fond of those two snippets as well, particularly, "a weary world rejoices": as it happens, Andy Williams' rendition of "O Holy Night" is lovely. His version appeared on the Goodyear "The Great Songs of Christmas, Volume 5," which was released in 1965. Each year, my father would go to the tire store to buy that year's album. I have fond memories of the family listening to the albums as we decorated the Christmas tree. And hearing "O Holy Night" always brings those memories back.

Thank you very much for your kind words about the blog. As I hope you know, your long-time presence here is greatly appreciated. I wish you and your loved ones all the best in the coming year.