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Christmas Eve

by James Graham 

Posted: 29 November 2011
Word Count: 101
Summary: This was written about 150 years ago, when I was young. But it's seasonal, so I thought I'd post it.

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Christmas Eve

This random evening, garnished by the bells,
its usual dampness sanctified by lights,
conjures whole families to church, compels
community ritual more than other nights.

And some in every pew praise God in faith,
having a shaft of starlight in each eye;
while others, hearing of a winter birth,
are pleased with Christmas Eve, uncertain why.

These also celebrate: their unbelief
is drawn together by an April sense
of sure nativity that makes all grief
seem lost in mist beyond the graveyard fence.

It is a kindly myth, and a special day.
It was contrived to distance death away.

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Comments by other Members

Account Closed at 13:36 on 29 November 2011  Report this post
James, this is lovely and - can it be true? - it rhymes! I will comment properly later, when I have more time.


Account Closed at 19:24 on 29 November 2011  Report this post
This is a poem that skillfully finds the balance between the cynicism of a non-believer and the kindly acknowledgement of Christmas's benefits emotionally, socially and psychologically.

The cynicism, albeit softened and indulgent, is there all the way through to the wise but devastating (and lovely) final couplet. But always kept on a rein, always understanding.

So, although you profess never to use rhyme these days, you clearly once did and used it well. Perhaps revisiting this poem will tempt you to use it again sometimes?

A fine Christmas poem, without a trace of the saccharine trap that it would be oh so easy to fall into.


Sallyj at 08:56 on 30 November 2011  Report this post
I agree with all the comments above - like the subtle mix of belief and disbelief, or even unbelief. For some reason rhyming and a Christmas theme sit well together.I really like the shaft of starlight in each eye...redolent of removing the mote from one's eye and yet magical...very clever.
I really enjoyed this poem.

V`yonne at 15:15 on 01 December 2011  Report this post
Balance. This poem is balance itself both in form and content and it is just beautiful James! Would The Pygmy Giant take it before Christmas, I wonder?

clyroroberts at 21:26 on 02 December 2011  Report this post
I have nothing to add really about the craft and skill shown here. I agree with the other comments. Its beautifully balanced and every word works.

I was surprised to read this, as I've read several of your pieces in the past few years that are highly critical of the christ myth. My take on the nativity is that instead of distancing us from death, it actually brought it much closer.

"and what rough beast slouches towards bethlehem to be born."

Yeats was supposedly referring to the coming of fascism but I wonder if his rough beast was really christianity. The irish pagans he so admired would have seen death and life as a natural cycle, everything around them confirmed the beauty of this. There was no desire to distance themselves from death. But then the sky god was born . . . .

Sorry, I'm just musing. Please ignore.

James R

James Graham at 16:41 on 03 December 2011  Report this post
Thanks to all for these comments. The paper on which this poem is written really is yellow with age! Yes, it rhymes quite satisfyingly and I thought it was worth resurrecting.

James, I feel sure Yeats's 'rough beast' was fascism, Stalinism maybe too, tyranny in general including the Black and Tans who

can leave the mother, murdered at her door,
to crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free...

'Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare/ rides upon sleep'. But there's an unmistakeable link with Christianity, as a source of these evils in some sense; Yeats didn't go as far as Nietzsche but he went about half-way.

'I've read several of your pieces in the past few years that are highly critical of the christ myth' - well, this was written a long time ago. Over the years I've become less benign about Christianity. Definitely a humanist now, without reservations.


clyroroberts at 13:24 on 05 December 2011  Report this post
There's a very interesting fellow I've been reading lately - a chap called Stuart Kauffman. Not sure if you've heard of him. A secular humanist who is arguing for a return to the sacred via science. He's hard to comprehend on some of things he says about quantum physics and darwinism but overall I find his ideas hopeful. Something along the lines of us having to get away from monotheism BUT ALSO from the reductionism of modernism. He's a theoretical physicist and biologist and has done lots of experiments on autocatalysis which I find amazing.

There are a few of his lectures on youtube and several of his essays online.

SarahT at 22:41 on 06 December 2011  Report this post
Hi James,

I don't know. I go away for a few months and when I get back, you're rhyming. What is the world coming to?

Seriously, though, it's a great place to start. I need to feel Christmassy and I especially liked the first verse. But, if I can be a little controversial, I didn't like the last two lines. They seemed superfluous and they were the only thing that, I felt, betrayed that this poem was written in your youth, all those centuries ago. But as I seem to be the minority, perhaps you don't need to worry about it.

Thank you for the poem. It's a lovely way to re-boot my participation in this group.


James Graham at 16:07 on 07 December 2011  Report this post
I'll have to keep the last two lines, Sarah, because they make it a SONNET! The ONLY sonnet I have ever managed to write! I think I can persuade myself that they add something that wasn't explicit before, or that they 'sum up' the poem. There's a kind of 'summing-up' feel about the last couplets even of Shakespeare's sonnets. Good to have you back in the group, by the way.

James, I've heard vaguely of Kauffman but haven't read him. I'll google him and see what I find.


FelixBenson at 13:31 on 10 December 2011  Report this post
James - I haven't read all the comments, but I found this sonnet to be a wonderful success. Congrats. Sonnets are the holy grail, I think.
This one has a Larkin-esque feel to it somehow, maybe its just me....? It's clear-eyed, unsentimental. Perhaps it's more compassionate than Larkin could be sometimes.

I especially like this section:

their unbelief
is drawn together by an April sense
of sure nativity that makes all grief
seem lost in mist beyond the graveyard fence.



...an April sense of sure nativity.

That really is a very good line.

James Graham at 15:30 on 10 December 2011  Report this post
Thanks, Kirsty. '...an April sense of sure nativity' - you've spotted the only bit of the poem that I changed from the original, which was 'an April sense/ of birth in abstract, that outshines the grief/ that broods in mist...' I couldn't leave it at that! The revision is a big improvement, I hope you'll agree.

By the way, thank you for your recent comments, not only on my work but on others' too. They've been very insightful and comprehensive (as they have been in the past, but now even more so! ) The time and thought you must have put into these is much appreciated.


FelixBenson at 10:02 on 11 December 2011  Report this post
Definitely - that part of the poem really works. An April sense is a winning phrase. And your rewrite is tighter, cleaner and clearer. And no problem re: comments. I'm not sure about insightful... but I quite agree that the group is in top gear at the moment, with plenty of careful reading and writing going on, and some memorable poems. Long may it continue!
Thanks, Kirsty

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