At the meeting of the streets And the corners of the road, So grows an unexpected copse No seed has ever sowed. It sprouts up overnight Like a fungus on the make – This squatter on the pavement, Brings the Winter in its wake. Its trees have all blown over, And its needles all have shed To the gutters and the breezes, Until even these have fled. Then suddenly one morning We shall find the corner bare, Save the grey of frost and concrete And the chill upon the air.
Come the Twelfth Night and the tinsel comes down – It’s time to de-decorate, if that’s a verb – The fairy lights lodged in a box in the loft, And the tree swiftly shunned to the kerb. But we always leave the poinsettia, She’s always the last to go – We purge the urge to scourge the spurge, As long as she’s on show. For maybe a little of Christmas lives on While her red and her green are in clover – But after a week, so she’ll wither as well, And that’s when the season is over.
And with that, it is over – The baubles taken down and packed, The tinsel and the fairy lights, The crib stowed with its Israelites, The cards recycled, tree exiled, The wilted wreath is rudely sacked. That time has passed, so let it go – The year moves on, the snowdrops grow.
There came then Wise Men from the East Unto a stable by an inn, And there amid each lowing beast Were sheltered weary folk within – For knelt beside a feeding trough A man and woman vigil kept, As on the hay and woollen cloth A baby lay and softly slept. The elder Magus then addressed The object of their noble quest – Whose sleep was peaceful as the blessed – And unabashed, the old man wept –
“Behold, sweet babe ! There in your cot The future of mankind is held – For you are ev’ry chance we’ve got, With ev’ry hope and fear excelled. We begged the heavens for a sign, And with your birth the gods have smiled – Yet not for any charms divine, But virtues many, unbeguiled. Now all who look upon you see The future of humanity – More precious than a deity, Is each belovèd human child.”
It is, they say, (or so it’s said), An Age of Wonder in our Time ! An Age of Peace and Plentitude, Of Reason and Sublime. A Pax Romana to us all, To all us tribes who lost the fight – As vassal states, we’re better fed, Than ever were through might ! Come, all Romans, and construct Your forum and your aqueduct ! And set us on the metalled road To ever greater heights ! So join our bacchanalia, From Galilee to Greece to Gaul. And merry Saturnalia to all !
We may not yet be perfect, true, But hey, we’ve made a cracking start – We’re all philosophers, these days, We’re lovers of the art. How civilised we have become, How better yet we’ll grow to be: Two thousand years of peace shall flow, Where all mankind is free ! We’ve gods to spare, we’ve gods galore, And ev’ry tribe will bring some more – And best of all, they’re kept at bay, To serve humanity. So join our bacchanalia And never mind the zealot’s call. And merry Saturnalia to all !
Of course, for those of us who prefer the Holocene Calendar, this poem should be called Before Year Ten-Thousand.
A joke designed to make us wince, A tissue-paper hat that never fits – We’re all been brainwashed by them since, As wide-eyed kids, they awed us with their glitz. And don’t forget the plastic trinket, Maybe toyed with briefly, then ignored – But that’s the point, don’t overthink it, Quick nostalgia hit, and then we’re bored. A card tricks that has lost its label, Spinning tops who never get to spin, They sit forlornly on the table Till they’re swept up, heading for the bin Let’s carbon-tax them all to hell – And call me Scrooge and Humbug all you wish, Or if you want to snub me, well, I guess just go play with your curly fish. Say what ? I ought to get a grip ? Alright !, I’ll help you pull one, dry your eyes. What’s this ? A giant paper clip ? Oh wow, I sit corrected – what a prize !
Now whether Jesus was or not, There surely were an infant lot Who could succumb to Herod’s plot: Their bodies drawn and quartered. But where was God to stay these brutes, And spare His people’s tender fruits, And never let His nation’s roots With newborn-blood be watered ? For what uncaring god divine Would only spare His royal line ? His Promised Land – incarnadine, His folk – unsoned, undaughtered. Rejoice ! The children never died, The massacre was not applied – The priests are wrong – the Bible lied: The innocents unslaughtered.
Innkeeping’s an hon’rable trade, Whatever they say – We’re a welcome light at the end-of-day – We’re a dry roof and roaring fire That’s safe from the wolf and the bandit’s blade When legs begin to tire – And ev’ryone can call us home Who come from Babylon to Rome, Or pilgrims to Jerusalem – You won’t catch us refusing them, As long as we get paid. Or caravans from out the East, Or shepherds after one last feast Before they spend their weeks upon the hills. Our stable yard is filled with strangers – Merchants, rabbis, farmers, rangers – And the horses, camels, asses Of the ever-moving masses, Who seek shelter from the season’s chills.
But last month, after years of this life, Of seeing it all – I saw a first. A man leading a donkey bearing his wife Who was bearing his child – Poor beast ! I mean, what a load ! She was so big, fit to burst. I tell you, it fair got me riled, my friend, To make her travel so close to her end On such a bumpy road. And busy too, this time of year, With wanderers from far and near All passing through and moving on, Who all descend upon our rooms – It’s boomtime for the hostelries, We’re busier than bees.
So when they banged upon my door, I knew I hadn’t even got A patch of floor to offer them – Not even room to fit a cot. Now don’t condemn – When I, my wife and staff, the lot, Had long since given up our beds For other needful, weary heads. And yet…how could we leave them out to rot ? Maybe they were on the run, I wonder what they’ve done ? But you know what ? We still could not, and so instead, We offered them the cattle shed, for what it’s worth.
The place was red with afterbirth Before the rising of the sun. Between the ox-cart and the ploughs, She laid the kid upon the hay That otherwise would feed the cows. And when we could, we brought a tray And kept an eye that all was well – She understood, but truth to tell We’d fifty other guests to serve each day. And they were on their way before I knew it, After just a week or two – Heading home or onto somewhere new. I guess I wish them well and all, And maybe someday years from now The child will come around to call, And maybe make it big somehow. They were the stranger sort of strangers, sure enough, In all they did, But still, they didn’t lack for love to pass down to their kid.
Ah well, better air the rooms and see the beds get made, Then pop down to the well to draw some water. But don’t you see, an innkeeper’s a good and honest trade ? Just ask that couple and their newborn daughter.
A child is born tonight, this night, Afar across the sea, Whose birth shall spark the world alight To unforeseen degree. A child is born tonight, this night, Within a distant land, Whose birth shall end all ancient rite, And all we understand.
And a thousand saints shall nurse And a thousand laws shall spring, And a thousand tyrants reign, And a thousand choirs sing, And a thousand penitents Sigh a thousand lonely pleas, As a thousand preachers preach Of a thousand heresies, And a thousand wars shall rage, As a thousand martyrs die, And a thousand hopes be dashed As a thousand others fly.
With our pious hearts aflame, We each and all shall stake a claim, Invoking but a single name: A child is born, You know his name, A child is born, You know his name, A child is born, You know his name, And joy or shame, There’s nothing now shall ever be the same.
A child is born tonight, this night, Afar from you and I, Whose birth shall bless and birth shall blight The lowest to the high. A child is born tonight, this night, Within another town, Whose birth shall bring a holy might, To challenge ev’ry crown.
And a thousand kings shall curse, And a thousand laymen pray, And a thousand goats shall graze And a thousand sheep shall stray, And a thousand cripples grasp For a thousand holy cures, As a thousand sinners fall To a thousand tempters’ lures. And a thousand signs are gleaned Of a thousand things to come, As a thousand trumpets bray And a thousand drummers drum.
With our precious hearts aflame, We each and all shall spread his fame, Invoking but a single name: A child is born, You know his name, A child is born, You know his name, A child is born, You know his name, And joy or shame, There’s nothing now shall ever be the same.
A child is born tonight, this night, Afar from what is now, Whose birth shall calm and birth shall fright And shake our ev’ry bough. A child is born tonight, this night, Within this bitter cold, Whose birth shall tell and life recite, And ever hence be told.
And a thousand lords shall leap, And a thousand ladies dance, And a thousand pilgrims trek, And a thousand scribes advance, And a thousand starving mouths Beg a thousand crusts of bread, As a thousand mourners mourn For a thousand others dead, And a thousand children born To a thousand av’rage folk Are a thousand times instilled With the thousand words he spoke.
Let our fervent hearts acclaim, As each and all come join the game, Invoking but a single name: A child is born, You know his name, A child is born, You know his name, A child is born, You know his name, And joy or shame, There’s nothing now shall ever be the same.
I wanted to write something more ambiguous in its religious outlook which could be sung by everyone without frightening the horses. And although it is far from certain that there ever was an actual human (non-miracle working, non-resurrecting) upon which a whole new religion later sprang, if there were then this is his song.