Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Old Year / John Clare

The Old Year

The Old Year's gone away
     To nothingness and night:
We cannot find him all the day
     Nor hear him in the night:
He left no footstep, mark or place
     In either shade or sun:
The last year he'd a neighbour's face,
     In this he's known by none.

All nothing everywhere:
     Mists we on mornings see
Have more of substance when they're here
     And more of form than he.
He was a friend by every fire,
     In every cot and hall --
A guest to every heart's desire,
     And now he's nought at all.

Old papers thrown away,
     Old garments cast aside,
The talk of yesterday,
     Are things identified;
But time once torn away
     No voices can recall:
The eve of New Year's Day
     Left the Old Year lost to all.

John Clare
from Poems Chiefly from Manuscript (edited by Edmund Blunden and Alan Porter), 1920.

[Poem is in the public domain]

John Clare biography

Friday, December 30, 2011

Again at Christmas did we weave / Alfred Tennyson


Again at Christmas did we weave
The holly round the Christmas hearth;
The silent snow possess'd the earth,
And calmly fell our Christmas-eve:

The yule-log sparkled keen with frost,
No wing of wind the region swept,
But over all things brooding slept
The quiet sense of something lost.

As in the winters left behind,
Again our ancient games had place,
The mimic picture's breathing grace,
And dance and song and hoodman-blind.

Who show'd a token of distress?
No single tear, no mark of pain:
O sorrow, then can sorrow wane?
O grief, can grief be changed to less?

O last regret, regret can die!
No -- mixt with all this mystic frame,
Her deep relations are the same,
But with long use her tears are dry.

Alfred Tennyson
from In Memoriam A.H.H., 1850

[Poem is in the public domain worldwide]

Alfred Tennyson biography

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas at Sea / Robert Louis Stevenson

Christmas at Sea

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor'-wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the suff a-roaring before the break of day;
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard.
So's we saw the cliff and houses and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every longshore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessèd Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessèd Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
"All hands to loose topgallant sails," I heard the captain call.
"By the Lord, she'll never stand it," our first mate, Jackson, cried.
. . .  "It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson," he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood;
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

Robert Louis Stevenson

[Poem is in the public domain worldwide]

Robert Louis Stevenson biography

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

'Tis Christmas Weather / George Meredith


'Tis Christmas weather, and a country house
Receives us; rooms are full: we can but get
An attic-crib. Such lovers will not fret
At that, it is half-said. The great carouse
Knocks hard upon the midnight's hollow door,
But when I knock at hers, I see the pit.
Why did I come here in that dullard fit?
I enter, and lie couched upon the floor.
Passing, I caught the coverlet's quick beat: –
Come, Shame, burn to my soul! and Pride, and Pain –
Foul demons that have tortured me, enchain!
Out in the freezing darkness the lambs bleat.
The small bird stiffens in the low starlight.
I know not how, but shuddering as I slept,
I dreamed a banished angel to me crept:
My feet were nourished on her breasts all night.

George Meredith
from Modern Love, 1862

[Poem is in the public domain worldwide]

George Meredith biography

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Christmas Ghost Story / Thomas Hardy

A Christmas Ghost Story

South of the Line, inland from far Durban,
A mouldering soldier lies -- your countryman.
Awry and doubled up are his gray bones,
And on the breeze his puzzled phantom moans
Nightly to clear Canopus: 'I would know
By whom and when the All-Earth-gladdening Law
Of peace, brought in by that Man Crucified,
Was ruled to be inept, and set aside?
And what of logic or of truth appears
In tacking "Anno Domini" to the years?
Near twenty-hundred liveried thus have hied,
But tarries yet the Cause for which He died.'

Thomas Hardy
Christmas Eve, 1899

[Poem is in the public domain  in Canada, the United States, and the European Union]

Thomas Hardy biography

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Carols / Edmund H. Sears

Christmas Carols

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven’s all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever over its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet-bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Edmund H. Sears, 1849
from Sermons and Songs of the Christian Life, 1875

[Poem is in the public domain worldwide]

Edmund H. Sears biography

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Huron Carol / trans. J. Edgar Middleton

The Huron Carol

’Twas in the moon of wintertime,
When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim,
And wand'ring hunters heard the hymn:

Jesus your King is born,
Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

Within a lodge of broken bark
The tender babe was found,
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapped His beauty round;
But as the hunter braves drew nigh,
The angel song rang loud and high:

Jesus your King is born,
Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

The earliest moon of wintertime
Is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory on
The helpless Infant there.
The chiefs from far before Him knelt
With gifts of fox and beaver pelt.

Jesus your King is born,
Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

O children of the forest free,
O seed of Manitou,
The holy Child of earth and Heav’n
Is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant Boy,
Who brings you beauty, peace and joy

Jesus your King is born,
Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

Jean de Brebeuf, ca.1643
translated by J. Edgar Middleton, 1926

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada]

J. Edgar Middleton biography
Jean de Brebeuf biography
About the Huron Carol

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Carol / G.K. Chesterton

A Christmas Carol

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down

G.K. Chesterton
from The Wild Knight and other poems, 1900

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada, the United States, and the European Union]

G.K. Chesterton biography

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Carol / Sara Teasdale

Christmas Carol

The kings they came from out the south,
All dressed in ermine fine;
They bore Him gold and chrysoprase,
And gifts of precious wine.

The shepherds came from out the north,
Their coats were brown and old;
They brought Him little new-born lambs --
They had not any gold.

The wise men came from out the east,
And they were wrapped in white;
The star that led them all the way
Did glorify the night.

The angels came from heaven high,
And they were clad with wings;
And lo, they brought a joyful song
The host of heaven sings.

The kings they knocked upon the door,
The wise men entered in,
The shepherds followed after them
To hear the song begin.

The angels sang through all the night
Until the rising sun,
But little Jesus fell asleep
Before the song was done.

Sara Teasdale
from Helen of Troy and other poems, 1911

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada, the United States, and the European Union]

Sara Teasdale biography

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Hymn on the Nativity of My Saviour / Ben Jonson

A Hymn on the Nativity of My Saviour

I sing the birth was born tonight,
The Author both of life and light;
The angels so did sound it,
And like the ravished shepherds said,
Who saw the light, and were afraid,
Yet searched, and true they found it.

The Son of God, the eternal King,
That did us all salvation bring,
And freed the soul from danger;
He whom the whole world could not take,
The Word, which heaven and earth did make,
Was now laid in a manger.

The Father's wisdom willed it so,
The Son's obedience knew no "No,"
Both wills were in one stature;
And as that wisdom had decreed,
The Word was now made Flesh indeed,
And took on Him our nature.

What comfort by Him do we win?
Who made Himself the Prince of sin,
To make us heirs of glory?
To see this Babe, all innocence,
A Martyr born in our defense,
Can man forget this story?

Ben Jonson
circa 1600
[Poem is in the public domain worldwide]

Ben Jonson biography

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

In the Bleak Mid-winter / Christina Rossetti

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

Christina Rossetti, 1872
from Poetical Works, 1904

[Poem is in the public domain worldwide]

Christina Rossetti biography
About "In the Bleak Midwinter"

Monday, December 19, 2011

For Christmas / Harriet Monroe

The child wants a teddy-bear and tracks and engines that light up and go; the youth wants a lettered sweater or a million dollars or a sweetheart; Mr. Mussolini wants the earth; the poet wants the moon; the saint wants God. Here we all are, wanting something — and usually the unattainable.

One may measure a man or a civilization by the quality of his-its-wants, and his-its-miracle-power of transmuting them into forms of approximate reality. In other words, one's measure is the imagination both static and militant, the dream that cannot stop with a vision, an idea, but must be on the way toward some kind of fulfilment, whether in action or the arts.

Nearly two thousand years ago a great creative spirit gave the world a vision of truth and righteousness which stimulated the want-instinct of western nations into more activity than any earlier teacher had been able to arouse. Through all these twenty centuries this want-instinct has persisted. Though often dulled almost to obliteration by narrow interpretations, by vicious violations, by passionate persecutions, it is still a shining goal far ahead of the race, something beautiful and unattainable which illuminates and perpetually attracts man's slow and halting footsteps. Its persistence is a proof of its vitality; the fire once lighted refuses to go out. We flatter ourselves that the race has advanced a little during these twenty centuries toward the elusive splendor, but probably another two thousand years will find our successors but little nearer to that ultimate infinite illumination.

Christmas, as we know it, is a symbol, a recognition, a flower on the altar, a bow in passing. It says a tiny yes to the dream, it sings a little song. In lighting our small red candles, in giving our paltry gifts, we pay a slight tribute, not only to the infinite spirit of love typified by the great hero whose birth we celebrate, but to all the lesser heroes who have been strongly inspired by the beauty of his life and the triumphant tragedy of his death. We turn from our familiar paths to pause a moment at a shrine heaped with noble treasures; a shrine where, to the end of time, the spirit of man will receive and carry away a richer treasure than anything he can bring.

Harriet Monroe
from Poetry, December 1926

[Essay is in the public domain in Canada and the European Union]

Harriet Monroe biography

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas in the Olden Time / Walter Scott

Christmas in the Olden Time

Heap on more wood! — the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.
Each age has deemed the new born year
The fittest time for festal cheer.
And well our Christian sires of old.
Loved when the year its course had rolled,
And brought blithe Christmas back again,
With all his hospitable train.
Domestic and religious rite
Gave honour to the holy night:
On Christmas eve the bells were rung;
On Christmas eve the mass was sung;
That only night, in all the year,
Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear.
The damsel donned her kirtle sheen;
The hail was dressed with holly green;
Forth to the wood did merry men go,
To gather in the mistletoe,
Then opened wide the baron’s hail
To vassal, tenant, serf, and all;
Power laid his rod of rule aside,
And ceremony doff’d his pride.
The heir, with roses in his shoes,
That night might village partner choose.
The lord, underogating, share
The vulgar game of “post and pair!”
All hailed with uncontroll’d delight
And general voice, the happy night
That to the cottage, as the crown,
Brought tidings of salvation down.
The fire with well dried logs supplied,
Went roaring up the chimney wide;
The huge hail table’s oaken face,
Scrubb’d till it shone, the day to grace,
Bore then upon: its massive board
No mark to part the squire and lord.
Then was brought in the lusty brawn,
By old, blue-coated serving-man;
Then the grim boar’s head frowned on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Well can the green-garbed ranger tell,
How, when, and where, the monster fell;
What dogs before his death he tore,
And all the baiting of the boar.
The wassail round in good brown bowls,
Garnished with ribbon, blithely trowls.
There the huge sirloin reeked: hard by
Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas pie;
Nor failed old Scotland to produce
At such high tide her savoury goose.
Then came the merry masquers in,
And carols roar’d with blithesome din;
If unmelodious was the song,
It was a hearty note, and strong.
Who lists may in their mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery;
White shirts supplied the masquerade,
And smutted cheeks the visor made
But oh! what masquers, richly dight,
Can boast of bosoms half so light!
England was merry England when
Old Christmas brought his sports again.
’Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale,
’Twas Christmas told the merriest tale;
A Christmas gambol oft would cheer
A poor man’s heart through half the year.

Walter Scott
from Marmion, 1808

[Poem is in the public domain worldwide]

Walter Scott biography

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The True Christmas / Henry Vaughan

The True Christmas

So stick up ivy and the bays,
And then restore the heathen ways.
Green will remind you of the spring,
Though this great day denies the thing
And mortifies the earth and all
But your wild revels, and loose hall.
Could you wear flowers, and roses strow
Blushing upon your breasts’ warm snow,
That very dress your lightness will
Rebuke, and wither at the ill.
The brightness of this day we owe
Not unto music, masque, nor show:
Nor gallant furniture, nor plate;
But to the manger’s mean estate.
His life while here, as well as birth,
Was but a check to pomp and mirth;
And all man’s greatness you may see
Condemned by His humility.
Then leave your open house and noise,
To welcome Him with holy joys,
And the poor shepherd’s watchfulness:
Whom light and hymns from heaven did bless.
What you abound with, cast abroad
To those that want, and ease your load.
Who empties thus, will bring more in;
But riot is both loss and sin.
Dress finely what comes not in sight,
And then you keep your Christmas right.

Henry Vaughan, 1678

[Poem is in the public domain worldwide]

Henry Vaughan biography

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Woodman, spare that tree! / George P. Morris

Woodman, spare that tree!

Woodman, spare that tree!
      Touch not a single bough!
In youth it sheltered me,
      And I'll protect it now.
'Twas my forefather's hand
      That placed it near his cot;
There, woodman, let it stand,
      Thy axe shall harm it not!

That old familiar tree,
      Whose glory and renown
Are spread o'er land and sea,
      And wouldst thou hew it down?
Woodman, forbear thy stroke!
      Cut not its earth-bound ties;
O, spare that aged oak,
      Now towering to the skies!

When but an idle boy
      I sought its grateful shade;
In all their gushing joy
      Here too my sisters played.
My mother kissed me here;
      My father pressed my hand --
Forgive this foolish tear,
      But let that old oak stand!

My heart-strings round thee cling,
      Close as thy bark, old friend!
Here shall the wild-bird sing,
      And still thy branches bend.
Old tree! the storm still brave!
      And, woodman, leave the spot;
While I've a hand to save,
      Thy axe shall hurt it not.

George Pope Morris, 1830
from The Deserted Bride, and other poems, 1838

[Poem is in the public domain worldwide]

George P. Morris biography

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Empty Places / Marjory Nicholls

The Empty Places

A wind is sighing wistfully
Down the valley quiet and lonely,
No green leaves to stir and quicken,
Blowing over gray grass only.

Blackened, gray and moss-enamelled,
Here and there are tree-trunks showing,
Lichen-stained, the old stumps crumble
In their rifts, green fern fronds growing.

Desolate and sad the valley,
And the little stream unshaded,
Sadly flows in shrunken beauty
By its banks once forest-shaded.

Now I hear a sheep call faintly,
Then the rustle of the grasses,
Such a mournful silence breaking,
As the wistful wind down-passes.

Tane! Tane! Is it you
Mourning in the empty places
Where your forest trees once grew?
Where the rimu's drooping green
And the kowhai's gold were seen;
And the matai's lofty head
And the rata, burning red;
Where konini berries hung
And the birds your praises sung?
When the sun could only gleam
In shafts, leaf-piercing, on the stream;
When vivid, glowing, pulsing life
Beauty achieved in forest strife –
Tane! Tane! is it you
Mourning in the empty places
Where your forest trees once grew?

Marjory Nicholls
from Gathered Leaves, 1922

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada, the United States, and the European Union]

17 - Tane: a giant kauri tree, over 2,000 years old.
20-24 - rimu, kowhai, matai, rata, konini - native New Zealand trees.

Marjory Nicholls biography

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Beautiful Old Age / D.H. Lawrence

Beautiful Old Age

It ought to be lovely to be old
to be full of the peace that comes of experience
and wrinkled ripe fulfilment.

The wrinkled smile of completeness that follows a life
lived undaunted and unsoured with accepted lies.
If people lived without accepting lies
they would ripen like apples, and be scented like pippins
in their old age.

Soothing, old people should be, like apples
when one is tired of love.
Fragrant like yellowing leaves, and dim with the soft
stillness and satisfaction of autumn.

And a girl should say:
It must be wonderful to live and grow old.
Look at my mother, how rich and still she is! --

And a young man should think: By Jove
my father has faced all weathers, but it's been a life! --

D.H. Lawrence
From Pansies, 1929

[All rights reserved by the author's estate - Please do not copy]

D.H. Lawrence biography

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The New Plaything / Ring Lardner

The New Plaything

I wonder what your thought will be
And what you'll say and do, sir,
When you come home again and see
What Daddy's got for you, sir.

I wonder if you'll like it, boy,
Or turn away disgusted.
(You've often scorned a nice, new toy
For one that's old and busted.)

I wonder if you'll laugh, or cry
And run in fright to mother,
Or just act bored to death, when I
Show you your brand new brother.

Ring Lardner
Bib Ballads, 1915

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada, the United States, and the European Union]

Ring Lardner biography

Penny's Top 20 - November 2011

The 20 most-visited poems on  The Penny Blog during November 2011:

  1.  Last Week in October, Thomas Hardy
  2.  Esthétique du Mal, Wallace Stevens 
  3.  Penny (or Penny's Hat), George Dance
  4.  Song (Man's a poor deluded bubble), Robert Dodsley
  5.   The New England Boy's Song About Thanksgiving Day
         Lydia Maria Child
  6.   For the Fallen, Laurence Binyon
  7.   Wind and Silver, Amy Lowell
  8.  Portrait, Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau
  9.  Rain in the Desert, John Gould Flether
10.  Autumn Song, George Dance

11.  How He Died, Ernest Howard Crosby
12.  September Night, George Dance
13.  Sonnet on the Luxembourg Gallery, Washington Allston
14.  Sonnet. The Token, John Donne
15.  Dance Pageant, Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau
16.  Chaos in Motion and Not in Motion, Wallace Stevens
17.  The Winds, Madison Cawein
18.  Three Grey Days, Francis Sherman
19.  There is a Garden in Her Face, Thomas Campion
20.  November, F.W. Harvey

Source: Blogger, "Stats"