poem index

The Best Holiday

Christmas time is the best time!
The Best Holiday
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The Thread of Life
Christina Rossetti, 1830 - 1894
1

The irresponsive silence of the land,
The irresponsive sounding of the sea,
Speak both one message of one sense to me: —
Aloof, aloof, we stand aloof, so stand
Thou too aloof bound with the flawless band
Of inner solitude; we bind not thee;
But who from thy self—chain shall set thee free?
What heart shall touch thy heart? what hand thy hand?—
And I am sometimes proud and sometimes meek,
And sometimes I remember days of old
When fellowship seemed not so far to seek
And all the world and I seemed much less cold,
And at the rainbow's foot lay surely gold,
And hope felt strong and life itself not weak.

2

Thus am I mine own prison. Everything
Around me free and sunny and at ease:
Or if in shadow, in a shade of trees
Which the sun kisses, where the gay birds sing
And where all winds make various murmuring;
Where bees are found, with honey for the bees;
Where sounds are music, and where silences
Are music of an unlike fashioning.
Then gaze I at the merrymaking crew,
And smile a moment and a moment sigh
Thinking: Why can I not rejoice with you ?
But soon I put the foolish fancy by:
I am not what I have nor what I do;
But what I was I am, I am even I.

3

Therefore myself is that one only thing
I hold to use or waste, to keep or give;
My sole possession every day I live,
And still mine own despite Time's winnowing.
Ever mine own, while moons and seasons bring
From crudeness ripeness mellow and sanative;
Ever mine own, till Death shall ply his sieve;
And still mine own, when saints break grave and sing.
And this myself as king unto my King
I give, to Him Who gave Himself for me;
Who gives Himself to me, and bids me sing
A sweet new song of His redeemed set free;
He bids me sing: O death, where is thy sting?
And sing: O grave, where is thy victory?
The Best Holiday
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Noel
Anne Porter
When snow is shaken
From the balsam trees
And they're cut down 
And brought into our houses 

When clustered sparks 
Of many-colored fire
Appear at night 
In ordinary windows 

We hear and sing
The customary carols 

They bring us ragged miracles
And hay and candles 
And flowering weeds of poetry
That are loved all the more
Because they are so common 

But there are carols
That carry phrases 
Of the haunting music
Of the other world 
A music wild and dangerous
As a prophet's message 

Or the fresh truth of children
Who though they come to us
From our own bodies 
Are altogether new
With their small limbs
And birdlike voices 

They look at us
With their clear eyes 
And ask the piercing questions 
God alone can answer.
The Best Holiday
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A Christmas Carol
George Wither
So now is come our joyful feast,
  Let every man be jolly;
Each room with ivy leaves is dressed,
  And every post with holly.
    Though some churls at our mirth repine,
    Round your foreheads garlands twine,
    Drown sorrow in a cup of wine,
  And let us all be merry.

Now all our neighbors' chimnies smoke,
  And Christmas blocks are burning;
Their ovens they with baked meats choke,
  And all their spits are turning.
    Without the door let sorrow lie,
    And if for cold it hap to die,
    We'll bury it in a Christmas pie,
  And evermore be merry.

Now every lad is wondrous trim,
  And no man minds his labor;
Our lasses have provided them
  A bagpipe and a tabor.
    Young men and maids, and girls and boys,
    Give life to one another's joys;
    And you anon shall by their noise
  Perceive that they are merry.

Rank misers now do sparing shun,
  Their hall of music soundeth;
And dogs thence with whole shoulders run,
  So all things aboundeth.
    The country-folk themselves advance,
    For crowdy-mutton's come out of France;
    And Jack shall pipe and Jill shall dance,
  And all the town be merry.

Ned Swatch hath fetched his bands from pawn,
  And all his best apparel;
Brisk Nell hath bought a ruff of lawn
  With droppings of the barrel.
    And those that hardly all the year
    Had bread to eat or rags to wear,
    Will have both clothes and dainty fare,
  And all the day be merry.

Now poor men to the justices
  With capons make their errands;
And if they hap to fail of these,
  They plague them with their warrants.
  But now they feed them with good cheer,
  And what they want they take in beer,
  For Christmas comes but once a year,
  And then they shall be merry.

Good farmers in the country nurse
  The poor, that else were undone;
Some landlords spend their money worse,
  On lust and pride at London.
    There the roisters they do play,
    Drab and dice their land away,
    Which may be ours another day;
  And therefore let's be merry.

The client now his suit forbears,
  The prisoner's heart is eased;
The debtor drinks away his cares,
  And for the time is pleased.
    Though others' purses be more fat,
    Why should we pine or grieve at that;
    Hang sorrow, care will kill a cat,
  And therefore let's be merry.

Hark how the wags abroad do call
  Each other forth to rambling;
Anon you'll see them in the hall,
  For nuts and apples scrambling;
    Hark how the roofs with laughters sound,
    Anon they'll think the house goes round;
    For they the cellar's depths have found,
  And there they will be merry.

The wenches with their wassail-bowls
  About the streets are singing;
The boys are come to catch the owls,
  The wild mare in is bringing.
    Our kitchen boy hath broke his box,
    And to the dealing of the ox
    Our honest neighbors come by flocks,
  And here they will be merry.

Now kings and queens poor sheep-cotes have,
  And mate with everybody;
The honest now may play the knave,
  And wise men play at noddy.
    Some youths will now a mumming go,
    Some others play at rowland-hoe,
    And twenty other gameboys moe;
  Because they will be merry.

Then wherefore in these merry days
  Should we, I pray, be duller?
No, let us sing some roundelays
  To make our mirth the fuller.
      And whilst we thus inspired sing,
    Let all the streets with echoes ring;
    Woods, and hills, and everything
  Bear witness we are merry. 

The Best Holiday
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A Visit from St. Nicholas
Clement Clark Moore
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house  
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;  
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,  
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;  
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;  
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,  
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,  
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,  
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,  
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.  
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow  
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,  
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,  
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,  
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.  
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,  
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!  
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!  
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!  
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"  
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;  
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,  
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.  
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof  
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,  
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.  
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,  
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;  
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.  
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!  
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!  
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow  
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,  
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;  
He had a broad face and a little round belly,  
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.  
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;  
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,  
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;  
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,  
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,  
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;  
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,  
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,  
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

The Best Holiday
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Christmas Trees
Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963
A Christmas Circular Letter
  
  
The city had withdrawn into itself  
And left at last the country to the country;  
When between whirls of snow not come to lie  
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove  
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,   
Yet did in country fashion in that there  
He sat and waited till he drew us out  
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.  
He proved to be the city come again  
To look for something it had left behind   
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.  
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;  
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place  
Where houses all are churches and have spires.  
I hadn't thought of them as Christmas Trees.    
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment  
To sell them off their feet to go in cars  
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,  
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.  
I'd hate to have them know it if I was.      
Yet more I'd hate to hold my trees except  
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,  
Beyond the time of profitable growth,  
The trial by market everything must come to.  
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.      
Then whether from mistaken courtesy  
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether  
From hope of hearing good of what was mine,  
I said, "There aren't enough to be worth while."
  
"I could soon tell how many they would cut,     
You let me look them over."  
 
                                    "You could look.  
But don't expect I'm going to let you have them."  
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close  
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few     
Quite solitary and having equal boughs  
All round and round. The latter he nodded "Yes" to,  
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,  
With a buyer's moderation, "That would do."  
I thought so too, but wasn't there to say so.   
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,  
And came down on the north. 
 
                                    He said, "A thousand."  
  
"A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?"  
  
He felt some need of softening that to me:       
"A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars."  
  
Then I was certain I had never meant  
To let him have them. Never show surprise!  
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside  
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents    
(For that was all they figured out apiece),  
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends  
I should be writing to within the hour  
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,  
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools     
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.  
A thousand Christmas trees I didn't know I had!  
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,  
As may be shown by a simple calculation.  
Too bad I couldn't lay one in a letter.       
I can't help wishing I could send you one,  
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.
The Best Holiday
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A Winter Without Snow
J. D. McClatchy, 1945
Even the sky here in Connecticut has it,
That wry look of accomplished conspiracy,
The look of those who've gotten away

With a petty but regular white collar crime.
When I pick up my shirts at the laundry,
A black woman, putting down her Daily News,

Wonders why and how much longer our luck
Will hold.  "Months now and no kiss of the witch."
The whole state overcast with such particulars.

For Emerson, a century ago and farther north,
Where the country has an ode's jagged edges,
It was "frolic architecture."  Frozen blue-

Print of extravagance, shapes of a shared life
Left knee-deep in transcendental drifts:
The isolate forms of snow are its hardest fact.

Down here, the plain tercets of provision do,
Their picket snow-fence peeling, gritty,
Holding nothing back, nothing in, nothing at all.

Down here, we've come to prefer the raw material
Of everyday and this year have kept an eye
On it, shriveling but still recognizable--

A sight that disappoints even as it adds
A clearing second guess to winter.  It's
As if, in the third year of a "relocation"

To a promising notch way out on the Sunbelt,
You've grown used to the prefab housing,
The quick turnover in neighbors, the constant

Smell of factory smoke--like Plato's cave,
You sometimes think--and the stumpy trees
That summer slighted and winter just ignores,

And all the snow that never falls is now
Back home and mixed up with other piercing
Memories of childhood days you were kept in

With a Negro schoolmate, of later storms
Through which you drove and drove for hours
Without ever seeing where you were going.

Or as if you've cheated on a cold sickly wife.
Not in some overheated turnpike motel room
With an old flame, herself the mother of two,

Who looks steamy in summer-weight slacks
And a parrot-green pullover.  Not her.
Not anyone.  But every day after lunch

You go off by yourself, deep in a brown study,
Not doing much of anything for an hour or two,
Just staring out the window, or at a patch

On the wall where a picture had hung for ages,
A woman with planets in her hair, the gravity
Of perfection in her features--oh! her hair

The lengthening shadow of the galaxy's sweep.
As a young man you used to stand outside
On warm nights and watch her through the trees.

You remember how she disappeared in winter,
Obscured by snow that fell blindly on the heart,
On the house, on a world of possibilities.
The Best Holiday
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Heavy Snowfall in a Year Gone Past
Laura Jensen
Heavy snowfall in a year gone past
hammered the sudden edge
of the house foundations
to a rounder world
a whiter light after the end of day.
My favorite coat, lush sable
in color, a petty fake
that warmed me to the ears
hangs after the seasons
a beaten animal grinning buttons.
It became quite real to me
and now is matted on a hook.
How far away what mattered
has flourished without me,
along the tasty road in the wood:

clark, clark, the hidden birds call
or do wrong, do wrong, someone
do wrong, snapping apples
from out in the woodside, telling
their fathers names, pie cannonrude
barkwithfist brendanbe with cherries.

It is a vast field
where snow will fall again.
Is the vast field ownership
or a presence of mind?
The Best Holiday
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Snow-Flakes
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 - 1882
Out of the bosom of the Air,
    Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
    Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
      Silent, and soft, and slow
      Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
    Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
      The troubled sky reveals
      The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
    Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
    Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
      Now whispered and revealed
      To wood and field.
The Best Holiday
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Christmas Bells
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 - 1882
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play, 
    And wild and sweet 
    The words repeat 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

And thought how, as the day had come, 
The belfries of all Christendom 
    Had rolled along 
    The unbroken song 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

Till ringing, singing on its way, 
The world revolved from night to day, 
    A voice, a chime, 
    A chant sublime 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

Then from each black, accursed mouth 
The cannon thundered in the South, 
    And with the sound 
    The carols drowned 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

It was as if an earthquake rent 
The hearth-stones of a continent, 
    And made forlorn 
    The households born 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

And in despair I bowed my head; 
"There is no peace on earth," I said; 
    "For hate is strong, 
    And mocks the song 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!" 

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 
    The Wrong shall fail, 
    The Right prevail, 
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
The Best Holiday
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Approach of Winter
William Carlos Williams, 1883 - 1963
The half-stripped trees
struck by a wind together,
bending all,
the leaves flutter drily
and refuse to let go
or driven like hail
stream bitterly out to one side
and fall
where the salvias, hard carmine,—
like no leaf that ever was—
edge the bare garden.
The Best Holiday
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An Old Man's Winter Night
Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963
All out-of-doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him—at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping there, he scared it once again
In clomping off;—and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon—such as she was,
So late-arising—to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man—one man—can't keep a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It's thus he does it of a winter night.