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CELTIC AND IRISH CHRISTMAS POERTY

"The Magic of Christmas lingers on thought childhood days have passed upon the
common round of life, a holy spell is cast...."
Old Irish Poem 

CHRISTMAS EVE
By Ruth and Celia Duffin

A cup of milk

And a wheaten-cake,

And a spark of fire

For the Travelers’ sake.

 

A door on the latch,

A light in the pane,

Lest the Travelers’ pass

In the wind and rain.

 

For food and fire

And candlelight

The Travelers’ blessing

On us this night

 

A LEAF FROM THE TREE OF SONGS
By Adam Christianson

When harpers once in wooden hall

A shining chord would strike

Their songs like arrows pierced the soul

Of great and low alike

Aglow by hearth and candle flame

From burning branch to ember

The mist of all their music sang

As if to ask in wonder

Is there a moment quite as keen

Or memory as bright

As light and fire and music (sweet)

To warm the winter's night?


REFLECTIONS ON A SCOTTISH CHRISTMAS
By Johnny Cunningham

The dark of winter wraps around us tight.

The lamps are fired, and flickering light

beats time to the fiddle as notes float softly down, like the years' first snow.

While outside the window a blast of late December wind

whistles harmony to the drone of the pipes.

We push the old year back against the wall

so we can dance a jig for Christmas and welcome in the new



I HAVE NEWS FOR YOU
(9th century Irish Poem)

I have news for you:

The stag bells, winter snows, summer has gone

Wind high and cold, the sun low, short its course

The sea running high.

Deep red the bracken; its shape is lost;

The wild goose has raised its accustomed cry,

cold has seized the birds' wings;

season of ice, this is my news


THE DARKEST MIDNIGHT
(from The Kilmore Carols)

The darkest midnight in December
No snow nor hail nor winter storm
Shall hinder us for to remember
The Babe that on this night was born.
With shepherds, we are come to see
This lovely Infant's glorious charms.
Born of a Maid, as the prophet said,
The God of love in Mary's arms.

Ye blessed angels join our voices
Let your gilded wings beat fluttering o'er
While every sould set free rejoices
And everyone now must adore.
We'll sing and pray that he always may
Good people one and all defend
God grant us grace in all our days
A merry Christmas and a happy end.

 

THE OLDE YEAR NOW AWAY IS FLED
(Sung to Greensleeves) 13th Century English
Translation By Lawrence Rosenwald

The olde year now away is fled,

The new year it is entered

Then let us now our sins downtread

And joyfully all appear

Let's be merry this holiday

And let us run with sport and play

Han sorrow, let's cast care away - 

God send you a happy new year

 

Come, give us more liquor when I do call

I'll drink to each one in this hall

I hope that so loud I must not bawl

But unto me lend me an ear

Good fortune to my master send

And to my dame which is our friend

God bless us all, and so I end

And God send us a happy new year

 

THE WREN SONG
Sung on St. Stephen's Day (December 26th) while “Hunting the wren”

The Wren, the Wren the king of all birds,

St. Stephenses day, he was caught in the furze.

Although he is little, his honor is great,

Rise up, kind sir, and give us a trate.

 

We followed this Wren ten miles or more 

Through hedges and ditches and heaps of snow,

We up with our wattles and gave him a fall

And brought him here to show you all.

 

For we are the boys that came your way 

To bury the Wren on Saint Stephenses Day,

So up with the kettle and down with the pan!

Give us some help for to bury the Wren!

 

WINTER
By Tommy Makem

WINTER, a sharp bitter day

the robin turns plump against the cold

the sun is week silver faded from gold

he is late in his coming and short in his stay

Man, beast, bird and air all purging, all cleansing, 

earth already purified awaits the rite of spring

Her bridal gown a virgin snow and frosts in her hair

A snowdrop by the road today bowed gracefully 

and high upon the wing up in the sparkling nothingness, 

a lone bird began to sing

Can gentle spring be far away?
 

A CHILDHOOD CHRISTMAS (VERSION I)
By Patrick Kavanagh (1905-67)
 

One side of the potato-pits was white with frost-

How wonderful that was, how wonderful

And when we put our ears to the paling-post

The music that came out was magical

 

The light between the ricks of hay and straw

Was a hole in Heaven's gable. An apple tree

With its December-glinting fruit we saw-

O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me

To eat the knowledge that grew in clay

And death the germ within it!

Now and then I can remember something of the gay

Garden that was childhoods. Again

The tracks of Cattle to a drinking-place,

A green stone lying sideways in a ditch

Or any common sight the transfigured face

Of a beauty that the world did not touch.

 
My father played the melodeon

Outside at our gate

There were stars in the morning east

And they danced to his music.

 

Across the wild bogs his melodeon called

To Lennons and Callans.

As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry

I knew some strange thing had happened.

Outside in the cow-house my mother

Made the music of milking;

The light of her stable-lamp was a star

And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.

A water-hen screeched in the bog,

Mass-going feet

Crunched the wafer-ice on the pot-holes,

Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.

My child poet picked out the letters

On the grey stone,

In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,

The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.

 

Cassiopeia was over

Cassidy's hanging hill,

I looked and three whin bushes rode across

The horizon-the Three Wise Kings.

 

An old man passing said:

'Can't he make it talk' - 

The melodeon. I hid in the doorway

And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.

I nicked six nicks on the door-post

With my penknife's big blade-

There was a little one for cutting tobacco.

And I was six Christmases of age.

 

My father played the melodeon,

My mother milked the cows,

And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned

On the Virgin Mary's blouse.

 

AN OLD MAN'S WINTER NIGHT
By Robert Frost

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.

 

 

CHRISTMAS BELLS
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1864)

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.”

 

Winter, James Simpson 

In the stillness of early morning 
still dark 
every molecule of breath suspended, tiny ornaments 
filaments of a river of stars 
the people sleep 
the planet sleeps 

flora and fauna far and wide 
cocoon, burrow, hibernate, hide. 

Still, life is 
and will be again. 

Silent morning, silent night 
silence not golden but white 
frosted. 

The world is our jewelbox 
we shall not want: 
For is not the snow-swept field 
a field of dreams, of diamonds? 

If you do not believe 
or do not remember, 
leave off shoveling 
wrap yourself once more in flora and fauna far and wide 
cocoon, burrow, hibernate, hide. 

Still, life is 
and will be again. 

Silent morning, silent night 
silence not golden but white 
frosted. 

The world is our jewelbox 
we shall not want: 
For is not the snow-swept field 
a field of dreams, of diamonds? 

If you do not believe 
or do not remember, 
leave off shoveling 
wrap yourself once more in flora and fauna far and wide 
cocoon, burrow, hibernate, hide. 

Still, life is 
and will be again. 

Silent morning, silent night 
silence not golden but white 
frosted. 

The world is our jewelbox 
we shall not want: 
For is not the snow-swept field 
a field of dreams, of diamonds? 

If you do not believe 
or do not remember, 
leave off shoveling 
wrap yourself once more in swaddling clothes 
and go out 
when the snow and moon are new: 
The cold vast glitter 
can take your breath away. 
The muted music of ice drops 
soft castanet click on the nimble fingers of the trees. 
Listen to the whisper of booted feet 
leaving trails for others to follow in their footsteps. 

Even in this still, frozen time 
everything old is new again. 
Therefore let not coldness of limbs chill your heart 
rather quicken your pulse and your imagination. 
Share the warmth of this winter dressing: 
even in this still tableau 
this early night 
this long lingering dark 
the promise of life eternal. 

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening 

Whose woods these are I think I know. 

His house is in the village though; 

He will not see me stopping here 

To watch his woods fill up with snow. 

My little horse must think it queer 

To stop without a farmhouse near 

Between the woods and frozen lake 

The darkest evening of the year. 

He gives his harness bells a shake 

To ask if there is some mistake. 

The only other sound’s the sweep 

Of easy wind and downy flake. 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, 

But I have promises to keep, 

And miles to go before I sleep, 

and miles to go before I sleep. 

Wendell Berry 

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light, 

To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, 

and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, 

and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings. 

PRAYER FOR ADVENT 

by Janet Morley (adapted) 

For the darkness of waiting, of not knowing what is to come, 

of staying ready and quiet and attentive, we give thanks, 

for the darkness and the light are both gifts of the Spirit 

For the darkness of staying silent, 

for the emptiness of having nothing to say, 

for the quiet recognition of needing to say nothing, we give thanks, 

for the darkness and the light are both gifts of the Spirit 

For the darkness of choosing to speak, to act, and to change, 

even when we cannot know what we have set in motion, 

but know we have to take the risk, we give thanks, 

for the darkness and the light are both gifts of the Spirit. 

For the darkness of hoping, wrestling, and laboring 

for wholeness and justice and freedom, we give thanks, 

for the darkness and the light are both gifts of the Spirit. 

For the darkness of loving, in which it is safe to surrender, 

to let go of our self-protection, to stop holding back our desire, 

we give thanks, 

for the darkness and the light are both gifts of the Spirit.

 

In the Green Wood from Mother Goose 

(making the fire) 

Oak-logs will warm you well, 

That are old and dry; 

Logs of pine will sweetly smell 

But the sparks will fly. 

Birch-logs will burn too fast, 

Chestnut scarce at all; 

Hawthorn-logs are good to last - 

Catch them in the fall. 

Holly-logs will burn like wax, 

You may burn them green; 

Elm-logs like to smoldering flax, 

No flame to be seen. 

Beech-logs for winter time, 

Yew-logs as well; 

Green elder-logs it is a crime 

For any man to sell. 

Pear-logs and apple-logs, 

They will scent your room, 

Cherry-logs across the dogs 

Smell like flower of the broom. 

Ash-logs, smooth and grey, 

Burn them green or old, 

Buy up all that come your way - 

Worth their weight in gold. 

 

New Year from Mother Goose 

 

Wassail, wassail, to our town, 

The cup is white, the ale is brown: 

The cup is made of the ashen tree, 

And so is the ale of the good barley. 

Little maid, pretty maid, turn the pin, 

Open the door and let us come in: 

God be here, God be there, 

I wish you all a Happy New Year.

 

 

This Is Now The Winter Time 

Words: Goodwyn Barmby 

Source: Henry Vizetelly, Christmas With The Poets (London: David Bogue, 1851). 

 

This is now the winter time, 

My merry gentlemen 

Yule logs are burning in your hall, 

Fair forms are circling in the ball, 

And cups are filled with purple wine 

To aid the pudding and the chine. 

 

This is now the winter time; 

Remember, gentles, then, 

That none shall starve while you dine; 

That none shall thirst who grow the vine. 

Yet give no alms in mean award, 

But spread the just, the well-earned board. 

This is now the winter time, 

My noble gentlemen.

 

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening 

Robert Frost

 

Whose woods these are I think I know. 

His house is in the village though; 

He will not see me stopping here 

To watch his woods fill up with snow. 

 

My little horse must think it queer 

To stop without a farmhouse near 

Between the woods and frozen lake 

The darkest evening of the year. 

 

He gives his harness bells a shake 

To ask if there is some mistake. 

The only other sound’s the sweep 

Of easy wind and downy flake. 

 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, 

But I have promises to keep, 

And miles to go before I sleep, 

and miles to go before I sleep.

 

Wendell Berry 

 

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light, 

To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, 

and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, 

and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

 

Wolf Moon 

by Mary Oliver

 

Now is the season 

of hungry mice, 

cold rabbits, 

lean owls 

hunkering with their lamp-eyes 

in the leafless lanes 

in the needled dark; 

… 

now is the season 

of iron rivers… 

flaring winds, 

birds frozen 

in their tents of weeds, 

their music spent 

and blown like smoke 

to the stone of the sky; 

now is the season 

of the hunter Death 

… 

he means to cleanse the earth of fat; 

his gray shadows 

are out and running—under 

the moon, the pines, 

down snow-filled trails 

… 

their footfalls quick as hammers, 

from cabin to cabin, 

from bed to bed, 

from dreamer to dreamer.

 

 

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper 

So the shortest day came, and the year died, 
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world 
Came people singing, dancing, 
To drive the dark away. 
They lighted candles in the winter trees; 
They hung their homes with evergreen; 
They burned beseeching fires all night long 
To keep the year alive, 
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake 
They shouted, reveling. 
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them 
Echoing behind us - Listen!! 
All the long echoes sing the same delight, 
This shortest day, 
As promise wakens in the sleeping land: 
They carol, fest, give thanks, 
And dearly love their friends, 
And hope for peace. 
And so do we, here, now, 
This year and every year. 
Welcome Yule!

 

COUNTING TO TWELVE BY PABLO NERUDA 

And now we will count to twelve 

and we will keep still… 

For once on the face of the earth 

let’s not speak in any language; 

let’s stop for one second, 

and not move our arms so much. 

 

It would be an exotic moment 

without rush, without engines, 

we would all be together 

in a sudden strangeness. 

 

Fishermen in the cold sea 

would not harm whales 

and the man gathering salt 

would look at his hurt hands. 

 

Those who prepare green wars, 

wars with gas, wars with fire, 

victory with no survivors, 

would put on clean clothes 

and walk about with their brothers 

in the shade, doing nothing. 

… 

If we were not so singleminded 

about keeping our lives moving 

and for once could do nothing, 

perhaps a huge silence 

might interrupt this sadness 

of never understanding ourselves 

… 

Perhaps the earth can teach us 

as when every thing seems dead 

and later proves to be alive. 

 

Now I’ll count up to twelve, 

and you keep quiet and I will go. …One, two, three…. etc…

 

The Magic of Christmas/Winter lingers on 
Though childhood days have passed 
Upon the common round of life 
A Holy Spell is Cast 

(old verse)

 

Translated from the Original Irish by 
Sarah Lundberg and Oran Ryan 

There was fury in the storm that came last night 
last night, the Christmas of Women; 
as if released from a distant bedlam 
a lunatic shriek through the sky; 
rattling against the gate like the gaggling of geese 
roaring up the river like a bellowing bull 

dousing my candle like a blow upon my mouth :- 
an unexpected spark for anger 

I hope such a storm will come to me 
The night I begin to die 
As I return home from the dance of life 
with the light of this life failing, 
so every moment might be filled with cries from the sky, 
transforming the world into a chorus of screams, 
so I would not hear the silence moving toward me 
or feel the engine that moves me stop. 

Oiche Nollaig na mBan 
Sean O’Riordain

 

The wound is the place where the Light enters you. ~Rumi