POETRY: December by John Clare

December by John Clare

Christmas is come and every hearth
Makes room to give him welcome now,
E’en want will dry its tears in mirth,
And crown him with a holly bough;
Though tramping ‘neath a winter sky.
O’er snowy track paths and rimy stiles,
The housewife sets her spinning by
And bids him welcome with her smiles.

Each house is swept the day before,
And windows stuck with evergreens,
The snow is besom’d from the door,
And comfort crowns the cottage scenes.
Gilt holly, with its thorny pricks,
And yew and box, with berries small,
These deck the unused candlesticks,
And pictures hanging by the wall.

Neighbors resume their annual cheer,
Wishing with smiles and spirits high,
Glad Christmas and a happy year,
To every morning passer-by;
Milkmaids, their Christmas journeys go,
Accompanied with favor’d swain;
And children pace the crumping snow,
To taste their granny’s cake again.

The shepherd, now no more afraid,
Since custom doth the chance bestow,
Starts up to kiss the giggling maid
Beneath the branch of mistletoe
That ‘neath each cottage beam is seen,
With pearl-like-berries shining gay;
The shadow still of what hath been,
Which fashion yearly fades away.

The singing wates, a merry throng,
At early morn with simple skill,
Yet imitate the angel’s song,
And chant their Christmas ditty still;
And ‘mid the storm that dies and swells
By fits – in hummings softly steals
The music of the village bells,
Ringing round their merry peals.

When this is past, a merry crew,
Bedeck’d in masks and ribbons gay,
The “Morris-dance,” their sports renew,
And act their winter evening play.
The clown-turn’d king, for penny-praise,
Storms with the actor’s strut and swell;
And Harlequin, a laugh to raise,
Wears his hunchback and tinkling bell.

And oft for pence and spicy ale,
With winter nosegays pinn’d before,
The wassail-singer tells her tale,
And drawls her Christmas carols o’er.
While ‘prentice boy, with ruddy face,
And rime-bepowder’d dancing locks,
From door to door with happy pace,
Runs round to claim his “Christmas box.”

The block upon the fire is put,
To sanction customs old desires;
And many a faggot’s bands are cut,
For the old farmer’s Christmas fires;
Where loud-tongued Gladness joins the throng,
And Winter meets the warmth of May,
‘Till feeling soon the heat too strong,
And rubs his shins, and draws away.

While snows the window-panes bedim,
The fire curls up a sunny charm,
Where, creaming o’er the pitcher’s rim,
The flowering ale is set to warm;
Mirth, full of joy as summer bees,
Sits there, its pleasures to impart,
While children, ‘tween their parents knees,
Sing scraps of carols o’er by heart.

And some, to view the winter weathers,
Climb up the window-seat with glee,
Likening the snow to falling feathers,
In Fancy’s infant ecstasy;
Laughing, with superstitious love,
O’er visions wild that youth supplies,
Of people pulling geese above,
And keeping Christmas in the skies.

As tho’ the homestead trees were drest,
In lieu of snow with dancing leaves;
As tho’ the sun-dried martin’s nest,
Instead of i’cles hung the eaves;
The children hail the happy day—
As if the snow were April’s grass,
And pleas’d, as ‘neath the warmth of May,
Sport o’er the water froze to glass.

Thou day of happy sound and mirth,
That long with childish memory stays,
How blest around the cottage hearth
I met thee in my boyish days!
Harping, with rapture’s dreaming joys,
On presents that thy coming found,
The welcome sight of little toys,
The Christmas gifts of cousins round.

The wooden horse with arching head,
Drawn upon wheels around the room;
The gilded coach of gingerbread,
And manycolor’d sugar plumb;
Gilt cover’d books for pictures sought,
Or stories childhood loves to tell,
With many an urgent promise bought,
To get tomorrow’s lesson well.

And many a thing, a minute’s sport,
Left broken on the sanded floor,
When we would leave our play, and court
Our parents’ promises for more.
Tho’ manhood bids such raptures die,
And throws such toys away as vain,
Yet memory loves to turn her eye,
And count such pleasures o’er again.

Around the glowing hearth at night,
The harmless laugh and winter tale
Goes round, while parting friends delight
To toast each other o’er their ale;
The cotter oft with quiet zeal
Will musing o’er his Bible lean;
While in the dark the lovers steal
To kiss and toy behind the screen.

Hung with the ivy’s veining bough
The ash trees round the cottage farm
Are often stripped of branches now
The cotter’s Christmas hearth to warm.
He swings and twists his hazel band
And lops them off with sharpened hook;
And oft brings ivy in his hand
To decorate the chimney nook.

Old winter whips his ides bye
And warms his fingers till he smiles;
Where cottage hearths are blazing high
And labor rests from his toils.
With merry mirth beguiling care,
Old customs keeping with the day;
Friends meet their Christmas cheer to share,
And pass it in a harmless way.

Old customs! Oh! I love the sound,
However simple they may be:
Whate’er with time has sanction found,
Is welcome, and is dear to me.
Pride grows above simplicity,
And spurns it from her haughty mind,
And soon the poet’s song will be
The only refuge they can find.

The yule cake, dotted thick with plumbs,
Is on each supper table found;
And cats look up for falling crumbs
Which greedy children litter round.
And housewives sage-stuff’d seasoned chine,
Long hung in chimney nook to dry,
And boiling elderberry wine
To drink the Christmas eves “Good bye.”

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