Saturday, 24 December 2016

Advent Calendar Day 28: Haphazard by Starlight

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BC:AD - U.A. Fanthorpe

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future's
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Advent Calendar Day 26: Journey of the Magi

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Journey of the Magi - TS Eliot
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.


Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.


All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Advent Calendar Day 25: Winter Solstice

Image result for i heard a bird sing in the depths of december

Winter Solstice ~ the day the light comes back. 
 

December 21 - Ted Kooser

Perfectly still this solstice morning, 
in bone-cracking cold. Nothing moving,
or so one might think, but as I walk the road,
the wind held in the heart of every tree
flows to the end of each twig and forms a bud. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Advent Calendar Day 24: Expect Miracles

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Not the Millennium - UA Fanthorpe  

Wise Men are busy being computer literate.
There should be a law against confusing
Religion with mathematics.
There was a baby. Born where?
And when? The sources mention
Massacres, prophecies, stars;
They tell a good story, but they don’t agree.
So we celebrate at the wrong midnight.
Does it matter? Only (dull) science expects
An accurate audit. The economy of heaven
Looks for fiestas and fireworks every day,
Every day.
Be realistic, says heaven:
Expect a miracle.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Advent Calendar Day 23: Christmas Cards

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"The custom (giving Christmas cards) is a most striking one - so long as we have sufficient imagination to remember vividly that we are all in the same boat - I mean, on the same planet, and clinging desperately to the flying ball, and dependent for daily happiness on one another's good will! A Christmas card sent by one human being to another human being is more than a piece of coloured stationary  sent by one log of wood to another log of wood: it is an inspiring and reassuring message of high value."  
~ from Arnold Bennett 'The Feast of St Friend'


Christmas Mail - Ted Kooser 

Cards in each mailbox,
angel, manger, star and lamb,
as the rural carrier,
driving the snowy roads,
hears from her bundles
the plaintive bleating of sheep,
the shuffle of sandals,
the clopping of camels.
At stop after stop,
she opens the little tin door
and places deep in the shadows
the shepherds and wise men,
the donkeys lank and weary,
the cow who chews and muses.
And from her Styrofoam cup,
white as a star and perched
on the dashboard, leading her
ever into the distance,
there is a hint of hazelnut,
and then a touch of myrrh.


Christmas Envelopes - UA Fanthorpe
Monks are at it again, quaffing, carousing;
And stage-coaches, cantering straight out of Merrie England,
In a flurry of whips and fetlocks, sacks and Santas.
 
Raphael has been roped in, and Botticelli;
Experts predict a vintage year for Virgins.

From the theologically challenged, Richmond Bridge,
Giverny, a lugger by moonlight, doves.  Ours

Costs less than these in money, more in time;
Like them, is hopelessly irrelevant
But brings, like them, the essential message

love.


Sunday, 18 December 2016

Advent Calendar Day 22: The Most Tremendous Tale

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from Christmas - John Betjeman
And is it true? and is it true?
The most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant.

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.
 

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Advent Calendar Day 21: The Spirit of Santa

Image result for yes virginia there is a santa claus 

This famous 1897 reply to an 8 year old girl from the New York Sun is one of the most famous editorials of all time, as well as a powerful testament to the the real magic and spirit of Christmas:

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Friday, 16 December 2016

Advent Calenar Day 20: The Coming of Light

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The Coming of Light - Mark Strand

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow's dust flares into breath. 


Thursday, 15 December 2016

Advent Calendar Day 19: Scrooged

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The classic Christmas story from Dickens never gets old.

"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,' returned the nephew. 'Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"


"He went to the church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and for, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of homes, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed of any walk, that anything, could give him so much happiness."

 

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Advent Calendar Day 18: Various Portents

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I love the variety of the Christmas season  - the people, the places, the greetings, the moments. The truly magical feeling that anything could happen.



Various Portents - Alice Oswald 

Various stars. Various kings.
Various sunsets, signs, cursory insights.
Many minute attentions, many knowledgeable watchers,
Much cold, much overbearing darkness.

Various long midwinter Glooms.
Various Solitary and Terrible Stars.
Many Frosty Nights, many previously Unseen Sky-flowers.
Many people setting out (some of them kings) all clutching at stars.

More than one North Star, more than one South Star.
Several billion elliptical galaxies, bubble nebulae, binary systems,
Various dust lanes, various routes through varying thicknesses of Dark,
Many tunnels into deep space, minds going back and forth.

Many visions, many digitally enhanced heavens,
All kinds of glistenings being gathered into telescopes:
Fireworks, gasworks, white-streaked works of Dusk,
Works of wonder and/or water, snowflakes, stars of frost . . .

Various dazed astronomers dilating their eyes,
Various astronauts setting out into laughterless earthlessness,
Various 5,000-year-old moon maps,
Various blindmen feeling across the heavens in braille.

Various gods making beautiful works in bronze,
Brooches, crowns, triangles, cups and chains,
And all sorts of drystone stars put together without mortar.
Many Wisemen remarking the irregular weather.

Many exile energies, many low-voiced followers,
Watches of wisp of various glowing spindles,
Soothsayers, hunters in the High Country of the Zodiac,
Seafarers tossing, tied to a star . . .

Various people coming home (some of them kings). Various headlights.
Two or three children standing or sitting on the low wall.
Various winds, the Sea Wind, the sound-laden Winds of Evening
Blowing the stars towards them, bringing snow.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Advent Calendar Day 16:

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The lovely December 'Cold Moon' is  upon us. 

December Moon - May Sarton

Before going to bed
After a fall of snow
I look out on the field
Shining there in the moonlight
So calm, untouched and white
Snow silence fills my head
After I leave the window.


Hours later near dawn
When I look down again
The whole landscape has changed
The perfect surface gone
Criss-crossed and written on
Where the wild creatures ranged
While the moon rose and shone.


Why did my dog not bark?
Why did I hear no sound
There on the snow-locked ground
In the tumultuous dark?


How much can come, how much can go
When the December moon is bright,
What worlds of play we’ll never know
Sleeping away the cold white night
After a fall of snow.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Advent Calendar Day 14: New Traditions

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"Grief is a room without doors – but somehow, with its tinsel and clichés, Christmas finds a way in. In the absence of a loved one, all the pageantry, all the carols and parties and bright bustling pubs, are an unbearable silence. For many, the season of goodwill and joy is also the season of loneliness and despair, during which nothing grows except the longing for what can never be..." 
~ Simon Van Booy

One December, a few years ago, I came across this very moving article - New Traditons  from writer Simon Van Booy. The next day I rushed out, in a snow-dusted cityscape, to buy any book of his I could get my hands on.  Ever since, I love to read his collection of stories 'The Secret Lives of People in Love' at this time of year. His writing is simply, exquisite.


Friday, 9 December 2016

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Advent Calendar Day 12: Miles To Go

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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.




Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Advent Calender Day 11: Lines for Winter

 Image result for person walking in snow with a coloured umbrella
 
There are certain go-to winter poets for me - and one of the main ones is Mark Strand.  His 
poems are shot through with a kind of crystal-clear precision and sparkling beauty.
 
 
 
Lines for Winter - Mark Strand
 
Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon's gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Advent Calendar Day 10: Light

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 'where the darkness gives way to light...'

Winter is the season of darkness but isn't Advent  all about harvesting light? In any and every way. 

I love this poem, by the way.


In Winter's House - Jane Draycott

In winter's house there's a room
that's pale and still as mist in a field
while outside in the street every gate's shut firm,
every face as cold as steel.


In winter's house there's a bed
that is spread with frost and feathers, that gleams
in the half-light like rain in a disused yard
or a pearl in a choked-up stream.


In winter's house there's a child
asleep in a dream of light that grows out
of the dark, a flame you can hold in your hand
like a flower or a torch on the street. 


In winter's house there's a tale
that's told of a great chandelier in a garden,
of fire that catches and travels for miles,
of all gates and windows wide open.


In winter's house there's a flame
being dreamt by a child in the night,
in the small quiet house at the turn in the lane
where the darkness gives way to light.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Advent Calendar Day 9: Trees in Winter



"Bare branches in winter are a form of writing..." 
~ Billy Collins 'Winter Syntax'

Watch as the winter trees display their, as Alice Oswald calls them, 'wishbone' selves.  



Winter Trees - William Carlos Williams

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.



Sunday, 4 December 2016

Advent Calendar Day 8: Annunciation

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'The Annunciation' by John William Waterhouse, 1914

 
 
Annunciation - Denise Levertov

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
       Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.
       The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
         God waited.

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.


Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
         Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending.
More often
those moments
      when roads of light and storm
      open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from

in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
                                 God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
  only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power–
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
                     Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love–

but who was God.

This was the moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.

A breath unbreathed,
                                Spirit,
                                          suspended,
                                                            waiting.
    
She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’
Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
                                                       raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
                                  consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
                               and the iridescent wings.
Consent,
              courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Advent Calendar Day 7: Snowflakes

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"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." 
 
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 
 

"They say that every snowflake is different. If that were true, how could the world go on? How could we ever get up off our knees? How could we ever recover from the wonder of it?"

~ Jeanette Winterson

"Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others." 

~ Wilson Bentley

 

Aren't snowflakes truly things of wonder? Check out this slideshow

 

 


Friday, 2 December 2016

Literary Advent Calenar Day 6: Hello Winter

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Winter is the season of solitude, the season of wisdom and inner growth.
 

Relearning Winter - Mark Svenfold

Hello Winter, hello flanneled
blanket of clouds, clouds
fueled by more clouds, hello again.


Hello afternoons,
off to the west, that silver
of sunset, rust-colored
and gone too soon.

And night (I admit to a short memory)
you climb back in with chilly fingers
and clocks, and there is no refusal:
ice cracks the water main, the garden hose
stiffens, the bladed leaves of the rhododendron
shine in the fog of a huge moon.

And rain, street lacquer,
oily puddles and spinning rubber,
mist of angels on the head of a pin,
hello,

and snow, upside-down cake of clouds,
white, freon scent, you build
even as you empty the world of texture—
hello to this new relief,
this new solitude now upon us,
upon which we feed.