29 November 2005


The human race divides in two on the matter of poetry. There are those who love it and those who can see no need for it. If you're in the second camp, you can stop reading this post right now.

I must confess that I am a lover of poetry. The best definition I ever read of poetry is "words put together in such a way that they are hard to forget." Isn't that almost poetry itself? Martin Franzmann's rumored definitive words upon the Scripture controversy were: "We must never forget that God is poet." Franzmann, as usual, is right on.

And so to honor the joy of words put together in ways that are hard to forget, a fabulous poem by Betjeman. I figure since he STARTS off with Advent it's cool to share now, even though titled Christmas! Don't give up till the zinger in the last line.

John Betjeman

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hooker’s Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
“The church looks nice” on Christmas Day.

Provincial public houses blaze
And Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says “Merry Christmas to you all.”

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s’ hearts are glad,
And Christmas-morning bells say “Come!”
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true? And is it true,
This 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,
Nor 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.

1 comment:

William Weedon said...

Beautiful! Thank you. I'd not heard that one before.