‘Christmas Please!’ ed. Douglas Brooks-Davies

By oldenglishrose - Last updated: Friday, December 31, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Title: Christmas Please!  One Hundred Poems for the Festive Season

Author: ed. Douglas Brooks-Davies.  Illustrated by Dovrat Ben-Nahum

Published: Phoenix, 2000, pp. 221.  First edition

Genre: Poetry

Blurb: Here, in this beautifully illustrated anthology, is the spirit of Christmas in one hundred poems.

When, where and why: I was given this book for Christmas many years ago, but somehow never got around to reading it.  As already mentioned, I decided to use books as an alternative advent calendar this year and, as this book has one hundred poems, they divided up quite nicely to give me four poems to read each night before bed in the run up to Christmas.  Again, this book is reviewed out of reading order and qualifies as book 43/50 for my Books Off the Shelf Challenge.  I don’t think I’m going to make 50 somehow.

What I thought: There are some Christmas poems which seem to be ubiquitous at this time of year.  It’s difficult to pass through the month of December without having heard or read ‘The Night Before Christmas’ by Clement Clarke Moore at least once, or sung Christina Rossetti’s ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’Christmas Please! is a lovely collection of poems for the festive season because it not only includes these classics and other well known poems, it also contains many gems that I had never encountered before.

In his interesting introduction to the collection, Douglas Brooks-Davies explains the evolution of the Christmas poem throughout history and how its focus as been affected by factors such as the social climate, politics and current fashions.  His explanation is erudite but accessible and is definitely worth reading.  As well as being fascinating in its own right, the introduction also explains the scope of the collection, which is essentially a history of Christmas poetry, ranging from anonymous medieval poems in praise of the Madonna and Child to John Betjeman’s wonderful poem simply titled ‘Christmas’, which remains one of my favourites.  Because of the historical focus of the collection, the content is quite heavily biased towards religious poems and so this book may not be for those just looking for some festive entertainment, but after all that is the reason behind Christmas.

Some of my favourite poems in this book were ‘Nativity’ by John Donne and Thomas Hardy’s short and bitter ‘Christmas: 1924′:

‘Peace upon earth!’ was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We’ve got as far as poison-gas.

I also loved the darkly atmospheric ‘A Child of the Snows’ by G. K. Chesterton:

There is heard a hymn when the panes are dim,
And never before or again,
When the nights are strong with a darkness long,
And the dark is alive with rain.

Never we know but in sleet and in snow,
The place where the great fires are,
That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth
And the heart of the earth a star.

And at night we win to the ancient inn
Where the child in the frost is furled,
We follow the feet where all souls meet
At the inn at the end of the world.

The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,
For the flame of the sun is flown,
The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
And a Child comes forth alone.

All of these poems were new to me and I’m very glad that this book led me to discover them.

My only complaints about this book are regarding the organisation.  Firstly, books without page numbers drive me insane and although the poems in Christmas Please! are numbered, the pages are not.  I know there’s a newer edition of the book since mine was published so hopefully this one has page numbers.  I also wasn’t keen on the way that the poems were organised alphabetically by author, with anonymous offerings thrown in at random.  I think that, given the introduction, it would have been far more interesting to have the poems organised chronologically and it feels like a missed opportunity.  This is definitely a collection to revisit though.

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