CHRISTMAS CATTLE by Cori Martin (2008)
Could it be true, old Thomas Hardy’s tale:
at midnight, Christmas Eve, the oxen kneel
to Bethlehem? Our parents slept. We kept
a vigil till the magic hour, then crept
outside, across the glittering, frozen snow
to see this vision promised long ago.
And, Lo! Behold! There were the cattle in
the moonlit barn, a huddled congregation
mangered, softly lowing like singers choired
in their stalls. Yet, I feel some cattle shared
the doubts then sprouting in my childish thought.
For some were kneeling there. And some were not.
Cori Martin’s poem captures not only the magic and innocence of childhood, but also the natural feelings of doubt that disturb a rational mind confronted with the illogic of miracles. The poem connects to modern sensibilities, and the struggle to reconcile nostalgia with practicality, doubt with faith, dreams with reality. It allows for questioning, self-expression, and acceptance of diversity. After all, not all cattle (or people) have the urge to respond in the same way. Christmas Cattle alludes to an older poem by Thomas Hardy published on Christmas Eve 1915. It also recalls an event in the poet’s childhood, and his fervent hope that the miracle could be true.
THE OXEN by Thomas Hardy (1915)
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,
“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.