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Celtic & Irish Poetry for Christmas and Wintertime

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To Warm Your Winter's Night.

Please enjoy our selection of Celtic Christmas poetry and verse in celebration of Celtic mid-Winter traditions and customs.

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CELTIC CHRISTMAS POETRY

"The Magic of Christmas lingers on thought childhood days have passed

upon the common round of life, a holy spell is cast...."

Reflections On a Scottish Christmas by Johnny Cunningham

(more on Scotland and the Christmas Season)

The dark of winter wraps around us tight.
The lamps are fired, and flickering light
beats time to the fiddle as notes float softly down, like the years' first snow.
While outside the window a blast of late December wind
whistles harmony to the drone of the pipes.
We push the old year back against the wall
so we can dance a jig for Christmas and welcome in the new

Christmas Eve by Ruth and Celia Duffin

A cup of milk

And a wheaten-cake,

And a spark of fire

For the Travellers’ sake.

A door on the latch,

A light in the pane,

Lest the Travellers’ pass

In the wind and rain.

For food and fire

And candlelight

The Travellers’ blessing

On us this night

Escape, 1929

A Leaf From The Tree of Songs

By Adam Christianson

When harpers once in wooden hall
A shining chord would strike
Their songs like arrows pierced the soul
Of great and low alike

Aglow by hearth and candleflame
From burning branch ot ember
The mist of all their music sang
As if to ask in wonder

Is there a moment quite as keen
Or memory as bright
As light and fire and music (sweet)
To warm the winter's night?

I have news for you

(9th century Irish)

I have news for you:
The stag bells, winter snows, summer has gone
Wind high and cold, the sun low, short its course
The sea running high.
Deep red the bracken; its shape is lost;
The wild goose has raised its accustomed cry,
cold has seized the birds' wings;
season of ice, this is my news

The Darkest Midnight

(from the Kilmore Carols)

The darkest midnight in December
No snow nor hail nor winter storm
Shall hinder us for to remember
The Babe that on this night was born.
With shepherds, we are come to see
This lovely Infant's glorious charms.
Born of a Maid, as the prophet said,
The God of love in Mary's arms.

Ye blessed angels join our voices
Let your gilded wings beat fluttering o'er
While every sould set free rejoices
And everyone now must adore.
We'll sing and pray that he always may
Good people one and all defend
God grant us grace in all our days
A merry Christmas and a happy end.

The Olde Year Now Away is Fled

(sung to Greensleeves) 13th Century English
Translation By Lawrence Rosenwald

The olde year now away is fled,
The new year it is entered
Then let us now our sins downtread
And joyfully all appear
Let's be merry this holiday
And let us run with sport and play
Han sorrow, let's cast care away -
God send you a happy new year

Come, give us more liquor when I do call
I'll drink to each one in this hall
I hope that so loud I must not bawl
But unto me lend me an ear
Good fortune to my master send
And to my dame which is our friend
God bless us all, and so I end
And God send us a happy new year

The Wren Song

(sung on St Stephen's Day, Dec. 26th)

The Wren, the Wren the king of all birds,
St. Stephenses day, he was caught in the furze.
Although he is little, his honor is great,
Rise up, kind sir, and give us a trate.


We followed this Wren ten miles or more
Through hedges and ditches and heaps of snow,
We up with our wattles and gave him a fall
And brought him here to show you all.


For we are the boys that came your way
To bury the Wren on Saint Stephenses Day,
So up with the kettle and down with the pan!
Give us some help for to bury the Wren!

Winter by Tommy Makem

WINTER, a sharp bitter day
the robin turns plump against the cold
the sun is week
silver faded from gold
he is late in his coming and short in his stay
Man, beast, bird and air all purging, all cleansing,
earth already purified awaits the rite of spring
Her bridal gown a virgin snow and frosts in her hair
A snowdrop by the road today bowed gracefully
and high upon the wing up in the sparkling nothingness,
a lone bird began to sing
Can gentle spring be far away?

A Childhood Christmas

by Patrick Kavanagh (1905-67)

I

One side of the potato-pits was white with frost-
How wonderful that was, how wonderful
And when we put our ears to the paling-post
The music that came out was magical
The light between the ricks of hay and straw
Was a hole in Heaven's gable. An apple tree
With its December-glinting fruit we saw-
O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me
To eat the knowledge that grew in clay
And death the germ within it! Now and then
I can remember something of the gay
Garden that was childhoods. Again
The tracks of Cattle to a drinking-place,
A green stone lying sideways in a ditch
Or any common sight the transfigured face
Of a beauty that the world did not touch.

II

My father played the melodeon
Outside at our gate
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.
Across the wild bogs his melodeon called
To Lennons and Callans.
As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry
I knew some strange thing had happened.
Outside in the cow-house my mother
Made the music of milking;
The light of her stable-lamp was a star
And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.
A water-hen screeched in the bog,
Mass-going feet
Crunched the wafer-ice on the pot-holes,
Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.
My child poet picked out the letters
On the grey stone,
In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,
The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.
Cassiopeia was over
Cassidy's hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon-the Three Wise Kings.
An old man passing said:
'Can't he make it talk' -
The melodeon. I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.
I nicked six nicks on the door-post
With my penknife's big blade-

There was a little one for cutting tobacco.
And I was six Christmases of age.
My father played the melodeon,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary's blouse.

AN OLD MAN'S WINTER NIGHT by Robert Frost

All out of doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him -- at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping there, he scared it once again
In clomping off; -- and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon, such as she was,
So late-arising, to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man -- one man -- can't keep a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It's thus he does it of a winter night.

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