The National Library in Dublin has a wonderful exhibit on the Irish poet W.B. Yeats that is definitely worth taking a look at. At the entrance, visitors are invited to list their favorite poem. I’m sure some people wrote the name of one of Yeats’ poems, as he and his poems are much loved in Ireland and across the world.
I wrote “This Is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams, which has long been my favorite poem.
Around this time of year, the sounds of the season are constantly playing in my house and car; Celtic Woman, Straight No Chaser, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and many others are regulars in my playlist. I love Christmas music, and my very favorite album is the sadly-rather-obscure John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together.
We had this album on vinyl when I was a kid, and I learned to use the record player just to be able to play it. It has some darling versions of classic Christmas songs:
The Twelve Days of Christmas (BA DUM BUM BUM)
Little Saint Nick by Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem (RUN RUN REINDEER)
We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Piggy pudding?!?)
Silent Night in both German and English, with a brief history of the song
There are also wonderful original songs, most of which I’ve never heard covered by anyone else, which is a shame:
The Peace Carol (beautiful flute part)
When the River Meets the Sea (more beautiful flute)
A Baby Just Like You (can you tell I play flute?)
Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913
This last one is my favorite track on the album. It is a solo by John Denver–no Muppets, therefore less interesting to me as a kid. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found it to be one of the most meaningful Christmas songs I know. The lyrics are adapted from a poem of the same name by Robert Bridges (which is now in the public domain).
Noel: Christmas Eve 1913
Robert Bridges, 1844 – 1930
Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis
A frosty Christmas Eve
when the stars were shining
Fared I forth alone
where westward falls the hill,
And from many a village
in the water’d valley
Distant music reach’d me
peals of bells aringing:
The constellated sounds
ran sprinkling on earth’s floor
As the dark vault above
with stars was spangled o’er.
Then sped my thoughts to keep
that first Christmas of all
When the shepherds watching
by their folds ere the dawn
Heard music in the fields
and marveling could not tell
Whether it were angels
or the bright stars singing.
Now blessed be the tow’rs
that crown England so fair
That stand up strong in prayer
unto God for our souls
Blessed be their founders
(said I) an’ our country folk
Who are ringing for Christ
in the belfries to-night
With arms lifted to clutch
the rattling ropes that race
Into the dark above
and the mad romping din.
But to me heard afar
it was starry music
Angels’ song, comforting
as the comfort of Christ
When he spake tenderly
to his sorrowful flock:
The old words came to me
by the riches of time
Mellow’d and transfigured
as I stood on the hill
Heark’ning in the aspect
of th’ eternal silence.
A frosty Christmas Eve, when the stars where shining
I traveled forth alone, where westward falls the hill
And for many, many a village, in the darkness of the valley
Distant music reached me, peals of bells were ringing.
Then spread my thoughts to olden times, to that first of Christmases
When shepherds who were watching, heard music in the fields
And they sat there and they marveled, and they knew they could not tell
Whether it were angels, or the bright stars a-singing
But to me heard a far, it was starry music
The singing of the angels, the comfort of our Lord
Words of old that come a traveling, by the riches of the times
And I softly listened, as I stood upon the hill
And I softly listened, as I stood upon the hill
Because you probably just skipped reading that wall of text, I’ll sum up. The narrator is out walking and hears the church bells ringing for Christmas. The music, seeming to come from the sky, reminds him of how the angels appeared singing to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. He feels their words (Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis = peace to men of goodwill) speaking to him through the Christmas bells.
It’s a beautiful sentiment, and one that gets at the heart of the Christmas season. It’s a time to pause and appreciate what we have, the beauty of nature and humanity, and let peace fill out hearts, even at the darkest time of year.
So to all you people of goodwill, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I wish you peace–now and throughout the year to come.
I’m falling asleep to songs about hips and hearts,
and dreaming of your smooth skin.
And I’m so sick of going out alone
and wasting money on my mobile phone
Because you’re here
and I’m there
and it’s 38 days ‘til home.
And it’s Sunday night
and you’re begging “Never again, never again, no,”
and all I can say is “I’m sorry.”
Te echo de menos, but you wouldn’t understand.
Just say, “I miss you, too.”
I couldn’t find my printed copy of this poem, but it was published in Confiscated, my college literary magazine, in 2007. I wrote it in fall 2006 when I spent a semester abroad in Spain, mainly in Salamanca. It was a wonderful experience, but I missed my boyfriend (now husband) a lot. I was feeling quite lonely in a hotel room in Santander (with ugly decor in harvest gold…) and started writing this about it.
It’s actually a song, as most of my poems are. I was listening to Fall Out Boy’s album FromUnder the Cork Tree on repeat at the time (“songs about hips and hearts”), and not only did it get me through that semester emotionally, it inspired me to start writing songs again. When I submitted this to my lit mag, even though I removed my real name, one of the other editors immediately knew it was mine and picked up the FOB reference.
Te echo de menos obviously means I miss you in Spanish. My husband does not speak any Spanish haha.
This piece was written for a class on poetry writing, and it’s the only thing I wrote for that class that I actually like. As an exercise in ekphrastic poetry, we were given postcards with works of art on them to inspire us; I can’t find the exact one I had, but mine looked very similar to the top image. Artist Ernest Lawson did many paintings of the area around Inwood.
I wrote this piece almost all at once very quickly, while sitting in the music building on campus. I might have been waiting for a flute lesson or rehearsal. It’s actually a song, which is true of many of my poems. I had been struggling in the poetry class for a while (I found the prof pretentious, and all the other students were lit majors), but once I started writing it as a song, this one just seemed to click for me.
When I met with the prof to revise this poem (which was the only thing I wrote that he remotely liked, either), he made some suggestions and I dutifully made corrections and handed it in. Then I published the original in the literary magazine, because the corrections ruined the rhythm of the song.
I ended up with a B in the class, which hurt my GPA. It’s the only college course I regret taking. I honestly haven’t written much poetry since.
If I were to publish this again today, I’d rearrange some of the stanzas, swapping the 2nd halves of the choruses so it ends with “You wonder why you’re lonely here…” instead of “They tell you…” and also swapping the second verse stanzas so “Let me see those bright eyes” comes first.