Friday, December 14, 2018

Poetry Friday - Patrick Kavanagh's Childhood Christmas

It's been a long time since I posted here at The Drift Record, spending most of my blog-time over at Books Around the Table  ( my most recent post over there: all about a gingerbread house contest! ) But today, rather late in the day, I want to share a poem by the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh. As usual, I'm posting a poem I wish I had written - this one, in particular, has such sweetness behind it, such open joy, it's not ashamed to be nostalgic, to talk about lost innocence. But it's also not afraid to go a little dark.  Hope you enjoy it. If you scroll down all the way, you'll see a link to the Wikipedia page about him - his formal education stopped in the fifth grade! - but for The Drift Record, I just want the poem to say its piece.  Wishing you all Happy Holidays and a fulfilling new year - 2019!

A Christmas Childhood
by Patrick Kavanagh


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 childhood’s. 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.


My father played the melodion
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.
Across the wild bogs his melodion 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.
And old man passing said:
‘Can’t he make it talk –
The melodion.’ 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 melodion,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.

[From Collected Poems (2004). Edited by Antoinette Quinn, Allen Lane. An imprint of Penguin Books.]
 Patrick Kavanagh
He looks like someone who could give us a good poem at the local pub, doesn't he?

 Click here for a link to Kavanagh's biography at Wikileaks. Click here to go to Books Around the TAble and read about those gingerbread houses. And click here to head over to Laura Shovan's blog, where you can read what other people have posted for Poetry Friday.