Friday, 14 December 2012

CHRISTMAS by Sir John Betjeman

The Bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hooker's Green

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
"The Church looks nice" on Christmas Day.

Provincial public houses blaze
And Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says "Merry Christmas" to you all.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver balls and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad
And Chrismas morning bells say "Come!"  
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue
A Baby in an ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant

No love that in a family dwells
No carolling, in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare - 
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.               

NB  For those of a younger generation here is a link to a reclaimed Tortoise Stove  (we had one at the cottage we lived in as a child)


  1. It's an old poem now, and today's generation might not recognise the references [Tortoise stove? slacks?] but it is superb nonetheless.

    Thanks for posting it today xx

  2. Hi Angela

    To tell the truth I got a book from a charity shop yesterday for the princely sum of £1 which had this poem in. I had not come across it before but it struck a deep chord and I liked it; I thought perhaps others might be interested too. Thanks for the points you raise I hope the bit about the Tortoise stove I have added at the end helps clarify visually for the youngsters what this is.

    Thanks for popping by




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