a charm for Advent


This afternoon, packing a box of presents to send to the family not coming this Christmas. (They’ll come in February though…) It always takes a long time to select and wrap. I want the packages to carry everything with them — the love I feel for the recipients, keepsakes from home (in the form of cedar boughs and salal branches), the old favourite treats (gingerbread boys and buttercrunch), knotted ribbons to measure the years. I love the month leading up to Christmas. Not the canned music necessarily, playing too early and too loud in the stores, but the cold readiness in the air, as though to say, Yes, light candles, bring in evergreens to keep away the ice, put another log on the fire. Put on the real music — the Chieftains’ Bells of Dublin, Bach, Emmylou Harris. It’s hard to keep the season in the way you believe it should be and maybe it’s a little easier living where we live. The snow on the mountain behind us, dropping lower each day, the burgundy and dark green coho salmon in the nearby creek, the quick buzz and lively movement of chickadees when I fill their feeder these early December mornings — these are the harbingers of Christmas for me. And as much as I wish I could put these packages under the tree and watch this family open them on December 25th, that will happen another year. And we will have others with us — a grandson new to the holiday (last Christmas he was just two months old), his parents, his aunt.

So a poem to mark the day, the season, a charm to acknowledge what we love and regret in the Advent-darkened room as the sun, which barely rose today, vanishes early over the Strait of Georgia.


We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child’s soul, we’ll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.

And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.

O after Christmas we’ll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
We’ll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we’ll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and
God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God’s breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-
And Christ comes with a January flower.

–Patrick Kavanagh

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