Thomas Hardy

(2 June 1840 – 11 January 1928 / Dorchester / England)

The Oxen



Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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  • Bryan Baker (3/6/2012 9:00:00 PM)

    Mr Fogerty has completely misread this poem. The legend of oxen kneeling before the Christ child on that first Christmas eve and continuing the practice down through the ages is precisely what appeals to Hardy. He believed the legend when a child and would dearly love to have it confirmed as an adult by a walk to the lonely barton where he grew up. The legend for Hardy is the poetry in Christianity, the thing that makes it real for him, that makes it live and breathe. Sweep that aside and all that remains are a few dry details that have come down to us from two thousand years ago that may or may not be true. (Report) Reply

  • Jon Fogerty (11/24/2009 2:02:00 PM)

    So much of what is written about Christmas is idealised, coloured by the myths and sentimental accretions of two thousand years of Christianity and commercialism. Yet here, in four short stanzas, Hardy cuts through all of the cant and, yes, bunkum, that we accept unquestioningly as part of the Christmas package, or experience.
    In the first stanza we witness the passing on of the Christmas myths from old to young: elders speaking to children of the oxen kneeling at Bethlehem.
    In stanza two the unquestioning acceptance by the young 'nor did it occur to one of us there/ to doubt they were kneeling then.'
    Then the ruefulness of stanza three, the realisation that maybe it was all a pleasant fiction.
    Then, in the final stanza, the reluctance to accept that what the 'elders' had told of the oxen was a 'fancy', simple self-deception.
    And finally, the way in which myth can overpower reality, the desire to cling on to the deceptions that were fed to one in childhood, a desire that would make one 'run through the gloom/ hoping it might be so.'
    Myths, and the self-deception born of myths, are difficult to cast aside.
    Once again Hardy has written a near perfect poem, certainly one of the most realistic and honest poems ever written about Christmas and the way in which myths are passed on from old to young and the difficulty in breaking free of their grip.. (Report) Reply

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