Friday, December 25, 2009

`Sonnets at Christmas'

My sense is that Allen Tate, for dubious political and artistic reasons, has nearly been forgotten as a poet, critic and one-time novelist (The Fathers, a great novel). In 1934, Tate published two of his best poems, jointly titled “Sonnets at Christmas.” Here is the first:

“This is the day His hour of life draws near,
Let me get ready from head to foot for it
Most handily with eyes to pick the year
For small feed to reward a feathered wit.
Some men would see it an epiphany
At ease, at food and drink, others at chase
Yet I, stung lassitude, with ecstasy
Unspent argue the season's difficult case
So: Man, dull critter of enormous head,
What would he look at in the coiling sky?
But I must kneel again unto the Dead
While Christmas bells of paper white and red,
Figured with boys and girls spilt from a sled,
Ring out the silence I am nourished by.”

And here’s the second, a poem I successfully resolved, at age 20, to memorize:

“Ah, Christ, I love you rings to the wild sky
And I must think a little of the past:
When I was ten I told a stinking lie
That got a black boy whipped; but now at last
The going years, caught in an accurate glow,
Reverse like balls englished upon green baize
Let them return, let the round trumpets blow
The ancient crackle of the Christ's deep gaze.
Deafened and blind, with senses yet unfound,
Am I, untutored to the after-wit
Of knowledge, knowing a nightmare has no sound;
Therefore with idle hands and head I sit
In late December before the fire's daze
Punished by crimes of which I would be quit.”

Go here to read the four poems from 1942 titled “More Sonnets at Christmas.” Geoffrey Hill obviously read them attentively.

No comments: