A Christmas Garland is a sequence of linked sonnets written across Christmas 2014-15. It is a garland because the last and the first sonnets are linked.
I – 25 December
Were there reporters clumped, but each alone,
pronouncing felted fragments as the news,
each nagging passing staff for interviews
then standing solemn with the microphone;
who knew that on the hour they had to hone
their flakes of dull to crisply-angled news
(that need not be correct but must amuse)
on when there’d be a child born for the throne?
The stones gave up the day-light’s stolen heat,
the air grew chill, the shepherds huddled tight
spread cloaks to cover up their sandalled feet,
but fell, half-stunned, by flares of sudden light.
Then, chilled once more by fear, the shepherds heard
the proclamation of the incarnate word.
II – 26 December
The proclamation of the incarnate word,
if it had been for me to organise,
I would have had a myriad angels rise
on wings out-glowing every gaudy bird.
In temple, fort and palace they’d be heard.
They’d hover over Caesar and advise
the worship of the one, the true, the wise.
My plan as foolish as it is absurd.
There was an angel sudden in the room
and Mary was astonished, but believed.
Her hands clenched on the shuttle of the loom
as Gabriel announced who was conceived.
She loosed her grip and, held by wondering joy,
she took the gift of world-redeeming boy.
III – 27 December
She took the gift of world-redeeming boy
and sought Elizabeth and Zechariah
(now six months dumb because of angels ire).
Her cousin’s infant prophet leapt for joy,
within her womb his gift had found employ
as ripples of the spirit stirred his fire.
The quickening made Elizabeth enquire:
what was this that her baby could enjoy?
How much did Mary understand that day,
the rending implications of her part?
Had she a hint of her messiah’s way,
of how the spirit’s gift would hurt her heart?
Would she have made the identical decision
if she had known the outcome of submission?
IV – 28 December
If she had known the outcome of submission
and acted on that knowledge and withdrawn
consent, what would have happened to that dawn
of glory and to Gabriel’s commission?
Was all contingent on the angel’s mission?
Was there a chance no saviour would be born
and humankind left hopeless and forlorn,
in unredeemed and separate condition?
But she did not reject the proffered gift:
she grasped the long-prepared belief
and by her acquiescence made a shift
from condemnation to our sin’s relief;
a move, a step, a stride towards the light
with happy prospect of a holy night.
V – 29 December
With happy prospect of a holy night
the shepherds watch the glistening angels glide
away then slither down the mountainside
and through the sleeping streets to get a sight
of their true ruler and the world’s new light.
Yet in their minds two different thoughts collide;
the infant and messiah must elide
and merge to form the ever-living wight.
The angels’ music swirls within their ears
and coils around the song Isaiah sang,
the promise Israel pondered through the years.
They dimly sense that somehow they belong
within the song, within the royal story,
and, like the angels, they have hope of glory.
VI – 30 December
And like the angels they have hope of glory,
however dimly glory’s understood:
the hope the child will live for Israel’s good,
and living bring completion to the story,
(that’s only half-believed, so old and hoary),
begun when God and Abraham both stood
outside his leathern house by Mamre’s wood
and gazed at countless stars in heaven’s storey.
Since then the promise found itself compressed
by heavy circumstance, until at last
it seemed that only Israel could be blessed.
But with the Bethlehem birth it’s all recast:
Salvation spreads like ripples on a lake,
So now the new messiah’s ours to take.
VII – 31 December
‘So now the new messiah’s ours to take’,
thought Joseph as he paid out with delight
two turtle doves for Mary’s cleansing rite.
He joins his waiting wife and son; they make
a rough line for the gate but have to brake,
an old man blocks the path, his eyes alight.
‘Oh Lord let me depart now I’ve had sight
of your salvation, let the world awake.’
The old man studies Mary, then he sighs.
‘This child,’ he said, ‘is going to be a sign,
to mark the fall of many and the rise
of many others but you must resign
yourself to take a sword thrust through your heart.’
The only answer was ‘I’ll play my part.’
VIII – 1 January
Her only answer was “I’ll play my part.
The Lord he launched salvation years ago
the ship has sailed to far to have my ‘no’
deflect its course. And ‘yes’, a mother’s heart
is all times open to the dark world’s dart
whatever child she bore? A child will grow,
will try the world to finish high or low;
so how can I say ‘stop’ when he says ‘start’?”
She clutch her infant tightly in her cloak
then kissed him, stroked the fine down on his face.
Her boy was safe and she would not provoke
the future, but protect him in a place
of blessing, safe from every threat or fear.
The infant grew with every passing year.
IX – 2 January
The infant grew with every passing year.
His mother tends and nurtures, cares and feeds,
providing all a growing infant needs.
The seasons roll, he crawls, he walks: her dear
makes sounds for mother, father, which come clear
as month turns into month. A year recedes,
the boy laps up the stories of God’s deeds.
He helps his father with the wood. He’s near.
Has Mary quite forgotten all she heard
from magi, angels, shepherds, Gabriel?
Has filled-up life wiped out what had occurred,
and has the old man’s warning gone as well?
Or does she sometimes pause, rethink the day
The retinue of magi found their way.
X – 3 January
The retinue of magi found their way
from Babylon or Susa: we don’t know
what they saw in the star that made them go,
although the ever-easy course was stay
to watch the stars, interpret what they say,
pass on the news to others; let the flow
of action carry others, just lie low.
What did they see that made them ride away?
Did Daniel, magus-head of Babylon
bequeath the college some of what he heard,
so that the sacred knowledge would live on,
in preparation for the infant word.
And if not Daniel, then some hidden spur:
they brought their gifts of frankincense and myrrh.
XI – 4 January
They brought the gifts of frankincense and myrrh
and rode uncertain down the village street
unsure of who it was they had to meet,
and when they met, just how it should occur,
what protocols they had to follow, were
they to find the greatest king. They greet
a man with adze in hand and sawdust feet,
no trace of silver, satin, silk or fur.
And somehow, inexplicably, the star
which they have followed over desert miles,
points out or signs that this is where they are
supposed to be. They ask the man, he smiles
and leads them home, to find a little boy.
Their tears come first, drawn by relief and joy.
XII – 5 January
Their tears come first, drawn by relief and joy,
and then the questions: ‘what if this is wrong?
You seem, beg pardon, poor.’ ‘The angel song,
that drew the shepherds to the new-born boy
and Gabriel’s announcement?’ They deploy
the royal, priestly gifts borne for so long
and kneeling worship with the angel throng.
What other can they do except enjoy?
Jerusalem runs rumour like a cold:
a king, legitimate, of David’s line?
The tyrant sends militias in; they’re told
to cull the toddlers. Outwardly, all’s fine.
Was Herod waiting by the telephone?
Were there reporters clumped, but each alone?
(c) Huw Evans 2015. No reproduction without permission.