Patrick Kavanagh’s “A Christmas Childhood” was born out of loneliness and solitude. The County Monaghan poet penned this poem having spent a Christmas season alone in his flat in Dublin. The poem is filled with nostalgia for rural, farming, family life. His memories comes to us through Christian imagery from the story of the birth of Jesus.
One side of the potato-pits was white with frost – How wonderful that was, how wonderful! And when we put our ears to the paling-post The music that came out was magical.
The light between the ricks of hay and straw Was a hole in Heaven’s gable. An apple tree With its December-glinting fruit we saw – O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me.
To eat the knowledge that grew in clay And death the germ within it! Now and then I can remember something of the gay Garden that was childhood’s. Again.
The tracks of cattle to a drinking-place, A green stone lying sideways in a ditch, Or any common sight, the transfigured face Of a beauty that the world did not touch.
My father played the melodion Outside at our gate; There were stars in the morning east And they danced to his music.
Across the wild bogs his melodion called To Lennons and Callans. As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry I knew some strange thing had happened.
Outside in the cow-house my mother Made the music of milking; The light of her stable-lamp was a star And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.
A water-hen screeched in the bog, Mass-going feet Crunched the wafer-ice on the pot-holes, Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.
My child poet picked out the letters On the grey stone, In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland, The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.
Cassiopeia was over Cassidy’s hanging hill, I looked and three whin bushes rode across The horizon — the Three Wise Kings.
And old man passing said: ‘Can’t he make it talk – The melodion.’ I hid in the doorway And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.
I nicked six nicks on the door-post With my penknife’s big blade – there was a little one for cutting tobacco. And I was six Christmases of age.
My father played the melodion, My mother milked the cows, And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.