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A Poem for Christmas Eve: Thomas Hardy, “The Oxen”

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Hardy Oxen Winter heat

Here it is, another year, Christmas Eve: an evening full of wonder and hope for children everywhere. The speaker here in one of Thomas Hardy’s most famous poems is an adult looking back to a childhood Christmas Eve experience, to the telling of an old folk belief that on the night before Christmas the oxen in the stable always bow in reverence for the birth of the Christ child in a manger long ago. When he first heard the old tale the speaker believed as a child would. Now, years later all has changed, but he longs for the simple innocence of childhood Christmas.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

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.

oxen kneeling woodcut trim

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