Welcome to day five of our Cotton Famine Christmas Countdown! To get us in the festive (sort of) spirit, we’re featuring a seasonal Cotton Famine Poem every day in the run up to our special Christmas event with Jennifer Reid on 20th December. Free tickets for the event are available here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-twelve-cotton-famine-poems-of-christmas-tickets-52954230529
With one week to go, today’s poem is ‘Christmas Comes!’, an anonymous poem published in the Burnley Free Press on December 26th 1863. The commentary is by Lindsay Warner, a student on the ‘Poetry and Politics’ module in the Department of English at the University of Exeter.
He comes! he comes! old Christmas comes,
With his rosy face, so jolly.
His locks are white, and his voice old;
But he’s wreath’d in verdant holly.
The berries of that deep green wreath,
So ruddy and endearing,
Even now, in thought, stir up the heart
With fancies bright and cheering.
’Tis true, there are some clouds o’erhead,
That mar prospective glow,
And damp the feelings Christmas brings,
’Midst bitter frost and snow;
But still he comes – the stalwart comes,
As he has done of yore,
Into the hearts of all mankind,
Affection’s joys to pour.
Then let us now begin to plan
Some method in our greeting,
That this year’s woes may be review’d
At every social meeting.
Distress is rife, and coming months
Will make it more severe;
Christmas will, to some poor men,
Be comfortless and drear.
Then let us view with chasten’d eyes
The various stores of food
This festive season always brings,
However rare and good;
For all superfluous things should be
Ignored for this one year,
The cost of which – a large amount –
Would starving Christmas cheer.
These four 8-line stanzas, each with a rhyme scheme of ABCBDEFE, contrast the “bright and cheering” festive spirit of the Christmas holiday to the “distress” people feel through the rest of the year. These oppositions that are separated into the first and second stanzas respectively collide in the final two stanzas, where the “chasten’d eyes” force a re-examination of the “rare” feast that the “festive season always brings”. The narrator enacts a reprimand for those who focus on the negatives during the holidays when there are others who are struggling more than them. Those fortunate enough to have a Christmas feast are told to ignore its extravagance because the joy of one Christmas banquet is enough to tackle the struggles the rest of the year brings.
This sense of joy is furthered through the personification of Christmas. The poem opens with “He comes! he comes!”, which changes from the title’s proper noun “Christmas” to the personal pronoun “he”; the first stanza then goes on to physically describe this “he”. By embodying Christmas in a human entity, the poet allows readers to view the holiday as akin to an old friend always there to lift their spirits, despite the barriers of “bitter frost and snow”. This therefore depicts Christmas as being loyal and reliable companion even through winters blighted by the Cotton Famine.
Lindsay Warner, University of Exeter.