The Christmas Dinner
Title:The Christmas Dinner
“The Christmas Dinner”, published in an advert for the tailoring firm Killorn and Co., is a remarkable poem; though sadly not due to the strength of its verse. The poem consists of seven four-line stanzas, which each conform to a strict ABAB rhyme scheme. The poem’s metre is also exact: lines one and three of each stanza are in iambic tetrameter, whilst two and four are exclusively iambic trimeter. This combination of simple rhyme and simple metre give the poem a plodding, even arbitrary quality, which is not helped by the poet’s weak evocation of platitudinal Christmas values: “And tenants gathered round their lord- / … / But from the groaning festive board / Was charity bestowed.” (9-12). Indeed, we might conjecture that the poem speaks more of a tired clerical pen, than that of a poet.
However, the poem’s literary short comings pale into insignificance once the poem is situated in context. In a short head piece, we learn that the poem is in praise of the Mansion House Committee, one of the charitable funds aiding destitute cotton workers, which “made a special grant of money for a dinner on Christmas Day” for all unemployed factory staff and their families. For most of the poem up until the final verse, the poet eulogizes over the ways in which such acts of charity have “Christmas joys restored.” (24). However finally, in the last verse the iniquitous project of Killorn and Co. is revealed: “amid the grateful throng / Will KILLORN’S dress appear; / And thus… / Will come true Christmas cheer.” (25-8). We see here an ugly conflation of genuine charity and capitalist opportunism. The phrasing is particularly inappropriate: the appearance of Killorn and Co.’s clothing does not simply enhance but trumps charitable relief to bring “true Christmas cheer.” In a stunning piece of advertising expediency, the poet implies that it is Killorn and Co. rather than the good deeds of the Mansion House Committee which really puts people in a festive mood. Perhaps however, we should not be surprised by such a poetic sleight of hand, as it comes directly from a society which still actively endorsed child labour.
Benedict Hughes, University of Exeter