Dec 28th 1861 – A Sorry Christmas

I come again – your hoary King!
My crown of ivy green and beaded holly, -
My wonted crown – behold I bring,
My wonted Christmas-Carol sing,
Wooing to joy e’en blackest melancholy:
I lift up my wassail-cup
With spiced drink mantling up –
But ah, my crown looks sore,
My Carols grate upon the ear,
My wassail-healths sound wantonness and folly.
A blight lies on the iron earth,
A dark cloud hides the lowering heaven:
‘Tis not the thought of winter-dearth
Huddled beside a fireless hearth,
Hushing its thin brood till the bread is given:
To woes and wants like these
I can bring ready ease,
With good-will and good-cheer
Can warm and raise the dying year,
But this gloom not all my mirth can leaven.
My charter among you but remembers?
I that should bless, how shall I ban?
I that the fires of love should fan,
How shall I stir to flame hate’s smouldering embers?
How dye with deeper red
The holly round my head,
How change my carol sweet
To war-cry, for my throat unmet,
How bid war’s horror wed with drear December’s?
And if good will to all, what to our brother?
Oh, may the lifted weapons fall,
And Peace’s gentle call
Pierce through the trumpets that her pleading smother?
May better thoughts ensue,
Wrong do-ers wrongs undo,
Till breaks the war cloud dun,
And burst God’s blessed winter sun,
To show to hands, disarm’d clasping each other.
- Punch.

Title:A Sorry Christmas


Publication:The Bolton Chronicle

Published in:Bolton

Date:Dec 28th 1861

Keywords:politics, poverty, war


Made up of one forty-line stanza, this piece catalogues the pain and misery of Christmas during the Lancashire Cotton Famine. The form is the favored medium for an epic. With heroic couplets sporadically interspersed throughout and a lack of stanza breaks, the form alludes to the ongoing desolation of their ‘sorry Christmas’. The poem begins satirically, with the speaker making fun of the extravagant Christmas rituals. Words such as ‘wonted’, ‘sere’ and ‘hoary’ indicate the outdatedness of such formalities, advocating a desire from the people to move forward to try and find new ways to confront the difficulties of the Cotton Famine. The negative religious imagery and the rhetorical questions such as ‘And if good will to all, what to our brother?’ emphasizes the irony of the vast inequality caused by the economic policies; representing the people of Lancashire as brothers suggests a sense of devotedness and community yet those in charge are neglecting them. The use of the rhetorical questions alludes to the speaker’s confusion. Despite Christmas usually being a time of joy and celebration, the use of martial imagery such as ‘deeper red’, ‘weapons’ and ‘war cloud’ suggests that the poet is deliberately referencing not just the military bravery of the people but the heroism of those in the face of the Lancashire Cotton Famine. The poems progression and form depicts a gradual but instantaneous mounting cry of distress and desperation as it begins with the seemingly harmless customs of lifting the ‘wassail – cup’ and singing ‘carols’ to the blood shed war imagery. The poem indeed ends with the need for reconciliation, contrasting the cacophonous ‘b’ consonants in the last rhyming couplet with the sibilance of the last line in ‘show’, ‘disarm’d’ and ‘clasping’. The call for peace is clearer than ever. Georgina Bolam, University of Exeter