(Original.) Christmas, 1861.

Lo! saintly Christmas looketh in
At many a cottage casement,
And seeth the consequence of sin,
Its curse and its defacement;
Seeth how man’s fratricidal strife
Lays prostrate many an innocent life
In ruin and abasement.
Seeth Famine sitting at our gates,
Amid despair and squalor –
Famine, whose swift arm subjugates
The loftiest mortal valor;
Seeth women weep at children’s wail;
Cheeks, that ne’er blanch’d with fear, grow pale
With hunger’s ghastly pallor.
Seeth waters where vast fleets did ply
With scarce a pennant trailing;
Seeth the great stables that supply
The wealth of empires, failing;
Seeth war stretch forth his cruel hands,
Binding God’s gifts in iron bands,
For which our poor are wailing.
* * * *
So holy Christmas cometh in,
With his sublime tradition
Of love and charity – sisters twin –
With his benignant mission
Of peace and goodwill to a world
That hate and strife had well-nigh hurl’d
To nethermost perdition.
And so we welcome the high guest –
The ancient sire and hoary –
With greetings loud, while, for the rest,
We laugh to scorn his story:
The voice through Christmas skies that rang,
And “epi ges eirene” sang,
We answer with the dissonant clang
Of arms, in conflict gory.
Oh! Earth, sole wanderer ‘mong the spheres,
Sad chronicles thou carvest!
When shall this rain of bloody tears
Bring wisdom’s golden harvest?
And who shall slay THEN, sprite abhor’d!
The human image of the Lord
That hew’st in pieces with the sword,
Or by gaunt famine starvest?
But let all charity of ours,
In crisis so portentous,
Be speedy, lest the storm which lowers
Should burst, and should prevent us;
And let our bounty be not slack
To seek and succor all who lack;
Like faithful stewards yield we back
The talents God hath lent us.
And while defiance comes and goes
Across the fierce Atlantic;
While the war spirit daily grows
More reckless and more frantic;
Let thoughtful men repeat the prayer –
Ere yet our British arms we bare
For struggle so gigantic –
That war’s unhallowed pageantries
May not our hearts [enamour] ;
That truth may dissipate from our eyes
Passions distorting glamor;
So at the last, on either shore,
Wisdom’s calm voice shall triumph o’er
The angry voice of clamor.
Meantime we nerve our English hearts
The blackest day betiding
To meet, all acting manly parts,
In confidence abiding
That, if we smite but for the right,
The world shall see, and hail the sight,
Our arms prevailing in the fight,
Our fleets triumphant riding.
So take we white-hair’d Christmas in,
Our wonted acclamations
Subdued by suffering and by sin;
With ardent invocations
That, when the new year waxeth old,
Christmas, returning may behold
Peace among the nations.
Blackburn, Dec. 19th, 1861. W.A.ABRAM.

Title:Christmas, 1861

Author:W. A. Abram

Publication:The Blackburn Times

Published in:Blackburn

Date:Dec 21st, 1861

Keywords:cotton, poverty, religion, war


This is quite a long poem at 77 lines, and is composed of eleven seven line stanzas. This uneven amount of lines makes for quite an unusual rhyme scheme of ABABCCB, with the ‘B’ rhymes typically consisting of multisyllabic ‘feminine rhymes’ in each stanza. This extra syllable extends a broad ballad rhythm, though there are several metric variations within the poem. The diction here is decidedly formal, with deliberate archaisms intended to emphasise the seriousness of the subject.

Christmas by the 1860s had become very much the cultural and commercial phenomenon we are familiar with today, in no small part due to the influence of Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1843). These dark takes on the Christmas theme were not exclusive to that story or the poetry of the Cotton Famine, and indeed subjects of poverty and hunger often attended seasonal narratives and verse in the Victorian imagination. Written near the beginning of the American war, this poem contains fascinating early commentary on the conflict’s effects on the region, but it also incorporates traditional seasonal themes of renewal and hope. – SR