MERRY CHRISTMAS EVE.
BY GERALD MASSEY.
Title:Merry Christmas Eve
Publication:The Blackburn Times
Date:December 26, 1863
Keywords:politics, poverty, religion, slavery
Newspapers like the Blackburn Times often reprinted poems from earlier collections, as they have done here with Gerald Massey’s ‘Merry Christmas Eve’. This is one of Massey’s earliest poems, originally published in 1850 as ‘’Twas Christmas Eve.’ Nonetheless, the poem feels relevant to the circumstances of the Cotton Famine because of its discussion of poverty and social injustice. In alternate stanzas, Gerald Massey paints contrasting pictures of Christmas Eve in rich and poor households respectively. Though it is not an abolitionist poem, slavery is evoked as a metaphor for the condition of the working classes, and its repeated mention may well have felt significant in the 1860s given the context of the American Civil War. Unlike many of the Christmas poems we have featured, ‘Merry Christmas Eve’ does not contrast wealth and poverty in a call for charity, but rather to inspire political action among the working classes with the rousing final lines: “Be stirring, O people, your scroll is unfolden, / And bright be the deeds ye emblazon within.”
For anyone interested in Massey’s life and work, and in Victorian working-class writers more generally, we highly recommend Ian Petticrew’s excellent website. http://gerald-massey.org.uk/
- Dr Ruth Mather, University of Exeter.