A poem for the second Sunday of Christmas, January 2, 2022

‘Tis the season of ennui. That American season between the week before Christmas and the week after New Year’s Day. The seasonal binge of activities, food and drink. How do the faithful resist this powerful cultural vortex? For my household, almost all plans were canceled due to health concerns. Whether in my house or in others’ homes, the concern that a scratchy throat, a sneeze, or a cough may be something worse than a seasonal head cold.

Christmas Day. My wife and I woke early and walked through the village at sunrise. The village was quiet. One pickup truck passed by us; heading south. But that was all.

Edmund Spenser’s sonnet Amoretti LXVIII includes the lines: “This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin,/And grant that we for whom thou diddest die,/Being with thy dear blood clean wash’d from sin,/May live for ever in felicity.” Christmas Day was quiet and full of joy and gratitude.

I introduced the family to Gian-Carlo Menotti’s 1950 libretto “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” There was quiet resistance. It is not a Disney musical. There are no Marvel comics superheroes. The cast is spare: three kings, a disabled child, and his mother. Yet as the opera unfolded, like all good stories, the children were captivated by the narrative. They laughed. Asked questions, what is happening now? Why are they singing? Are they really kings? And at the tense, comedic, warm, pivotal moment of the libretto King Melchior sings of love alone. That may be the remedy to ennui. Quiet, persistent, patient love.

Excerpt from “Amahl and the Night Visitors”
by Gian-Carlo Menotti

The child we seek
doesn’t need our gold.
On love, on love alone he will build his kingdom.
His pierced hand will hold no scepter.
His haloed head will wear no crown.
His might will not be built on your toil.
Swifter than lightning,

he will soon walk among us.
He will bring us new life,
and receive our death,
and the keys to his city belong to the poor.

What is the first poem you read?

Poem Quote - Trees

My grandfather often recited “The Raven” to me when I was I child. I memorized portions of the poem before I was able to read it. Once I was able to read “The Raven”, I was fascinated by how different the poem looked in print compared the how I experienced the recited work. Poe became an early favorite poet to my younger self.

The very first poem I read (and enjoyed) in primary school was “My Beard” by Shel Silverstein. Later, in junior high, I read “Chartless” by Emily Dickinson and “If” by Rudyard Kipling. That poem became a constant reminder to me during difficult years in a rural country high school.

The public library in that small village where I lived during those high school days primarily carried poetry books of Robert Frost and John Greenleaf Whittier. Their poems became early favorite poets. The university library was a sacred place once I discovered Edmund Spenser and many other books of poetry.

Compared to the small village library, the university library was one of the wonders of the world to my developing mind. “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer is one of my favorite poems of all times. The first book I bought at an antiquarian bookshop had that poem in it. That anthology remains one of my treasured books.

I asked friends on social media a few weeks ago: What is the first poem you read and enjoyed? Here’s a list of some of those poems:

  • Margaret Atwood’s “You Are Happy”
  • Whitman’s “Song of Myself”
  • Edgar Alan Poe’s “The Raven”
  • “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost
  • “Snowbound” by John Greenleaf Whittier
  • “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll
  • Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”
  • “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer

This is a good selection and variety of poetry and poets. What about you? What’s your story? What is the first poem you read and enjoyed?