Our favourite Christmas poems

14 December 2016

For us poetry is as much a part of the festive season as mince pies and carols. We've chosen a few of our favourite Christmas poems, perfect for reading by the fire on December 25th. 
 
King John’s Christmas
A. A. Milne 
 
King John was not a good man —
   He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
   For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
   When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air —
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
   Blushing beneath his crown.
 
King John was not a good man,
   And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon…
   But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
   The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And fortune in the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
   But only from himself.
 
King John was not a good man,
   Yet had his hopes and fears.
They’d given him no present now
   For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
   While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
   A hopeful stocking out.
 
King John was not a good man,
   He lived his live aloof;
Alone he thought a message out
   While climbing up the roof.
He wrote it down and propped it
   Against the chimney stack:
'TO ALL AND SUNDRY – NEAR AND FAR –
F. Christmas in particular.'
And signed it not 'Johannes R.'
   But very humbly, 'Jack.'
 
'I want some crackers,
   And I want some candy;
I think a box of chocolates
   Would come in handy;
I don’t mind oranges,
   I do like nuts!
And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife
That really cuts.
And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
   Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!'
 
King John was not a good man —
   He wrote this message out,
And gat him to this room again,
   Descending by the spout.
And all that night he lay there,
   A prey to hopes and fears.
   'I think that’s him a-coming now!'
   (Anxiety bedewed his brow.)
   'He’ll bring one present, anyhow —
   The first I had for years.'
 
'Forget about the crackers,
   And forget the candy;
I’m sure a box of chocolates
   Would never come in handy;
I don’t like oranges,
   I don’t want nuts,
And I HAVE got a pocket-knife
   That almost cuts.
But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!'
 
King John was not a good man,
   Next morning when the sun
Rose up to tell a waiting world
   That Christmas had begun,
And people seized their stockings,
   And opened them with glee,
And crackers, toys and games appeared,
And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,
King John said grimly: 'As I feared,
   Nothing again for me!'
 
'I did want crackers,
   And I did want candy;
I know a box of chocolates
   Would come in handy;
I do love oranges,
   I did want nuts!
I haven't got a pocket-knife —
   Not one that cuts.
And, oh! if Father Christmas, had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red,
india-rubber ball!'
 
King John stood by the window,
   And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
   All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
   And envying them all …
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
   An india-rubber ball!
 
AND, OH, FATHER CHRISTMAS,
MY BLESSINGS ON YOU FALL
FOR BRINGING HIM
A BIG, RED,
INDIA-RUBBER
BALL!
 
 
 
A Visit from St. Nicholas
Clement Clarke Moore
 
’Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads,
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;
“To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys — and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
'Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.'
 
 

Talking Turkeys
Benjamin Zephaniah

Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas
Cos’ turkeys just wanna hav fun
Turkeys are cool, turkeys are wicked
An every turkey has a Mum.
Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas,
Don’t eat it, keep it alive,
It could be yu mate, an not on yu plate
Say, Yo! Turkey I’m on your side. 

I got lots of friends who are turkeys
An all of dem fear christmas time,
Dey wanna enjoy it, dey say humans destroyed it
An humans are out of dere mind,
Yeah, I got lots of friends who are turkeys
Dey all hav a right to a life,
Not to be caged up an genetically made up
By any farmer an his wife. 

Turkeys just wanna play reggae
Turkeys just wanna hip-hop
Can yu imagine a nice young turkey saying,
‘I cannot wait for de chop’,
Turkeys like getting presents, dey wanna watch
   christmas TV,
Turkeys hav brains an turkeys feel pain
In many ways like yu an me. 

I once knew a turkey called
Turkey
He said ‘Benji explain to me please,
Who put de turkey in christmas
An what happens to christmas trees?’,
I said ‘I am not too sure turkey
But it’s nothing to do wid Christ Mass
Humans get greedy an waste more dan need be
An business men mek loadsa cash’.

Be nice to yu turkey dis christmas
Invite dem indoors fe sum greens
Let dem eat cake an let dem partake
In a plate of organic grown beans,
Be nice to yu turkey dis christmas
An spare dem de cut of de knife,
Join Turkeys United an dey’ll be delighted
An yu will mek new friends ‘FOR LIFE’. 

From A Poem for Every Night of the Year.

 

The Crying Need for Snow
Clive James

It’s cold without the softness of a fall
Of snow to give these scenes a common bond
And though, besotted on a viewless rime,
The ducks can do their standing-on-the-pond
Routine that leaves you howling, all in all
We need some snow to hush the whole thing up.

The ducks can do their flatfoot-waterfool
Mad act that leaves you helpless, but in fine
We need their footprints in a higher field
Made pure powder, need their wig-wag line
Of little kites pressed in around the pool:
An afternoon of snow should cover that.

Some crystalline precipitate should throw
Its multifarious weightlessness around
For half a day and paint the whole place out,
Bring back a soft regime to bitter ground:
An instant plebiscite would vote for snow
So overwhelmingly if we could call it now.

An afternoon of snow should cover that
Milk-bottle neck bolt upright in the slime
Fast frozen at the pond’s edge, brutal there:
We need to see junk muffled, whitewashed grime,
Lean brittle ice grown comfortably fat,
A world prepared to take our footprints in.

A world prepared to take our footprints in
Needs painting out, needs be a finer field:
So overwhelmingly, if we could call it now,
The fluffy stuff would prime it: it would yield
To lightest step, be webbed and toed and heeled,
Pushed flat, smoothed off, heaped high, pinched anyhow,
Yet be inviolable. Put like that,
Gently, the cold makes sense. Snow links things up.

 

little tree
e.e  cummings
 
little tree 
little silent Christmas tree 
you are so little 
you are more like a flower 
 
who found you in the green forest 
and were you very sorry to come away? 
see          i will comfort you 
because you smell so sweetly 
 
i will kiss your cool bark 
and hug you safe and tight 
just as your mother would, 
only don't be afraid 
 
look          the spangles 
that sleep all the year in a dark box 
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine, 
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads, 
 
put up your little arms 
and i'll give them all to you to hold 
every finger shall have its ring 
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy 
 
then when you're quite dressed 
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see 
and how they'll stare! 
oh but you'll be very proud 
 
and my little sister and i will take hands 
and looking up at our beautiful tree 
we'll dance and sing 
'Noel Noel'

 

From Read Me 2: A Poem For Every Day of the Year

 
In the Bleak Midwinter
Christina Rossetti
 
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
 
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
 
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
 
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
 
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
 

The Twelve Days of Christmas
Anon.

On the first day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the third day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree. 

On the fifth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree. 

On the eighth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree. 

On the ninth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree. 

On the tenth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Twelve drummers drumming,
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree!

 

On the thirteenth day of Christmas my true love phoned me up...
Dave Calder  

Well, I suppose I should be grateful, you’ve obviously gone
to a lot of trouble and expense – or maybe off your head.
Yes, I did like the birds – the small ones anyway were fun
if rather messy, but now the hens have roosted on my bed
and the rest are nested on the wardrobe. It’s hard to sleep
with all that cooing, let alone the cackling of the geese
whose eggs are everywhere, but mostly in a broken smelly heap
on the sofa. No, why should I mind? I can’t get any peace
anywhere – the lounge is full of drummers thumping tom-toms
and sprawling lords crashed out from manic leaping. The
kitchen is crammed with cows and milkmaids and smells of a million stink-bombs
and enough sour milk to last a year. The pipers? I’d forgotten them –
they were no trouble, I paid them and they went. But I can’t get rid
of these young ladies. They won’t stop dancing or turn the music down
and they’re always in the bathroom, squealing as they skid
across the flooded floor. No, I don’t need a plumber round,
it’s just the swans – where else can they swim? Poor things,
I think they’re going mad, like me. When I went to wash my
hands one ate the soap, another swallowed the gold rings.
And the pear tree died. Too dry. So thanks for nothing,
   love. Goodbye.

From Read Me 2: A Poem For Every Day of the Year

After more festive verse? Carol Ann Duffy's warm and enchanting new Christmas poem The King of Christmas is out now. 
 
 

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