Poems for Christmas †

Dec 19, 2019 | Posted by Jennifer


I love this time of year. It saturates my senses. There’s so much to see, smell, taste, touch, and hear. Right now, for example, I have some classical Christmas music playing softly in the background. I have a scented soy candle (blackberry, elderberry, and cloves) burning nearby. On the left side of my computer, I have a tiny real poinsettia plant, sprinkled with glitter on its red leaves. And on my right side is a savory cup of hot tea in the festive flavors of cinnamon, orange, and sweet cloves. Cuddled up in my red wool jacket with my champagne-pink faux fur blanket on my lap, I am fully relishing the season as I write this post.

One of my favorite things to do during this time of year is read poetry. Poetry celebrates the senses. Today I would like to share two poems with you in the hopes that you will enjoy them and also share them. The first one is likely very familiar to you, as it has been set to music and is a classic Christmas carol. The other poem is likely not familiar to you. Both of the poems share similar stylistic techniques such as repetition, rhyme, and simile.

The first poem is one I share with my U.S. History-Writing theme-based classes at this time of year and was written in 1863 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He was perhaps the most famous writer—possibly even the most famous person—of the times. In December of that year, America was in the midst of the Civil War, America’s bloodiest conflict ever. It was a dark time in the country’s history and a dark time for Longfellow himself because he was still mourning the death of his wife, who had died in 1861, and was also distraught over his son’s grave war injury that had occurred in 1862. But then Christmas arrived, and he heard the Christmas bells ringing. They restored hope to him. Some of the stanzas in the poem may be unfamiliar to you; they are often omitted from the carol.

                                                  Christmas Bells
                                 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)


                                 I heard the bells on Christmas Day
                                 Their old, familiar carols play,
                                     And wild and sweet
                                     The words repeat
                                 Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


                                 And thought how, as the day had come,
                                 The belfries of all Christendom
                                     Had rolled along
                                     The unbroken song
                                 Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


                                 Till ringing, singing on its way,
                                 The world revolved from night to day,
                                     A voice, a chime,
                                     A chant sublime
                                 Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


                                 Then from each black, accursed mouth
                                 The cannon thundered in the South,
                                     And with the sound
                                     The carols drowned
                                 Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


                                 It was as if an earthquake rent
                                 The hearth-stones of a continent,
                                     And made forlorn
                                     The households born
                                 Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


                                 And in despair I bowed my head;
                                 "There is no peace on earth," I said;
                                     "For hate is strong,
                                     And mocks the song
                                 Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"


                                 Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
                                 "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
                                     The Wrong shall fail,
                                     The Right prevail,
                                 With peace on earth, good-will to men."

In addition to the rhyme and repetition in this poem, observe Longfellow’s use of personification, metaphor, and simile to convey his intense feelings that not only reveal his sorrow but hold his hope.


The next poem also incorporates repetition and simile. Written by G.K. Chesterton, the poem feels at first very simple, but upon repeated observation, the reader notes the feeling of quiet in the small scene that Chesterton paints. There are just Mary and baby Jesus, but the stanzas compare the manger scene in slightly different ways, with the first and third stanzas contrasting it to the weary world, the second to the paled power of earthly kings, and finally the fourth to the entire creation looking at and worshipping the King of Creation. Note other features of the stanzas as well: The second line of each stanza contains a simile that compares Christ’s hair to something else (a light, a star, a fire, and a crown). Repetition abounds within the first and second lines of the stanzas. Additionally, lines two and four rhyme. All of these features make the poem easy and fun to memorize.

                                          A Christmas Carol
                                 by G.K. Chesterton (1874–1936)


                                 The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,
                                            His hair was like a light.
                                 O weary, weary were the world,
                                            But here is all aright.


                                 The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast,
                                            His hair was like a star.
                                 (O stern and cunning are the kings,
                                            But here the true hearts are.)


                                 The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
                                            His hair was like a fire.
                                 (O weary, weary is the world,
                                            But here the world’s desire.)


                                 The Christ-child stood at Mary’s knee,
                                            His hair was like a crown.
                                 And all the flowers looked up at Him,
                                            And all the stars looked down.


I hope you enjoy reading these poems and will share them with your students. And most especially, I hope that you will be able to take some time during this busy holiday season to slow down and reflect on the true gift of Christmas.

Merry Christmas!


† Contains distinctly Christian content


Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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