Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,
“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
One of Thomas Hardy's (several) homages to Christmas. This one has that combination of modernist doubt and Hardy's sentimental attachment to his childhood.
As a bloke who thought he became an adult late, there's a lot can be dragged out of this. We all have an attachment to the things we loved as a child - and of course there's no Christian, Biblical warrant for the idea that all creatures bow down at midnight on Christmas Eve/Day. And Hardy was of a sentimental era. You have to remember that the author of "Once in Royal David's City" also inflicted on us "All things bright and Beautiful". It was a savage age.
But what is Hardy saying to us? That, under that fashionable veneer of Victorian doubt, he's longing for the Wessex piety of his childhood? I doubt that the ones he grew up with were genuinely so simple. They knew, as well as he, that the story was a story.
I'm gonna leave it there. Tommy H was a better writer than I'll ever be, and a master of irony. And if anyone wants me to wander down to the cattle shed with them to see how things are going.... they can forget it. It's 48 hours late. And have you seen what the weather's like?