Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VII. Descriptive: Narrative
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VII. Descriptive: Narrative.  1904.
 
Descriptive Poems: III. Places
An Old Time Christmas
Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)
 
From “Marmion,” Introduction to Canto VI.

HEAP on more wood!—the wind is chill;
But, let it whistle as it will,
We ’ll keep our Christmas merry still.
Each age has deemed the new-born year
The fittest time for festal cheer:        5
Even, heathen yet, the savage Dane
At Iol more deep the mead did drain;
High on the beach his galleys drew,
And feasted all his pirate crew;
Then in his low and pine-built hall,        10
Where shields and axes decked the wall,
They gorged upon the half-dressed steer;
Caroused in seas of sable beer;
While round, in brutal jest, were thrown
The half-gnawed rib and marrow-bone;        15
Or listened all, in grim delight,
While scalds yelled out the joys of fight.
Then forth in frenzy would they hie,
While wildly loose their red locks fly;
And, dancing round the blazing pile,        20
They make such barbarous mirth the while,
As best might to the mind recall
The boisterous joys of Odin’s hall.
  And well our Christian sires of old
Loved when the year its course had rolled        25
And brought blithe Christmas back again
With all his hospitable train.
Domestic and religious rite
Gave honor to the holy night:
On Christmas eve the bells were rung;        30
On Christmas eve the mass was sung;
That only night, in all the year,
Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear.
The damsel donned her kirtle sheen;
The hall was dressed with holly green;        35
Forth to the wood did merry-men go,
To gather in the mistletoe.
Then opened wide the baron’s hall
To vassal, tenant, serf, and all;
Power laid his rod of rule aside,        40
And Ceremony doffed her pride.
The heir, with roses in his shoes,
That night might village partner choose;
The lord, underogating, share
The vulgar game of “post and pair.”        45
All hailed, with uncontrolled delight,
And general voice, the happy night
That to the cottage, as the crown,
Brought tidings of salvation down.
  The fire, with well-dried logs supplied,        50
Went roaring up the chimney wide;
The huge hall-table’s oaken face,
Scrubbed till it shone, the day to grace,
Bore then upon its massive board
No mark to part the squire and lord.        55
Then was brought in the lusty brawn,
By old blue-coated serving-man;
Then the grim boar’s-head frowned on high
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Well can the green-garbed ranger tell        60
How, when, and where, the monster fell;
What dogs before his death he tore,
And all the baiting of the boar.
The wassail round, in good brown bowls,
Garnished with ribbons, blithely trowls,        65
There the huge sirloin reeked; hard by
Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas pie;
Nor failed old Scotland to produce,
At such high tide, her savory goose.
Then came the merry maskers in,        70
And carols roared with blithesome din;
If unmelodious was the song,
It was a hearty note, and strong.
Who lists may in their mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery;        75
White skirts supplied the masquerade,
And smutted cheeks the visors made:
But, O, what masquers richly dight
Can boast of bosoms half so light!
England was merry England, when        80
Old Christmas brought his sports again.
’T was Christmas broached the mightiest ale;
’T was Christmas told the merriest tale;
A Christmas gambol oft could cheer
The poor man’s heart through half the year.        85
 
 
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