More Sonnets At Christmas

By Allen Tate 1899–1979 Allen Tate

(1942)

To Denis Devlin

I

Again the native hour lets down the locks   
Uncombed and black, but gray the bobbing beard;   
Ten years ago His eyes, fierce shuttlecocks,   
Pierced the close net of what I failed: I feared   
The belly-cold, the grave-clout, that betrayed   
Me dithering in the drift of cordial seas;
Ten years are time enough to be dismayed
By mummy Christ, head crammed between his knees.   

Suppose I take an arrogant bomber, stroke   
By stroke, up to the frazzled sun to hear   
Sun-ghostlings whisper: Yes, the capital yoke—
Remove it and there’s not a ghost to fear   
This crucial day, whose decapitate joke   
Languidly winds into the inner ear.


II

The day’s at end and there’s nowhere to go,   
Draw to the fire, even this fire is dying;   
Get up and once again politely lying
Invite the ladies toward the mistletoe
With greedy eyes that stare like an old crow.   
How pleasantly the holly wreaths did hang   
And how stuffed Santa did his reindeer clang   
Above the golden oaken mantel, years ago!


Then hang this picture for a calendar,
As sheep for goat, and pray most fixedly   
For the cold martial progress of your star,   
With thoughts of commerce and society,   
Well-milked Chinese, Negroes who cannot sing,   
The Huns gelded and feeding in a ring.


III

Give me this day a faith not personal
As follows: The American people fully armed   
With assurance policies, righteous and harmed,   
Battle the world of which they’re not at all.   
That lying boy of ten who stood in the hall,   
His hat in hand (thus by his father charmed:   
“You may be President”), was not alarmed   
Nor even left uneasy by his fall.


Nobody said that he could be a plumber,   
Carpenter, clerk, bus-driver, bombardier;   
Let little boys go into violent slumber,   
Aegean squall and squalor where their fear   
Is of an enemy in remote oceans
Unstalked by Christ: these are the better notions.


IV

Gay citizen, myself, and thoughtful friend,   
Your ghosts are Plato’s Christians in the cave.   
Unfix your necks, turn to the door; the nave   
Gives back the cheated and light dividend
So long sequestered; now, new-rich, you’ll spend   
Flesh for reality inside a stone
Whose light obstruction, like a gossamer bone,   
Dead or still living, will not break or bend.


Thus light, your flesh made pale and sinister   
And put off like a dog that’s had his day,   
You will be Plato’s kept philosopher,
Albino man bleached from the mortal clay,   
Mild-mannered, gifted in your master’s ease   
While the sun squats upon the waveless seas.

Allen Tate, “More Sonnets at Christmas (I-IV)” from The Collected Poems 1919-1976. Copyright © 1960, 1965 by Allen Tate. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved. Caution: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Source: Selected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1932)

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Poet Allen Tate 1899–1979

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

SCHOOL / PERIOD Fugitive

Subjects Religion, Living, Race & Ethnicity, Nature, Class, Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Family & Ancestors, Disappointment & Failure, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Faith & Doubt, War & Conflict, Winter, Philosophy

Holidays Christmas

Poetic Terms Sonnet