Poem Sampler

Christmas Poems

A wintry mix of our favorite poems to celebrate the holiday season.
By The Editors

 


A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore: This perennial classic reminds us how much “clatter” the holiday season can bring. There’s nothing to fear from all that noise—it’s just Saint Nick and his reindeer.

In Winter by Michael Ryan: It gets dark awfully early in winter. But there’s still brightness even with so little light. When she gets home from work at four o’clock, she’ll kiss you no matter what.

Lines for Winter by Mark Strand: For Strand, the best way to keep warm is to pay attention to the internal rhythms of the body and mind. Nothing warms the heart more than listening in to “the tune your bones play / as you keep going” through the winter cold. Watch Mary-Louise Parker perform this poem.

“Your Luck Is About To Change” by Susan Elizabeth Howe: Howe’s poem finds humor in the ambiguity of a fortune cookie message. Though hope can still be found in times of economic or political instabilities, there’s also something ominous about the dinosaurs that the neighbor’s kid has added to the nativity scene.

Year’s End by Richard Wilbur: A new year is coming. But Wilbur notes that frozen lakes and fossils do not serve as adequate metaphors for the year’s end: “We fray into the future, rarely wrought / Save in the tapestries of afterthought. / More time, more time.” Raise your glass and welcome it in! Print a poster of this poem. 

December 26 by Kenn Nesbitt: Sure, Santa brought some of the presents we wanted. What about everything else? Children’s poet Kenn Nesbitt provides this witty response for the day after Christmas.

Taking Down the Tree by Jane Kenyon: Kenyon reminds us of the holidays’ fragility. Old ornaments begin to fall apart and get packed away along with the memories they evoke. The tree begins to crumble. Once everything is gone, “all that remains is the scent / of balsam fir.”

In the bleak midwinter by Christina Rossetti
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

Originally Published: December 23rd, 2008
  1. December 24, 2008
     Alice Shapiro

    Thanks for posting these seasonal poems. My favorite is Lines for Winter by Mark Strand.

  2. December 24, 2008
     Todd Herges

    Not on your list ... two poems by Coleridge which I understand are read each year around this time by retired - and maybe widowed - English professors who live in the cold upper midwest of the United States:


    "Frost at Midnight," and

    "Ode on the Departing Year."

  3. January 1, 2009
     G

    I have to say that Strand's Lines for Winter seems insipid to me; the lines as lines are artless; the line breaks create this very melodramatic voice, and I could not finish it, but had to skim. Wallace Stevens' The Snow Man, though everyone knows it, would have been a much better pick. The Lines for Winter also wants to tell the reader what "your" experience is; bad writing and bad habits, young poets should avoid.

  4. January 2, 2009
     G

    So today I explored Mary Oliver's "White Eyes" and once again I am disappointed, both in terms of the boring line breaks, and especially the treatment of nature. Isn't nature more alien to you than that, I channel Rilke and wonder.


    Didn't both WCW and Wallace Stevens sing songs to the stars and remind us not anthropomorphize them, make those far-off stars into little boy-stars and girl stars? And so Mary Oliver says of a bird,


    he wants to go to sleep,

    but he's restless—

    he has an idea,

    and slowly it unfolds


    What kind of "idea" does this bird have. I think this poem is just too easy, not thought-out enough. Her book "American Primitive" encountered nature much better.

  5. January 2, 2009
     G

    I just read the opening of "A Visit of St. Nicholas," that children's classic with its sweet, bouncing music; and "Chanukah Lights Tonight" a pleasant whimiscal poem with a moving last stanza. Good wintry chew here.

  6. January 4, 2009
     G

    "In Winter" by Michael Ryan is quite moving.

  7. January 6, 2009
     G

    So my review of "Messiah (Christmas Portions)" is in! Though I could not read the entire poem out of boredom, the basic thing is that the poem has a nice turn at the end. It just takes too long to get there. Prose, not poetry, needs generous detail, despite "no idea but in things." At the same time a poem like W.C.W.'s "At the Ball Game" just runs through all the detail and is so exciting. Too bad WCW didn't give away his secret.


    This poem has some nice language, like "sun-shot swaddlings," but its pace kind of assumes the reader does not have a million other things to do or potentially do. So maybe this poem works best for the poet's fans. The second stanza really isn't detailed writing, but hodgepodge abstraction, with "Methodist" and "Zion" not really empowered with significance except as cultural touchstones. Check out Bob Marley's Zion; man--I wish I was with you there right now Bob.


    over the Methodist roof,

    two clouds propose a Zion

    of their own, blazing

    (colors of tarnish on copper)


    The third stanza is unneccesary description, etc.:


    against the steely close

    of a coastal afternoon, December,

    while under the steeple

    the Choral Society

  8. January 7, 2009
     G

    "Your luck is about to change" has some nice funny moments as a poem, especially in the middle. Put a smile here at 2 pm.


    . . . .I won't give in

    to the dark, the sub-zero weather, the fog,

    or even the neighbors' Nativity.

    Their four-year-old has arranged

    his whole legion of dinosaurs

    so they, too, worship the child. . . .

  9. March 9, 2009
     Luke Munroe

    I really enjoyed reading this poem. (The Cold Earth Slept Below) I was a little confused by it at first but after reading it a few times it reminded me of the four seasons. The first paragraph talks about it being really cold and ice and snow like winter. The second talks about birds and green grass which makes me think of spring. The third talks about fire's beam which makes me think of summer and the last paragraph makes me think of fall because it talks about chill and frozen dew like it is getting colder out. I found the indentations throughout the stanzas to be interesting and different than other poems I have read in the past.

  10. December 19, 2009
     Bill Creagmile

    A favourite from this time of year is " London Snow " by Robert Bridges. You can feel what happens to a great city when the first snow arrives overnight. To really understand, I suggest that you read the poem aloud. Enjoy the snow !

  11. December 19, 2009
     AG

    Thank you, Editors. I particularly liked Mark Strand's piece too, maybe because of the wonderful audio/visual. I wish you'd post more of this kind. Another favorite winter poem of mine is "The Paperweight" by Gjertrud Schnackenberg. Here's a beautiful reading of it:

    http://www.poetryfoundation.or...

  12. December 20, 2009
     Leslie Monsour

    For those who cannot ignore the primitive
    persistence of war, the two most relevant
    poems about Christmas and it's lost
    message of "Peace on Earth" came from
    Thomas Hardy. One is the denunciatory
    and desolate "A Christmas Ghost-Story,"
    written on Christmas Eve, 1899; the other
    is the bracing and caustic epigram,
    "Christmas: 1924."

  13. December 23, 2010
     Margy Pajakowski

    What Scrooges are complaining about artless lines and boring line breaks at this time of year?! Go bake some cookies or pack a box of clothes for the poor, and be grateful that there is an organization that puts holiday and winter poems on line for your enjoyment.
    Thanks, Poetry Foundation, for warming the cockles of my heart.

  14. December 23, 2010
     Brian Cosgrove

    A possible addition to the list would be Howard Nemerov's moving sonnet, "The Snow Globe". Even though the poem addresses only the artificial "snow storms" inside the glass, the imagery and tone are surely suitable for midwinter. As for Christmas poems, there is Thomas Hardy's honestly agnostic (and deceptively simple) short work, "The Oxen", dealing with the old superstition that at midnight on Christmas Eve animals like the oxen fall to their knees to acknowledge the birth of Christ.

  15. December 23, 2010
     puppy jones

    the best winter poem is by Ryan Buynak, it is called "2006" from his book Yo Quiero Mas Sangre.

  16. December 23, 2010
     Phyllis Alberici

    "Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening".
    by Robert Frost. How could this have ever been left off the list? It defined my growing up years in the snowy isolation of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.