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‘Always on Christmas Night …’

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The closing lines of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” My favorite part of one of my favorite poems. Merry Christmas, wherever you are on this Christmas night.

… Always on Christmas night there was music.
An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang
‘Cherry Ripe,’ and another uncle sang ‘Drake’s Drum.’
It was very warm in the little house.
Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip
wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death,
and then another in which she said her heart
was like a Bird’s Nest; and then everybody
laughed again; and then I went to bed.

“Looking out my bedroom window, out into
the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow,
I could see the lights in the windows
of all the other houses on our hill and hear
the music rising from them up the long, steadily
falling night. I turned the gas down, I got
into bed. I said some words to the close and
holy darkness, and then I slept.”

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‘Always on Christmas Night …’

luminaria122409a.jpgThe closing lines of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” My favorite part of one of my favorite poems. Merry Christmas, wherever you are on this Christmas night.

… Always on Christmas night there was music.
An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang
‘Cherry Ripe,’ and another uncle sang ‘Drake’s Drum.’
It was very warm in the little house.
Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip
wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death,
and then another in which she said her heart
was like a Bird’s Nest; and then everybody
laughed again; and then I went to bed.

“Looking out my bedroom window, out into
the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow,
I could see the lights in the windows
of all the other houses on our hill and hear
the music rising from them up the long, steadily
falling night. I turned the gas down, I got
into bed. I said some words to the close and
holy darkness, and then I slept.”

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Guest Observation: Dylan Thomas

The closing lines of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” My favorite part of one of my favorite poems. Merry Christmas, wherever you are on this Christmas night.

“… Always on Christmas night there was music.

An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang

‘Cherry Ripe,’ and another uncle sang ‘Drake’s Drum.’

It was very warm in the little house.

Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip

wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death,

and then another in which she said her heart

was like a Bird’s Nest; and then everybody

laughed again; and then I went to bed.

“Looking out my bedroom window, out into

the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow,

I could see the lights in the windows

of all the other houses on our hill and hear

the music rising from them up the long, steadily

falling night. I turned the gas down, I got

into bed. I said some words to the close and

holy darkness, and then I slept.”

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Morning After

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Before we get to the subject at hand, let me try out my innovative new (yes, both new and innovative) holiday greeting on you: Merry HannuKlausZaa. Call in or write with your comments.

Above: The morning-after paper bags. A few of them got a second night of life in front of our house and a couple others on the block. Most of them are going to recyclingland.

Beautiful day here. Sunny and 60, then cloudy and cool. That’s cool by local standards. North America to our north and east is another story. Wales, too. To wit, in the words of a story I’ve read often at this time of year:

“The silent one-clouded heavens drifted on to the sea. … We returned home through the poor streets where only a few children fumbled with bare red fingers in the wheel-rutted snow and cat-called after us, their voices fading away, as we trudged uphill, into the cries of the dock birds and the hooting of ships out in the whirling bay.”

“Fumbled with bare red fingers in the wheel-rutted snow.” That evokes a hundred dark winter afternoons. My hands hurt just reading it.

After the day here, night. One more walk with the dog before turning in. And so too in Wales, where that story ends:

“… And then I went to bed. Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.”

Very little music here tonight. A few carol verses from a couple across the street, a couple tunes on my iPod — that’s what Santa brought me — and that’s it. But the darkness is close and holy even without the blessing of song. ‘Night, all.

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Prose on His Birthday

A friend notes, by way of The Writer’s Almanac, that today is Dylan Thomas‘s birthday. If you’re not familiar with him, Thomas attracted wide notice at a very early age — he was barely 20 — and, thanks to radio, became something of a celebrity poet both in Britain and the United States. If for nothing else, you know him for the lines, “Do not go gentle into that good night/Rage, rage at the dying of the light.” But he was also a self-destructive alcoholic, and he drank himself to a very early grave. He wrote a poem marking his thirtieth birthday, and another marking his thirty-fifth; he was dead before his fortieth.

Anyway, my friend pulled out a copy of “Quite Early One Morning,” a collection of short Thomas pieces. She read a funny number he wrote about reading poetry aloud. She said it made her angry that he was just allowed to drink himself to death. Which made me think how his story might have played out today, assuming a poet of his stripe might still be considered a person of public note.

The picture that comes to mind is celebrity rehab; lots of relapses; lots of People and EW items on his case; maybe a feature or two cataloging the squalls between him and his wife, Caitlin (who wrote a memoir that has the aggrieved and enraged title, “Left-over Life to Kill”); you could even imagine the tabloid headlines: “Dylan: Blotto Again!” or “Caitlin Says, ‘I Hate You!’ ” But Dylan might live through all this, at least long enough to go on a fortieth or fiftieth birthday reading tour or to embarrass himself with an attempted hip-hop turn on the “People’s Choice Awards” (a New York Times reviewer asks, “What do people still see in this bloated, flabby lump?”; the Post is more concise, “Fat, Not Phat”). He might survive the “has-been rhymester” headlines long enough for the rehab to finally stick; and then, unsurprisingly given his religious Welsh upbringing, he’s born again and puts out a volume of Christian poetry (“Songs of Praise to Him Who Made Me”; example first line: “Go ahead, go gentle into that good night/Jesus is waiting with a shiny new night-light”); the reception among the literati is scornful; hard-core born-agains distrust his history of dissipation and foreign accent; but Dr. Phil sees an inspirational story, welcomes him into the fold for “getting real,” and “Songs” is launched onto the lower rungs of best-seller lists along with the latest Dan Brown and Suze Orman offerings. Then follows a popular autobiography, “Singing in My Chains,” a children’s book, “A Wale of a Poet,” and a concert tour with Sting and Bono. Alas, even in the company of such spiritually attuned and clean-living rockers, the lures of the road catch up to him. He disappears from his hotel suite after a sold-out Meadowlands show. The next day, a fan sells TMZ a video of Thomas downing shots at New York’s White Horse Tavern and boozily denouncing “that wanker Dr. Phil”; the poet is arrested for public indecency after urinating in the doorway of a Manhattan fire station; from a Riker’s Island jail cell he apologizes to his fans and Dr. Phil. He goes back into rehab. And, after a tearful confession of error on Oprah, gets a new book deal.

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