What did writers like T.S.Eliot, J.R.R.Tolkien, C.S Lewis, Dorothy L Sayers, John Donne, Lord Tennyson, Gerard Manley Hopkins and G.K.Chesterton have to say about Christmas?

Dec 23, 2021 | Featured

What did writers like T.S.Eliot, J.R.R.Tolkien, C.S Lewis, Dorothy L Sayers, John Donne, Lord Tennyson, Gerard Manley Hopkins and G.K.Chesterton have to say about Christmas?

Tolkien wrote Noel as a poem for his parish magazine in Abingdon. It had been forgotten for decades.

It can be heard here, beautifully set to music by Jonathan Noel:

and read here

Nativity by John Donne can be heard here:

T.S.Eliot reads his poem The Journey of the Magi

The House of Christmas by G.K.Chesterton read by Jonathan Jones:

A short poem for Christmas by G.K. Chesterton entitled  A Christmas Carol also known as The Christ Child Lay on Mary’s Lap read by Doug Anderson:


Gerard Manley Hopkins Moonless Darkness read by Jean Aked

Dorothy L Sayers poem The Three Kings set to music by Jonathan Dove, sung by the choir of York Minster:

O Holy Night Celtic Trio and Choir #oholynight #celtic ‘#irish

GAUDETE (ACAPELLA) – The King’s Singers version Gaudete is a sacred Christmas carol, thought to have been composed in the 16th century.

Coventry Carol – Westminster Cathedral Choir

Ring Out Wild Bells by Alfred Lord Tennyson


Coventry Carol:

Lullay, thou little tiny child
Sleep well, lully, lullay
And smile in dreaming, little one
Sleep well, lully, lullay

Oh sisters two, what may we do
To preserve on this day
This poor youngling for whom we sing
Sleep well, lully, lullay
Farewell, lully, lullay

Herod the king in his raging
Set forth upon this day
By his decree, no life spare thee
All children young to slay
All children young to slay

Then woe is me, poor child, for thee
And ever mourn and say
For thy parting, neither say nor sing
Farewell, lully, lullay
Farewell, lully, lullay

And when the stars fill darkened skies
In their far venture, stay
And smile as dreaming, little one
Farewell, lully, lullay
Dream now, lully, lullay

Nativity – by John Donne

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov’d imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod’s jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

Christmas Prayer, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Hopkins wrote just one Christmas poem that we know of. It is calledMoonless Darkness“:

Moonless darkness stands between.
Past, the Past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem-star may lead me
To the sight of Him Who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord: Thou art holy;
Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and alway:
Now begin, on Christmas day.

NOEL by J.R.R.Tolkien

Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.

The lord of snows upreared his head;
His mantle long and pale
Upon the bitter blast was spread
And hung o’er hill and dale.
The world was blind, the boughs were bent,
All ways and paths were wild:
Then the veil of cloud apart was rent,
And here was born a Child.

The ancient dome of heaven sheer
Was pricked with distant light;
A star came shining white and clear
Alone above the night.
In the dale of dark in that hour of birth
One voice on a sudden sang:
Then all the bells in Heaven and Earth
Together at midnight rang.

Mary sang in this world below:
They heard her song arise
O’er mist and over mountain snow
To the walls of Paradise,
And the tongue of many bells was stirred
in Heaven’s towers to ring
When the voice of mortal maid was heard,
That was mother of Heaven’s King.

Glad is the world and fair this night
With stars about its head,
And the hall is filled with laughter and light,
And fires are burning red.
The bells of Paradise now ring
With bells of Christendom,
And Gloria, Gloria we will sing
That God on earth is come. 

Dorothy L Sayers  The Three Kings.

The first king was very young,
O balow, balow la lay,
With doleful ballads on his tongue,
O balow, balow la lay,
He came bearing a branch of myrrh
Than which no gall is bitterer,
O balow, balow la lay,
Gifts for a baby King, O.

The second king was a man in prime,
O balow, balow la lay,
The solemn priest of a solemn time,
O balow, balow la lay,
With eyes downcast and reverent feet
He brought his incense sad and sweet,
O balow, balow la lay,
Gifts for a baby King, O.

The third king was very old,
O balow, balow la lay,
Both his hands were full of gold,
O balow, balow la lay,
Many a gaud and glittering toy,
Baubles brave for a baby boy,
O balow, balow la lay,
Gifts for a baby King, O.

Ring Out Wild Bells Alfred Lord Tennyson – 1809-1892

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

A Christmas Reflection 2021:

TS Eliot said “Last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s language and next year’s words await another voice”. Whose voices will now be raised for those living in the perpetual bitter winter of persecution because of their beliefs?

As C.S.Lewis wrote in his Narnian Chronicles “It is winter in Narnia,” said Mr. Tumnus, “and has been for ever so long…. always winter, but never Christmas.”  Remember those this year who are permanently locked down in a bitter winter of oppression.  https://www.davidalton.net/2021/12/21/ts-eliot-said-last-years-words-belong-to-last-years-language-and-next-years-language-and-next-years-words-await-another-voice-whose-voices-will-n/

Lord David Alton

For 18 years David Alton was a Member of the House of Commons and today he is an Independent Crossbench Life Peer in the UK House of Lords.

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