December 10, 2019
December is darkening, and I look forward to the warmth of the holidays: long evenings of chatting with friends, rich food, and, above all, the incomparable coziness of coming in from the cold. This is a season for merriment, and the satisfaction of rest after another year.
But when the bottles are empty, the plates are cleared, and chill January approaches, the contentment of the holiday season wears thin. The New Year nighs, and brings with it cold uncertainty about the future. Have we lived this year well? Will we live well in the next? Who by fire and who by water? Faced with these questions, we feel like Bede’s sparrow, safe for the moment from the icy blasts without, but uncertain ofwhat the outer darkness might hold.
Yet by the New Year, the darkest days have passed. The lengthening of days brings brightness and, with patience, spring. This December, may our thoughts of the year to come not be guided by recrimination or fear, but by brightness and hope. Let us look inward, and find cause for celebration in this year’s joys, and in its shortcomings opportunities for renewal.
As befits the season, the following pages contain both poems ofmerriment and poems of reflection. We have included our regular tranche of letts. to the ed., despite their businesslike (and, at times, insulting) tone. I would like to personally apologize to any reader whose sensitivities are wounded by the Ballad of St. Nicholas, an enthusiastic, if sacrilegious, effort to recall Father Christmas’s onetime role as both carrot and stick.
I hope, Dear Reader, that you may find entertainment and wisdom herein.
W. Carpus (ED.)
We believe it fair to present our readers' views without censorship or further comment.
Dear Mister Editors,
My name is Alice and I am five years old. I live in a big house and I’m very fond of Christmas. Nurse reads to me from your magazine and sometimes I cry. Mother says that Santa brings presents to people who are good. Do other little children cry when they hear your poems? You must be bad. Because I want to be good I want to ask you to stop writing your magazine so Santa will bring me presents. Thank you and have a merry Christmas.
I had the opportunity to read your recent ALEMBICK, XIV.I, and felt compelled to pass comment on the quality of the poetry therein. I hesitate over the term poetry, Sirs, for what you have published is surely the basest of verse. Mr. Ellihew, I was shocked to find, took pains to rhyme ‘bastion for’ with ‘fashion wore,’ while M. de Ploum was, sadly, unstinting in his praise of the American Continental Army.
As you prepare your next issue, Sirs, I would recount to you a maxim found in Sanford: He that goeth to bedde wyth Doggerel aryseth with fleas.
I remain, Sirs,
Your Humble Servant,
A. de Testèr
RATHER MORE POLITE LETTERS
Furthermore, we believe it behooves us as gentlemen to give our thoughtful opinion in response to our readers' requests for guidance. This is not legal advice.
I wish to buy my brother a book as a token of my affection for him at this holiday season. He is certainly the only member of our family with a literary inclination and, as you are reputed to be men of letters, I thought it prudent to ask your advice before visiting the booksellers.
I know that my brother is fond of Surtees, and that he enjoys the works of Charles Hamilton. He takes several periodicals, notably the Illustrated Sporting News and the Hound-Meeting Gazette. You will appreciate, Sirs, that he reads poetry, particularly Kipling, and he has also suggested an affection for Whiffle’s work on porciculture.
I am afraid that such literature is far above my own tastes as a reader, and I trust, Sirs, that you might be able to recommend a work of culture and distinction that my brother will enjoy.
John P. Brane
Dear Mr. Brane,
As much as we might be inclined to recommend the Alembick itself as the gift best befitting this occasion, we know we must recommend not what we prefer but what we believe your brother would prefer. Might we therefore suggest that you gift your brother, instead of a book, a case of fine Madeira? It would be to everybody’s satisfaction.
A Shropshire Christmas
My lover said he’d meet me
On a gentle summer’s day.
We’d lie outside the village church
And together we’d be gay.
But through the barren churchyard
The winter winds now blow:
As I lie on the frozen ground,
My lover lies below.
When we went skating on the pond
you twirled and held me tight.
As we sat on the snowy bank
you laughed with youth’s delight.
Now often I recall you
As I pass our skating-place
And think of how your laughter stilled
In the water’s cold embrace.
‘Oh are the carolers about
And spreading Yule cheer?’
They sing ofwarm and bright-lit hearths
But you’re not there to hear.
‘And is the snow from down the lane
wind-drifted ‘round the door?’
Though it lies white and glimmering
You’ll feel its cold no more.
‘And has my mother lighted
The candles on the tree?’
Aye, lad, but lie gentle,
they shine not bright for thee.
‘And did my own true lover
Exchange a Christmas gift?’
She gave a man a joyful laugh
And got a merry kiss.
‘And did my friend from school-boy days
See her safely though the snow?’
Sleep silent, friend, for there are things
Of which you’ll never know.
A. E. HOMEFELLOW
From Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
My Dear Sirs,
I have prepared for you a holiday tale of Companionship and Revelry. It tells of Arthur’s court at Camelot in Ancient Days, with particular reference to the Yuletide Festivities at that place. I have rendered the Middle English into our Modern, and hope that in so doing I have merely burnished the original into legibility.
I present, Sirs, an Excerpt from
SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT
The king dwelt at Camelot at Christmas
With many excellent lords, men of the best,
Worthily, all the righteous brotherhood of the Round Table,
With rich revels aright and reckless mirths.
There soldiers tourneyed in many bouts,
The gentle knights jousted full jollily,
Then carried on to the court, singing carols.
And so the festivities went, full fifteen days,
With all the meat and the mirth that men could imagine;
Such clamor and glee glorious to hear,
With merry din by day and dancing by night.
All was happiness on high in halls and chambers
With lords and ladies amusing themselves as they thought best.
With all the happiness in the world they lived together there,
The most famous knights in Christendom,
And the loveliest ladies to ever live,
And he, the comeliest king that has held court;
With fair folk in the prime of their youth
The hall was filled,The luckiest people under heaven,
Their king held high by the people’s will.
It would be difficult now to assemble
So hardy a host on a hill.
While the New Year was so young that it was newly come,
That day the host was served doubly on the dais.
For the king was come with knights into the hall,
The chanting of the chapel completed.
There, loud cries were cast from clerks and laymen,
Noël recited anew and said full often.
And afterwards, the rich ran forth to give presents,
Cried out ‘year’s gifts!’ on high, gave them by hand,
And fought gleefully over the gifts.
Ladies laughed full loud, though they had lost,
And he who won wasn’t angry, that you can trust.
All this mirth they made until the appointed time;
And when they had washed well, they went to sit,
The best placed above, as seemed fitting.
Queen Guinevere, full gay, graced the middle
placed on the high dais, adorned all about,
Fine silks beside, a canopy over her
Of choice Toulouse, and Tarsian tapestries enough
That were embroidered and covered with the best gems
That might be bought with pennies
any day.The comeliest Queen to see
Had gleaming eyes of grey.
That he’d seen a lady more pleasing
Truly no man could say.
But Arthur would not eat until all were served,
He was so jolly of his joyfulness, and somewhat childish:
He liked his life light, and loved the less
Either to lie or sit for long,
So he busied his young blood and his willful brain.
And another custom pleased him as well,
Which he had nobly decreed: he would never eat
Upon such a festive day ere he had been told
A strange tale of some adventure,
Of some unusual marvel, that he might trust,
Of ancients, of arms, of other deeds.
Or else he sought some man, some stout knight,
To join with him in jousting, to to be in jeopardy,
Risking life for life, each leaving the other
To win, as fortune would help them.
This was the king’s custom when he was at court
At each fair feast among his free companions
In the hall.
So with a noble face
He staunchly rules all.
Young in thatNew Year
Much mirth he makes withal.
John Dampditch (Trans.)
This winter, when I had decided to learn to skate
But hadn’t yet tried it, I was worried about
How I’d know when everything was right I
The epistemological difficulty, of course,
Being how you’d know if you’d know it if you saw it.
What if, for instance, the perfect concurrence took place
Of balance and force, yet went unrecognized?
These doubts were foolish; I should have had more faith.
When you’re out on the rink, focused on your feet
And the press ofweight down through the blade to ice,
There is a moment when the skate first thrums like
A thing alive. It stops being slippery.
What had been perilous combat with gravity
Becomes grace in motion, and you, on edge,
Are delicately, indubitably upheld.