Christmas Poetry

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Through the eyes of poets, interpretations of this month’s Ensign cover—the message and meaning of Christmas and of the Atonement.

To the Savior at Christmas and Always

“I will send the first,” the Father said—thy plan.
But first (Jehovah) with him shape and grace
(thou Word) this world; with him embody man
(thou Son of Man). To light all, cloud thy face;
yet show thyself to some (from Adam), few
(from Noah), one (but Abraham, a race).
Choose them, endure them, Israelite, Lehite, Jew;
send prophets, losses; lift Job, humble a king;
refine through exile and return, renew—
apostates, hypocrites. … The plan’s the thing:
here in the middle of time reveal thy love
a child born, not in winter’s ice, but spring.
“This is my son,” the Father said above;
below, the son rose drenched to his task, and John,
ringed with bright water, saw a descending dove.
Thy chosen walked in Jacob’s dream, led on
to see, transfigured in the mountain air,
Moses, Elias, Thee; a vision gone
By Gethsemane from the men sleeping there:
just Jacob’s ladder propped on that cross tree
to ease the living up to death, the bare
cadaver down to prison to set us free,
ransomed as Jacob’s angels watched thee rise
to break fast by the lake of Galilee.
“Behold my son.” After destruction’s noise,
the saving words of Bountiful. “My son,
hear him.” And thou wert there for Joseph’s eyes.
Now, Lord, persuade thy church what must be done
to speed thee back. These days of natural dearth
and human, mind thy brethren to make one
in awe but not in revel at thy birth,
remembering death and judgment, yet thy plan:
the resurrection of the whole round earth
to house with joy the eternal life of man.

Brother King is a professor of English at Brigham Young University and serves as a high councilor in Orem South Stake.

And He Became

Suppose the mantle of divinity had settled on him
in a stroke
of fiery proclamation, dividing him forever from the brotherhood
whose commonness declared so poignantly
the purpose of it all:
The miracle of the unmiraculous, the reverberation in recurrence.
I remember him as God on earth and am amazed, but I am altered as I am,
not because of magnitude or differences in him, but for the sameness
of his life and mine which introduces to my every days the reverence
for the possibility of sameness in our souls and destinies
of joy into the morning of becoming.
That Mary bore him, that she was first a woman great with child,
conceived however awesomely in the loving trust
that any woman gives to opening herself to promise …
that he was born an infant, his potential secreted in pores and cells,
the miracle of manhood harbored private despite the star
and those who’d prophesied or even augured godhood in the straw …
that through the silent years he somehow grew, that he waxed
strong in spirit, filled with wisdom as any schoolboy might in finding
what, with grace of God, his limbs and head and heart could do …
that even being what he was at twelve—about his “Father’s business”
He went down with them, his half-bewildered parents,
to Nazareth from the temple and was subject unto them
that Mary, mother, women, kept all these sayings in her heart
and waited, patient, watched as he increased in wisdom,
and in stature and in favour with God and man
that having increased and learned … by the things that he suffered,
he found his hour and met his fate, conditioned by his journey
as much as by his birth for multitudes, Gethsemane and Calvary …
that he, at the end, was beset by frailty—O, … let this cup
and never made impervious to joy or fear or grief, but needed strength
even for his ultimates—Why hast thou forsaken me?
that he became it all—Forgive them for they know not
in that increase accessible to humanness through what’s divine in us,
and in reaching always as I may reach to “my Father … greater than I”
whose knowing made miracle the miracle of having his only begotten
so akin with me that all he was and is, in lovingkindness,
his godliness within my human realm releases me to understand and love:
That though I shall have tribulation, I may be of good cheer,
for he has overcome the world and my heart shall rejoice
in joy no man taketh from me in my needing and trying to become.

Sister Thayne, mother of five daughters and author of two books of poetry, lives in Monument Park Third Ward, Monument Park West Stake, Utah.

Of the Living God

A babe is born, silk-soft,
The fingers and the cry are small.
In the larger world,
I study this miracle gift,
And from my eye there falls a tear.
In its reflection
The star-lit manger is very near.
Small legs come running
And hollering discovery of green-growings
On winter-brown. Between the
Newspaper and my frown, I hear
A gentle Jesus teaching his special ones,
And I reach out to mine.
“And the angel said unto them
Fear not; for, behold, I bring you
Good tidings of great joy,
Which shall be to all people.”
“Come,” I say, and together
We tackle the world. Not aiming bush-high, but
Looking to stars that light the sky;
Loving those who think used thoughts;
Walking a new direction with those
Who see stop signs as reason
To abandon the journey;
Challenging losers to qualify
For their eternal trophy;
Feeling greatness in the single soul;
Looking beyond chapters
To the whole.
“And we believe and are sure that thou art
That Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And in the moment of admitting,
We finally kneel
Instead of quitting. It’s here that we
Know, He’s been kneeling with all men
Since Gethsemane.

Sister Barthel, a homemaker, lives in Cedar Rapids Ward, Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Stake, where she serves as education counselor in the stake Relief Society.

The Boy and the King

Oh, see! In the sky! A star! A star!
It shines like radiant bloom—a gem,
Near, and yet afar, afar,
With shining petals and silvery stem.
It seems to grow from the hillside there
Where the oxen and the donkeys share
A cavern stall. And now, behold!
The cave itself seems turned to gold!
And the ass and the ox are looking down
In the stable room that is bright as day.
And in the straw is a baby fair
With an angel face and silken hair.
The beasts are making a joyful sound,
They sing to the child in a lowing tone
As they kneel, they kneel on the trodden ground;
And the doves aloft on their rafter throne
Join in the song with rustling wings.
And a shepherd comes in the singing night
To bring a lamb, all softly white.
And now to the house come riding kings!
Purpled, and jeweled, and bearing gifts.
They open ivory casques, and drifts
Of myrrh and incense fill the air.
Then they bring forth gold, and they pour, they pour
A kingly ransom upon the floor.And I have nothing, nothing at all
For the little one an offering,
For I am the slave who cleans the stall,
And runs to serve at my master’s call.
But I fetch a drink from the hillside spring
For the mother of the tiny child.
Her smile is very sweet and mild.
But the babe! The babe! When I look on him
It’s as though a sword had pierced my side,
And I wish I could cry it far and wide:
This is the King! The King! The King!
The One we have waited for so long!
Foretold in prophecy and song!
But in the inn my master sleeps
All unknowingly through the night.
He will not wake for this wondrous sight.
And when I tell him he won’t believe.
So I will be still and only grieve
That I cannot follow the Holy One.
But some day, surely, when I am free,
My ransom bought, my slavery done,
Oh, then, in prayer to bend the knee
And with a joy that is piercing sweet
Embrace my Lord and kiss His feet.
With tears my eyes shall overflow.
Oh, to see His face! And know! And know!

Sister Kammeyer is president of the Alderwood Ward Relief Society, Cascade South (Washington) Stake.

The Savior in Gethsemane

He passed through the city’s gate and crossed a brook,
Catching a bramble at the torn hem of His robe;
A flower hung in His hand like stars in a lobe,
Trembling like a holy whisper in a quiet nook
Of the garden, or like the Spirit in a holy book.
For day was at an end. His sandal caught a stone;
It scurried into the ravine, sounding the dull
And stilling depths as He might among disciples cull
And answer questions where they stopped, day flown
And deepening into the fields and shadows of Apollyon.
“Sit here, while I go and pray,” He said, having felt
In them the trials of sleep hanging like lustre
In their eyes as under His, His words, in a cluster,
Lulled them while in the deepening night He dealt
With the imprimatur of death, the sorrow, where He knelt.
Opening Him to pain so secretly, the sills of hell
Trembled from its ecstasy, that Satan as creator
In the world could shimmer in them and as malefactor
Gnarl the will and light of God by keeping their shell
Of devotion murmuring “Rabboni” in a covert well
Of sleep. And so He asked Peter, as Peter slept,
“What, could you not watch with me this hour? I pray.”
Peter stirred himself awake, as if with memory to play
Against margents of the night in an overmastering debt
To Light, that he had forsaken wearily as Jesus wept. …
To feel rime of death and denial like a sea that lifts
From the breath of wind and floods inward, drowning
Flowers that wavered flute or birdsong, browning
And breaking them in that duration; denial that shifts
In the rills of nightfall where polyp Satan sifts
His prize, a piety: breathing the breath of lead,
Or seeing eyes and freight of bone crushed in,
Or hearing fast against a wall of silence, sin
The weight against the mind and heart, dead
As pride that hangs like pitchblende in His dread.
The twilight of that day eternally impends.
“Thy will, not mine,” and the glowing world weighs
Upon the Light, revolving in, as torment strays
Through Him that Satan is a dangling lure that wends
And stirs but must be taken in as it descends.
God rose to the call “Rabboni” as brandished fires
Veered among trees where they betrayed the face of him
Who felt the silver coins in the stirrup of a whim.
And so He repines as He is taken, and the pyres
Of heaven, burning low, wink out, as Night expires.

Brother Larson, a professor of English at Brigham Young University and author of 25 books, serves as a home teacher in Pleasant View First Ward, Sharon East Stake.

My Lord of the Garden

It is now more monument than gardened hill;
The trunks are there, and boughs and fruit,
The city and the climb—they all stand
Apparent in their similarity to when
The Christ
Loosed, as a dove, Salvation
On the breath of Time.
Caesar’s might stretched wide destruction
Where Jehovah prayed,
And Roman infantry laid waste the hallowed ground
Where once was olive grown, and gathered in,
And pressed to oil.
Jerusalem, as He said, they reduced to common ground;
And Gethsemane? Not one tree remained.
“My Lord,
Peace be to thee
Whom the world’s grief hath gone under.
I breathe thee
Before Pilate, bloody Herod, and the synagogual mob,
And wonder that thy final cup
Should so humiliate my thought.
I would thou wert a bastion
Of flaming sworded cherubim
Against their sin,
But thou, The Son of God,
Hast left, Gethsemanean trial beyond,
My angry Peter’s sword and stain:
‘… forgive them …’ and where was grief
Only wonder remains.”
They did not dig the roots:
Broke off the branches, tore down the trunks,
Devoured the fruit, and with fire
The final stumps dismayed;
But, for haste or want of savagery or use, they
Overlooked the vestigial roots.
The trees survive, and He too
Who, at this place, the error of all man took on;
Who, save for our souls, with neither sin nor death had part;
Who trembled at the paradox but would not stand away
And, for love of us, committed into Calvary
His Savior heart.
“My Lord,
The olive stands, Jerusalem above—
Not the same, but of the same root sprung.”
“My God: bless thee
For thy Son.”

Brother Jolley teaches at Cypress College Institute of Religion, Cypress, California, and serves as Sunday School president in Buena Park Third Ward, Anaheim West Stake.