Sunday Salon – the Sunday Before Christmas

It’s not snowing or even very cold here but this poem came to my mind, thinking about Christmas when I was a child. We didn’t have central heating and on winter mornings the windows would be covered over with frost and icicles. My Dad would say Jack Frost had been out over night drawing in the window panes. One of my favourite poems that I used to recite with relish was When Icicles Hang by the Wall which I found in one of my mother’s books that she had had as a child. I had no idea then that it was by Shakespeare (from Love’s Labours Lost).

When Icicles Hang by the Wall by William Shakespeare

When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp’™d and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit; Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson’™s saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian’™s nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit; Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

I loved all the pictures this brought to mind the raw cold, frozen milk, biting wind and snow. Milk was often frozen on the doorstep when I was little, the foil cap lifted up by a plug of ice. I didn’t think that an owl whooting sounded merry at all and I imagined Dick and Tom out in the dark, with their “blood nipped”, fearfully going home to see greasy Joan sitting over a steaming pot – of what I wondered? To me it was a strange scene, but it was just that strangeness that appealed and I felt so sorry for poor Marian left out in the snow.

Maybe it’s the cold in that poem that then made me think of T S Eliot’s Journey of the Magi. Or maybe it’s the thought of travelling in winter:

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.

I’m nearly ready for Christmas – all the presents have been bought, and some are wrapped (by D not by me!) I haven’t done a lot of reading these last few days, but have continued with Wild Mary and Les Miserables (see the sidebar). It’s the start of the war for Mary Wesley, which was the most vivid time in her life and the source for her novels – it was “chaos, exhilaration and loss”. As for Les Mis, I’ve spent too long in the Paris sewers recently. There are long descriptions and history of the sewage system in Paris which I was tempted to miss out, or at least scan read, but I didn’t. I read it all, in all its noxious detail; the horror of Jean Valjean carrying Marius, struggling through the sewers and sinking up to his head in the pit.

This year is the first without my sister, although we didn’t always meet up at Christmas we always spoke on the phone – she even phoned me from China when she was there at Christmas! So it’s a bit strange. It’s also the first year that most of our family is split up, with our son and his family in Scotland and the rest of us in the south of England – the first time we’ve not all seen each other over Christmas. We’re off to Scotland next week, so it’s not all doom and gloom!

4 thoughts on “Sunday Salon – the Sunday Before Christmas

  1. Those poems certainly fit our weather this morning 🙂 Very appropriate.

    Our family is a bit fractured this year as well…our son is in Thailand for the holiday, and my mother in law passed away in the fall. It’s always a bit difficult those first holidays without someone.

    Enjoy your time in Scotland 🙂


  2. You are doing better than me – I haven’t wrapped anything yet! I’ll bet you’ll feel odd without your sister this year, but I cannot help but feel that those we have loved and lost are still with us in some way. Don’t think me mad, but I often end up having conversations in my head with my lost ones. It’s just a way of knowing they are still there.

    Have a lovely, peaceful Christmas.


  3. I have never come across this poem before. I did not know that old Shakey wrote something like that – it’s a good poem and really evokes the wintriness of Christmas!


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