More Sonnets At Christmas

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To Denis Devlin

Again the native hour lets down the locks 
Uncombed and black, but gray the bobbing beard; 
Ten years ago His eyes, fierce shuttlecocks, 
Pierced the close net of what I failed: I feared 
The belly-cold, the grave-clout, that betrayed 
Me dithering in the drift of cordial seas;
Ten years are time enough to be dismayed
By mummy Christ, head crammed between his knees. 

Suppose I take an arrogant bomber, stroke 
By stroke, up to the frazzled sun to hear 
Sun-ghostlings whisper: Yes, the capital yoke—
Remove it and there’s not a ghost to fear 
This crucial day, whose decapitate joke 
Languidly winds into the inner ear.


The day’s at end and there’s nowhere to go, 
Draw to the fire, even this fire is dying; 
Get up and once again politely lying
Invite the ladies toward the mistletoe
With greedy eyes that stare like an old crow. 
How pleasantly the holly wreaths did hang 
And how stuffed Santa did his reindeer clang 
Above the golden oaken mantel, years ago!

Then hang this picture for a calendar,
As sheep for goat, and pray most fixedly 
For the cold martial progress of your star, 
With thoughts of commerce and society, 
Well-milked Chinese, Negroes who cannot sing, 
The Huns gelded and feeding in a ring.


Give me this day a faith not personal
As follows: The American people fully armed 
With assurance policies, righteous and harmed, 
Battle the world of which they’re not at all. 
That lying boy of ten who stood in the hall, 
His hat in hand (thus by his father charmed: 
“You may be President”), was not alarmed 
Nor even left uneasy by his fall.

Nobody said that he could be a plumber, 
Carpenter, clerk, bus-driver, bombardier; 
Let little boys go into violent slumber, 
Aegean squall and squalor where their fear 
Is of an enemy in remote oceans
Unstalked by Christ: these are the better notions.


Gay citizen, myself, and thoughtful friend, 
Your ghosts are Plato’s Christians in the cave. 
Unfix your necks, turn to the door; the nave 
Gives back the cheated and light dividend
So long sequestered; now, new-rich, you’ll spend 
Flesh for reality inside a stone
Whose light obstruction, like a gossamer bone, 
Dead or still living, will not break or bend.

Thus light, your flesh made pale and sinister 
And put off like a dog that’s had his day, 
You will be Plato’s kept philosopher,
Albino man bleached from the mortal clay, 
Mild-mannered, gifted in your master’s ease 
While the sun squats upon the waveless seas.

© Allen Tate