I found this on a blog linked to by synlogos. One week to go, and my email box is full of “it’s not too late!” (to buy this or that)
At the time I could remember portions of the MacNeice poem from my O-Level studies back in the ’60s, but I didn’t have the complete text.
Since then much more archival material has become available online, and I was able to find the entire poem. It’s not all that good, really — you can see the between-the-wars socialist zeitgeist poking up all through it; a dialectical materialist’s distaste for the materialism surrounding Christmas. Still, it makes for interesting reading now as a period piece. If the poet thought his time was a materialist one, he should have lived on another eighty years to see what 21st-century materialism is like.
And the teddy-bears-and-candles kitsch has grown even worse in the six years since I wrote this. It’s hard to see the exact shape of the endgame of all the increasing cultural rot we’re living through, but we know it won’t be pretty.
Here is the full poem. No Marxist would write like this now. They would be drummed out for not being something enough. The vanguard doctrine does eat its own.
A week to Christmas, cards of snow and holly,
Gimcracks in the shops,
Wishes and memories wrapped in tissue paper,
Trinkets, gadgets and lollipops
And as if through coloured glasses
We remember the childhood thrill
Waking in the morning to the rustling of paper,
The eiderdown heaped in a hill
Of wogs and dogs and bears and bricks and apples
And the feeling that Christmas Day
Was a coral island in time where we land and eat our lotus
But where we can never stay.
There was a star in the East, the magi in their turbans
Brought their luxury toys
In homage to a child born to capsize their values
And wreck their equipoise.
A smell of hay like peace in the dark stable —
Not peace however but a sword
To cut the Gordian knot of logical self-interest,
The fool-proof golden cord;
For Christ walked in where philosophers tread
But armed with more than folly,
Making the smooth place rough and knocking the heads
Of Church and State together.
In honour of whom we have taken over the pagan
Saturnalia for our annual treat
Letting the belly have its say, ignoring
The spirit while we eat.
And Conscience still goes crying through the desert
With sackcloth round his loins:
A week to Christmas — hark the herald angels
Beg for copper coins.
Louis MacNeice (part XX of “Autumn Journal”, 1938)