More Sonnets At Christmas
by Allen Tate
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, “More Sonnets at Christmas (I-IV)” from The Collected Poems 1919-1976.
Copyright © 1960, 1965 by Allen Tate. All rights reserved.
Source: Selected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1932)