Old Christmas

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Szerző: Howard Phillips Lovecraft • Év: 1917

“Caput apri defero,

Reddens laudes domino.”

 

Ye modern throng, whose tinsel joys reveal

The strain’d and labour’d ecstasies you feel;

Whose empty pastimes hold a spurious bliss,

And feebly copy brighter days than this:

Your clumsy games suspend, and pause to hear

Of genuine mirth, and ancient Christmas cheer!

Would that some Druid, wise in mystic lore,

Might waft me backward to the scenes of yore;

Midst happier years my wand’ring soul detain,

And let me dwell in ANNA’S virtuous reign;

Warm in the honest glow of pure content,

And share the boons of rustic merriment.

Awake, Pierian Muse! and call to view

The snow-clad groves and plains my grandsires knew;

Bring back the winding road and neat-clipt hedge

That primly skirts the forest’s shadowy edge:

Revive the picture, and adroitly weave

O’er all the subtle spell of Christmas Eve!

Hark to the merry strains of Yuletide song

As the full coach to Norfolk flies along;

Its ample room scarce able to confine

The home-bound crowd whose voices gaily join;

See the stout driver, whose rubescent face

Grows redder at each wayside stopping-place,

And the flush’d passengers, their cheeks aglow

With the cold air and gently stirring snow.

Behold yon sturdy lads in height of glee,

From classics, rod, and master’s precept free;

Read in each laughing face and manly smile

The future glories of BRITANNIA’S Isle!

Swift whir the wheels, and smartly snaps the whip;

The swaying coach assumes a livelier clip;

Down the long road in majesty we fly,

An hundred cots and hamlets sweeping by;

Whilst now and then a rural wain we sight,

High pil’d with holly for the festive night.

Up the steep slope our cumbrous chariot creaks,

Attains the crest, and lowlier meadows seeks;

Before our gaze the steepled town expands,

And grateful eyes survey th’ extended lands:

Thro’ melting clouds the frosty moonlight gleams,

And gilds the picture with bewitching beams;

O’er spire and roof the genial radiance steals,

And ev’ry grove the pleasing magic feels.

Now rolls the coach thro’ many a cobbled street,

Where well-stock’d shops the thrifty buyer greet;

A gaping crew our rattling course attend,

And urchins hail the driver as their friend.

The tavern gate at length our flight concludes,

Where varied solace suits our sev’ral moods;

Apicius in the spacious kitchen spies

The hams and bacon that delight his eyes,

And stout Lucullus seeks the sweet relief

Of hot plum-pudding, musty ale, and beef.

Th’ important coachman struts in pompous pride,

Whilst four fresh horses to the coach are tied;

The trav’llers take their places one by one,

And the long journey is once more begun.

Brief is our ride, ere thro’ the bord’ring trees

The watchful eye a lighted window sees;

Our travels done, the lumb’ring coach we leave,

And the lodge-gates our weary forms receive:

Here Granny Goodwife to an infant train

Repeats her oft-told legends once again;

Tells of the sheeted vision at the Hall,

And how the spectre scales the garden wall.

The wither’d crone with joy our footstep hears,

And greets her former charge with genuine tears:

Dear wrinkled ancient—faithful nurse of yore,

Who nurs’d ourselves, and nurs’d our sire before!

The bliss of Home! what heav’nly raptures vie

With the sweet joys that in our birthplace lie?

Each stone and timber hallow’d by the past,

Where countless generations breath’d their last;

No inch of ground in all those acres wide

But bears a symbol of ancestral pride:

In park and mansion, wall and hedge we trace

The mystic aura of our honour’d race.

Along the well-kept walks we quickly tread,

And seek the lights of home that gleam ahead;

About our feet a canine legion bark,

That know their master even in the dark.

The full-orb’d moon, with intermittent rays,

About the lawns and terrac’d gardens plays;

On the white paths unusual shadows throws,

And makes a fairy landscape as it glows.

Now opens wide the door, from whence there floats

A merry discord from unnumber’d throats;

‘Tis Christmas Eve, and all the household join

In revels fitting to our ancient line:

Master and servant each glad rite go thro’,

And the old Saturnalian pledge renew;

The servile throng in boist’rous games disport,

While the staid guests to milder joys resort.

Bright Christmas candles the vast hall illume,

And sprigs of holly deck each spacious room:

The mistletoe in splendour is display’d,

To tempt the swain, and trap th’ unwary maid;

But over all the rest in stately fame,

See the great Yule-Log with its fulgent flame!

The lordly log a mighty heat exhales,

And o’er the chill of winter air prevails;

Gives an eternal promise of the spring

That Sol, turn’d back, to Northern climes will bring.

The solstice day our pagan fathers kept,

And hail’d the turning sun whilst Nature slept;

Their simple fanes with evergreen entwin’d,

To fix the coming days of warmth in mind:

Succeeding years elaborate forms impose,

And the plain feast to Saturnalia grows;

But tho’ the throng the Roman god adore,

The ancient customs linger as before.

An age still newer blends the heathen glee

With the glad rites of Christ’s Nativity;

Yet firm thro’ ev’ry change of outward show,

We keep th’ ancestral feast of long ago!

Fair as the glow that from the Yule-Log spreads,

Is the warm welcome ev’ry feaster sheds:

With patriarchal grace the Squire imparts

A genial mirth, and lights the coldest hearts;

On the mix’d crowd a family blessing lays,

And wakes the Christmas cheer of former days:

Here sport a merry train of young and old;

Aunts, uncles, cousins, kindred shy and bold;

The ample supper ev’ry care dispels,

And each glad guest in happy concord dwells.

With Yuletide songs the time-blest roof awakes,

While the grey harper into music breaks;

Feasting and joy the spacious mansion fill,

Nor dares intrude one jarring note of ill.

Upon the oaken floor the children find

Ecstatic bliss in toys of ev’ry kind;

Less simple gifts the elder throng reward,

But all partake the season’s blest accord.

Now comes the dance, wherein each airy school

Of jigs and capers claims alternate rule:

The honest Squire leads forth his gentle spouse,

And with a rigadoon excites the house;

Mol Pately, and the homely Country Dance,

Vie with the latest tripping steps from France;

Terpsichore, amaz’d, the scene observes,

And flees the unfamiliar dips and curves;

Yet more of honest joy therein resides,

Than in cold London’s stateliest turns and glides!

The dancing o’er, we climb the broad oak stair,

And seek the bedside with an evening pray’r;

On the still night in sacred chorus floats

The waits’ sweet harmony, in faint-borne notes:

Such choirs, methinks, remind the grateful earth

Of herald angels at our Saviour’s birth!

Thus lull’d with liquid song, divinely blest,

On Christmas Eve we softly sink to rest.

Hail to the Holy Morn! when joy and peace

Reign o’er the land, and ev’ry boon increase;

A golden sun th’ encircling park awakes,

And gaily glitters on the ice-bound lakes.

Each frosted lawn and whiten’d terrace gleams

With glowing splendour in the rising beams,

While silver chimes from gorgeous spires proclaim

To list’ning meads the great Messiah’s fame.

In fam’ly chapel we devoutly hear

The virtuous Squire read forth the word of cheer;

Then to the morning meal and daily walk,

Where innocence enjoys its harmless talk;

In order’d gardens we at ease converse,

And the fond bliss of Christmastide rehearse.

Now sounds the bell from that proud steepled fane

Wherein the parson holds benignant reign;

Down the long slope with rev’rent steps we go,

And meet the peasants from the town below:

Each rural clown his Sunday raiment wears,

And ev’ry face a smile of greeting bears.

Behold the churchyard, where in silence lie

The honest villagers of days gone by:

From such brave blood great ENGLAND rose of yore—

God grant the future may produce us more!

Within the church a fervent sermon rings,

And the full choir a pious anthem sings;

The rural choristers chant loud and strong,

And have in spirit what they lack in song.

The black-gown’d chaplain, modest of his wit,

Reads the wise precepts other parsons writ:

No laurels for himself he seeks to gain,

But gives his flock the best his books contain.

The service done, our genial Squire extends

An invitation to his humble friends;

Up to the Hall in many an awkward group,

The gaping swains and happy ploughmen troop:

Beneath the master’s roof they take the feast

That richly waits the lowliest and the least;

With merry pastimes stir the quiet air,

And bless their patron for the lib’ral fare.

‘Twas thus the Romans at this season gave

Saturnalian licence to the serf and slave:

Our British race the ancient gift improve,

And treat the peasant with paternal love.

Assist, gay gastronomic Muse, whilst I

In noble strains sing pork and Christmas pie!

What quill like mine can more than half afford

A proper notion of the Yuletide board?

Quick to the hall a num’rous crowd pour in

At the sharp summons of the rolling-pin;

Saucers and flagons, cups and many a plate,

In festive eagerness the spread await:

Th’ impatient throng half grudge the pious space

That the good Squire consumes in saying grace,

And from each throat a grateful sigh is drawn,

As the Boar’s Head in majesty comes on.

The stout grey butler pompously sustains

The silver plate, and shews officious pains:

One on each side, two sober menials bear

Refulgent dips with ceremonious care,

With rosemary the platter is bedeck’d,

Whilst harpers’ chords increase the glad effect:

The ready crowd an Oxford song repeat,

And laud in ancient style the roasted meat;

The college Latin, pleasing to recite,

Improves the feast, and whets the appetite.

But not alone the stately Boar is plac’d

To please the palate and reward the taste;

Huge sirloin mountains dot the damask field,

And peacock pies a haunting odour yield:

Puddings and gravies, sauces, roasts, and stews,

Enchant the diner, and defy the Muse!

Now comes the servant band with brush and tray

To clear the remnants of the feast away;

Upon the board the Wassail Bowl is laid,

Fill’d with a nectar by old precepts made:

To each the silver dish is pass’d around,

Whilst merry wassail songs aloft resound;

In ancient fashion ev’ry guest partakes,

And the rich wine unwonted brilliance wakes—

Alas! that man should ever be so prone

To seek a Bacchic humour not his own!

Quips, jests, and stories now untrammell’d start;

And harmless gossip plays a pleasing part;

Legends and anecdotes appear in state,

And grow the larger as they circulate:

Ev’n the staid parson drops his sober mien,

And joins the others in the jovial scene.

But mad hilarity at length subsides,

And prattling youth its sweeter joys provides;

The hall is clear’d, and all the infant throng

Conduct their pastimes with diverting song.

Unreason’s Abbot full dominion claims,

And leads the children in their ancient games.

Quaint murmurs thro’ the spacious house parade,

And former times in costume are display’d;

Old Father Christmas dances hand in hand

With some odd Indian of the western land;

Turks jostle Roundheads, all the mimic train

Obey the laws of Saturn’s festive reign.

Gay Drury-Lane such acting ne’er beheld,

And Covent-Garden’s masques are here excell’d:

Frolick and fun in laughing pantomime

Surpass description, and confound our rhyme!

The evening shades touch many a tired head

As the young rompers breathless climb to bed;

Our older band in fireside comfort sit,

And tell our tales, or try our shafts of wit:

O’er all the company a peace descends,

Whilst the great log its cheering radiance lends.

To ev’ry mind there comes a thankful thought

For the rich blessings that the day hath brought,

And many a scoffer, bred in London air,

Midst this calm scene sends up a silent pray’r.

Here virtue rules, and each contented swain

Enjoys the bliss of his paternal plain;

A life like this benignant Heav’n design’d

To lift the soul, and soothe the fretful mind:

Why must our modern wits in scorn refuse

These rural realms their sires were proud to choose?

Above the frozen grove the moon appears,

And tender light the quiet garden cheers;

The winding walks, the fountain, and the green

Take on the semblance of a fairy scene:

Light dancing o’er the sod, an elfin crew

In fond imagination come to view;

And friendly pines in rhythmic measures sway,

Their patron nymphs responsive to the play.

All the soft picture seems alive with grace,

And peopled with a sweet ethereal race:

Thro’ the still air bewitching spirits glide,

And spread the sorcery of Christmastide!

Must I awake to find these visions flown,

The past long dead, and happiness unknown?

Have honest merriment and rural cheer

Gone with the fleeting snows of yesteryear?

Unhappy age! whose joys so ill contrast

With the spontaneous pleasures of the past;

Wherein our languid youth to gloom resort,

And listless children must be taught their sport:

Whose arts the stamp of waning pow’r confess,

And hide their weakness in eccentric dress;

Canst thou not see thy many woes proceed

From false ambition, commerce, haste, and greed?

Wise is the man who spurns the seething times,

Nor madly up the hill of Plutus climbs;

Rests on his own hereditary soil,

Remote from care or avaricious broil:

His father’s place assumes, and keeps his name

On the calm records of agrestic fame.

For such an one the field of learning waits,

And art attends his hospitable gates;

‘Tis his to feed the flame of sense and wit

And ancient lore to future times transmit;

Preserve the good his grandsires prov’d before,

And drive the wolf of dulness from the door;

Each Gothic novelty with skill attack,

And bring the grace of former ages back.

Ye hoary groves! whose many-centuried oaks

The wistful bard with longing lyre invokes,

Look down once more in your imperial state

On such a race as made Old ENGLAND great!

View once again the hearty rural Squire

Whose lib’ral soul contain’d a gen’rous fire;

Whose mild dominion sway’d the peasant band,

And spread contentment thro’ the grateful land:

Such, and such only, can the past revive,

And keep our well-lov’d Christmas joys alive;

Meanwhile the Muse, in reminiscent strain,

Forgets the years, and sings those joys again!

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