A Christmas Childhood

A Christmas Childhood

by

Patrick Kavanagh

(Bealtaine Cottage in the snow…looking down the driveway in the week before Christmas, 2010.)

One side of the potato-pits was white with frost-

How wonderful that was, how wonderful!

And when we put our ears to the paling-post

The music that came out was magical.

The light between the ricks of hay and straw

Was a hole in Heaven’s gable. An apple tree

With its December-glinting fruit we saw-

O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me.

(Bealtaine Cottage in the winter of 2010, just coming into the driveway.)

To eat the knowledge that grew in clay

And death the germ within it! Now and then

I can remember something of the gay

Garden that was childhood’s. Again

The tracks of cattle to a drinking-place,

A green stone lying sideways in a ditch

Or any common sight the transfigured face

Of a beauty that the world did not touch.

My father played the melodeon

Outside at our gate;

There were stars in the morning east

And they danced to his music.

(A winter sky at Bealtaine Cottage in the frozen winter of 2010)

Across the wild bogs his melodeon called

To Lennons and Callans

As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry

I knew some strange thing had happened.

(The Blackbird at Bealtaine Cottage.)

Outside in the cow-house my mother

Made the music of milking;

The light of her stable-lamp was a star

And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.

A water-hen screeched in the bog,

Mass-going feet

Crunched the wafer-ice on the pot-holes,

Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.

(Moon-rise before Midwinter at Bealtaine Cottage, 2010.)

My child poet picked out the letters

On the grey stone,

In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,

The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.

Cassiopeia was over

Cassidy’s hanging hill,

I looked and three whin bushes rode across

The horizon-the Three Wise Kings.

An old man passing said:

‘Can’t he make it talk’-

The melodeon. I hid in the doorway

And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.

I nicked six nicks on the door-post

With my penknife’s big blade-

There was a little one for cutting tobacco.

And I was six Christmases of age.

(Bealtaine Cottage in a snowstorm, Christmas 2010.)

My father played the melodeon,

My mother milked the cows,

And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned

On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.

by Patrick Kavanagh

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