Monday, December 07, 2009

A Christmas Poem

Text by Leon Wing
Poem by Wendy Cope

A Christmas Poem

At Christmas little children sing and merry bells jingle,
The cold winter air makes our hands and faces tingle
And happy families go to church and cheerily they mingle
And the whole business is unbelievably dreadful, if you're single.


It's December and it’s more than two weeks away till Christmas.  What more germane than to have a Chrismassy poem in here.  For this, I have taken A Christmas Poem, aptly titled, from Wendy Cope’s collection Two Cures For Love.

Just like the bells that jangle and jingle in rhythm, this poem rhymes at the end of lines, at end stops.  There are no enjambements for Cope to work on here. Also, this kind of rhyming is preponderant in most of the poems in her collection. Here, when it is utilized it works particularly well.

At the start the rhythm is regular and uplifting:

At Christmas little children sing and merry bells jingle,

… till you reach jingle, when there is a reversal of the rhythm, from uplifting to a downward lilt.  There is an imperceptible jolt in this disruption, but the import of jingle hides this.  The lines, by rights grammatically, should have ended at the end of the line with a full-stop. But, no, merriment seems to be carrying on still, to the next line, even if there has been an end-stopping, heavily at that, underpinned by a comma.

But, does it? The string of short vowels in line one, with the exception of ‘At’ and ‘and merry bells’, is taken over with a heavy ‘The cold’; very foreboding, this, as you’ll see at the last line. The rhythm also breaks the regularity here, at first, in the first half of the line. But after that the remaining half carries on in regularity: ‘our hands and faces tingle’.

Beneath the happiness of the third line, we get ready for what is to come in the last line.
‘church’ and ‘cheerily’ is alliterative of ‘Christmas’; as traditionally this season is all church and midnight mass and cheer afterwards. Keep in mind the fricative of ‘families’, because the plurality of families contrasts sharply with the singularity of being alone. And, this is ‘dreadful’.  ‘Whole’ rhymes neatly with ‘cold’, to remind us of the utter coldness of being single. Cope marks this dreadfulness with the second comma of the poem, with a poignant pause and another reminder of this dreadfulness with the fricative of ‘if’.

The rhyming works so well here: There is jingle and tingle, and people and families mingle, but not if you’re single.

Merry Christmas, everyone.


Find out more about Wendy Cope and her collection Two Cures for Love

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