Poetry or Prose? Fact or Fiction?
Christmas Eve! Five
Hundred poets waited, pen
Poised above paper,
for the poem to arrive,
bells ringing. It was because
The chimney was too small,
because they had ceased
to believe, the poem had passed them
by on its way out
into oblivion, leaving
the doorstep bare
of all but the sky-rhyming
child to whom later
on they would teach prose.
R.S. Thomas (1913-2000), ‘Nativity’, Mass for Hard Times, 1992.
Peter May draws on the work of Carys Walsh, 'Frequencies of God' in making this comment:
'Thomas's Nativity is a world apart from the familiar pictures that come to mind when we think about the birth of Jesus.
This Nativity poem opens with a breathless excitement. The poets awaiting their muse, ready to be inspired to retell the great story of incarnation. But no sooner have the bells rung than they have missed the poem...
Excuses follow - but the truth is that Jesus, the incarnate Word cannot be channeled in ways that tradition demands and we expect.
We are left with 500 poets looking in the wrong direction. But then perhaps, suggests Thomas, the poem passes them by because of simple lack of belief, a paradoxical human failure to accept and receive the very thing for which we yearn.
And what about us, as we draw near to the celebration of the birth of the incarnate God. Are we ready to open our lives afresh to His birth in us?
Have we too reduced the poem to prose?
Are we tempted to name and pin down the incarnate one so that we can grasp and understand, to shape the newborn to fit our lives, our world, rather than allowing him to shape us?
Are we willing to try and learn poetry rather than insisting on prose?
This Christmas my hope is that we are willing to allow the sky-rhyming child to baffle us, fill our worlds, draw close to us, breathe new life and faith into us!'