What To Get A 20 Year Old Man For Christmas Christmas Poem Review – Thomas Hardy’s The Oxen

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Christmas Poem Review – Thomas Hardy’s The Oxen

Hardy’s Christmas poem ‘The Oxen’ refers to an old Christmas story that Hardy knew as a child. The calves who saw the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem believed that they still knelt down to remember the birth of Jesus every Christmas night at midnight, just like their parents did at that time.

The most vivid images of the entire poem are celestial. It begins with a simple phrase that sets the Christmas scene perfectly: ‘Christmas season, it’s twelve times’. Most people have an idea of ​​what midnight on Christmas means to them. Perhaps the magical childhood wonder of Christmas, or the joyous and all-male Christmas feeling comes with these powerful words.

Although Christmas time was an important part of the poem, the words ‘burning words’ make one think of romance and that the ‘sheep’ have spent the evening there. One also thinks about the children comparing the cows to the innocence of children. In the ears of a great man it is heard that “Now all kneel”. And of course the strong symbolic image of the cow brings to mind the image of them kneeling at Christmas before the baby Jesus in his stable.

But half way through the poem the doubt is called the faith of the Kneeling Cows. It jumps forward several years in the third stanza when doubts about the war are brought up with the metaphorical words “So few people can weave in these years!” The story of the Christmas cow at the time seemed like a long story. People were suffering and cynicized because of the horrors of the First World War that had started when the poem was published in 1915.

Such a clear word ‘gentle’ in the second stanza is here contrasted with the word ‘few’, the ‘f’ for ‘father’ giving a more insulting edge than the ‘m’ for mother. And the phrase ‘Our childhood knew’ shows that those days must be over: it wasn’t even the people who ‘knew’, but their childhood.

Some critics say that the poem ends on a sad note, and the warmth of fire and innocent childhood in the first half is contrasted with war and the cold ‘loneliness’ and ‘darkness’ of the outside in the second half. But for me it still holds the magic of Christmas as a whole. The use of enjambment, especially between the last two verses, subtly increases the reader’s suspense until the end of the poem when it says: ‘Take me into the dark, I hope so.’ The loss is mournful but there is hope, hence the joy of Christmas! Such wartime optimism reminds me of the Christmas treaty when soldiers peacefully mingled in no man’s land along the Western Front on Christmas Day in 1914.

The poem has an effective style of four stanzas with 2 rhyming couplets to each stanza in the abab rhyme scheme.

For a good analysis of this poem with excellent arguments for reconciliation and war see http://rawrthespot.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/poem-analysis-essay-oxen.html

The above is my personal interpretation and does not constitute a definitive and comprehensive analysis of how Hardy intended the poem to be read. Merry Christmas to all poetry critics, especially those who disagree with me!

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