19 December 2013

A pre-Christmas Poetry Thursday

Here in the UK we have a wonderful [not!] Christmas tradition of ... no public transport - which the nation embraces with resigned irony: "festive services" indeed -
As a wry juxtaposition, I offer this poem by the "prolific English-born American poet" Edgar A. Guest, who was popular in the first half of the 20th century and became known as "the people's poet".

He little knew the sorrow that was in his vacant chair; 
He never guessed they'd miss him, or he'd surely have been there;
He couldn't see his mother or the lump that filled her throat,
Or the tears that started falling as she read his hasty note;
And he couldn't see his father, sitting sorrowful and dumb,
Or he never would have written that he thought he couldn't come.
He little knew the gladness that his presence would have made,
And the joy it would have given, or he never would have stayed.
He didn't know how hungry had the little mother grown
Once again to see her baby and to claim him for her own.
He didn't guess the meaning of his visit Christmas Day
Or he never would have written that he couldn't get away.
He couldn't see the fading of the cheeks that once were pink,
And the silver in the tresses; and he didn't stop to think
How the years are passing swiftly, and next Christmas it might be
There would be no home to visit and no mother dear to see.
He didn't think about it -- I'll not say he didn't care.
He was heedless and forgetful or he'd surely have been there.
Are you going home for Christmas? Have you written you'll be there?
Going home to kiss the mother and to show her that you care?
Going home to greet the father in a way to make him glad?
If you're not I hope there'll never come a time you'll wish you had.
Just sit down and write a letter -- it will make their heart strings hum
With a tune of perfect gladness -- if you'll tell them that you'll come.

Born in 1881, Guest came with his family to the USA in 1891. His first poem was published in 1898, and from then till his death in 1959 he wrote over 11,000 poems, published in some 300 newspapers and collected in 20 volumes of verse.

In one of the most quoted appraisals of his work, Dorothy Parker reputedly said: "I'd rather flunk my Wasserman test/ Than read the poetry of Edgar Guest."

A few more of his poems, should you be in the mood, are here (and elsewhere).

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