Online Poems

for Craig White's Literature Courses

Instructor's note: A folk belief in rural southwest England, where Hardy grew up, was that on Christmas Eve cattle and other farm animals knelt as legend said the animals had done when the infant Christ was laid in a manger or feeding trough in Bethlehem.

The Oxen

by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock,
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.                     4   [hearthside = fireplace]

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.                    8

So fair a fancy few would weave                      [fancy = image, fantasy]
In these years!  Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel                                 12

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb            [barton = farm-yard; coomb = valley]
Our childhood used to know",
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.                                            16