Christmas poems

Carol Ann Duffy

The Christmas edition of the Radio Times features a seasonal verse by the new poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, commissioned exclusively for the magazine. I thought I’d reproduce it here, along with one from a couple of years back by the previous laureate, Andrew Motion.

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2009 by Carol Ann Duffy

1

ON THE FIRST DAY OF CHRISTMAS,
a buzzard on a branch.
In Afghanistan,
no partridge, pear tree;
but my true love sent to me
a card from home.
I sat alone,
crouched in yellow dust,
and traced the grins of my kids
with my thumb.
Somewhere down the line,
for another father, husband,
brother, son, a bullet
with his name on.

2

TWO TURTLE DOVES,
that Shakespeare loved –
turr turr, turr turr –
endangered now
by herbicide,
the chopping down
of where they hide –
turr turr, turr turr –
hawthorn thickets,
hedgerows, woodland.
Summer’s music
fainter, farther…
the spreading drought
of the Sahara.

3

THREE FRENCH HENS –
un, deux, trois –
do not know
that French they are.
Three Welsh lambs –
un, dau, tri –
do not know
that Welsh they baa.
Newborn babies –
one, two, three –
only know
you human be.
Only know
you human be.

4

THE GRENADA DOVE IS CALLING.
The Condor calls from the USA.
The Wood Stork calls from its wetlands.
The Albatross calls from the sea,
on the fourth day of Christmas.
The Yellow-eared Parrot is calling.
The Kakapo calls from NZ.
The Blue-throated Macaw is calling.
The Little Tern calls from Japan, calls
my true love sent to me.
The Corncrake is calling; the Osprey.
The Baikal Teal calls from Korea.
The Cuckoo is calling from England,
four calling birds.

5

THE FIRST GOLD RING WAS GOLD INDEED –
bankers’ profits fired in greed.
The second ring outshone the sun,
fuelled by carbon, doused by none.
Ring three was black gold, O for oil –
a serpent swallowing its tail.
The fourth ring was Celebrity;
Fool’s Gold, winking on TV.
Ring five, religion’s halo, slipped –
a blind for eyes or gag for lips.
With these five gold rings they you wed,
then slip them off when you are dead.
With these five go-o-o-old rings.

6

I BOUGHT A MAGIC GOOSE FROM A JOLLY FARMER.
This goose laid Barack Obama.
I bought a magic goose from a friendly fellow.
This goose laid Fabio Capello.
I bought a magic goose from a maiden (comely).
This goose laid Joanna Lumley.
I bought a magic goose from a busker (poor).
This goose laid Anish Kapoor.
I bought a magic goose from a bargain bin, it
was the goose laid Alan Bennett.
I bought a poisoned goose from a crook (sick, whiffing).
This foul goose laid Nick Griffin.

7

THE SWAN AT COCKERMOUTH –
of a broken heart, one half.
The Mersey Swans, flying
for Hillsborough, wings of justice.
Two, married and mute on the Thames,
watching The Wave.
A Swan for Adrian Mitchell
and a Swan for UA Fanthorpe,
swansongs for poetry.
The Queen’s birds, paired
for life, beauty and truth.

8

ONE MILKED MONEY TO MEND HER MOAT.
Two milked voters to float her boat.
Three milked Parliament to flip her flat.
Four milked Government to snip her cat.
Five milked the dead for close-up tears.
Six milked the tax-payer for years and
years and years…
Seven milked the system to Botox
her brow.
Eight milked herself – the selfish cow.

9

BUT THE DEAD SOLDIER’S LADY DOES NOT DANCE.
But the lady in the Detention Centre
does not dance.
But the honour killing lady does not dance.
But the drowned policeman’s lady
does not dance.
But the lady in the filthy hospital ward
does not dance.
But the lady in Wootton Bassett does not dance.
But the gangmaster’s lady does not dance.
But the lady with the pit bull terrier
does not dance.
But another dead soldier’s lady
does not dance.

10

LORDS DON’T LEAP.
They sleep.

11

WE PAID THE BLUDDY PIPER
fir ‘Royal Bank;
twa pipers each
fir Fred and Phil,
fir Finlay, Fraser, Frank.
Too big tae fail!
The wee dog laughed!
The dish ran awa’ wi’ the spoon…
We paid the bluddy pipers,
but we dinnae call the tune.

12

DID THEY HEAR THE DRUMS IN COPENHAGEN,
banging their warning?
On the twelfth day in Copenhagen
was global warming stopped in its tracks
by Brown and Barack and Hu Jintao,
by Meles Zenawi and Al Sabban,
by Yvo de Boer and Hedegaard?
Did they strike a match
or strike a bargain,
the politicos in Copenhagen?
Did they twiddle their thumbs?
Or hear the drums
and hear the drums
and hear the drums?

What is Given by Andrew Motion

Take William Legge, who
once upon a time
was forty-three, a barrister,
and lived
in comfort with the wife
and child he loved,
and didn’t care if this might
make things tame.

since happiness, or what he
knew of it,
depended on him working
out the place
where everything was most
itself, the space
it best belonged in and preserving that

no matter what, which
meant that come the day
his car slid off a B road,
slowing down
correctly as they travelled
out of town
to take a break, and lost its
way

at once among short grass
and little stones
and ended in the cold arms
of an ash
collapsed there years before
which made the crash
hard proof that something
out of place was prone.

to cause catastrophe, and
killed his wife
and child by folding sharply
inwards on itself, he had no
discipline
to settle him, no stable law
for life,

just randomness – a chaos
like the sight
on cloudless nights of stars
with shooting starts
rip-roaring nowhere in particular.
Or are they planes? Or are
they satellites?
______

Take William, or Will
As he has become,

stripped of his name
and his safe estate

now the rush of loss
has dumped him down

in the freezing gap
of doorways and steps

among the others the same,
all fallen from grace

with rates and foxes
and event those codgers

the stinking badgers
who lost their place

among fields and farms
so went to earth

in a shanty town
of cardboard boxes

where passers-by
might sometimes throw

a word or coins,
and later dream

at home and warm
they hear a spine

curve round and creak
against the rain

or ice-threads snap
when a fuddled head

on its pavement-bed
lifts, then settles back.
______

Take Will again, his swarming poacher’s coat
with long, stuffed pockets,
belt of plastic string
and gust of moonlight cold.
He’s standing there
inside the mantle of the
hostel light
strained forward while the
nightmen ask him in
but can’t be sure. What is
this love built up
from faith and charity? Not
known to him.

They ask again. He stalls
And stamps his boots
so hard star-splinters frazzle the cement –
We only want to know your
name, that’s all –

and squares himself, hands
pushed down deep
to grip those pocket-secrets,
then leans close
enough to smell the food
and warmth. My name?

He lifts his head. My name is
William Legge.

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