December 25, 2010

Timrod: peace in all our hearts!

How would one celebrate a holiday when war has torn your world apart? That is the question South Carolina-born poet Henry Timrod asked in his poem "Christmas." Timrod, whose own enlistment in the Confederate Army was short-lived, recognizes that his battle-torn home land of the South can not look at their sacred holiday the same way:

   How grace this hallowed day?
Shall happy bells, from yonder ancient spire,
Send their glad greetings to each Christmas fire
   Round which the children play?

...How shall "we grace the day?
With feast, and song, and dance, and antique sports,
And shout of happy children in the courts,
   And tales of ghost and fay?

"Dread shapes of battle" will appear in our mind's eye, no matter how much we try to celebrate. We will sadly remember "some loved reveller" who now lies mute beneath the snow "in cold Virginian earth." Timrod, later nicknamed the Poet Laureate of the Confederacy, comes to the conclusion that there is only one way to celebrate Christmas now: pray for peace. The message is substantially different from his earlier sentiment to prepare for battle. The poem is almost heart-wrenching in its sincere plea:

...Pray for the peace which long
Hath left this tortured land, and haply now
Holds its white court on some far mountain's brow,
   There hardly safe from wrong!

   Let every sacred fane
Call its sad votaries to the shrine of God,
And, with the cloister and the tented sod,
   Join in one solemn strain!

...He, who, till time shall cease,
Will watch that earth, where once, not all in vain,
He died to give us peace, may not disdain
   A prayer whose theme is—peace...

   Oh, ponder what it means!
Oh, turn the rapturous thought in every way!
Oh, give the vision and the fancy play,
   And shape the corning scenes!

   Peace in the quiet dales,
Made rankly fertile by the blood of men,
Peace in the woodland, and the lonely glen,
   Peace in the peopled vales!

   Peace in the crowded town,
Peace in a thousand fields of waving grain,
Peace in the highway and the flowery lane,
   Peace on the wind-swept down!

   Peace on the farthest seas,
Peace in our sheltered bays and ample streams,
Peace wheresoe'er our starry garland gleams,
   And peace in every breeze!

   Peace on the whirring marts,
Peace where the scholar thinks, the hunter roams,
Peace, God of Peace! peace, peace, in all our homes,
   And peace in all our hearts!


  1. Merry Christmas!

    {"prace for peace"?)