Thursday, 24 December 2009

A Devonshire Christmas

Best wishes of the season to all our readers.

Click to enlarge - Scrooge's third visitor, John Leech illustration for 1843 first edition of Dicken's A Christmas Carol. I don't think I'll have that pudding at the back, that's been in contact with a dead pig and someone's foot.

A Devonshire Christmas


How goes it, Father Christmas?—
Oh picking—picking—along!
But give me a piece of crumple-cheese
And you shall hear my song.
Ay, settle your chestnuts down to roast,.
And fill me a cup of ale;
Then kiss the girl that you fancy most,
And you shall hear my tale.


Froth him a cup of the home-brewed
That is both old and strong!
How goes it, Father Christmas?—
Oh picking—picking—along.


From Adam and Eve to the Magi,
The ghosts of the old time fade;
And I, myself, would be laid on the shelf
If it weren't for the mirth I've made :
And yet, tho' our youth in Paradise
Be a fable past recall,
We have seen the glory of sinless eyes,
And we have watched the Fall.


So fables may be fancies,
And yet not very far wrong!
How goes it, Father Christmas?
Oh picking—picking—along!


I walked last night on Dartmoor,
The wind was bitterly cold,
My crimson cloak was a thread-bare joke,
And my bones were brittle and old.
I had forgotten the world's desire
And all the stars were dead,
When I sank right up to my knees in mire,
At the door of a cattle-shed.


I saw the oldest oxen
That ever knew goad or thong;
Their sweet breath smoked in the frosty light
Of the lanthorn that I swung.


I saw those oxen kneeling,
So gentle and dumb and wise,
By a child that lay in the straw and smiled
At their big dark shining eyes !
While a woman breathed "lullay, lullay,"
The Magi need not roam
So long ago, so far away,
When heaven is born at home.


Then all my heart sang "Gloria"
I lacked no angel throng,
As over the lonely moor I went I
Picking, picking along.

And over the farm on the whistling fells
I saw the great star glide;
And "Peace on earth" rang Modbury bells,
And Ermington bells replied.
How goes it, Father Christmas?
Was the burden of all their song;
And what could a Devonshire pedlar say
But "Picking—picking along."


He needs a cloak and a pair of shoes,
But his heart is young and strong!
How goes it, Father Christmas?
Oh picking—picking—along.

This comes from the anthology The elfin artist and other poems (c. 1920) by Alfred Noyes (1880 – 1958). Although he had no particular connection with Devon - he was born in Wolverhampton, spent much of his working life in the USA, and lived his final years in the Isle of Wight - Noyes wrote a number of poems on Devon themes, including A Devonshire Christmas, A Devonshire Ditty, A Devonshire Folk Song ("about Drake and his Tavistock lass"), A Devonshire Song, and Drake, an English epic. He was a highly prolific poet, and many of his works are online at the Internet Archive.
- Ray


  1. And to you, too :-)

  2. You know, when I was a kid, my father used to like rhyming poetry. I think he liked Kipling and our own Longfellow. He could recite long verses by memory. I would dare say not a child in this town could recite a poem by memory. I really wonder how much poetry is part of our culture these days. Anyway:

    Merry Christmas!