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20. A Christmas gift of poetry
Taking time to honour the blessings of life.
🙏🏼 a quick thank you
This will be my last newsletter of 2021; I’ll resume weekly-ish on Wednesdays in the new year. Thank you for following along so far! I hope these quick hits of art have added some beauty, joy, and inspiration to your days.
Here is one more delightful poem that I know looks like an intimidating block of text, but if you take a minute to dig in, is really worth your time ♥️
suggested reading method
To best savour this artwork, please take a moment to eliminate distractions. Consider minimizing all other windows on your computer; putting other devices (phone, tv etc) aside; taking a deep breath, to the full extent of your lung capacity; and focusing solely on the “artwork” section.
Once you’ve processed that to your satisfaction, the rest of the post is optional reading, provided only to share my own impressions and reasons for choosing this piece.
To Mrs K____, On Her Sending Me an English Christmas Plum-Cake at Paris
What crowding thoughts around me wake,
What marvels in a Christmas-cake!
Ah say, what strange enchantment dwells
Enclosed within its odorous cells?
Is there no small magician bound
Encrusted in its snowy round?
For magic surely lurks in this,
A cake that tells of vanished bliss;
A cake that conjures up to view
The early scenes, when life was new;
When memory knew no sorrows past,
And hope believed in joys that last! —
Mysterious cake, whose folds contain
Life’s calendar of bliss and pain;
That speaks of friends for ever fled,
And wakes the tears I love to shed.
Oft shall I breathe her cherished name
From whose fair hand the offering came:
For she recalls the artless smile
Of nymphs that deck my native isle;
Of beauty that we love to trace,
Allied with tender, modest grace;
Of those who, while abroad they roam,
Retain each charm that gladdens home,
And whose dear friendships can impart
A Christmas banquet for the heart!
by Helen Maria Williams
This poem conveys so many concepts that make the holidays meaningful, however you celebrate them. In these charming rhyming couplets, Williams mentions tradition, nostalgia, friendship, love, generosity, and gratitude, among other good feelings. Regardless of any political entities or societal forces that would seek to divide us, these feelings endure during the holidays, and have the power to bring us together.
While the tone is warm and effusive, the poet-speaker mentions a layer of bittersweetness: folded into this “Mysterious cake” are pain, loss and sadness. I thought this was an interesting choice, as we don’t really think of gifts as containing any sadness. This section of the poem could allude to the fact that everyone struggles throughout the year; whether or not we keep those struggles to ourselves, they infuse the happy moments of our lives with even more poignance and meaning.
With this in mind, I hope we all enjoy our holiday company, meals, and desserts with renewed relish. Life is precious, and this festive season is one of many opportunities to celebrate the company of our loved ones, and all the other blessings we already have. 🍰🎄✨
Helen Maria Williams (1761 - 1827) was a British-born writer and translator who lived in Paris, hosted salons, and spoke out against war, slavery, religion, and Spanish colonial practices. At one point she was imprisoned in Luxembourg for her political beliefs, but continued to write during and after her imprisonment.
Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments!
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