Friday, December 23, 2011

#5 Ode to Christmas (in India)

Dim dawn behind the tamarisks — the sky is saffron-yellow — 
As the women in the village grind the corn,
And the parrots seek the riverside, each calling to his fellow
That the Day, the staring Easter Day is born.
Oh the white dust on the highway! Oh the stenches in the byway!
Oh the clammy fog that hovers
And at Home they're making merry 'neath the white and scarlet berry —
What part have India's exiles in their mirth?

Full day begin the tamarisks — the sky is blue and staring —
As the cattle crawl afield beneath the yoke,
And they bear One o'er the field-path, who is past all hope or caring,
To the ghat below the curling wreaths of smoke.
Call on Rama, going slowly, as ye bear a brother lowly —
Call on Rama — he may hear, perhaps, your voice!
With our hymn-books and our psalters we appeal to other altars,
And to-day we bid "good Christian men rejoice!"

High noon behind the tamarisks — the sun is hot above us —
As at Home the Christmas Day is breaking wan.
They will drink our healths at dinner — those who tell us how they love us,
And forget us till another year be gone!
Oh the toil that knows no breaking! Oh the Heimweh, ceaseless, aching!
Oh the black dividing Sea and alien Plain!
Youth was cheap — wherefore we sold it.
Gold was good — we hoped to hold it,
And to-day we know the fulness of our gain.

Grey dusk behind the tamarisks — the parrots fly together —
As the sun is sinking slowly over Home;
And his last ray seems to mock us shackled in a lifelong tether.
That drags us back how'er so far we roam.
Hard her service, poor her payment — she is ancient, tattered raiment —
India, she the grim Stepmother of our kind.
If a year of life be lent her, if her temple's shrine we enter,
The door is hut — we may not look behind.

Black night behind the tamarisks — the owls begin their chorus —
As the conches from the temple scream and bray.
With the fruitless years behind us, and the hopeless years before us,
Let us honor, O my brother, Christmas Day!
Call a truce, then, to our labors — let us feast with friends and neighbors,
And be merry as the custom of our caste;
For if "faint and forced the laughter," and if sadness follow after,
We are richer by one mocking Christmas past.


  1. Interesting portrayal of another culture and land (to me), made vivid by various well-described sights and sounds such as:

    As the conches from the temple scream and bray.


    the sky is saffron-yellow

    I also enjoyed the rhythm and rhymes, and the repeated use of tamarisks and the day changing behind them.

  2. HKatz, thanks for visiting. Though Kipling was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) and was taken to England at the age of five, much of his writing is influenced by India and Indian culture. I'd never read this particular poem before I posted it.