A Holiday Poem

December 24, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT

ROBERT PINSKY: Thomas Hardy’s Christmas poem, “The Oxen,” has to do with the legend that at midnight on Christmas Eve the oxen are said to kneel in their stalls.

The Oxen 

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock. 
‘Now they are all on their knees,’ 
An elder said as we sat in a flock 
By the embers in hearthside ease. 

We pictured the meek mild creatures where 
They dwelt in their strawy pen, 
Nor did it occur to one of us there 
To doubt they were kneeling then. 

So fair a fancy few would weave 
In these years! Yet, I feel, 
If someone said on Christmas Eve, 
‘Come; see the oxen kneel, 

‘In the lonely barton by yonder coomb 
Our childhood used to know,’ 
I should go with him in the gloom, 
Hoping it might be so.