Comfort and Joy

Once upon a time of tidings
in the figure of a boy
came a tale of Christian greetings
first of comfort, then of joy.

Think of all the perfect pairings
- is not this a case sublime?
Two ferocious, flawless feelings
- what more might one ask of time?

Disconnect them from their moorings!
Why should God dictate the line?
Why should those with faith and paintings
specify the way we shine?

Let us meet transcendent mornings
with a sober, grown-up gaze;
joys and comforts, endless endings,
magic from these human days.


1. This poem started with the phrase 'comfort and joy' which popped into my head with a sense of grievance: why should this only be available to those with Christian faith?

2. The line 'tidings of comfort and joy' comes from the Christmas carol 'God rest ye merry gentlemen', so once I had 'comfort and joy' I also had 'tidings'.

3. I didn't want to use the phrase 'tidings of comfort and joy' directly, so they needed to be separate.

4. As I thought about the tidings of the Christmas story, the word 'story' led me to 'once upon a time'.

5. I tried 'once upon a time of tidings' and the rhythm was lovely.  That first line also gave me the rhythm of the second, so I had "Dum-di dum-di dum-di dum-di, dum-di dum-di dum-di dum'

6. At that point I knew I had a verse of four lines, with syllables 8-7-8-7.  (I'm very fond of strict rules:if you're going to have them, use them properly.)

7. It also seemed there was a rhyming scheme here, A-B-A-B

8. I didn't know how many verses I'd need at this point, but I clearly needed words that rhymed with 'tidings'.  So I spent time simply listing as many as I could think of (again, no cheating - only words ending -ing that are ordinarily pluralised in English).

9. The arc of the poem seemed to be: here's a thing; it doesn't seem right; it is amazing, though, isn't it?; let's imagine it if it were different.  That seemed to be four verses.  Originally I had the second and third verses the other way around from how they appear in the final version; the emotional flow seemed better in the final version.

10. At which point I started work on the first verse.  It needed to start with the 'once upon a time' line; and to finish with the 'first of comfort, then of joy' line: the second line turned out to be the hardest.

11. I was also a little uncomfortable with 'Christian' because I pronounce it with two syllables, but some Christians (I think of Cliff Richard) pronounce it with three.  (These ambiguities are why I tend to avoid words like 'our'...)

12. Verses two and three spent a couple of weeks in note form, scribbles and re-arrangements on scraps of paper before they seemed to settle down.  The final verse emerged in a more disciplined way when I sat down to finish the thing off.  Lots of reading it out loud, writing and re-writing it all out long-hand.

13. The word 'transcendent' originally appeared where 'ferocious' is in the second verse, but I discovered that I needed it in the final verse instead.

14. I am still not entirely happy with it; but you have to stop at some point.  And this seems to be the point at which I stop.


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