The Oxen

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SATB a cappella with chime (or handbell). A setting of the poem by Thomas Hardy. Mysterious and dramatic, with wonderful text-setting.

Hardy wrote The Oxen in 1915 and it was first published in The Times on 24th December of that year. This poem was written when Hardy was 75 years old and is a memory of childhood. He had referred to this memory in a letter of 1898 to the poet and essayist Sir Edmund Gosse, in which he referred to the belief that Dorset country folk had that, on the stroke of midnight as Christmas Day began, the cattle in their sheds and byres would kneel on the ground in supplication to the new-born baby Jesus, just as people imagined the animals in the stable of the Nativity to have paid homage. This old traditional superstition had clearly stuck with Hardy for many years, and it was therefore a fit subject for a poem to be published on Christmas Eve 17 years later, when Britain was embroiled in the First World War and the world was clearly being changed for ever.


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.