Twelfth Night has come and gone with a last bright flourish, and today I’ve had my own little personal bonfires of Christmas greens in each of the fireplaces. Down came the garlands of pine and the scarlet jewels of holly, the ivy wreaths and the festal red ribbons. Beloved ornaments have been swaddled in tissue and creche figures carefully wrapped and the little kneeling angel that reminds me throughout the blessed bustle what it’s all about has been stowed in her box for another year. And as I’ve worked I’ve been gently haunted by a song, new to me this Christmas season and yet centuries old, which has sung its sweet balm over the tender finality of this dismantling day and stirred my heart with a freshened hope for the New Year. It was really no surprise to find that it was written by the Cavalier poet Robert Herrick, one of my very favorites. I’d like to share it with you here, in the hopes that it will strengthen and thrill your hearts with the good that is always coming–just as it has mine.
Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the mistletoe;
Instead of holly, now upraise
The greener box for show.
The holly hitherto did sway;
Let box now domineer
Until the dancing Easter day
Or Easter’s eve appear.
Then youthful box, which now hath grace
Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.
When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin,
To honor Whitsuntide.
Green rushes then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments,
To readorn the house.
Thus times do shift, each thing his turn does hold;
New things succeed as former things grow old.
Robert Herrick, Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve
It’s become something of an anthem for me this year, and a charge to savor the beauty of the season I’m in, without impatience for the next or undue sadness over that which has passed. I’m even flirting with the idea of taking the poem literally to heart and decorating my house in accordance with the seasons of the liturgical calendar, though Candlemas Eve is a bit of a stretch for the Christmas greens. And I’ll have to come up with an appropriate substitute for yew. 😉
But at least my boxwood wreaths are staying up for a while–they dry so beautifully.
Best blessings, kind readers, on this adventure of a new year. ‘Lift up your heads with joyful hope’, for the God who delights in doing us good is doing a new thing…
Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43: 18, 19