Adam Bryant Marshall
At the end of his book Christmas in America, historian Penne L. Restad concludes that, despite the sense that “profanation, secularization, commercialization, and prevalence throughout American life have delustered it…Christmas remains the most important holiday on our nation’s calendar.” Given the central place that Christmas has long held in America’s public life, then, one should hardly be surprised to find that Robert Frost, who consistently shaped his career to reflect many of the values and conflicts of his American reading public, made Christmas a recurring theme throughout his work. A deft careerist as well as a poet, Frost seems to have recognized the centrality of Christmastime to the national identity that provided a foundation for so much of his poetry. One sign of the place that Christmas held in Frost’s poetry, for instance, was his practice of producing an annual series of “Christmas cards”—small chapbooks featuring attractive woodcut illustrations of the wintry New England countryside alongside selections from his published verse. Over the four decades from 1929 to 1962 during which they were produced, these cards became useful tools for Frost’s program of self-promotion—he would send them not only to friends and family members, but also to publishers, editors, and others upon whose support Frost’s career depended.
I ask no merrier ChristmasThan the hungry bereft and cold shall knowThat night.This is all I can give so that none shall want—My heart and soul to share their depth of woe. (1-5)
Here I shall sit, the fire out, and croonAll the dismal and joy-forsaken airs,Sole alone, and thirsty with them that thirst,Hungry with them that hunger and are accurst. (9-12)
I doubt if I was tempted for a momentTo sell them off their feet to go in carsAnd leave the slope behind the house all bare,Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.I’d hate to have them know it if I was. (16-20)
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.Then whether from mistaken courtesyAnd fear of seeming short of speech, or whetherFrom hope of hearing good of what was mine,I said, ‘There aren’t enough to be worth while.’[…]‘You could look.But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.’ (25-32)
You nick my spruce until its fiber cracks,It gives up standing straight and goes down swishing.You link in its arm and you leanAcross the light snow homeward smelling green. (2-6)
I must not spoil your Christmas with contrition.It is your Christmases against my woods.But even where, thus, opposing interests kill,They are thought of as opposing goodsOftener than as conflicting good and evil… (12-6)