My Favorite Christmas Poem

This is my favorite Christmas poem. What’s yours? 

Camels of the Kings

The Camels, the Kings’ Camels, Haie-aie!
Saddles of polished leather, stained red and purple,
Pommels inlaid with ivory and beaten gold,
Bridles of silk embroidery, worked with flowers.
The Camels, the Kings’ Camels!

We are groomed with silver combs,
We are washed with perfumes.
The grain of richest Africa is fed to us,
Our dishes are silver.
Like cloth-of-gold glisten our sleek pelts.
Of all camels, we alone carry the Kings!
Do you wonder that we are proud?
That our hooded eyes are contemptuous?

As we sail past the tented villages
They beat their copper gongs after us.
The windswifts, the desert racers, see them!
Faster than gazelles, faster than hounds,
Haie-aie! The Camels, the Kings’ Camels!
The sand drifts in puffs behind us,
The glinting quartz, the fine, hard grit.
Do you wonder that we look down our noses?
Do you wonder we flare our superior nostrils?

All night we have run under the moon,
Without effort, breathing lightly,
Smooth as a breeze over the desert floor,
One white star our compass.
We have come to no palace, no place
Of towers and minarets and the calling of servants,
But a poor stable in a poor town.
So why are we bending our crested necks?
Why are our heads bowed
And our eyes closed meekly?
Why are we outside this hovel,
Humbly and awkwardly kneeling?
How is it that we know the world is changed?

–Leslie Norris

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14 Responses to My Favorite Christmas Poem

  1. Moriah Jovan says:

    Was this supposed to be in poem format or one long paragraph?

  2. Pardon the technical difficulties. It should be easier to read now!

  3. How I miss Leslie Norris!
    I remember one student who decided she didn’t like Leslie’s poems, and dismissed them as sentimental, Mormon schlock. "She sounds like a typical Mormon from Utah," my student said.
    Well…Leslie Norris was not Mormon, not female, and not from Utah. I can’t ever read this poem aloud without tearing up. So lovely. And so was Leslie.

  4. Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury says:

    I have to confess to being a Philistine when it comes to poetry. I’ve attempted to write it, but usually all I can produce is doggerel.

    And I really haven’t studied much of it at all, though there is poetry that affects me–as in goosebumps and tears.

    I will say, however, that reading "Camels of the Kings" was a lovely experience, and I could almost hear Leslie Norris’ voice as I read (I’ve heard recordings of him reading poetry on the radio, though I’ve never met him).

    Thanks for sharing this poem, Margaret.

  5. Katya says:

    My newest favorite Christmas poem is Night Soliloquy, by Michael Collings.

  6. Katya,

    Could you give us a link and/or publication information for that?

  7. Moriah Jovan says:

    Thank you, Jonathan. :)

  8. Katya says:

    Jonathan and Moriah, it was published in [i]A Season of Calm Weather[/i] (Salt Lake City: Hawkes Pub., 1974). I don’t think it’s available online, but I typed it out for Theric, so I could cut and paste it here, if that’s kosher, copyright-wise.

  9. Th. says:

    .

    I’ll ask him.

  10. Michael R Collings says:

    "Night Soliloquy" is part of a longer Christmas verse-cantata (readers and choir) called "The Gift of Christmas-Tide." It’s in ALL CALM, ALL BRIGHT: CHRISTMAS OFFERINGS–published by Wildside Press a couple of years ago. The book is available at Amazon.com and at my catalog page for Wildside (http://www.wildsidebooks.com/search.asp?keyword=collings).

    The poem is listed as "Mary" and reads as follows:

    Hush, my son.
    Hush, my little one
    Nestled in the hay.
    Your infant cries
    Disturb the sleeping night.
    My little one,
    Can you not feel in my caress
    The love I bear for you?
    You are my first-born son.
    Great things will come through you.
    Hush, hush.
    No tears.
    That’s better.
    Times for tears will come.
    Through you I shall know joy
    And sorrow,
    Happpiness
    And pain.
    Life
    And death.
    I, and all the world.

    But that is yet to come.
    For now,
    For this night and for the fleeting days to come,
    You are my son,
    An infant
    Lying swaddled on sweet-smelling straw.
    The pain is yet to come.

    This night is still.
    Bethlehem lies deep in sleep.
    Sleep….
    Sleep, my little one.

    I’m pleased that it has been mentioned here. It appeared years ago in the old ERA, then again in SEASON, which had very limited distribution. ALL CALM basically contains all of my Christmas verse through about 2007, including several verse-cantatas that have been used as Sacrament programs over the years.

  11. It’s not quite a poem (though written by a poet and highly poetic), but our family has a favorite 1987 dramatization of A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, starring Denholm Elliott, which we try to watch each year. The video was almost impossible to find for a while, but now seems to be available again: http://www.amazon.com/Childs-Christmas-Wales-Denholm-Elliott/dp/B000AOEN90

  12. Katya says:

    Hi Michael! The poem I was thinking of actually starts "It’s dark tonight. / What with all these visitors / In Bethlehem for taxing"–is that part of the same cycle?

  13. Yes, the "Innkeeper" segment comes just before "Mary.” The verse-cantata also includes soliloquies for shepherds, a Wiseman, Nephi, and the Voice of the Christ.

    It’s dark tonight.
    What with all these visitors
    In Bethlehem for taxing,
    One would think the streets
    Would be alive with revelers.
    The hills around the city
    Should resound with laughter
    From the happy and the drunk.
    Perhaps the presence of the Roman soldiers
    Keeps these peasants calm.
    No mind!
    I’ll not complain
    If the still night air is silent.
    My inn is full,
    And likely will be full for many days.
    Now that’s a pleasant feeling—
    A full inn, even the courtyard full,
    And silver coins crowding in my purse.
    Ah! that’s pleasant.
    And more, I’m happy.
    I can’t remember ever being happy,
    Truly happy, until this night.
    And even stranger—this is a happiness
    Quite apart from money,
    Inns,
    Or other business.

    I think this must be how
    Those young folks feel.
    I’ve never seen a pair so much in love—
    Or quite so tired.
    They must have searched for hours
    To find a room.
    A room!
    In crowded Bethlehem.
    His voice was low and cracked,
    Dried by desert heat:
    “Please, have you a room?
    We have asked in all of Bethlehem,
    But all is full.
    My wife is tired.
    Have you anything?”

    I almost told him no.
    Almost.
    And would have, too,
    Had I not seen her face.

    If ever I behold an angel,
    It will look like her—
    Sweet, loving, pure.
    And I could tell
    Her time was near
    To bear a child.
    I wish I could have helped them more.
    A stable is not much.
    Oh, it is clean,
    The straw is fresh and sweet.
    But still, it’s just a stable.
    I wish….

    It is a lovely night.
    Not a sound.
    The stars are out in glory.
    Strange….
    There’s one I’ve never seen.
    It’s a bright one, too,
    Silvering the shadows with
    Its warm light.
    I wonder why I’ve never seen that star before.
    It seems as if it were just lit,
    A brilliant lantern in the sky
    Above my stable roof,
    To tell us all of some great deed.
    A wondrous star.

    A sound….
    A newborn baby’s cry.

  14. Katya says:

    Beautiful. Thanks for posting it!

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