I ran into this poem the first time reading “The Diamond Age” by Neal Stephenson. It is in many ways a dark and subversive poem, especially for, as self titled, a “Christmas story”.
While I already had a fondness of Kiplings short stories, my love of poetry (and history) owes less to my english teachers and more to the science fiction authors I read who shamelessly cribbed poems and stories from the great poets and histories of ages past (Pournelle, Stephenson, Drake, etc..) to bind their future histories with the eternal human condition. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen the Anabasis or the Nika revolts retold.
OR, A Christmas Tale, Told by a School-boy to His Little Brothers and Sisters.
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798)
Underneath an old oak tree
There was of swine a huge company
That grunted as they crunched the mast:
For that was ripe, and fell full fast.
Then they trotted away, for the wind grew high:
One acorn they left, and no more might you spy.
Next came a Raven, that liked not such folly:
He belonged, they did say, to the witch Melancholy!
Blacker was he than blackest jet,
Flew low in the rain, and his feathers not wet.
He picked up the acorn and buried it straight
By the side of a river both deep and great.
Where then did the Raven Go?
He went high and low,
Over hill, over dale, did the black Raven go.
Many Autumns, many Springs
Travelled he with wandering wings:
Many summers, many Winters–
I can’t tell half his adventures.
At length he came back, and with him a She
And the acorn was grown to a tall oak tree.
They built them a nest in the topmost bough,
And young ones they had, and were happy enow.
But soon came a Woodman in leathern guise,
His brow, like a pent-house, hung over his eyes.
He’d an axe in his hand, not a word he spoke,
But with many a hem! and a sturdy stroke,
At length he brought down the poor Raven’s own oak.
His young ones were killed; for they could not depart,
And their mother did die of a broken heart.
The boughs from the trunk the woodman did sever;
And they floated it down on the course of the river.
They sawed it in planks, and its bark they did strip,
And with this tree and others they made a good ship.
The ship, it was launched; but in sight of the land
Such a storm there did rise as no ship would withstand.
It bulged on a rock, and the waves rush’d in fast;
Round and round flew the Raven, and cawed to the blast.
He heard the last shriek of the perishing souls–
See! see! o’er the topmast the mad water rolls!
Right glad was the Raven, and off he went fleet,
And Death riding home on a cloud he did meet,
And he thank’d him again and again for this treat:
They had taken his all, and REVENGE IT WAS SWEET! *