Christmas 2013: “A Carol for Children”

Almost all the verse that Ogden Nash wrote had a humorous touch, sometimes gently satirical, sometimes whimsical. But there were notable exceptions, one of which was “A Carol for Children,” published in December, 1935. The nation was deep in the Depression, militarism was on the rise in Europe, and Nash’s poem in The New Yorker conveyed a message that was reverent, but quite lacking in seasonal jollity. More than four decades later, on Christmas Day, 1978, the poem became the centerpiece of the lead editorial in The New York Times. Today, alas, its message is as timely as it was in 1935 or 1978 and in some respects, perhaps, even more so.

  A Carol for Children

God rest you, merry Innocents,
Let nothing you dismay,
Let nothing wound an eager heart
Upon this Christmas Day.

Yours be the genial holly wreaths,
The stockings and the tree;
An aged world to you bequeaths
Its own forgotten glee.

Soon, soon enough come crueler gifts,
The anger and the tears;
Between you now there sparsely drifts
A handful yet of years.

Oh dimly, dimly glows the star
Through the electric throng;
The bidding in temple and bazaar
Drowns out the silver song.

The ancient altar smokes afresh,
The ancient idols stir;
Faint in the reek of burning flesh
Sink frankincense and myrrh.

Gaspar, Balthasar, Melchior!
Where are your offerings now?
What greetings to the Prince of War,
His darkly branded brow?

Two ultimate laws alone we know,
The ledger and the sword –
So far away, so long ago,
We lost the infant Lord.

Only the children clasp his hand;
His voice speaks low to them,
And still for them the shining band
Wings over Bethlehem.

God rest you, merry Innocents,
While innocence endures.
A sweeter Christmas than we to ours
May you bequeath to yours.

                                                       *     *     *     *

Despite its sombre tone, Nash’s poem concluded by looking to a sweeter Christmas in years to come. That is an aspiration in which we all might join, and on that hopeful note, wishes a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to RINOs and their friends–and anyone else who might happen this way.

9 thoughts on “Christmas 2013: “A Carol for Children”

  • I liked this, Doug. Good of you to bring it to light again. The final verse reminds me a bit of Pope’s “Hope springs eternal in the human breast; man never is, but is always to be, blessed.”

    A happy new year to us all!

  • Thank you!
    Also, thank you for your card. We have now stopped sending out greeting cards.
    However, with luck and the assistance of my IT department tomorrow, you may receive (or have already received) an emailed message with a picture of and greeting from our much-missed orange tabby “Angel” sitting under our Christmas tree on the only Christmas (2005) we were privileged to have her here with us on earth.

  • Dear Doug,
    Merry Christmas to you and your family too, and thanks so much for putting me in touch with Heather!

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