Song of the innocents

As I understand it, the Catholic Church has today, 28th December, as Holy Innocents’ Day – the one on which King Herod ordered the killing of all the male children in Bethlehem who were two years old, or younger. I think the Greek Orthodox Church marks this slaughter tomorrow. Giotto’s fresco is above; it’s in the Capella degli Scrovegni, outside Padua.

One of Charles Causley’s best known poems is also about Herod. It’s called, in my edition of his collected poems, ‘Innocent’s Song’, although for the life of me I can’t think why the innocent is singular. I don’t suppose it’s a typo, though; I expect Causley had a good reason. Anyway, singular or plural, it’s a wonderful poem: here it is.

INNOCENT’S SONG, by Charles Causley

Who’s that knocking on the window,

Who’s that standing at the door,

What are all those presents

Lying on the kitchen floor?

Who is the smiling stranger

With hair as white as gin,

What is he doing with the children

And who could have let him in?

Why has he rubies on his fingers,

A cold, cold crown on his head,

Why, when he caws his carol,

Does the salty snow run red?

Why does he ferry my fireside

As a spider on a thread,

His fingers made of fuses

And his tongue of gingerbread?

Why does the world before him

Melt in a million suns,

Why do his yellow, yearning eyes

Burn like saffron buns?

Watch where he comes walking

Out of the Christmas flame,

Dancing, double-talking:

Herod is his name.

(My thanks to David Higham Associates for permission to use this poem.)

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