Nearly 200 hundred years ago, the poet William Wordsworth was celebrating Christmas at his cottage in England’s Lake District.
Wordsworth, like Thomas Hardy after him, was fond of rural life and customs. The following verses were written in 1819/20, whose winters were notably colder than average. That would not have prevented the village quire from visiting Dove Cottage, where Wordsworth was living with his sister Dorothy and where they probably celebrated Christmas with their close friend, the poet Robert Southey.
The poem “Minstrels” actually has 13 verses, reminiscing about past tradition and rejecting the bustle of London for the simple tranquillity of the countryside. But only the first three verses are well known:
“The minstrels played their Christmas tune
To-night beneath my cottage-eaves;
While, smitten by a lofty moon,
The encircling laurels, thick with leaves,
Gave back a rich and dazzling sheen,
That overpowered their natural green.
Through hill and valley every breeze
Had sunk to rest with folded wings:
Keen was the air, but could not freeze,
Nor check, the music of the strings;
So stout and hardy were the band
That scraped the chords with strenuous hand.
And who but listened? – till was paid
Respect to every inmate’s claim,
The greeting given, the music played
In honour of each household name,
Duly pronounced with lusty call,
And ‘Merry Christmas’ wished to all.”
“Cottage by a Canal in The Snow” by the Norwegian impressionist painter Fritz Thaulow (1847-1906).