Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Mahogany Tree

This Christmas, as has been my practice for the past few years, I use my mahogany dining room table as my "Christmas Tree" with decoration and gifts adorning its mien. Thinking on this reminded me of similar traditions expressed by William Makepeace Thackery (1811-1863) in the following poem:

The Mahogany Tree

Christmas is here:
Winds whistle shrill,
Icy and chill,
Little care we:
Little we fear
Weather without,
Shelter about
The Mahogany Tree.

Once on the boughs
Birds of rare plume
Sang, in its bloom;
Night-birds are we:
Here we carouse,
Singing like them,
Perched round the stem
Of the jolly old tree.

Here let us sport,
Boys, as we sit;
Laughter and wit
Flashing so free.
Life is but short --
When we are gone,
Let them sing on
Round the old tree.

Evenings we knew,
Happy as this;
Faces we miss,
Pleasant to see.
Kind hearts and true,
Gentle and just,
31Peace to your dust!
We sing round the tree.

Care, like a dun,
Lurks at the gate:
Let the dog wait;
Happy we'll be!
Drink, every one;
Pile up the coals,
Fill the red bowls,
Round the old tree!

Drain we the cup. --
Friend, art afraid?
Spirits are laid
In the Red Sea.
Mantle it up;
Empty it yet;
Let us forget,
Round the old tree.

Sorrows, begone!
Life and its ills,
Duns and their bills,
Bid we to flee.
Come with the dawn,
Blue-devil sprite,
Leave us to-night,
Round the old tree.

In their notes on this poem, the commentators at RPO, the University of Toronto's on-line poetry site, tell us that "Mahogany, a wood imported to England from the Americas, was used for fine furniture, especially the dining table, which became known popularly as 'the Mahogany tree.' Mahogany was also the name of an alcoholic drink, such as gin and treacle, or brandy and water." William Makepeace Thackery died on December 24, 1863.

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