With trembling fingers did we weave
The holly round the Christmas hearth;
A rainy cloud possess’d the earth,
And sadly fell our Christmas-eve.
At our old pastimes in the hall
We gambol’d, making vain pretence
Of gladness, with an awful sense
Of one mute Shadow watching all.
We paused: the winds were in the beech:
We heard them sweep the winter land;
And in a circle hand-in-hand
Sat silent, looking each at each.
Then echo-like our voices rang;
We sung, tho’ every eye was dim,
A merry song we sang with him
Last year: impetuously we sang.
We ceased:a gentler feeling crept
Upon us: surely rest is meet:
`They rest,’ we said, `their sleep is sweet,’
And silence follow’d, and we wept.
Our voices took a higher range;
Once more we sang: `They do not die
Nor lose their mortal sympathy,
Nor change to us, although they change;
‘Rapt from the fickle and the frail
With gather’d power, yet the same,
Pierces the keen seraphic flame
From orb to orb, from veil to veil.’
Rise, happy morn, rise, holy morn,
Draw forth the cheerful day from night:
O Father, touch the east, and light
The light that shone when Hope was born.
The moment when the sad games stop is well-prepared for. The loss is spoiling their celebration and so it has to be faced. Singing a carol they had sung the previous year with Hallam, allows them to speak, and to affirm their faith, “their sleep is sweet,” which in its simplicity is moving, perhaps more so than the extended theology which follows. “They do not die/nor lose their mortal sympathy.” Well, yes, they do die, and if they now can die no more, how do they keep a fellow -feeling with mortals? The teaching of Jesus Christ about resurrection is a little sceptical about earthly ties continuing. ( see the story of the woman married to seven brothers who all die before her.) The stanza beginning ‘rapt from the fickle and the frail,” is a bright vision of seraphic life.
I ask myself if in the last stanza, Tennyson means the star of Bethlehem or if, with an emphasis on Christmas DAY, he means the sun.