Voltaire once said, “Poetry is the music of the soul, and, above all, of great and feeling souls.” Christmas is a time when the music of poetry takes on an entirely new significance – it brings families and friends closer to each other. Over the centuries many famous poets have lent their pen and their minds to writing about this beautiful holiday. Here are just a few of the best and most loved Christmas poems for you to share with your near and dear ones.
“A Visit from St. Nicholas” (also known as “The Night Before Christmas” and “Twas the Night Before Christmas” from its first line) is a poem first published in 1823. It is generally attributed to Clement Clarke Moore (July 15, 1779 – July 10, 1863), although it has also been claimed that Henry Livingston Jr wrote it. It is largely responsible for the conception of Santa Claus from the mid-nineteenth century to today, including his physical appearance, the night of his visit, his mode of transportation, the number and names of his reindeer, and the tradition that he brings toys to children. Prior to the poem, American ideas about St. Nicholas varied considerably. The poem has influenced ideas about St. Nicholas and Santa Claus beyond the United States to the rest of the English-speaking world and beyond.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (February 27, 1807 – March 24, 1882) was an American educator and poet. Longfellow predominantly wrote lyric poems which are known for their musicality and which often presented stories of mythology and legend. He became the most popular American poet of his day and also had success overseas. The rapidity with which American readers embraced Longfellow was unparalleled in publishing history in the United States, by 1874, he was earning $3,000 per poem. His popularity spread throughout Europe as well and his poetry was translated during his lifetime into Italian, French, German, and other languages.
William Blake (28 November 1757–12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognized during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. Reverent of the Bible but hostile to the Church of England, Blake was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French and American revolutions, as well as by such thinkers as Jakob Böhme and Emanuel Swedenborg.
Robert Lee Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) was an American poet. He is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech. A popular and often-quoted poet, Frost was honored frequently during his lifetime, receiving four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry. His work frequently employed settings from rural life in New England in the early twentieth century, using them to examine complex social and philosophical themes.
William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850) was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads. Wordsworth was England’s Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death in 1850. His father was John Wordsworth, an attorney to the 1st Earl of Lonsdale. The magnificent landscape of his birthplace, Cockermouth in the Lake District, deeply affected Wordsworth’s imagination and gave him a love of nature.
Lord Alfred Tennyson, (6 August 1809 – 6 October 1892) was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during much of Queen Victoria’s reign and remains one of the most popular poets in the English language. Tennyson wrote a number of phrases that have become commonplaces of the English language, including: “Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all”, “Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die”, and “The old order changeth, yielding place to new”. He is the second most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations after Shakespeare.
Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson (13 November 1850 – 3 December 1894) was a Scottish novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer. The late 20th century saw the start of a re-evaluation of Stevenson as an artist of great range and insight, a literary theorist, an essayist and social critic, a witness to the colonial history of the Pacific Islands, and a humanist. Stevenson is ranked the 25th most translated author in the world, ahead of fellow nineteenth-century writers Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe.
Sara Teasdale (August 8, 1884 – January 29, 1933) is a world recognized American lyrical poet. She was born Sarah Trevor Teasdale in St. Louis, Missouri to Mary Elizabeth Willard and John Warren Teasdale. She was the winner of the Columbia University Poetry Society prize, the forerunner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and she won the annual prize of the Poetry Society of America for her volume, Love Songs, in 1918. She was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame, in 1994.
Rudyard Kipling (30 December 1865 – 18 January 1936) is the author of The Jungle Book and other British-flavored tales of the Indian subcontinent. Kipling was born in India to British parents, but spent much of his childhood at school in England before returning to India in his teens. In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, making him the first English language writer to receive the prize, and to date he remains its youngest recipient. Among other honours, he was sounded out for the British Poet Laureateship and on several occasions for a knighthood, all of which he declined.
Christina Georgina Rossetti (5 December 1830 – 29 December 1894) was an English poet who wrote a variety of romantic, devotional, and children’s poems. Her Christmas poem “In the Bleak Midwinter” became widely known after her death when set as a Christmas carol first by Gustav Holst, and then by Harold Darke: in this setting it was judged in 1998 the best carol in a poll of some of the world’s leading choirmasters and choral experts.
Frederic Ogden Nash (August 19, 1902 – May 19, 1971) was an American poet well known for his light verse. Nash was a celebrity during his day, appearing on radio and later television programs as a panelist. He was inducted into both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and National Institute of Arts and Letters. During the 1950s, he wrote more frequently for the children’s market, finding success with such titles as The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus (1957), Custard the Dragon (1959), and Girls are Silly (1962).
Wystan Hugh Auden (21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973), who signed his works W. H. Auden, was an Anglo-American poet, born in England, later an American citizen, regarded by many as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. The central themes of his poetry are love, politics and citizenship, religion and morals, and the relationship between unique human beings and the anonymous, impersonal world of nature. Christmas Oratorio (1944) is a poem of dramatic monologues spoken by the characters in the Christmas story and by choruses and a narrator. The characters all speak in modern diction, and the events of the story are portrayed as if they occurred in the contemporary world. The poem is dedicated to the memory of Auden’s mother, Constance Rosalie Bicknell Auden.
The poem “The Last Christmas Tree” (© 1992) is part of a collection called The Solstice Evergreen, a collection of stories revealing the hidden meanings of evergreen trees in the home at the Winter solstice throughout history.
Tamara Hillman was born in Twisp, Washington, a small ranching/logging community in the northern part of the state. After a thirty-year career as a beautician and owner of several salons, Tamara Hillman retired and decided to pursue her passion- writing. She was most comfortable in writing poems and prose from those warm memories of country and cowboy life. Thus, cowboy poetry and western novels came easily to her and she started a new career writing mostly in these two genres. Missing you at Christmas (© 2006) was written for her 29 year old son who passed away.
Walter John de la Mare (25 April 1873 – 22 June 1956) was an English poet, short story writer and novelist, probably best remembered for his works for children. From 1890 to 1908 he worked in London in the accounting department of the Anglo-American Oil Company. His career as a writer started from about 1895 and he continued to publish to the end of his life.
The Author of Away in a Manger remains unknown. Some early works suggested it was written by the German reformer Martin Luther, although this appears unlikely. It is probably a late-nineteenth-century American carol. A possible reason for the spurious attribution to Luther is that it was likely a poem read in Lutherian children’s celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the birth of Luther in 1883. The tune of the song is not universal; indeed over forty different tunes have been placed alongside the lyrics in hymn books. In the UK the most popular is William J. Kirkpatrick’s Cradle Song, which is a Gospel song.
One of the best-loved Christmas poems is the 129-year-old carol: Good King Wenceslas. In 1853, John Mason Neale chose Wenceslas as the subject for a children’s song to exemplify generosity. It quickly became a Christmas favorite, even though its words clearly indicate that Wenceslas ‘looked out’ on St. Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas. The poem is about a king who goes out to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen. During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by the heat miraculously emanating from the king’s footprints in the snow.
Theodor Seuss Geisel (March 2, 1904 – September 24, 1991) was an American writer and cartoonist most widely known for his children’s books written under the pen name Dr. Seuss. He published over 60 children’s books, which were often characterized by imaginative characters, rhyme, and frequent use of trisyllabic meter. Geisel also worked as an illustrator for advertising campaigns and as a political cartoonist for PM, a New York City newspaper. During World War II, he worked in an animation department of the U.S Army, where he wrote Design for Death, a film that later won the 1947 Academy Award for Documentary Feature.
Edgar Albert Guest (August 20, 1881– August 5, 1959) was a prolific American poet who was popular in the first half of the 20th Century and became known as the People’s Poet. From his first published work in the Detroit Free Press until his death in 1959, Guest penned some 11,000 poems, which were syndicated in some 300 newspapers and collected in more than 20 books. Guest was made Poet Laureate of Michigan, the only poet to have been awarded the title.
Edward Estlin Cummings (October 14, 1894 – September 3, 1962), popularly known as E. E. Cummings, with the abbreviated form of his name often written by others in lowercase letters as e.e. cummings (in the style of some of his poems), was an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright. His body of work encompasses approximately 2,900 poems, two autobiographical novels, four plays and several essays, as well as numerous drawings and paintings. He is remembered as a preeminent voice of 20th century poetry, as well as one of the most popular.
And that concludes our long list of some the best Christmas poetry ever published. As you go through this selection, you will find that these poems are actually about a variety of different human emotions, ranging from love, loss, humor, politics, beauty, art and of course, charity and forgiveness. But the common thread that runs through all these wonderful pieces of writing is the underlying and overriding spirit of Christmas.