Friday, December 15, 2017

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

In A Far Land Upon A Day

In a far land upon a day,
Where never snow did fall,
Three kings went riding on the way
Bearing presents all.

And one wore red, and one wore gold,
And one was clad in green,
And one was young, and one was old,
And one was in between.

The middle one had human sense,
The young had loving eyes,
The old had much experience,
And all of them were wise.

Choosing no guide by eve and morn
But heaven's starry drifts,
They rode to find the Newly-Born
For whom they carried gifts.

Oh, far away in time they rode
Upon their wanderings,
And still in story goes abroad
The riding of the Kings.

So wise, that in their chosen hour,
As through the world they filed,
They sought not wealth or place or power,
But rode to find a child. 

– Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965)

I've featured Eleanor Farjeon a couple of times already in the last few months (here and here, if you missed them) and in the course of researching her I came across this poem, which I thought would be great to save and share with you near Christmas.

Even for those of us who are not church-going Christians, it's a wondrous story with deep meaning, and I like the way it is told here (by one who was a believer).

Her writing often includes her delight in the natural world; her appreciation of folk tales and mythology, which she subtly reworks to make her own, adding a new dimension; and her wisdom about human nature. Here, too, you may find those things. But she was, above all, a lovely story-teller – or a teller of lovely stories – and this, also, you can see in this piece.

The ballad rhythm (a loosely metrical pattern of alternating 4-beat and 3-beat lines) can gallop inappropriately in the hands of an inexperienced poet. She avoids that trap, slowing the lines with commas, multi-syllabic words, extra syllables in some bars, and long vowels – just enough of them to do the work unobtrusively. I also like the naturalness of the rhymes – except in the first verse, where they seem a bit forced to contemporary ears; but when Farjeon began writing, inverted syntax for the sake of rhyme was an accepted convention. And it does rather fit the understated grandeur she achieves in simple, straightforward, yet artfully chosen words.


Image from Public Domain

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright).


  1. I'm glad you saved this. When I got to the last stanza the entire poem hit a key that brought me round to read again. The observation is incredibly relevant to our time. This event occurred right around the slaughter of the innocents. May kings and lesser souls move themselves to celebrate all children!

  2. This is such a lovely poem to read today, Rosemary. Lovely, in form and in the story it tells. Thank you so much.

  3. Oh this is wonderful....thank you for sharing it!

  4. Rosemary, what a beautiful and timely poem! A wonderful poem to usher in the season.

  5. A charming rhythmical little piece. Enjoyed it. Merry Christmas Rosemary.

  6. An inspired choice for the season, Rosemary. I love rhyme - done well - and this was a joy to read.

    Merry Christmas - and all the best in the New Year.

  7. This is so beautiful and will remain relevant to all times. Thank you Rosemary.


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