The Holly and The Ivy

Breaking from the usual letter-response format of my blog, I’m posting a poem I’ve written for this Christmas season that I would like to share with my readers. A little background will go a long way to appreciating the content of this poem:

In olden times, a Christmas tradition was a song competition between the men and women of a given town. The contest was to see who could sing the highest praise of their respective symbol: the men were to sing of the holly; and the women, the ivy. At the end of the singing, the two groups would reconcile beneath a row of mistletoe. Many of these songs have been forgotten to time, but some, particularly those sung by the males, have survived. The carol, The Holly and the Ivy, is a product of such remembered songs. I’ve combined those ancient themes, along with the legend of mistletoe being the Herbe de la Croix, whose wood was said to be that used to make the cross of Jesus’ crucifixion, to form an original poem set in the meter of said carol and using Middle English (as best I could).

The Holly and The Ivy
A Retelling of a Classic Carol

  1. As the snow falls at that dark and dreary time of year,
    Friends and fam’ly gather to grow a feeling, O so dear;
    To remember what was born, and ended with a pall,
    When a love and a life was giv’n, at once to save us all.
  2. But seldom is remembered, the story of a pair;
    Whose budding romance betoken’d our savior, O so fair.
    When the woods are blast by ice, and in color are grey,
    These lovers then appear evergreen, in the light of day.
  3. The holly and the ivy, when they were both full grown,
    Upon the wintry day did meet, when they were both alone.
    The holly loved the ivy, and she did love him too;
    But she kept her feelings hidden, to see if he’d be true.
  4. “Now Christmas is tomorrow,” said the doting holly,
    “Thou my wife I plan to make; ‘twill fill my life with jolly.”
    “Not so,” denied the ivy, “when all is grey and iced.
    “These days I am striving outwards, to be like Jesus Christ.
  5. “I started in October, to blossom and to bud,
    “So animals I could give food, when else is draped in mud.”
    The holly stood uprightly, and said, with humble heart,
    “I too am like the savior—I’m trying to do my part.
  6. “In May I bore a blossom as white as any milk;
    “And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ, and swaddled him in silk.
    “Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be on Christmas we shall wed,
    “For Christmas day is on us now; by new year I’ll be dead.
  7. “Now hear the words I say,” continued the old holly,
    “Thou my wife I plan to make; ‘twill fill my life with jolly.”
    “Not so,” denied the ivy, “when all is grey and iced.
    “There’s yet more ways in which I try to be like Jesus Christ.
  8. “Though other shrubs can’t abide, ’till spring my fruit I keep,
    “My berries black feed the fowels, who neither sow nor reap.”
    The holly hunched uprightly, and said, with trembling heart,
    “I too am like the savior—I’m trying to do my part.
  9. “In fall I bore a berry as red as any blood,
    “And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good.
    “Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be on Christmas we shall wed,
    “For Christmas day is past us now; by new year I’ll be dead.
  10. “Now hear the words I say,” pleaded the aged holly,
    “Thou my wife I plan to make; ‘twill fill my life with jolly.”
    “Not so,” denied the ivy, “when all is grey and iced.
    “There’s one more way in which I try to be like Jesus Christ.
  11. “I only grow my flowers high atop my briery face,
    “Kept neither under bushel nor in any secret place.”
    The holly stooped uprightly, and said, with fainting heart,
    “I too am like the savior—I’m trying to do my part.
  12. “Beneath I bear a bark as bitter as any gall,
    “And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.
    “Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be on Christmas we shall wed,
    “For Christmas day is long past us; and now I shall be dead.”
  13. “Now Christmas day is long past us?” questioned the ivy.
    “But thou my spouse I planned to make; to fill my life with thee!”
    “Not so,” cried the lone ivy, “now thou art grey and iced.
    “There’s one last way I wish that I could be like Jesus Christ.”
  14. “To restore that which is lost?” came a voice from above,
    “To conquer death, to green the wood, to mend forever love?”
    “Who art thou?” asked the ivy. “Doth thou the savior know?”
    Then softly came the stranger’s voice, “I am the mistletoe.
  15. “I know sweet Jesus Christ,” said the old plant draped in frost.
    “I was once a great tree from whom they fashion’d out His cross.
    “For that painful sacrifice, the Lord gave a power;
    “Kiss thy man beneath my care and have him from this hour.”
  16. Then the faithful ivy, crying teardrops like a mist,
    Picked up her cold, dear loved one, and gave unto him a kiss.
    “Nay, Ivy, nay,” came the voice of he who once was dead,
    “The new year is upon us now; this day we shall be wed.”
  17. Now for always remember, the story of this pair;
    Whose flowered romance betoken’d our savior, O so fair.
    When thy woods are blast by ice, and in color are grey,
    Through Him thy love shall be evergreen, in the light of day.

—Joseph