A Poem for Christmas

from spiralling ecstatically this

proud nowhere of earth’s most prodigious night
blossoms a newborn babe: around him, eyes
-gifted with every keener appetite
than mere unmiracle can quite appease-
humbly in their imagined bodies kneel
(over time space doom dream while floats the whole

perhapsless mystery of paradise)

mind without soul may blast some universe
to might have been, and stop ten thousand stars
but not one heartbeat of this child; nor shall
even prevail a million questionings
against the silence of his mother’s smile

-whose only secret all creation sings

To people -still clinging to the dialectic stage- with the tendency to squawk “prove it” after every indicative sentence poetry, is like Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, Xanadu, and the Jackalope all rolled up into one. Very little in poetry is scientifically provable. I say this now because in the poem there might seem to be some stretched observations that can only be answered with future readings and further attention paid to the composition.

By starting with the subclause Cummings makes the “this” the object, tapping into the is-ness of verbs, this being is “spiralling ecstatically”. Rearranged the opening lines read: This proud nowhere of earth’s most prodigious night blossoms a newborn babe from spiraling ecstatically. Also note the extra “l” in “spiralling” drawing out “all”.

The “proud nowhere” is Bethlehem. The “most prodigious night” is, in Christian lore, December 25th (prodigious draws on both enormous and prodigy). The “spiralling ecstatically” echoes Dante’s spherical heaven and endless joy. I am always reminded of Robert Lax (1915-2000) admired by Cummings (though I haven’t the chronology to know whether this was written to invoke Lax’s passage) who wrote:

And in the beginning was love. Love made a sphere:
all things grew within it; the sphere then encompassed
beginnings and endings, beginning and end. Love
had a compass whose whirling dance traced out a
sphere of love in the void: in the center thereof
rose a fountain.

The following lines “around him, eyes…humbly in their imagined bodies kneel” are about the animals surrounding Christ’s manger who are “gifted with every keener appitite/ than mere unmiracle can quite appease”. These animals have an appetite that “unmiracle” or shall we say the mundane cannot appease and this appetite is a gift.

The parenthetical comment: “over time space doom dream while floats the whole/ perhapsless mystery of paradise” expands upon what the animals kneel over: time, space, doom (judgement), and dream (reward), but again Cummings has worked in another grammatical double entendre so that the “mystery of paradise” -or the mystery of salvation- floats over time, space, doom, and dream. Perhapsless is a neologism indicating that a sovereign God uses no subjunctives; perhapsless means that there is no question about it.

The big finale mentions Herod and the Principalities and Powers: “mind without soul” (reason without spirit/love) “may blast some universe/ to might have been” (destroy the universe making it a “perhaps” or an “if”) “and stop ten thousand stars” (ten thousand is the classic number indicating everything, stars in the Bible represent leaders) “but not one heartbeat of this child” (this is the dragon trying to consume the virgin with child) “nor shall/ even prevail a million questionings/ against the silence of his mother’s smile” (doubt is contrasted with faith (a million questionings) whose quiet and defeating answer is a smile):

“-whose only secret all creation sings”


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