‘Carol’ is a Christmas song written by the British writer and poet, Kenneth Grahame. In this beautiful poem, Grahame retells the story of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. The poet is set at night when Joseph and Mary were finding a place to take shelter. The song beautifully describes what the villagers and animals had done on that night before Christ’s birth. There is an uplifting tone in the poet’s voice as finally, Mary was going to give birth to the redeemer of humankind, Jesus Christ. Moreover, he sets a celebratory mood in the poem by putting aside the harshness and hopelessness in the bleak winter.
Summary of Carol
The poem begins with a request to the villagers to keep their doors open to welcome those who are standing outside in the “frosty tide”. The speaker of the poem depicts their condition. They are standing in the cold and waiting to enter one of the houses. There is a sense of waiting in everyone’s tone as something great is going to happen in the morning. Thereafter, the poet quickly shifts to the story of Joseph and Mary. After being tired of walking, they entered into a thatch. It is that holy but lowly stable where Christ was born at the stroke of daybreak on 25th December.
The poem, ‘Carol’ consists of five stanzas each having five lines. The rhyme scheme of the poem is regular. The lines of the poem strictly rhyme together except for the last line of each stanza. However, the last line of each stanza ends with the word “morning”. The overall rhyme scheme of the poem is AAAAB and goes on like this. Moreover, the metrical composition of the poem doesn’t follow a specific pattern as there isn’t any regularity in the syllable count. Whatsoever, the poem is mostly composed of iambic tetrameter with a few trochaic variations. The rising rhythm of this song is consonant with the uplifting tone regarding the birth of Christ.
Kenneth Grahame uses several literary devices in this poem. The poem begins with a metaphor in “frosty tide”. Here, the poet compares tide with snow. Each stanza of the poem ends with an exclamation and those lines act as a refrain. In the second stanza, there is an alliteration in “from far”. Thereafter, the line, “You by the fire and we in the street”, contains an antithesis. In the third stanza, the poet makes use of personification in the line, “Sudden a star had led us on”. Here, the poet also uses a biblical allusion to the angels. The fourth stanza directly alludes to the Nativity of Christ. Moreover, in the last stanza of the poem, the poet personifies the animals who will be the “first to cry NOWELL” to Christ.
Analysis of Carol
Villagers all, this frosty tide,
Let your doors swing open wide,
Though wind may follow, and snow beside,
Yet draw us in by your fire to bide;
Joy shall be yours in the morning!
The poem, ‘Carol’, begins with an address to the villagers. The poetic persona requests them to keep their doors open widely. The weather outside is very cold. The frosty wind is blowing like the tide in the river. Thereafter, the poet says though wind and snow may enter into their open doors, they should welcome each weary traveler who seeks shelter. Here, the speaker is one of the travelers who is seeking help from the villagers. However, at last, the speaker assures them that their kind gesture won’t go in vain as “joy” in the form of Christ is going to be born in the morning.
Here we stand in the cold and the sleet,
Blowing fingers and stamping feet,
Come from far away you to greet—
You by the fire and we in the street—
Bidding you joy in the morning!
Thereafter, the speaker of the poem points where they are waiting. The speaker along with his companions are standing in the cold and sleet. Sleet is a kind of rain containing some ice, as when the snow melts as it falls. The speaker and his friends are blowing their fingers and stamping their feet to keep themselves warm in the bitterly cold weather. They have come from far away only to greet the villagers. However, in the next line, the poet creates a contrast in the line, “You by the fire and we in the street”. The speaker says so to make the villagers take pity on their condition. As they have only come with the joyous news regarding Christ’s birth, the villagers should not hesitate to welcome them.
For ere one half of the night was gone,
Sudden a star has led us on,
Raining bliss and benison—
Bliss to-morrow and more anon,
Joy for every morning!
Before one half of the night was gone the speaker and others followed the course of a star that has appeared suddenly. They are following the direction of that star to reach this village. It’s important to note here that here the village is Bethlehem and the star that guided them is the pole star. It’s a reference to the story of the biblical Magi or the Three Wise Men who visited Jesus Christ after his birth. However, the speaker says the star was raining bliss and benison over them. Here, the poet metaphorically compares the star to an angel. Lastly, the speaker reminds others that angels are showering blessings on them as well as the villagers and won’t stop doing it. The reiteration of the last line makes the reason for the angels doing so clear to others.
Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow—
Saw the star o’er a stable low;
Mary she might not further go—
Welcome thatch, and litter below!
Joy was hers in the morning!
In the fourth stanza of the poem ‘Carol’, there is a reference to Christ’s father “Goodman Joseph”. He toiled through the snow and saw the guiding star over a lowly stable. His wife and Christ’s mother Mary was too tired to walk further. So, they took shelter in the stable. The roof of the stable was made of thatch and the floor was covered with litter. Here, the poet personifies the thatch as if it welcomed Joseph and Mary. Thereafter, the poet says the joy was hers as in the morning little Christ will be playing on her lap.
And then they heard the angels tell
‘Who were the first to cry NOWELL?
Animals all, as it befell,
In the stable where they did dwell!
Joy shall be theirs in the morning!’
Joseph and Mary suddenly heard the angels telling them, “Who were the first to cry NOWELL?” Here, the poet indirectly says that the animals dwelling inside the stable would be first to talk with Christ. They would tell Christ that they were Nowell or not well. Christ appeared to redeem mankind and every creature on earth from their sins. Hence, the animals would express their concern about their sinfulness. However, they would also be happy in the morning. Christ was coming after all!
The song ‘Carol’ appears in the children’s book “The Wind in the Willows”. It’s one of the famous classics of Children’s literature. The book was published in 1908. The ‘Carol’ appears in chapter five of “The Wind in the Willows”. This uplifting song is sung by the field mice to Mole and Rat. However, the song also appears in “Our Holidays in Poetry” published in 1938.
Here is a list of some poems that are similar to the tone and theme of ‘Carol’ by Kenneth Grahame.
- On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity by John Milton – This poem celebrates the birth of Christ and wider worldly reaction.
- A Cradle Song by William Blake – It’s one of the best poems by Blake and the poem has an implicit reference to Jesus Christ.
- In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti – Here, the poet describes Christ’s birth on a “bleak midwinter day”. It’s one of Rossetti’s best poems.
- Christmas by John Betjeman – Here, the poet similarly presents the story of Christ’s birth and it’s one of the best John Betjeman poems.
You can read the analysis of Christmas songs here.