Eddi’s Service

This is my favorite Christmas poem. It’s funny, and bittersweet, and captures very well, I think, the transcendent point of the humble event at the heart of this holiday, a point powerfully expressed in the carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” when we sing:

What can I give Him / Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd / I would give a lamb.
If I were a wise man / I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: / Give my heart.

That is, we give whatever we can, to whomever we can. He will always receive it (Matt. 25:40).

Also, as someone who grew up on a farm and milked cows on many Christmas Eves and Christmas mornings, I appreciate the reverence of the animals in the poem; for of course, as we all know, at midnight on Christmas Eve all animals can talk. Enjoy, and to all my fellow Times and Seasoners, and everyone else who visits this site, have a merry and blessed Christmas holiday.

Eddi’s Service, by Rudyard Kipling

(A.D. 687)

Eddi, priest of St. Wilfrid
In his chapel at Manhood End,
Ordered a midnight service
For such as cared to attend.

But the Saxons were keeping Christmas,
And the night was stormy as well.
Nobody came to service,
Though Eddi rang the bell.

“Wicked weather for walking,”
Said Eddi of Manhood End.
“But I must go on with the service
For such as care to attend.”

The altar-lamps were lighted —
An old marsh-donkey came,
Bold as a guest invited,
And stared at the guttering flame.

The storm beat on at the windows,
The water splashed on the floor,
And a wet, yoke-weary bullock
Pushed in through the open door.

“How do I know what is greatest,
How do I know what is least?
That is My Father’s business,”
Said Eddi, Wilfrid’s priest.

“But — three are gathered together —
Listen to me and attend.
I bring good news, my brethren!”
Said Eddi of Manhood End.

And he told the Ox of a Manger
And a Stall in Bethlehem,
And he spoke to the Ass of a Rider,
That rode to Jerusalem.

They steamed and dripped in the chancel,
They listened and never stirred,
While, just as though they were Bishops,
Eddi preached them The Word.

Till the gale blew off on the marshes
And the windows showed the day,
And the Ox and the Ass together
Wheeled and clattered away.

And when the Saxons mocked him,
Said Eddi of Manhood End,
“I dare not shut His chapel
On such as care to attend.”

3 comments for “Eddi’s Service

  1. Here’s one of my favorites–a variation on the theme:

    The Oxen

    Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
    ‘Now they are all on their knees,’ an elder said,
    As we sat by the embers in hearthside ease.

    So fair a fancy few would weave in these years,
    Yet I feel, if someone said on Christmas Eve,
    ‘Come, see the oxen kneel in the lonely barton, by yonder coomb
    our childhood used to know,’
    I should go with him in the gloom,
    Hoping it might be so.

    –Thomas Hardy

  2. Russell,

    Yes, at midnight on Christmas Eve animals can talk. But those who hear them die. Milk at your peril.


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