(MP3 link fixed)
Do youremember what Christmas was like when you were a child? Your intangible excitement and its steady restlessness? At some point for me this gave way to cynicism and, many years later, this cynicism melted into thankfulness mixed with a yearning. A desire sprung from a place deeper, and less easily consoled, than seasonal melancholy. A return to the uncomplicated thoughts of childhood isn’t desirable anymore. It is a blessing and burden of adulthood to be charged with seeking meaning and permanence in a world so seemingly short of each. Children don’t need an excuse to wander their world innocently; men rarely have excuses good enough. Each man struggles with his own soul, as he must, and he always fights in private.
Every year John F. Deane‘s “Driving To Midnight Mass On Christmas Eve” is imbued with additional meaning for me. I first read it over 20 years ago and, when I consider how much more it means to me now than it did then, I can’t help but feel it was pearls before swine in my teens. I’d like to think it’s not now.
I had heard Bono’s recitation of the poem long before I had read the text. His accent obscured some of the lines and, by virtue of it being a verbal rendition, it never provided the same experience I would have when finally reading it myself.
The MP3 below is Bono’s recitation as broadcast on Dublin Radio in December 1983. I’ve included the full text of the poem below.
Nothing else I’ve ever read has held exactly the same meaning for me, especially at this time of year, or connected in exactly the same way with the sentiments posted above.
Driving To Midnight Mass On Christmas Eve
John F. Deane
Five-thousand million years ago, this earth lay heaving in a mass of rocks and fire
Wasting, burdened with its emptiness
Tonight, when arthropods and worms and sponges have given way to dinosaurs
And dinosaurs to working, wandering apes
Homo erectus have given way to sapiens, and he to
Homo sapiens sapiens (alias: Paddy Mack).
Look down on Dublin from the hills around
And lights could be a million Christmas trees
Still firs standing, while in the sky a glow as if of dawn
This day a light shall shine on us
The Lord is born within our city.
Look along to the river toward O’Connell Bridge
The lights, the neon signs, all stream on water like breathed-on strips of tinsel
All is still.
Eleven-thirty, pubs begin to empty
Men stop to argue, sway and say the name of Jesus
For those who have known darkness
Who have now seen a wonderous light
Those who have dwelt on unlit streets
To them the light has come.
Tonight, few cars go by
The blocks of flats with windowed-plastic trees
And fairy lights stand, watching for a miracle
Here are no dells where fairies might appear.
Out from the dark an ambulance comes speeding
Sickly blue lights search in siren,
Still the mystery of the night ticks slowly on
It will pass and leave memories of friends and small, half-welcomed things.
In Him was life
In Him, life was the light of man
For neither prehistoric swans nor trilobites, the Mesozoic birds
Neanderthal, nor modern man, had ever dreamt or seen what was our God.
The shops are gay with lights and bright things
All save funeral homes, they dare not advertise their presence
As midnight peels and organs start to play
Two cars meet headlong in a haze of drink
The crash flicks into silence
Pain crawls like a slime through blood and into limbs
God is revealed, a baby naked, crying in a crib.
In the church porches and out along the grounds
Teenagers laugh and swear, smokin’, watchin’ girls
So, once more, Christmas trails away
Its meaning moves back into the mist and the march of time.
MP3: Bono-Driving To Midnight Mass On Christmas Eve
(Dublin Radio, December, 1983)