Fresh Carols for a Global Christmas

Review by Phoebe Pettingell

All Hail the Glorious Night
and Other Christmas Poems

By Kevin Carey
Sacristy Press. pp. 377, $31.78

In his preface to this collection of five volumes of poetry, Kevin Carey voices his hope that some of his verses will inspire contemporary composers to set them to music as new carols. In fact, the late Alan Smith, British like Carey, set a number of the earlier works here. The author has been a chorister, and was thus well-exposed to the Christmas repertoire. Here he expands it, as did the medieval mystery plays, along with a certain tradition in pageants, to include the Annunciation, Advent’s prophesies, “no room at the inn,” the Magi as well as the shepherds, the massacre of the innocents, and the flight into Egypt.

Although Carey tends to use the traditional rhyme and meter, even a somewhat traditional vocabulary, on occasion he comes up with some delightfully fresh perspectives: the Infant Jesus adored not only by ox and ass in the stable, but by koalas, kangaroos and wombats in the Australian outback; by enslaved people in the sugar plantations of the colonial Caribbean, who recognize in the Incarnation a story of the downtrodden and abused with whom they can identify; Mary as envisioned in Indian and Japanese cultures.

He also revisits certain favorite medieval themes: Mary as the new Eve, the Incarnation set not in far-away Bethlehem but among the down-and-out in contemporary inner-cities and among refugees fleeing persecution, together with felix culpa — the paradox that the Fall prepares the way for the Incarnation.

This is a book to be dipped into, rather than read straight through, representing, as it does, a decade of work. It might be a valuable resource for choirmasters and clergy since, even without fresh compositions, many of these poems could be set to tunes already available.

Carey is apprehensive that commercialism and secularization are overtaking the Christmas story, as the culture begins celebrating in, or even before, Advent with orgies of shopping, seasonal music, and parties. This is preaching to the choir, since those who consider the time to be “Seasons Greetings” are unlikely to read this book. Nevertheless, Carey helps refresh our celebration of “the Glorious Night” of the Incarnation, along with its prologue and aftermath.

Phoebe Pettingell is the editor of Ave, the magazine of the American region of the Society of Mary.


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