Week 479: Eddi’s Service, by Rudyard Kipling

This week a slightly belated Christmas poem, another example of the multi-talented Kipling’s gift for small-scale myth-making. The story seems to be entirely of the poet’s own invention, though there was a real Eddi, Eddius Stephanus, a Kentishman who was choirmaster and biographer of Wilfrid, Archbishop of York, and who plays a major part in the story that accompanies this poem in Kipling’s ‘Rewards and Fairies’, ‘The Conversion of St Wilfrid’.

As so often with Kipling’s work, I don’t quite know how to place this poem. I can see that it does not have the wistful resonance of, say, Hardy’s ‘The Oxen’ (see week 426), to which I personally feel more attuned, but on the other hand I don’t think it would be fair to dismiss it simply as a piece of sentimental populism. So, I hear you ask, why worry about placing it at all? Why not just enjoy its idiosyncratic charm, without necessarily surrendering to it? Quite right.

Eddi’s Service

(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.”

Rudyard Kipling

3 thoughts on “Week 479: Eddi’s Service, by Rudyard Kipling

  1. I think it passes the test of time. It is certainly sentimental (but so much poetry today is popular for that very reason); I imagine it was popular in its day; and I could not disagree with idiosyncratic. However, it carries an argument which should appeal to our times: that humans are not the only creatures to be valued and treated with respect. So good choice! (End of homily!)

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