Here is Rembrandt's beautiful Adoration of the Shepherds (who for once look like shepherds, awkwardly astonished by something wholly new). And here, four centuries later, is Geoffrey Hill taking the Nativity scene into a strange and very different place, and a strange and very different beauty...
Picture of a Nativity
Sea-preserved, heaped with sea-spoils,
Ribs, keels, coral sores,
Detached faces, ephemeral oils,
Discharged on the world’s outer shores,
A dumb child-king
Arrives at his right place; rests,
Undisturbed, among slack serpents; beasts
With claws flesh-buttered. In the gathering
Of bestial and common hardship
Artistic men appear to worship
And fall down; to recognize
Familiar tokens; believe their own eyes.
Above the marvel, each rigid head,
Angels, their unnatural wings displayed,
Freeze into an attitude
Recalling the dead.
And with that - as I shall certainly be whirling in a pre-Christmas frenzy tomorrow, I wish a very happy Christmas to all who browse here. God rest ye merry...