Tonight I go downstairs into the basement and pull out the Christmas decorations and carry them upstairs. I go to my book shelf and gather the Christmas books for display. This year I am planning to divide up the ornaments that are specific to Jeff and Chris. I have been accumulating them since before they were born. I purchased an ornament box for each of them and now it is to divide, and also to celebrate with the ornaments of old.
I have two ornaments from my father's tree, and they stay out all year. One is a parrot, and the other a red glass tree.
I pull out Joseph Brodsky's Nativity Poems and read the conversation with Peter Vail in the back of the book.
Here is a piece of it.
Joseph, Biblical stories and characters appear consistently in your poems (though less often than images of ancient Rome and Greece). At least a couple of dozen poems concern the Nativity. What explains such attention to this subject?
Above all, this is a temporal holiday, linked to a particular reality, to the movement of time. In the final analysis, what is the Nativity? The birthday of God-made-man. And it's no less natural for humans to celebrate it than for them to celebrate their own.
Outsiders can only speculate about personal motives, but any reader can make judgments about a poet's cosmology. You clearly are more interested in time than in space. Christianity itself, in contrast to Eastern religions, for example, structures time. One can first of all affirm as definitive the historical fact of the Nativity, a universal point of departure.
This kind of, how to put it, historical territory, is inherent in every religious doctrine. We have the category B.C., that is, "before the birth of Christ." What is included in this "before"? Not only, let's say, Caesar Augustus or his ancestors, but all the geological periods, going back at that end practically into astronomy. This has always rather overwhelmed me. What is remarkable about Christmas? The fact that what we're dealing with here is the calculation of life - or, at the very least, existence - in the consciousness of an individual, of a specific individual.
The conversation goes on and ends with this sentence by Joseph Brodsky.
"But at some point I realized that I am the sum of all my actions, my acts, and not the sum of my intentions."
How wise to sharpen on that point.