Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel,
"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
What could be more Christmassy than an article about trees? Here we have the famous agnostic, Thomas Hardy, indulging himself in a little bit of Christmas Romanticism, apparently wishing (although not expecting) that a popular Christmas legend might prove to be true. Whilst this hardly counts as apophenia (the quest to see patterns in data where there is no pattern), wishing for things that we ought to know are impossible inspires a great deal of Oxfordian field research. Visits to Castle Hedingham and Bilton Hall, for example, may well strengthen the faith in the hearts of the true Oxfordian like a visit to Midnight Mass will rejuvenate a Christian, but surely they realise that geographical exertion and exploration are not going to turn up actual evidence of their messiah's hand in the Shakespearean inkwell?