'The Oxen' by Thomas Hardy

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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.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Oxen by Thomas Hardy: A Poem of Hope and Belief

As I read Thomas Hardy's famous poem, "The Oxen," I am struck by the simplicity of its language and the depth of its meaning. Written in 1915, during the dark days of World War I, this poem speaks to our human yearning for comfort and hope in times of crisis. It is a poem that invites us to believe in the goodness of the world, even when all seems lost.

An Introduction to the Poem

The poem begins with a description of a Christmas Eve in the countryside, where the narrator is walking alone, feeling sad and hopeless. He hears the sound of cattle lowing in the distance and wonders if they are the same oxen that, according to legend, once knelt down in reverence at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve.

The Meaning of the Poem

As we delve deeper into the poem, we realize that it is not just about Christmas or the cattle, but about the human quest for faith and belief. The narrator, who is feeling lost and alone, is seeking some kind of sign, some kind of message that will restore his faith in the world. He is asking the question that we all ask in times of despair: is there any hope left in this world?

The poem invites us to believe in the possibility of miracles, even in the darkest of times. It is a call to faith, a reminder that there is always a glimmer of hope, even when we cannot see it.

The Imagery of the Poem

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is the vivid imagery used by Hardy to paint a picture of the countryside on Christmas Eve. We can almost feel the frosty air and hear the sound of the cattle lowing in the distance. The poem is set in a world that is both familiar and magical, a world where the line between reality and myth is blurred.

The image of the cattle kneeling down in reverence is particularly powerful. It is a symbol of humility and faith, a reminder that even the animals can recognize the sacredness of the moment. The fact that the legend is still remembered and passed down through generations is a testament to the enduring power of belief.

The Tone of the Poem

The tone of the poem is melancholic, but with a hint of optimism. The narrator is feeling lost and alone, but he is also open to the possibility of miracles. He is questioning his own beliefs, but he is also seeking answers. There is a sense of vulnerability and honesty in his voice that is both touching and relatable.

The Importance of the Poem

"The Oxen" is not just a poem about Christmas or the countryside. It is a poem about the human condition, about our need for faith and hope in times of crisis. It speaks to the universal experience of loss and despair, and invites us to believe in the possibility of miracles.

In a world that is often cynical and jaded, this poem is a reminder that there is still beauty and goodness in the world. It is a call to faith, a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is always a glimmer of hope.


As we come to the end of this literary analysis, I am struck by the enduring relevance of Thomas Hardy's "The Oxen." It is a poem that speaks to the human spirit, to our need for faith and belief in times of crisis. It is a poem that reminds us that even in the darkest of times, there is always a glimmer of hope.

So let us take heart from this poem, and believe in the possibility of miracles. Let us remember that even the animals can recognize the sacredness of the moment, and kneel down in reverence. And let us never lose hope, even in the darkest of times, for there is always a glimmer of light that shines through, if we only have the faith to see it.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Oxen: A Classic Poem by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy, one of the most celebrated poets of the Victorian era, is known for his poignant and evocative poetry that captures the essence of rural life in England. One of his most famous poems, "The Oxen," is a beautiful and haunting piece that explores the themes of faith, hope, and nostalgia.

The poem is set on Christmas Eve, and the speaker is reminiscing about his childhood memories of the holiday season. He recalls how, as a child, he used to believe in the legend of the oxen kneeling at midnight on Christmas Eve. This belief was based on an old folk tale that claimed that the animals would kneel in honor of the baby Jesus.

The speaker, however, is now a grown man and has lost his faith in this legend. He is skeptical of the idea that the oxen would kneel, and he wonders if it was just a myth that he had been told as a child. Despite his doubts, he still feels a sense of longing and nostalgia for the innocence and wonder of his childhood.

The poem is divided into three stanzas, each with a distinct tone and mood. The first stanza sets the scene and establishes the speaker's sense of doubt and skepticism. He describes the cold and dark winter night, and how he is sitting by the fire, thinking about the oxen. He wonders if they really did kneel, or if it was just a story that he had been told.

The second stanza is more reflective and introspective. The speaker begins to question his own beliefs and wonders if he has lost his faith in the world. He thinks about how he used to believe in the magic of Christmas and how he would eagerly wait for the oxen to kneel. He wonders if he has become too cynical and jaded to believe in such things anymore.

The third and final stanza is the most emotional and poignant. The speaker imagines himself back in his childhood, listening to the sound of the oxen's hooves as they kneel. He longs to believe in the legend again and to experience the wonder and magic of Christmas once more. He ends the poem by saying that he wishes he could be a child again, so that he could believe in the oxen and all the other wonders of the world.

The poem is a beautiful meditation on the power of faith and the importance of holding onto our childhood beliefs and memories. It captures the bittersweet nostalgia that we all feel as we grow older and lose our sense of wonder and innocence. It reminds us that even though we may no longer believe in the legends and myths of our childhood, they still hold a special place in our hearts and memories.

Overall, "The Oxen" is a classic poem that continues to resonate with readers today. Its themes of faith, hope, and nostalgia are timeless and universal, and its evocative imagery and language make it a true masterpiece of Victorian poetry. Whether you are a fan of Hardy's work or simply appreciate beautiful and thought-provoking poetry, "The Oxen" is a must-read.

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