Monday, December 21, 2015

A Poem for the Darkest Day of the Year--"Christbrand," by Frank O'Malley


By Frank O’Malley

Let the Christbrand burst,
Let the Christbrand blazon.

Dartle whitely under the hearth-fire,
Unwind the wind, turn the thunderer,
And never, never thinning,
Forfend fear.
Flare up smartly, fix, flex, bless, inspire,
Instar the time, sear the sorcerer,
And never, never sparing,
Save all year.

Let the Christbrand burst,
Let the Christbrand blazon.

Frank O’Malley was a beloved English Professor at the University of Notre Dame. As I remember, he lived in Lyons dormitory, looking out toward St. Mary Lake, one of the most beautiful places on a beautiful campus. Frank O'Malley was both a great professor, and a notorious drinker. He was a seriously flawed man, and a seriously good Catholic Christian. When I was a Freshman at Notre Dame in 1966, Frank O'Malley gave his students the above poem.

The poem uses unusual language and it might be worth it to look up some of the words:

--brand: the word in Old and Middle English means "burning," "fire."
--blazon: this word can mean proclaim or display publicly.
--dartle: means to dart or shoot forth repeatedly.
--forfend: avert, prevent, or keep away something evil.
--instar: a stage in the life of an insect between two successive molts. Also, a play on the word "star," which is a burning mass that emits light.
--sear: to burn (the surface of something)

The principal imagery of this poem involves fire. This is a creative fire, a light shining in the darkness, a light in the darkest, coldest time of the year.

Some links on Frank O'Malley: 

Center for Ethics and Culture--On Frank O'Malley

Notre Dame Magazine article on O'Malley

Newsweek article on O'Malley

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