The Oxen

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.

Thomas Hardy

Humility

To be a Man’s own Fool is bad enough, but the Vain Man is Every Body’s. This silly Disposition comes of a Mixture of Ignorance, Confidence, and Pride; and as there is more or less of the last, so it is more or less offensive or Entertaining. And yet perhaps the worst Part of this Vanity is its Unteachableness. Tell it any Thing, and it has known it long ago; and out-runs Information and Instruction, or else proudly puffs at it. Whereas the greatest Understandings doubt most, are readiest to learn, and least pleas’d with themselves; this, with no Body else. For tho’ they stand on higher Ground, and so see farther than their Neighbors, they are yet humbled by their Prospect, since it shews them something, so much higher and above their Reach. And truly then it is, that Sense shines with the greatest Beauty when it is set in Humility. An humble able Man is a Jewel worth a Kingdom: It is often saved by him, as Solomon’s Poor Wise Man did the City. May we have more of them, or less Need of them.

William Penn

The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837–1861

“I saw Brooks Clark, who is now about eighty and bent like a bow, hastening along the road, barefooted, as usual, with an axe in his hand; was in haste perhaps on account of the cold wind on his bare feet. When he got up to me, I saw that besides the axe in one hand, he had his shoes in the other, filled with knurly apples and a dead robin. He stopped and talked with me a few moments; said that we had had a noble autumn and might now expect some cold weather. I asked if he had found the robin dead. No, he said, he found it with its wing broken and killed it. He also added that he had found some apples in the woods, and as he hadn’t anything to carry them in, he put ’em in his shoes. They were queer-looking trays to carry fruit in. How many he got in along toward the toes, I don’t know. I noticed, too, that his pockets were stuffed with them. His old tattered frock coat was hanging in strips about the skirts, as were his pantaloons about his naked feet. He appeared to have been out on a scout this gusty afternoon, to see what he could find, as the youngest boy might. It pleased me to see this cheery old man, with such a feeble hold on life, bent almost double, thus enjoying the evening of his days. Far be it from me to call it avarice or penury, this childlike delight in finding something in the woods or fields and carrying it home in the October evening, as a trophy to be added to his winter’s store. Oh, no; he was happy to be Nature’s pensioner still, and birdlike to pick up his living. Better his robin than your turkey, his shoes full of apples than your barrels full; they will be sweeter and suggest a better tale.

This old man’s cheeriness was worth a thousand of the church’s sacraments and memento mori’s. It was better than a prayerful mood. It proves to me old age as tolerable, as happy, as infancy… If he had been a young man, he would probably have thrown away his apples and put on his shoes when he saw me coming, for shame. But old age is manlier; it has learned to live, makes fewer apologies, like infancy.”

Henry David Thoreau