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Featured Poem: January by Edith Nesbit

Written by Rachael Norris, 9th November 2020

Liverpool Hub Leader Michelle Barrett reads us this week's Featured Poem, January by Edith Nesbit. The theme for our daily readings in November is 'Light in the Dark' download the calendar here.

I may be jumping the gun with Edith Nesbit's poem, 'January'. November still boasts double digit temperatures, the last of the browning leaves decorate pavements. However, Edith's poem speaks to how I, and many others presumably, are feeling.

Still tearfully tipsy on summer nostalgia (I spent most of mine in my sunny yard), the poem draws me into the present through my senses. I'm acutely aware of the lack of bird song during the (not quite yet) 'raw dawn'. The blossom trees outside of my flat are bare and so the birds and their choruses are elsewhere. 'While yet the air is keen' causes my skin to prick. There's a sharp draft leaking through my windows and I instinctively pull my jumper tighter around my wrists, remembering and looking forward to, the 'presence of the springtime in the air'.

I read the first few lines of this poem with a certain melancholy. Melancholy accompanies me a few weeks of the year, usually when the clocks go back and darkness encroaches. But there's always a bud of hope, somewhere deep down, niggling, encouraging introspection and forward thinking all at once. There's two points of view that stand out to me in this poem- that of the shepherd and also of the wee white lambs. I see myself as the 'wee white lambs' in this poem- vulnerable, at this moment in time, and in need of guidance and 'comfortable care'. But I also know that I am a shepherd.

2020 has been an immensely difficult year and with the pandemic now piggy backing winter, we are called to tend to those lambs- the little helpless things- that exist within us and around us. To know that with shelter and warmth, the lambs will live 'through winter's hours to spring's', is reassuring. But there is also a call to action in the line-' Without his help how hardly lambs would fare'. There are people who need our compassion and support more than ever and we have a responsibility to tend.

I'm writing this post from Liverpool- a place where there are lots of shepherds- normal people who care, who have a duty to see their lambs through to spring. I take great comfort in the fact that there will be a shepherd to lead me through to spring whenever I'm feeling 'helpless' over the coming weeks or months.

Edith Nesbit trusts that we will make it through. There is wisdom and knowing in the sentence- 'So let me tend and minister apart To my new hope, which some day you shall know:' Edith knows that this time of the year is especially hard, she knows that we will become stuck and yet with certainty she knows that hope will find us.

And so the wee lambs are a wonderful symbol of hope- the human spirit is embodied within the shepherd, who knows exactly what to do, to see those little lambs through.

Edith speaks directly to us towards the end of the poem. Hope- 'It could not live in January wind of your disdain', and so we're reminded of the importance of tenderness- 'but when within your heart the bud and bloom of tenderness shall grow, amid the flowers my hope may welcome find'. The poem suggests that without tenderness, hope will not prevail.

This poem calls me to read it again, slowly. To tend to myself and those around me. And to hope that the wee lambs are looking forward to spring.



While yet the air is keen, and no bird sings,

Nor any vaguest thrills of heart declare

The presence of the springtime in the air,

Through the raw dawn the shepherd homeward brings

The wee white lambs – the little helpless things-

For shelter, warmth, and comfortable care.

Without his help how hardly lambs would fare-

How hardly live through winter’s hours to spring’s!


So let me tend and minister apart

To my new hope, which some day you shall know:

It could not live in January wind

Of your disdain; but when within your heart

The bud and bloom of tenderness shall grow,

Amid the flowers my hope may welcome find.

Edith Nesbit

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