Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Child's Christmas. . . .

My father Alfred Swett , perhaps the last of the great Victorian iconoclasts, followed his mother’s dream for him and went to Medical School, But along the way, he pursued his own passion: English Literature.

As an English Major at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he not only read omnivorously, but he also committed whole passages of his favorites to memory. He never became a writer or a teacher, but his enthusiasm for the written word was the source of great joy to his eight children.

Where other fathers might read stories to their youngsters at bedtime, Alfred recited the Canturbury Tales and Shakespearean Sonnets. While other fathers might teach his children nursery rhymes, Alfred shared lyric passages from plays and epic poetry.

At holiday season every year, he would quote largely from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but his favorite holiday gift was to play his recording of Dylan Thomas reading A Child’s Christmas in Wales. The Thomas memory resonated with him and provided him a vehicle on which to transport us to his own personal small-town holiday world, his own emotional history, which was otherwise difficult for him to embrace.

Thomas’ sonorous Welsh tones were in my head long before I understood the language, and by the time I was old enough to attend productions, I, too, had committed whole portions to memory. Which only heightened the pleasure.

There’s no such thing as too much of this profoundly personal, entirely universal work. Listen to the excerpt above, from a recording of Dylan Thomas reading, and then hie thee to the West Side Theater for Christmas With Dickens and Dylan, December 8-18, presented by the Actors Shakespeare Company at NJCU in Jersey City.

And may it bring you great joy. . . .

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