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The other day, I came across this rather sinister poem by Charles Causley, set to music.

Innocent's Song

Who's that knocking on the window,
Who's that standing at the door,
What are all those presents
Laying on the kitchen floor?

Who is the smiling stranger
With hair as white as gin,
What is he doing with the children
And who could have let him in?

Why has he rubies on his fingers,
A cold, cold crown on his head,
Why, when he caws his carol,
Does the salty snow run red?

Why does he ferry my fireside
As a spider on a thread,
His fingers made of fuses
And his tongue of gingerbread?

Why does the world before him
Melt in a million suns,
Why do his yellow, yearning eyes
Burn like saffron buns?

Watch where he comes walking
Out of the Christmas flame,
Dancing, double-talking:

Herod is his name.

It can be taken at face value as a poetic rendering of Herod's order for the murder of children at what would become Christmas-time.

However, several of the lines, particularly the reference to "fuses" and "melt in a million suns" make it clear this is a metaphor. Apparently, Causley's work often shows a strong anti-war sentiment, which seems a likely interpretation. However, conflating it with Christmas and the murder of innocents seems an odd choice.

In addition, the un-named figure in the poem has a sense of the mythic about it, and the legends of South West England are another common theme in Causley's poems. This fits better with the Christmas setting, but seems to jar with the "fuses".

Are there additional interpretations that I have missed, and is there a central theme threading all the various metaphors together?

  • "ferry my fireside" is a bit of a puzzle -- does it mean "move back and forth across my fireside like a spider spinning a web"? – Gareth Rees May 13 '20 at 9:36
  • More industrial than mythological but I wonder if ‘fuses’ is a reference to mining blasting. The entire poem is a delightfully puzzling enigma which resolved or not, I enjoy every year as relief from Christmas saccharine and pap! Btw was that the terrific Phil Beer arrangement with the folk tune Gwithian? We used to live near that lovely place. – Howard Hollingsbee Dec 21 '20 at 14:08
  • Yes it was Phil Beer's arrangement with Show of Hands – Matt Thrower Dec 21 '20 at 14:26
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    "Innocent's Song" was written in 1961. The description "brighter than a thousand suns" has been used to describe nuclear bombs since shortly after WWII (if not even during its last days). And hydrogen bombs can be 1000 times as powerful as nuclear bombs. – Peter Shor Dec 21 '20 at 19:33

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