(George) Leslie Norris passed away just last spring. Norris was the son of a Welsh miner who died in the mines near Merthyr Tydfil (the town dramatized in Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley). Born in 1921, Norris grew up in Wales and eventually made his living as an academician, writing highly acclaimed poetry and short stories as an avocation. After 1974, however, Norris was able to pursue his writing full time while assuming residencies at universities, including (though Norris was not a Mormon) a long stint at Brigham Young University in the USA.
Here are a couple of interesting articles about Norris (1, 2, and 3) and printed below are a couple of my favorite Norris poems, both revealing through unfamiliar eyes, the glory of Christmas.
The Shepherd's Dog by Leslie Norris
Out on the windy hill
Under that sudden star
A blaze of radiant light
Frightened my master.
He got up, left our sheep,
Tramped over the moor.
And I, following,
Came to this open door,
Sidled in, settled down,
Head on my paws,
Glad to be here, away
From the wind's sharpness.
Such warmth is in this shed,
Such comfort from this Child,
That I forget my hard life,
Ignore the harsh world,
And see on my master's face
The same joy I possess,
The knowledge of peace,
Camels of the Kings by Leslie Norris
'The Camels, the Kings' Camels, Haie-aie!
Saddles of polished leather, stained red and purple,
Pommels inlaid with ivory and beaten gold,
Bridles of silk embroidery, worked with flowers.
The Camels, the Kings' Camels!'
We are groomed with silver combs,
We are washed with perfumes.
The grain of richest Africa is fed to us,
Our dishes are silver.
Like cloth-of-gold glisten our sleek pelts.
Of all camels, we alone carry the Kings!
Do you wonder that we are proud?
That our hooded eyes are contemptuous?
As we sail past the tented villages
They beat their copper gongs after us.
'The windswift, the desert racers. See them!
Faster than gazelles, faster than hounds,
Haie-aie! The Camels, the Kings' Camels!'
The sand drifts in puffs behind us,
The glinting quartz, the fine, hard grit.
Do you wonder that we look down our noses?
Do you wonder we flare our superior nostrils?
All night we have run under the moon,
Without effort, breathing lightly,
Smooth as a breeze over the desert floor,
One white star our compass.
We have come to no palace, no place
Of towers and minarets and the calling of servants,
But a poor stable in a poor town.
So why are we bending our crested necks?
Why are our proud heads bowed
And our eyes closed meekly?
Why are we outside this hovel,
Humbly and awkwardly kneeling?
How is it that we know the world is changed?