This poem for Christmas Eve by Thomas Hardy is called The Oxen. It is supposedly based on an old country tale that the oxen knelt at midnight in the stable when Christ was born. The Oxen was published on Christmas Eve 1915 in The Times. It is one of Thomas Hardy’s best-loved poems.
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’
* A ‘barton’ is a farm building such as a stable. A ‘coomb’ is a small valley.