Friday, December 23, 2011


The Irish Rovers version of the title song (below) is

"Good King Wenceslas" is a popular Christmas carol about a king who goes out to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen (the second day of Christmas, December 26). During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king's footprints, step for step, through the deep snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia (907–935), known in the Czech language as Svatý Václav.
 In 1853, English hymnwriter John Mason Neale wrote the "Wenceslas" lyrics, in collaboration with his music editor Thomas Helmore, and the carol first appeared in Carols for Christmas-Tide, 1853. Neales' lyrics were set to a tune based on a 13th century spring carol "Tempus adest floridum" ("The time is near for flowering") first published in the 1582 Finnish song collection Piae Cantiones.
 Source Legend
Wenceslas was considered a martyr and a saint immediately after his death, when a cult of Wenceslas grew up in Bohemia and in England. Within a few decades of Wenceslas's death four biographies of him were in circulation. These hagiographies had a powerful influence on the High Middle Ages conceptualization of the rex justus, or "righteous king"—that is, a monarch whose power stems mainly from his great piety, as well as from his princely vigor. . Referring approvingly to these hagiographies, the chronicler Cosmas of Prague, writing in about the year 1119, states: "But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched."
  Several centuries later the legend was claimed as fact by Pope Pius II, who himself also walked ten miles barefoot in the ice and snow as an act of pious thanksgiving. . Although Wenceslas was, during his lifetime, only a duke, Holy Roman Emperor Otto I posthumously "conferred on Wenceslas the regal dignity and title" and that is why, in the legend and song, he is referred to as a "king".  The usual English spelling of Duke Wenceslas's name, Wenceslaus, is occasionally encountered in later textual variants of the carol, although it was not used by Neale in his version. Wenceslas is not to be confused with King Wenceslaus I of Bohemia (Wenceslaus I Premyslid), who lived more than three centuries later.  
 From Wikipedia

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shown the moon that night,
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gathering winter fuel.

Hither, page, and stand by me.
If thou know it telling:
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?
Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes fountain.
Bring me flesh, and bring me wine.
Bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear them thither.
Page and monarch, forth they went,
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather.
Sire, the night is darker now,
And the wind blows stronger.
Fails my heart, I know not how.
I can go no longer.
Mark my footsteps my good page,
Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.

In his master's step he trod,
Where the snow lay dented.
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing
Even as a young child, I remember feeling moved
as I sung this unusual carol. Why does Good King Wenceslas
have such a deep and lasting impact on its hearers?
Perhaps it is because there are so many levels of meaning
to this carol. A child may hear one thing,
an adult may hear another. I find that I can
sing it again and again, and new meaning continues
to pour forth from the carol. Recently the phrase
‘Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer’
really spoke to me. It reminded me that sometimes
there are times in our lives when life and its stresses
seem to overwhelm us, and we feel that
‘we can go no longer.’ .
The response of Good King Wenceslas was most interesting.
He said: ‘Mark my footsteps, my good page,
Tread thou in them boldly: Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
freeze thy blood less coldly.’
Wenceslas reminds us that when we are all alone,
life can feel very bleak. It is at such times
that solidarity with another human being can help
‘our blood freeze less coldly’.
Wenceslas affirms that we are not alone,
and subtly points to the basic Christmas message that
Jesus our Master will never leave us in the cold.
Rev. Ed Hird, St. Simon's Anglican Church
North Vancouver, B.C.


1 comment:

Bob Kuebler said...

Great writing, thank you. #JLYASDW