Saturday, December 12, 2009

Good King Wenceslas again

This year again, I finally paid attention to the words of a Christmas carol I'd heard a thousand times and was struck by their beauty. Last year it was "Little Drummer Boy", this year, "Good King Wenceslas".

A "league" in English usage is about 3 miles. The "feast of Stephen" is Dec 26. The "saint" in the final stanza is the good king himself, St. Wenceslas, also known as Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia.

You know a good poem when it 1. actually ryhmes 2. ignites the imagination and 3. lifts the soul.

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho' the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath'ring winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know'st 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 steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
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.

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