GOOD KING WENCESLAS

Once a teacher, always a teacher!

I have always loved the music to the Christmas carol, Good King Wenceslas.  It has an odd, moody sound that carries me to a cold, dark winter’s night…snow on the ground and a full moon casting shadows all around.  It also makes me think of those Old World Santas that are so elegantly clothed with layers upon layers of clothing and a big hood covering the head.  But, here is an artist’s rendering of what King Wenceslas looked like…

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Not quite like the Santa figure, I’d imagined!

I must confess that I have learned the words to the first verse only by osmosis.  I’ve heard it a lot, but it is not one that I can ever remember singing.  Hearing it so many times in my lifetime, I guess those words just stuck.  But, since the words are very unlike today’s spoken language, I’ve just never bothered to read more of the verses or learn about the song.  It certainly is not among the more popular Christmas songs.  And you may have only heard it in a collection of Christmas music.

King Wenceslas was a Catholic and was martyred…assassinated by his brother Boleslaw and his supporters.  His Saint’s Day is September 28th, and he is the Patron Saint of the Czech Republic.

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The words to this carol were written by John Neale in 1853.  The music itself comes from Finland some 300 years earlier. King Wenceslas was the King of Bohemia in the 10th century.

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What is most unusual about this Christmas carol is the fact that there is no mention at all of the birth of Jesus or any of the Nativity story.  St. Stephen’s Day is September 26, which is why this song is sung as a carol.  The words do lead you, however, to see a miracle occurring and it reiterates the Christian values of aiding the poor and needy.  Interesting how the King went on this mission himself and didn’t just send his page to deliver the goods.

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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

Though 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 him thither.

“
Page and monarch forth they went

Forth they went together

Through the rude wind’s wild lament

And the bitter weather.

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“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.”

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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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And, that’s today’s lesson.  Merry Christmas!

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