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St Stephen’s Day, 26 December 2012
Good King Wenceslas look’d 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 them thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together;
Through the rude winds 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, good my 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.
To see this carol sung, you could check out the following choral version recorded at York Minister in 1995 (the aural quality is good, but the visuals poor):
Today 26 December is the feast-day of St Stephen, the day on which in the carol King Wenceslas carried out his good deed.
Wenceslas I, who lived from 907 to 929 or 935 (the year of his death is disputed), was Duke of Bohemia. His penchant for good deeds, however, was not enough to save him from being murdered by henchmen of his brother Boleslaus (or Boleslav) I the Cruel, who thereby succeeded to the Dukedom. Canonised soon after his death and posthumously upgraded to the rank of King by the Holy Roman Emperor, St Wenceslas is the patron saint of the Czech Republic (of which Bohemia is a part).
The carol “Good King Wenceslas”, published in 1853, was a joint collaboration between the Revd. John Mason Neale (1818-1866), a hymn-writer, and his music editor, the Revd. Thomas Helmore (1811-1890). The lyrics were set to a tune based on a 13 C spring carol “Tempus adest floridum” first published in the 1582 Finnish song collection “Piae Cantiones”.
Today 26 December is also known as Boxing Day. The name is said to derive from the middle-class custom of giving a Christmas box containing money as an end-of-year tip or gift to domestic staff and local tradespeople. However, another tradition has it that Boxing Day is named after the custom of opening and emptying church alms boxes on St Stephen’s Day in order to distribute the contents to the poor and needy.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
5.Ladder (21 June 2012)
6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.