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Saturday, 26 December 2009

Good King Wenceslas

According to the carol, "Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen..." The song continues with the story of the king seeing a poor peasant gathering firewood in the snow and bringing him indoors to wait upon him.
It's appropriate that the story took place on 26th December, the Feast of Stephen (the first Christian martyr) as this coincides with 'Boxing Day' - the day when traditionally the alms boxes were emptied and distributed among the poor.
Although the carol little more than legend, King Wenceslas was known to be a 'good' king - or rather, Duke - of 10th century Bohemia, who ruled his people in fairness. As the grandson of a martyr, St. Ludmilla, he was staunchly Christian but, fortunately, when many of his people returning to Paganism, he did not respond with the ferocity displayed by many other so-called Christian leaders of the time. Instead, he responded with tolerance and gentleness.
Unfortunately, as in so many cases 'uneasy lies the head that wears the crown', and Wenceslas became caught up in a power struggle with his brother, which culminated in his murder at the door of the church in Alt-Bunzlau.

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,
gathering winter fuel.

Hither page and stand by me
if thou knowst 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 now 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.

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