Skip to content

December 18th – the eighteenth day of Advent

December 18, 2008

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 though know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasent, 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;
Thro’ 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;
Though 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 possesing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
Shall yourself find blessing.

The words to the carol “Good King Wenceslas” were written by John Mason Neale and published in 1853, the music originates in Finland 300 years earlier. This Christmas carol is unusual as there is no reference in the lyrics to the nativity. Good King Wenceslas was the king of Bohemia in the 10th century. Good King Wenceslas was a Catholic and was martyred following his assassination by his brother Boleslaw and his supporters, his Saint’s Day is September 28th, and he is the Patron Saint of the Czech Republic. St. Stephen’s feast day was celebrated on 26th December which is why this song is sung as a Christmas carol.  It emphasizes the virtues of generosity and kindness.  This is one of my favorite holiday carols, and the first tune I learned to play on the uillean pipes; I wanted to be able to play it for my family on Christmas.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2008 3:14 pm

    One of my favorites, also. “Deep and crisp and even” is the perfect description of a snowfall.
    I am so enjoying all your Christmas posts!

    You are so right, Pamela, “deep and crisp and even” is a perfect description. We are supposed to have just that this evening, and I am so looking forward to waking up to it.
    I was surprised to find the good king was a Saint – I never knew that.

  2. December 18, 2008 6:33 pm

    This has been one of my favorite carols for awhile now, but I have to admit this is the first time I recall every really looking at the lyrics. I’m very familiar with the first verse and little else. Whenever I hear it I think of the movie Love Actually, which is a movie that I adore, when they start singing the song to carol to some little girls who are desperate for someone to sing Christmas Carols to them. I’ve been enjoying your advent days and am thrilled to finally really know all the words.

    So glad to have passed on the info to you Carl. I don’t know the movie Love Actually. I will have to check into it. My vacation started after work today, so I have lots of time for family, movies, books, writing, and coffee. My son comes home from New York on Saturday – I am very excited! He is going to hang out here for a few months, so I am looking forward to good times.

  3. December 19, 2008 6:54 pm

    Had no idea of the song’s history – thank you for this one, too! (also read every word of the lyrics.) And would love to hear the uillean pipes (do you still play them?) which I have to look up now, being unsure as to what they are exactly.

    Irish bagpipes, Oh. If you ever listened to the Chieftains, you have heard the uillean pipes. They are lovely…. if you like bagpipes. No, sadly, I play no more. That was another life.
    This is a beautiful carol. I love the picture of deep snow it creates.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: