Good King Wenceslas

Good King Wenceslas is a Christmas Carol that originated from the life of Saint Wenceslaus the First, Duke of Bohemia.  According to the legend, Saint Wenceslaus gave alms to a poor peasant the day after Christmas.  As he and his page were walking, on their cold, long journey, Wenceslaus’ Page was about to give up against the cold weather. However, he is then is miraculously able to walk in Saint Wenceslaus’s path as heat begins emulating from the King’s footprints.

Wenceslas became a Saint and was considered a martyr immediately after his death which was very rare.  A cult soon followed devoted to him and four biographies of his life became quite popular.  It wasn’t until 900 years later that this song was written to pay homage to a monarch whose power is found in his great piety.

This Christmas song is popular because it was written about a man with great compassion and kindness which is what all people aspire to at Christmas time.  Helping the poor, healing the sick and treating each other with kindness is what Christmas spirit is all about and this song exemplifies that.

Good King Wenceslas
John Mason Neale and Thomas Helmore
1853

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:
Thou4 and I will see him dine,
When we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together;
Through the rude5 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.

Alternative last four lines by author.

Wherefore, Christian people, know,
Who my lay are hearing,
He who cheers another’s woe
Shall himself find cheering.

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