Good King Wencelas

was a duke of Bohemia (later part of the Czech Republic) in the 900s. He was a Christian, as was his father and grandmother. His mother was a pagan, as was his younger brother. His father died when he was 13 and his mother became regent. She murdered his grandmother. She also discouraged Christianity, banishing the priests from the country. At 18 he became king and re-established Christianity. In his 20s he was murdered by his brother and other nobles who didn’t like what he did. from Royalty

The feast of Stephen is St. Stephen’s Day, December 26th.

The story was written down in the 1800s by an Anglican minister who heard the tale from British soldiers. He wrote it to teach children about generosity. from Answers at Yahoo

1. 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.

2. “Hither page and stand by me,
If thou know’st it, telling,2
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.”

3. “Bring me flesh3 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;
Though the rude5 winds wild lament,
And the bitter weather.

4. “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, my good page;6
Tread thou in them boldly;
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

5. 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.

from Hymns and Carols of Christmas

I have always liked the song. When I was reading Gordon Dickson’s The Dragon and the Troll, I really appreciated it. The main character is a modern man who becomes trapped in an alternate universe/history somewhere about five or six hundred years earlier. He is a wizard in the new universe. He is at a Christmas party and is asked to lead a song. He leads the song “Good King Wencelas” and there is total silence. Of course no one sings with him. (They don’t know the song, since it isn’t written until the 1800s.) But there is silence afterwards and he is afraid he has broken some rule of piety. Then the bishop roars out, “Quite right” or some such and orders the main character to sing again. This time the whole room sings with him. (In those days people had to memorize quickly and accurately.) It is quite a scene. And it has encouraged my enjoyment of the song.

Happy St. Stephen’s Day!