Christmas Carol – Good King Wenceslas

I had planned to start a new anthology of poetry today but as it’s so close to Christmas, I thought I’d share a couple of my favourite Christmas carols today & next Sunday, Christmas Day.

Good King Wenceslas (picture from here) is one of my favourites. In recent years I’ve discovered a jaunty folk version sung by Ian Giles that I really like as well as the more traditional choral versions. I don’t really care that there may never have been a Wenceslas or if there was, he wasn’t a particularly charitable person. I love the rhythm of this carol & I often find I’m humming it all through December.

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,
Thought the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gathering winter fuel.

‘Hither, page, and stand by me,
If though knowst it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
‘Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain,
Close against the forest fence
By St 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 on they went
On they went together,
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.

‘Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind grows 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.

7 thoughts on “Christmas Carol – Good King Wenceslas

  1. Lisa may, GRYMG is another favourite that I'll be featuring on Christmas Day. I agree with you, the later verses are the best. Claire & Marg, we should definitely sing GKW at least once a day from now until Christmas!


  2. I love Christmas carols! I was listening to an interesting programme on Radio 4 at some point this weekend (sadly I can't remember which programme as I had the radio on constantly while I was baking) which was talking about the origins of carols. Apparently in the original, Good King Wenceslas is actually a spring song, the lyrics mentioning the flowers bursting up through the snowless ground! One of my favourites is Ding Dong Merrily on High, which wasn't written as a carol at all, but as a 16th(?) century orchestral dance. I think its fascinating how all these songs and tunes have been appropriated.


  3. Katie, I have a book that explains the origins of lots of my favourite carols. I browse through it every year & I'm always amazed at how some versions or musical settings are preferred over others. I didn't know GKW ever had other words but it doesn't surprise me, carols were often adapted for Christmas from other occasions.


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