Good King Wenceslas: English Carol, Czech TalePosted: December 26, 2011
Good King Wenceslas
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 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,
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went
Forth they went together,
Through 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,
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, Christians, All, be sure
– Wealth or rank possessing –
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing !
John Mason Neale wrote the lyrics for this English carol
in 1853. He based them upon a translation of the story
“Sankt Wenceslaw und Podiwin”, written in
1847 by Czech nationalist poet, Václav Alois Svoboda.
The name Václav is, in fact, Wenceslas in its original Czech.
Wenceslas was real; he lived from 907 to 935, was the first
generation of his family to be Christianized, and became
Duke of Bohemia. Known for his piety and kindness, still he
came to a gory end at the hands of his brother Boleslaw (urged
on by their mother).
A cult of Wenceslas spread quickly after his death – later seen
as a martyrdom – and he became a prime example of what in
the High Middle Ages would be called rex justus – the righteous
king – a monarch whose power derives from moral goodness
not brute force.
He is the patron saint of The Czech Republic, where he is known
as Svatý Václav (Saint Wenceslas).
* The Czech version of the carol is featured above. *