Merry Christmas, at the end of the first day of Christmas! Here are links to some notable Christmas poems and a meditation on the theme of the birth of Christ as living bread come down from heaven. We still have 39 more days to ponder the delights of Christmas and the wonderful gifts of God—until the 40 days of Christmas are over on February 2, the Feast of Candlemas.
Sacred music composer Mark Nowakowski recently premiered his setting of a Christmas poem by G. K. Chesterton, which includes these lines:
The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)”
James Matthew Wilson read some of his poems at the same Benedict XVI Institute Retreat for Artists and Art Lovers during which Nowakowski’s piece premiered, and he wrote on Facebook about it, as follows.
The achievement of this brief work is hard to exaggerate; I will be very surprised if it does not become a seasonal classic, widely performed and even more widely enjoyed. How rare to hear music of this quality and of such recent vintage in an age like ours.”
The following quotations about a little known Tolkien poem with an overt Christian theme are from an article titled “Rare Tolkien poems uncovered in Oxfordshire school journal” by Daniel Helen, Officer without Portfolio and Trustee of The Tolkien Society.
Helen writes, “. . . an unusual poem for Tolkien given its direct Christian theme of the birth of Christ.”
The poem was discovered in 2013 in the 1936 Annual of Our Lady’s School, Abingdon. . . . “Tolkien’s precise connection and contact with the school is unknown, but as a Catholic school close to Oxford informal channels of communication through friends is possible.” It’s fascinating to speculate about how poetry about the birth of Christ would not be published, except in a school annual.
The Tolkien poem includes these lines:
Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.”
Wouldn’t it be lovely to have Tolkien’s Christmas poem set to music also?
Bernardo Aparacio responded to James Matthew Wilson’s praise for the Nowakowski setting of Chesterton’s poem, mentioned above, as follows.
I’ve always loved that little poem. So glad this has been done. Of course, there’s already a much more famous Chesterton carol, except it’s by Mrs. Chesterton.”
Good King Wenceslaus
Realistically, by the time you read this, it’ll most probably be December 26, the Feast of St. Stephen, which we—at least subconsciously—realize, is the day on which Good King Wenceslaus went out . . .. Even though most of us think of it as a Christmas carol, the song about King Wenceslaus trudging through the snow with his page to give fuel to a poor man is actually a song for “the feast of Stephen.”
The carol was written in 1853, by an Anglican hymn writer John Mason Neale, who was interested in restoring Catholic ceremony, saints days and music back into the Anglican church.
A preacher from the 12th century wrote this about King Wenceslaus:
“But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.” – Cosmas of Prague, about the reign of Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia, a.k.a. Good King Wenceslaus.
Rev. Father Michael Rennier, Dappled Things Web Editor, recently wrote this thought-provoking reflection about the sacrifice of Christ as living bread come down from heaven as our Eucharistic food, and how, paradoxically, there is no Christmas, with its attendant joys, without the Cross.